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which should prompt you to sing along, "Hail the new, ye lads and lasses," but ye old Welsh ditty Nos Galan sounds like more fun: Oh! how soft my fair one's bosom, and so on.
Our sky is falling, gently. Maybe it's snow, or maybe it's just some of the inversion layer settling out this morning. Either way, it makes the ice on our side street incredibly slick. Watch your step!
Along with the final wave of fundraising to meet a deadline that motivates the raisers more than the funders, sad sack Conservative HQ editor George Rasley dug up a dark scythe to illustrate The Year The American Establishment Committed Suicide. The year is dying! All our institutions are dying!
And the CHQ "conservative agenda" is a dead duck, despite Republicans "say[ing] they support" it. No mention of Donald Trump, curiously, but barbs for everyone else on every side except the CHQ pick, Ted Cruz, who goes without saying. (Maybe he'll be the New Year's baby in tomorrow's post.) The only comic relief is their mention of the plight of workers hitting "the establishment media, from Fox News to The New York Times." Rupert Murdoch's house organ is "establishment media" now, you don't say!
Used-to-be Republican David Frum's piece for The Atlantic is a fascinating consideration of what's gone wrong (so far) in the planned "dynastic restoration" for 2016. The Great Republican Revolt is messing with the program of the people who are used to calling the shots. (And Mark Ostow's photographs of the candidates on the New Hampshire stump accompanying the feature are an entertaining tour all on their own.) After laying out the problem, Frum considers four options "for this campaign season and beyond": Double Down (with a younger version of Jeb!); Tactical Concession (seal the borders); True Reform ("the most uncongenial thought of them all"); or Change the Rules of the Game. The last one fizzles out in a swamp of unanswered questions.
The question that even Frum seems afraid to confront is why the post-2009 GOP's "supremely successful" control of so much —a net gain of 69 seats in the House, 13 seats in the Senate, 900+ seats in state legislatures, and 12 governorships since Obama took office—has produced so little in terms of party loyalty. Aren't they winning?
It all depends on which "they" you're talking about. The Wall Street Republicans, and the ultra-donor class have definitely landed on their feet. The high school (or less) educated tranche who don't think Obama was born in the U.S., and is a Muslim, not so much.
Riling up the base against the status quo runs up against the fact that the status quo is a construction of Republicans already in charge of quite a bit of what the base thinks isn't going their way.
Not that the CHQ dead-enders have that much pull, but the disturbing phenomenon of the support for Donald Trump's candidacy keeps bringing us back to the question, why are we so afraid? Is scare-mongering that powerful? Are the lizard media so captivating? Are the social media amplifiers of the fringe turned up to 11? The prospect of Donald Trump's police state should be more deeply frightening than our exposure to terrorism.
Some actual facts that might be under consideration are summarized by Kevin Drum, for Mother Jones: We Are Astonishingly Safe From Terrorism. Nevermind the slight uptick for 2015, terrorist deaths around the world in the last decade and a half are terrible for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Nigeria, and the "Rest of world" outside "Western nations," where the number is... essentially nil. The Sept. 11, 2001 attack in the U.S. is visible. And if you squint hard enough, you can something in 2004... was that Spain? 37 deaths in 2014, versus 9,929, 7,512, 7,244, 6,265, 1,698, that's almost 900 times the death toll from terrorism. (Accidents with guns are a bigger threat in our western nation.)
Our security is not perfect, but here between the oceans, it's pretty damn good, if only we could learn to stop scaring ourselves. It's like we're on a horror moving binge and can't stop ourselves from going to see more.
Christmas Eve, 1941, was unquestionably a darker moment in human (let alone U.S.) history than where we find ourselves on the eve of 2016, and here's what FDR had to say just then:
"Our strongest weapon in this war is that conviction of the dignity and brotherhood of man which Christmas Day signifies - more than any other day or any other symbol. Against enemies who preach the principles of hate and practice them, we set our faith in human love."
Let's make that a New Year's resolution, shall we?
The New York Times Magazine has a page of responses in each issue, comprising a small handful of short letters, and a few Tweets, our new democratic pull quote facility open to all comers. "The Thread" might be interesting on its own, but it's moreso if you read and remembered what people are responding to.
Mark Leibovich's "First Words" piece from two weeks ago deconstructed the idea of "narrative": When the ‘Narrative’ Becomes the Story. A tweet they featured in response to it might have sufficed ("What narrative? It's all sound bites now!") and is certainly amusing as a sound bite. But the letter that concludes the page, from Eli Nissan, caught my eye as something not particularly worthy, but presumably representative of responses they received, and in keeping with what's passing for political discussion in the GOP nominating contest. Maybe calling upon "tropes" to explain "narrative" seemed special? He identifies the source of all this misdirection as academics and "the postmodern, identity and victimhood tropes" that they purvey.
"From what I can tell, it is academic gospel that ‘‘victims’’ are entitled to their own ‘‘narrative’’ irrespective of actual facts. Following this framework, then, a victim is entitled to tell his or her own story in terms of what he or she believes happened rather than bothering with the accuracy of the actual facts under consideration."
All those sneer-quotes are up against the actual facts under consideration in the shooting of Tamir Rice, and yes, with "narrative" in the subhead of the short wrapper around Charles Blow's comment about what seems so plain to see on the video. The narrative in question was given to the Cuyahoga County grand jury, to justify homicide.
Tamir Rice is no longer entitled to tell his own story. By Nissan's calculus, the two police officers are now the victims, and this narrative of theirs trumped the facts. It turns out that even video evidence can be overlooked if you squint hard enough.
Here it is, almost the year over and I still have some things unfinished. In fact, the "unfinished" pile seems to be ever-larger. But the end-of-2015 deadline admits no negotiation. There are lists to be made, beyond "to do." What happened this year? Who died? What was trendy? (Not "trendy," certainly. The word for pre-viral is "trending," and it's reported to us by an automated feature of our favorite social medium.)
Speaking of social media, fun item this morning on the NYT, When Presidential Candidates Go Too Far ... #FeetInMouth. There's sauce for all. Hillary's logo follies, Ben Carson's creative geography, Trump's insult of corn and Iowan's intelligence, and yes, the lamest apology of all time (the intern did it!), the Abuela dust-up, spelling flames considered harmful (thanks for your fiendship), off by 100, and last but not least, doggone it, Jeb! does too have a sense of humor, look at that.
There's a banner for a Special Report too: The wealthiest American families have built a private tax system for the rich. You'll no doubt be shocked, shocked to learn that the likes of the dapper Mr. and Mrs. Bacon (pictured, #NotMakingThisUp, and no, not Kevin Bacon) are part of "a small group providing much of the early cash for the 2016 presidential campaign." Some of us might hope for a vacation in Bermuda; they get that and their money does too: it seems "Rout[ing their] money to Bermuda and back" is part of the deal.
"Two decades ago, when Bill Clinton was elected president, the 400 highest-earning taxpayers in America paid nearly 27 percent of their income in federal taxes, according to I.R.S. data. By 2012, when President Obama was re-elected, that figure had fallen to less than 17 percent, which is just slightly more than the typical family making $100,000 annually, when payroll taxes are included for both groups."
When your "take home" (or should we call it your "send to Bermuda"?) averages something in the mid-9 figures, it pays to invest in the "income defense industry."
But where was I? Something about the end of the year, and stuff to do. This is interesting (enough to be "one of the most popular pieces that ran on NPR Ed in the past year"): How Writing Down Specific Goals Can Empower You.
A short written exercise combining expressive writing with goal-setting "nearly eras[ed] the gender and ethnic minority achievement gap for 700 students over the course of two years." In the context, "achievement" started with the rather mundane tasks of actually taking exams, and turning in assignments. But success breeds more of the same.
Maybe some New Years resolutions are in order. Right after I finish all the stuff that needs to be done in 2015. (That doesn't include making lists for the blog, actually.)
From Knowledge@Wharton: The Science of Gifting: How to Pick a Better Present. It's not so much things that make us happy, as experiences, "research" says. And the giver doesn't have to share in the experience directly for it to "foster the relationship," as the science of marketing would put it. Vicariously is close enough.
Also, it's more important to match what they want than to be "thoughtful," which I guess is what makes it so difficult: figuring out what your friends and family want. The gift registry idea makes complete sense, but it's not much used beyond weddings. There's that Amazon Wish List, but I don't keep mine up to date, and use it more for bookmarking than wink wink nudge nudge, and I can't think of anyone else who's mentioned theirs, or looking for someone's. Checking just now, I see, oh, that Black & Decker 500 A jump starter with built in compressor... but I settled on a cheaper and less capable inflator, somewhat of an impulse buy at Home Depot because the clerk helping me was a friend. I hope he liked it. Still, a 3-pack of O-ring gasket seals and an Oster blender blade cutter would've made an awesome $13+shipping stocking stuffer.
"One of the reasons that buying experiences is better is because you always have that memory to return back to, whereas people adapt to things really quickly. It sort of sits on your shelf and you engage with it every day, and so it loses its shiny, bright newness. Whereas a memory, every time you refer back to it, is just as shiny and bright. That’s why people adapt less quickly to experiences than to material goods."
But hmm, wouldn't the hum and whir of the blender be more satisfying if someone special had provided the gasket and blades for it?
Anyway, unless you're clever enough to wait for after-Christmas sales to do your gift shopping, this is too late to be helpful, except that you can apply the principle to enhance the value of gifts given, if one of the things Santa brought you is a gift card (or that universal gift card, cash): use your own money to buy the things you need (or want), and use that gift money to buy yourself some shiny and bright experience.
Rather shutting the damper on Santa Claus and his chimney stunt, Bloomberg Business reports the oil price crash is taking a heavy toll on Canada. "And the worst is yet to come." (In their infinite feed of business news, the next item down, for Christmas Eve, is "Oil Bankruptcies Reach Highest Quarterly Level Since Recession.") It seems the U.S. boom in oil and gas put the kibosh on Keystone XL more for business reasons than political or environmental considerations.
"Calgary, which boasted one of the lowest jobless rates in the nation as crude prices rose over $100 a barrel, is reeling after a global glut pushed prices down by two-thirds. Shares of energy producers have slumped along with oil."
The top (red) line is Canada's national unemployment, over 8.5% at the nadir of the real estate/CDO bust, and the recovery stalling before it crossed 6.5%.
George Will has said a lot of things I disagree with over the years, and what I've seen of his recent work seems to be headed toward unhinged, but I'm not a regular enough reader to be sure how much command he has of his faculties. Like so many other opinion writers, he's found Donald Trump to be an inspiration. For this: If Trump wins the nomination, prepare for the end of the conservative party.
Will imagines that "unbridled executive power" is something peculiar to Democratic Party control of the presidency, and makes the grandiloquent prediction that another term of that "would further emancipate the administrative state from control by either a withering legislative branch or a supine judiciary." (He makes it sound attractive, doesn't he?)
Presumably not the same supine judiciary that installed the last Republican team in office in 2000? And you can't blame the president for the withering of the legislative branch; Congress has been pursuing anti-administrative state madness quite on its own. Anyway.
"[F]irst things first. Conservatives’ highest priority now must be to prevent Trump from winning the Republican nomination in this, the GOP’s third epochal intraparty struggle in 104 years."
Nice to know we can agree on something. Also, alliteration.
"Now, panting with a puppy’s insatiable eagerness to be petted, Trump has reveled in the approval of Vladimir Putin, murderer and war criminal."
Panting puppy petting Putin is not exactly William Safire, but it's peppy. The cycles of admiration for Putin are something to see, aren't they? "At least he's a leader." As opposed to... a tyrannical usurper of unbridled executive power like Obama. But nice to see there is at least one conservatives who finds sycophancy for a Russian dictator distasteful.
Perhaps Will has reached the right conclusion, even if he had to drive down the wrong side of the street to get there. (If you turn on the flashing lights and siren, who's to stop you?)
"It is possible Trump will not win any primary, and that by the middle of March our long national embarrassment will be over. But this avatar of unfettered government and executive authoritarianism has mesmerized a large portion of Republicans for six months. The larger portion should understand this:
"One hundred and four years of history is in the balance. If Trump is the Republican nominee in 2016, there might not be a conservative party in 2020 either."
Not having the gmail app on my phone, and oh, not having a phone that it would go on, I haven't seen this "Smart Reply" feature, but it sounds pretty awful to have a machine "scan and recognize the types of messages that need responses, and then suggest brief answers in natural-sounding language."
The illustration shows a message with a bit of sports phatic (coincidentally about former Boise State football player Kellen Moore, and his debut outing for the Dallas Cowboys) with the offer of three tap-button replies. Take your pick:
J.D. Biersdorfer supposes that "some people will find the feature helpful, some will find it creepy and some will find it a mixture of both." But rest assured, "Google’s researchers say Smart Reply abides by strict privacy standards and that only the computers — and not the humans — are reading your messages to create the responses."
Says here, the number of Americans filing for unemplyment benefits fell more than expected last week, nearing a 42-year low. That's back to my factory days. I'm sure someone's said something about how many people have given up, and how many are working multiple jobs to make ends meet, or not making ends meet at all, and that's all true. If you buy into the Republican meme of how terrible a "culture of dependency" is, fewer claims for unemployment must be a good thing?
Well, never mind the Grinches and Scrooge. Things are looking up. And oh, it's going to be a white Christmas here in SW Idaho, too.
"I-90 will remain closed today from North Bend to Ellensburg due to heavy snow fall, trees leaning over the roadway, and high avalanche danger on Snoqualmie Pass. WSDOT crews worked throughout the night performing avalanche control work as well as clearing the roadway of snow, spin-outs, and collisions. The roadway is expected to remain closed today..."
For Idaho drivers, just the usual: Be prepared for snow. Look out for icy patches. There is danger of a rock fall. Look out for large animals on the roadway. Lots of "difficult," nothing closed at the moment.
Update: From the WSDOT Blog. Snoqualmie status is "closed indefinitely," after "more than 112 inches of snow over the last seven days and 25 inches in the last 24 hours." Link out of that led me to their photostream, including this dramatic shot of repairs on US 12 near White Pass, earlier this month.
Not to put too fine a point on it. Ted Cruz says he would pull the US out of the Paris climate deal. (The nonbinding accord, no less.)
Having just refreshed my memory of the 1939 classic, The Wizard of Oz the other day, I'm seeing the similarity between Ted Cruz and the Cowardly Lion, singing "If I Were King of the Forest," If I, If I ... were King. I don't think Cruz is actually as courageous as the lion turned out to be, but he is as over-the-top in a staged performance.
And speaking in a high school classroom in Knoxville, Tennessee. Now that seems a dangerous idea, letting him talk around high school students.
"Barack Obama seems to think the SUV parked in your driveway is a bigger threat to national security than radical Islamic terrorists who want to kill us. That’s just nutty," Cruz told reporters in a high school classroom here. "These are ideologues, they don’t focus on the facts, they won’t address the facts, and what they’re interested [in] instead is more and more government power."
Is he talking about Radical Islamic Terrorists® being ideologues, or Barack Obama? (Both, I suppose.) But consider the irony of telling high school students that the SUV parked in the driveway isn't dangerous. It's safe enough when it's parked in the driveway, but get it out on the road with a teenaged boy behind the wheel, mixing with other drivers, possibly on the phone, possibly inebriated, and possibly enraged over one stupid thing or another (Ted Cruz is running for President! for example), and you'd better believe it's more dangerous than what we've seen of RITs in this country lately.
Do you remember how many terrorist fatalities we had in the U.S. last year? Count our military fighting in the middle east if you like, it can't compare to the nearly 10,000 from alcohol-impaired driving alone. (The total fatalities were more than 3 times that number.) Not that high school students are old enough to legally drink (and not that that has ever stopped them from doing it), but the barely legal cohort, 21 to 24-year-olds, had the highest percentage of drivers over the limit in fatal crashes.
Never mind his demonstrably stupid comparison, or his fatuous dismissal of an issue that will be quite important in the lives of today's high school students, Cruz's celebration of his own ignorance for his self-promoting fear-mongering sets a really horrible example for our children. Showing them that opinions are more important than facts is a perfectly anti-education lesson. Would you buy a used car from somebody who would trade in a brand new leadership position for a clunker of lemon-headed idiocy? Not unless you were drunk and on the phone.
Regardless of what you think of his chances (or him as a candidate), Bernie Sander's op-ed in the New York Times has a number of ideas worth serious consideration: To Rein In Wall Street, Fix the Fed. Not that everyone agrees Wall Street should be reined in (the Wall Street bankers, for example, mostly don't seem to), but everybody seems to have complaints about the Federal Reserve. It's part of the stock in trade of the Tea Party and Republican "populists" generally. First of all, having bankers run it creates a conflict of interest.
"During the Wall Street crisis of 2007, Jamie Dimon, the chief executive and chairman of JPMorgan Chase, served on the New York Fed’s board of directors while his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed. Next year, four of the 12 presidents at the regional Federal Reserve Banks will be former executives from one firm: Goldman Sachs."
What could possibly go wrong? But high finance, is complicated. Incomprehensibly large sums of money get shuffled around, and Important People skim off fees, as they surely must. Still, "we would not tolerate the head of Exxon Mobil running the Environmental Protection Agency. We don’t allow the Federal Communications Commission to be dominated by Verizon executives." (I do remember that it seemed an "innovation" of the Reagan adminstration to put foxes in charge of our henhouses, but I suppose it's an older tradition than that.) Could representatives "from all walks of life" run the Fed as well as the self-interested bankers? An interesting question.
"Second, the Fed must stop providing incentives for banks to keep money out of the economy. Since 2008, the Fed has been paying financial institutions interest on excess reserves parked at the central bank — reserves that have grown to an unprecedented $2.4 trillion. That is insane. Instead of paying banks interest on these reserves, the Fed should charge them a fee that would be used to provide direct loans to small businesses."
Just how much do financial institutions get for parking reserves at the Fed? The term of art is "remuneration rate," I see, and the Fed says that its current rates (for required reserves, and for "excess" reserves) is 0.50%. That's more than we can get at our credit union, which is offering savings accounts that pay as little as 0.05% for small balances, and a maximum of 0.35% for balances of $250k and up. (You can get more with a certificate of deposit commitment, at least: 0.8% for 2 years, 1.6% for three and a whopping 2% for five.)
Also on Sanders' wish list is requiring large banks to "commit to increasing lending to creditworthy small businesses and consumers, reducing credit card interest rates and fees, and providing help to underwater and struggling homeowners," and rules requiring more transparency than there is now, and having the GAO "conduct a full and independent audit of the Fed each and every year."
"Full and unredacted transcripts of the Federal Open Market Committee must be released to the public within six months, not five years, which is the custom now. If we had made this reform in 2004, the American people would have learned about the housing bubble well in advance of the financial crisis."
Scott Walker may make it to Capitol Hill after all, if he wants to appear in the corruption case against him that's making its way to the Supreme Court of the U.S. But maybe the case will be against the two Wisconsin Supreme Court members who (arguably) should have recused themselves, for being beneficiaries of the same outside campaign spending groups that were accused of improper "coordination" with Walker's campaign.
Pema Levy's piece for Mother Jones quotes an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine School of Law as not liking the chances of "any campaign finance case" in the current Supreme Court, but the recusal question, he says, "has a decent chance." Which would be interesting, given the difficulty certain members of the SCOTUS have had when it comes to recusal. Nobody is the boss of them.
The St. Maries Gazette Record is hiring, and they're looking for "a reporter who reads." As opposed to one of those write-only reporters. They don't come right out and say it, but I think they're looking for a reporter who reads their "pretty good product," not just a run of the mill "newspaper reader."
Sounds like you'd have to be in or around St. Maries, which is a lovely part of the world, styling itself the "Hidden Jewel of the Gem State." It hides along the shadowy St. Joe River above Lake Coeur d'Alene, and you need to know sooner (preferably) or later, it's pronounced like "Saint Mary's" by the locals.
Another Republican campaign goes zombie: Lindsey Graham "suspended" it today. He takes credit for making the rest of the GOP field more hawkish about more "boots on the ground" intervention in the middle east, and has racked up more than 11,000 views of his short swan song on YouTube.
All those campaign contributions will be put to some good use, I'm sure. And John McCain's endorsement is now up for grabs.
Krugman: "How can this be happening" that 60% (!) or so of the support in the Republican primary is behind the "triumvirate of trash-talk," Trump, Carson and Cruz?
"[T]he antiestablishment candidates now dominating the field, aside from being deeply ignorant about policy, have a habit of making false claims, then refusing to acknowledge error. Why don’t Republican voters seem to care?
"Well, part of the answer has to be that the party taught them not to care. Bluster and belligerence as substitutes for analysis, disdain for any kind of measured response, dismissal of inconvenient facts reported by the “liberal media” didn’t suddenly arrive on the Republican scene last summer. On the contrary, they have long been key elements of the party brand. So how are voters supposed to know where to draw the line?"
9/11 changed the GOP sales approach from "likeability" to "swagger," from which it's an easy hop to "unapologetic belligerence." (Thus explaining the head horse's ass in the race and Vladimir Putin having a mutual admiration society, and all the more popular for it. And the one-upsmanship of fear and loathing in Las Vegas.)
Ted Cruz's contribution to holiday cheer is a remarkable bit of self-parody for SNL, building on the success of his reading Dr. Seuss in the Senate, and with the brilliantly comic claim that he's a "trusted conservative." 1 million views over the weekend, so there's that. It's not exactly The Force Awakens, but it's some buzz.
Meanwhile, the Democrats had a "real discussion, with both [sic] candidates evidently well informed," and scheduled it for a time when as few people as possible would tune in.
Russ Feingold is running for the U.S. Senate to represent Wisconsin again, and I think bringing him back would be a huge improvement over the Republican in there now, Ron Johnson. Email from Feingold's campaign about one of the back-room deals that made its way into the Omnibus that just passed, with more damage to our already weak campaign finance limits:
1. "It blocks the IRS from creating (any!) guidelines to keep dark money groups from abusing the tax code to keep their donors secret.
2. "It blocks the SEC from requiring public companies and corporations to disclose their political spending."
A week ago, Idaho's Rep. Raúl Labrador told "Morning Joe" that the lack of debate on the omnibus was one of his reasons for voting against it. He didn't know about the campaign finance chestnuts buried deep in the trove; this "business as usual" doesn't allow for piecewise, thoughtful consideration of anything.
Labrador's protest is disingenuous to the point of ludicrous however, since he and his No-Nothing "Freedom Caucus" are largely responsible for obstructing attempts at doing the Congress' business in any sort of orderly way, as they attempt to enforce minority positions through threats of shutdown and the like. That's not to say we would ever and always end up with a herd of pigs in a poke at the last minute, it's just to say Labrador has never been a part of a solution. As the NBC News team put it,
"The good news: The government isn't going to shut down. Hooray! The bad news: Congress, once again, is discrediting itself to the American public. And thanks to divided government, you'll see that both sides are blaming the other. Ah, bipartisanship!"
Here's Common Cause's short explanation of the campaign finance provision's "increas[ing] the amount an individual donor can give to political party committees by 500%."
It's useful to have somebody explain things, because I have really no idea how you could find something in particular (let alone make sense of it) in the H.R. 2029 Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2016, now awaiting the President's signature.
Hate to spoil the previous post's good news, but Dana Milbank's response to Trump bringing bigots out of hiding is exposing necessary light on the extreme ugliness coming out of the woodwork. The question:
"I write this to conservatives of conscience: Is this what you want conservatism, the Republican Party and America to be?"
Best performance of his life: 27-year old Spanish musician Carlos Aguilera needed surgery for a brain tumor, and it took 12 hours, during which he showed his chops to verify the wiring upstairs remained in good shape.
Christmas comes early at the Boise Bicycle Project: it's today! Hundreds of kids will be coming down to pick up their dream bikes. That worthy group has been on my mind since I heard this amazing story on Boise State Public Radio yesterday. It starts with a 5-year-old boy being hit by a minivan on his way home from kindergarten, and ends with... no spoiler here. Do read (or listen to) the story.
There's even some good political news to report: whether it was a one day collection of a quarter million signatures on a MoveOn petition, the petition that Robert Reich started, or the tsunami of negative publicity, the Democratic National Committee found its way to do the right thing and restore the Bernie Sanders team's access to NGP VAN, the essential database for Democratic political campaigns these days.
(That data security snafu was not-so-good news, given that rather astounding of Big Data the company has collected. The company's CEO explains what happened, with the remarkable claim that they've "not had a problem" with security and privacy of their customers' over their 19 year history up until this moment.)
On the lighter side, Neil deGrasse Tyson's answer to the pressing question, Millennium Falcon or Starship Enterprise?
Speaking of political correctness, after forging the truly Byzantine tax code over the course of a century or so, Congress is now on the warpath against the underfunded and occasionally hapless Executive branch agency charged with administrating it. You know, the Internal Revenue Service. Rolled into the Omnibus Christmas Tree is a "series of little-noticed Mother-May-I provisions" for the IRS. Star Trek parodies are right out. (Also, Star Wars.) No bonuses for any employees who owe one cent in back taxes. And
The IRS must train every employee in “dealing courteously with taxpayers,” “cross-cultural relations,” ethics and the “impartial application of tax law.”
Perhaps the government officials of various stripes running for president could also get some of that sensitivity training? If it has to remain optional for "outsiders," currently including Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina, it might miss the target audiene, however.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was all fiddle-dee-dee. "IRS officials did not respond to a request for comment." They have something more productive to do, I would imagine.
Bravo to new Speaker Paul Ryan (and however much credit John Boehner deserves for getting out of the way?) for a 2,000-page grab-bag with something for everybody, a federal budget for the fiscal year that started 2½ months ago. Just in time for Christmas!
Our large and in charge nation costs a lot to run these days, enough to elide $150,000,000,000 as "close enough" in headlines about $1 Trillion. $1.15 trillion to be slightly more exact, the 15% difference, more than the net worth of our largest plutocrats, is about $500 per capita. The whole shebang is $4,000-ish per capita, which is not quite as incomprehensible (or scary). Our share is enough to pay one mechanic on a fighter jet for a month. Or a Congressman's salary (not staff, not expenses) for a couple of weeks, whether or not they even show up to work.
Our Congressman, Mike Simpson, voted for the final deal H.R. 2029, "Making appropriations for military construction, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2016, and for other purposes," and Idaho's other Congressman, Raúl Labrador voted No, as usual. No, no, no, a thousand times no.
The Speaker of the House emphasized the "really good wins" for all concerned. Rep. Lloyd Dogget (D-TX) noted "This bill is even referred to as a Christmas tree bill because special interests get special presents, all in ornaments on this tree." Ho ho ho. He was not feeling especially charitable.
“Like many shoppers out there, they put it all on the credit card, except that it’s your credit card,” Mr. Doggett said, adding, “If you add this much debt unpaid for in a fiscally irresponsible way you begin to jeopardize retirement security, Medicare and Social Security, because those so-called entitlements are next up on the chopping block.”
That's not as grumpy as the harumph from Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), calling the omnibus "an affront to the Constitution."
None of the House Freedom Caucus members' grousing made the the New York Times' report, so we don't know how unhappy they were. They wanted lumps of coal I imagine.
Update: George Rasley, CHQ Editor, weighs in, and he's not happy about "this year’s ... Omnibus Appropriation [being] released at 1:20 a.m. on the night of the CNN Republican presidential debate, when all eyes would be focused on Las Vegas, not the smoke-filled rooms of Capitol Hill where this anti-conservative monstrosity was crafted."
They're still smoking indoors on Capitol Hill? The free market put the kibosh on that antisocial activity at my place of work like 20 years ago. Anyway, Rasley's got no love love for the new boss, same as the old boss. Paul Ryan = John Boehner if you catch his drift. Also, Ryan's "scruffy beard makes him look more like a frat boy after a kegger than the third ranking constitutional officer of the United States," and Ryan uttered the despicable word "compromise."
Frat boy after a keggar is more mature than Eddie Munster, at least. They grow up so fast these days!
The Freedom Caucus has been demoted to "alleged conservatives" and "have a lot to answer for now that Ryan has shown the conservative grassroots what he’s really made of." Snakes and snails and puppy dogs tails, I believe it is.
This is interesting: the transcript of this week's Republican debate, annotated.
One thing lost by only "watching" second-hand is how the various candidates fired their opening salvos. Rand Paul led with keeping America safe from terrorism and the Bill of Rights. John Kasich with civility and shared purpose. (What a loser!) Chris Christie with the "betrayal" by Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, because... "the second largest school district in America in Los Angeles [was] closed based on a threat." Annotated by the official account of the Washington Post: "This threat had been discredited as a hoax for hours before Christie took the stage." Hoo-rah for federal prosecutors, former and current, but when I think "keeping us safe," really, a prosecutor is not the figure springing to mind. (Also, I don't imagine Christie springing.) Anyway.
Carly Fiorina is angry. "Like all of you." (Huh?) Also, do annotate "tested leader" in the Fiorina context. There's more to be said about her "started as a secretary" meme. Why not say she started as a receptionist at a hair salon, after growing up in New York, Connecticut, California, London, Africa and North Carolina? The WaPo staff could have noted their own Michelle Ye Hee Lee's fact check deconstruction and three Pinocchio award, which Fiorina deemed "ludicrous" and then lied about. Maybe that's why she's so angry.
Jeb! was "subtle but certainly Trumpy" and thus acknowledging the front-runner's success. Exceptional! We love to win. And he will keep us safe and warm. Marco Rubio wanted us to know he grew up in Vegas, and that his grandfather smoked three cigars a day. A real manly family. Oh, right right right, Cuban cigars, I get it. Ted Cruz: war, hunt down, kill, utterly destroy, "we will not be prisoners to political correctness." And "we will not be admitting jihadists as refugees" (just as we've, ah, never actually done).
Ben Carson: a moment of silence, perfect. America is the patient. I am a brain surgeon. You do the math.
The inimitable Donald: I'm very good at this. "People like what I say." (Now he can add "Vladimir Putin likes me, too.")
And it goes on from there (with declining enthusiasm, naturally). Not that the facts seem to matter anymore, but here's Michelle Ye Hee Lee again, on Trump's claim that "People are pouring across the southern border": "Illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest level in at least two decades."
That's no reason to stop being afraid, and still, (some) people really, really like what he says. Even when it's a proposal to shred the Constitution, or to delegate understanding the nuclear arsenal to "somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible; who really knows what he or she is doing."
It's almost as if Vladimir Putin looked into Donald Trump's soul, and saw the "absolute leader" in the race for the U.S. presidency. Is it a joke? Is he playing us? Was it lost in translation? An honest assessment as seen through the lens of our own media covering the orange-haired, orange-faced carnival barker of xenophobia and unfiltered ego?
“He’s saying he wants to go to another level of relations, closer, deeper relations with Russia,” Putin said. “How can we not welcome that? Of course we welcome that.”
Sheesh, get a room, guys.
Are we really interested in a man Putin likes? A man like Putin? Just please god, do not let The Donald go horseback riding without a shirt on.
Later in the report of the interview, and without the benefit of Putin's expression in his own language, this, in regard to the the suggestion that Turkey might have shot down the Russian jet in order to please the United States:
“We don’t know that yet,” said Putin, when asked if there was a “third party” involved in the downing of the Russian jet. “But if someone in the Turkish government decided to lick the Americans in a particular place, I don’t know if they were acting rightly. I don’t know if the Americans need this.”
And speaking of the Russian economy, with oil sliding below $40 a barrel, everything's not coming up roses at the moment. When we were there, last millennium (and, as it happens, just before Putin assumed the presidency), the rouble was going 25 to the US dollar. Two years ago, it was 35, and at the moment, you need more than 70 to buy a greenback.
The Beeb led with the licking, and provided more highlights of Putin's "wide-ranging annual news conference" than WaPo did, including that he "praised Sepp Blatter and suggested the suspended head of Fifa should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."
Alright, it probably won't be last either, but let's call it enough for the day, and acknowledge that, as Frank Rich puts it, "political coverage has always been an indecipherable mix of reporting, advocacy, and entertainment." That means we can't look away from The Donald. "A press that turns up its nose at covering Trump only plays right into Trump’s hands by confirming his followers’ bitter resentment against the elites."
If I understand the handicapping correctly, Trump won't win Iowa, but maybe New Hampshire? The (Rich deprecated) Upshot has him #1 in the Granite State polling, but surely those voters don't all have rocks for their heads, do they? (That also shows the prediction market rankings 1..5 and everyone else tied for last.)
"The debate was almost solely focused on fear, and the main way the candidates tried to distinguish themselves from each other could be found in their race to determine who could best exploit and ramp up the audience’s worst nightmares of imminent Armageddon. (The exception was Rand Paul, the only candidate whose foreign policy is neocon-averse and not contrived to pander to the likes of the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the party’s Las Vegas host.) The problem with this focus is that you can’t out-Trump Trump, who runs the table when it comes to sowing fear, preaching xenophobia, and projecting bellicosity."
Ted Cruz needs my IMMEDIATE help. "A few very generous donors have stepped up to DOUBLE the match for all donations made through the links in this email." My $10 donation could be matched and made 30, but only for 24 hours. Such a shame it sat in my spam bucket for most of those 24, aaaand just got deleted, whoops.
From Jeb!, the "most important email I've sent," with a more generous deadline, "by Friday at midnight." He wants me to "rush a contribution of $1 or more right now to build our momentum" and of course to update my status on his donor list.
Here's a guy who can be relied upon to send one dollar when push comes to shove, they'll say. To make sure I keep their database busy, I clicked through to the donation form. If I really want to chip in a buck, I'll have to put that number in the "Other" box. The presets start at $25, and go up to $5,400, just in case I'm ready to shoot the whole $2,700-limit wads for the primary, and the general election all at once. (Contributing toward the general for Bush would be an amazing act of faith right now, wouldn't it?)
ChefGus' comment on the post-debate blog post at Huckleberries noted the importance of body language, and that Trump's "got em all beat hands down with that stuff... and cadence in speaking and use of hands and arms is mindful of more than a few historic demagogues." That connected with the part of Alice Miller's 1980 book, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, that I read over lunch. You don't need to draw in a little mustache to see how snug a fit Donald Trump would make as a replacement figure:
"The adulation accorded [Trump] is understandable not only because of the promises he made (who doesn't make promises before an election?) but because of the way in which they were presented. It was precisely his theatrical gestures, ridiculous to a foreigner's eyes, that were so familiar to the masses and therefore held such a great power of suggestion for them. Small children are subject to this same sort of suggestion when their big father, whom they admire and love, talks to them. What he says is not important, it is the way he speaks that counts. The more he builds himself up, the more he will be admired..."
Or so I hear. Turns out we had other things to do than watch last night's Republican debate. The entertainment value will hardly be reduced by limiting our contact to second-hand opinions, satire or the occasional video replay. The staff of right-wing king of direct mail Richard Viguerie, searching for traction in the age of social media, led with "Testosterone Booster" and "Rubio 'Rattled'." The subhead highlights were "Ted Cruz puts Marco Rubio on the ropes in CNN Las Vegas debate" and "Santorum Channels CHQ in Undercard Debate," which gives you a good snapshot of the scope and influence of Viguerie's Conservative Headquarters these days. (Santorum? Still? Seriously?)
"Last night’s CNN national security debate was a testosterone-fueled neo-con slugfest in which most of the candidates vied with one another over how quickly after their election they would launch another Mideast invasion."
Most especially Ted "glow in the dark" Cruz, who is Viguerie's pick for nominee, a fact which gives me some reassurance there won't actually be a Cruz missile on the ballot come November 2016. Frank Bruni debriefs the Cruz magic carpet bombing plan. The night's safe word was... "safe," "uttered so regularly that it was essentially the heartbeat of the debate." Lub-dub. "Safe." Lub-dub.
Marco Rubio's more moderate position was to point out that you can't carry out a program of carpet-bombing if you don't vote for more planes and bombs in the Senate and yes Ted Cruz, he's looking at you. The two absentee Senators "have come to the same realization about the race for the Republican presidential nomination: The surest way to win is with the other gone." Perhaps we can arrange a meeting of the anti-matter and don't-matter and have them annhilate their candidacies in a puff of principled uncertainty over which son of immigrants can be more anti-immigration.
At any rate, we should be Very Afraid that we're having this discussion about testosterone, and "tedious, often puerile quarrels," even if, credit where due, some life from the Jeb!ster, riposting Trump's claim to have got his foreign policy advice from television shows. “I don’t know if that’s Saturday morning or Sunday morning," Bush said.
This all has more Coyote and Road Runner flavor to it than the sage pundits of the shows no one watches voluntarily. The split screen of Donald Trump's clown-faces while Bush is calling him "the chaos candidate" rivals the best of the anvil and painted tunnel scenes from Warner Bros. It also seems CHQ staff and Bruni agree on the testosterone part of the show, "sparring and preening," "an emphasis on puffed chests and sound bites over nuanced policies and earnest reflection."
They don't do so much nuance and earnest reflection. It is at least comforting to imagine it was a losing debate for Donald Trump, "left sputtering the aforementioned insults and demanding an apology." Surely, being a candidate for the Republican nomination means never having to say you're sorry, no matter how sorry your candidacy may be.
And to note that almost no one seems to have noted Ben Carson's or Carly Fiorina's presence.
It's less comforting to imagine that the best idea for keeping the country safe from terrorism (other than carpet-bombing, of course) is to attack the current president, and demon "political correctness," the currently favored refuge of political scoundrels. Or the cry for attention from Rick Santorum in the why-are-we-still-doing-this undercard, "We have entered World War III." One tiny highlight from that warmup act, though:
“Donald Trump has done the one single thing he cannot do, to declare a war” on the world’s Muslims, [Lindsay Graham] said. “He has made us all less safe.”
“For God’s sake, pick somebody who is worthy of the sacrifice of those fighting this war,” Mr. Graham added.
Asked if he would vote for Mr. Trump if he was the Republican nominee, Mr. Graham said, “Like Bob Dole I may sleep late that day.”
SFGate picked up local AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi's report on the doings of our legislature's Urban Renewal Agency Interim Committee. Betsy Russell covered the committee in detail, on her Eye on Boise blog yesterday. The unfortunate pull quote out of Betsy's concluding post, from Rep. Robert Anderst, R-Nampa:
“I’m comfortable with the way we’ve defined it right now. I don’t think anybody’s going to talk me into the idea that libraries are a great economic development tool. ... But I’m happy to continue to have the conversation as we go through the draft.”
Perhaps not insisting on how closed-minded you are might be useful? Coeur d'Alene's Rep. Kathy Sims (R, of course) agrees:
“I think everyone who has a computer has a library, and I know I’m working on mine every day.”
It turns out that just last week, when my internet connection to that "library" I access from my home computer was broken, and I used our local branch and the main library downtown, I was struck by the fact that most of the patrons were using computers or the like, most of which were part of the library's infrastructure. That is, not everyone has a computer, Rep. Sims. Here's an idea: why don't you visit a library some time and talk to the people who work there and the people who use it. You might learn something. Including the fact that there are actually non-computer-based resources available as well.
Sims could also use her own computer to take a look at the helpful compendium of studies from the Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction, on the economic impact of public libraries.
Or she and Anderst could have listened to (my) Rep. Hy Kloc (D-Boise) and his first-hand experience in the neighborhood of the Collister Shopping Center, or what Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, said about private investment following the new branch built here at Cole and Ustick, reviving an anchorless pair of declining shopping centers. Or the fact that Boise’s main downtown library draws 78,000 visitors a month.
Politico reports on the Koch Brothers' "war on poverty." Shorter: fix it yourself.
Housed within the foundation arm of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch network’s largest group, the [Bridge to Wellbeing] program represents “the new way to advance freedom,” Stefano boasted. “And so that’s why, today, you’ll see Americans for Prosperity Foundation reaching out to new communities offering not just classes on the Constitution, and knowing your rights, but on couponing and how to turn your passion into profit by helping other people be successful, to not just tell them about the economy and economic freedom, but to show them that we want them to economically thrive, and how to do it.”
Also, how to buy real estate with no money down, and work at home for big $$$. Dine on a dime and learn about freedom. You don't need no stinkin' union!
The Koch boys "downplay political motivations," but coincidentally focus their efforts on swing states. I guess that's why Idaho is in last place in so many categories: we already have our Republican supermajority, so there's no need to pander to us.
(The piece's author, Kenneth P. Vogel, is billed as "chief investigative reporter" at Politico, and author of the 2014 book, Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp—on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich Hijacking American Politics.)
Obviously (in retrospect), Tashfeen Malik flew under the Homeland Security radar on her way to mass murder in San Bernardino. But... accidentally? There was no secret conspiracy, no encrypted communications keeping her attitude away from prying eyes. "She talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad."
"But immigration officials do not routinely review social media as part of their background checks, and there is a debate inside the Department of Homeland Security over whether it is even appropriate to do so."
Last time I came back into the U.S., the souvenir straw hat I was wearing got more attention from U.S. Customs and Immigration than your run of the mill immigrant from Pakistan. I could have been a rogue farm visitor with toxic mud on my shoes. And the vetting for refugees is reportedly a "separate, longer and more rigorous process than the checks for K-1 and most other immigrant visas," with "an extra layer of scrutiny for Syrians," and yes, officials can even take a look at social media if they feel like it.
The good news, from a senior Homeland Security official during George W. Bush’s administration is that "Compared to where we were 15 years ago, we’ve moved the needle very far to the right on security."
Far to the right is a good thing, I guess.
The bad news is, the lack of scrutiny and the failure to detect a threat in fairly plain sight will amplify the xenophobia that's already going through the roof, conflating immigrants, refugees, "illegals" and terrorism.
Supreme Court justices have the luxury of quietly correctng their errors after the fact, and pretending like any mistakes were some clerk's fault, maybe. Still, when Court is in session, Antonin Scalia has been known to say things for the record that leave a mark. His latest sort-of thinking out loud had to do with affirmative action in Texas, and whether blacks might be better off in a "slower-track school" so they wouldn't experience the sting of failure when they couldn't keep up.
Yes, in 2015, although you'd be forgiven if you wondered if you'd stepped through a wormhole back to 1965 or 1955 and were hearing an undead echo of some Christmas past.
Afi-Odelia Scruggs (Doctor Scruggs in academic circles, thank you) provides a personal rebuttal, including some of what struggling at an advanced institution taught her: how to set her own standards for success; how to advocate for herself; how to become entitled; how culturally limited white people really can be; and compassion.
Saudi women cast first-ever votes – and vie for offices. But "they'll have to catch a ride: the kingdom still forbids women from driving."
One of our most patriotic ceremonies, with the odd name: naturalization. 48 immigrants became United States citizens at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Boise on Thursday, with Afghanistan, Belarus, Kenya, Mexico and Tonga mentioned in the story, and some 19 other countries not mentioned by name.
How the first turbaned NCAA basketball player responded to becoming a racist meme is nice, and "serves as a reminder that social media can do good things every once in a while."
One of my favorite federal government agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration took command of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (aka DSCOVR) from another great agency, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration, and it hangs out at Lagrange point 1 (L1), that gravitationally cozy spot where the Earth's and Sun's tugs are perfectly balanced. It's always 100% sunny out there, and you can watch the (always full) moon whiz by from time to time, and mediate on what a lovely blue marble we all inhabit, fussing and squabbling as we may be from time to time.
We might be able to agree on something for a climate accord (even if—ahem—it might not be enough), and Sewell Chan got to use "anticlimactic" in a cute sentence before a scrumptious Saturday lunch in Paris.
How on earth did we devolve to the campaign being all-Trump all the time? Or as I put it in response to one share this morning, "Remember when socialists were scary and conservatives were reassuring?" Not that I actually remember that last part, growing up while Barry Goldwater, George Wallace and Curtis LeMay were in the running. To say nothing of Tricky Dick.
Then a quickmeme with a not-so-funny picture of a toddler with a pistol (it's a cheesy photoshop at least, and not an actual smoking gun) and the cutline more Americans were shot by toddlers than by actual terrorists this past year! So there's that. Obviously, we should block all toddlers from coming into this country until we figure out what the hell is going on.
"Until we figure out what the hell is going on" will make an interesting schedule.
When I saw the photo of The Donald "perched on a parrot sculpture in his Mar-a-Lago estate in May 1996," I thought it must surely be a send-up for something from the Onion, but Mark Bowden's short item for Vanity Fair is not quite Onion-esque. Subhead says "over a long weekend on assignment," the author "found that behind the garish Trump façade lies only more ugliness." Back in the day, two decades earlier, Trump was only
"adolescent, hilariously ostentatious, arbitrary, unkind, profane, dishonest, loudly opinionated, and consistently wrong. He remains the most vain man I have ever met. And he was trying to make a good impression."
He's still the man he used to be, in Bowden's estimation.
"The ideas that pop into his head are the same ones that occur to any teenager angry about terror attacks. They appeal to anyone who can’t be bothered to think them through—can’t be bothered to ask not just the moral questions but the all-important practical one: Will doing this makes things better or worse? When you believe in your own genius, you don’t question your own flashes of inspiration."
At the time of this writing, Trump's latest "outrageous edict" was a faith-based ban on entry to the country, never mind if you're a citizen, returning Marine, whatev. The ante is still being raised, with every flavor of red meat tossed out to see how the snarling mob of his supporters responds. They're eating it up! The death penalty for anyone killing a policeman! (Do we need to bother with a trial or anything?) He "also said he believes that police forces should have military-style equipment," which is an odd thing to mention, since they pretty much already do.
Hey, it was just an idea he had. Given his checkered career, he's not so much a goose that lays golden eggs, as one that shits all over the house and calls it "golden." “Polish this, Tony. Today.”
Update: Timothy Egan's op-ed today has a slightly different angle on the "goose" thing.
Frank Rich says it'll be the primary voters who answer that question in the next couple months, in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, first of all. "Doesn’t it seem a century ago," he asks, "when Trump committed what was supposed to be a cardinal sin, particularly to Republicans, and insulted the war hero John McCain?"
Just about, and yeah, that was the first time I though, that's it, he's done, that's a bridge too far, even the people supporting him will say "that's despicable," and spin the dial to one of the other dozen candidates barking for attention. Rich guesses the latest outrage "should help Trump as all of his other outrages have: He’ll remain at or near the top of Republican polls because he is telling his audience what it wants to hear in ever louder tones." And that prediction seems more likely to come true than any I've come up with.
I sure as hell hope he's right that "there are not enough Trump partisans to capture the presidency, no matter how much some liberals liken his rise to those of Hitler and Mussolini," too.
"There may well not be enough Trump supporters to win him the GOP nomination (though it cannot be ruled out). But there are certainly enough to destroy his party for the foreseeable future by branding it as a haven for bigots at a time when America is on its inexorable path to be a white-minority nation. So you’d think that those now at the top of the GOP would try to banish Trump by any and all available means, if only out of self-interest. That’s still not happening. Those who wield the strongest anti-Trump language among his primary opponents are those with rock-bottom poll numbers (e.g., Lindsey Graham, who told him to “go to hell”) and no clout. Jeb (!) Bush, whose poll numbers are also near rock bottom, has also pumped up his anti-Trump rhetoric, but he’s still too low-energy and too late, and he has no moral standing to attack Trump’s Islamophobia since he only recently (like Ted Cruz) proposed banning Syrian refugees who aren’t Christians. Party titans like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have condemned Trump’s latest jeremiad, but they are wusses, too fearful of both him and his fans to say they would disown him if he got the party’s nomination."
That's the deeply bizarre aspect of this. When even Dick Cheney—Dick Cheney!—says you've gone off the deep end, and you still can't say "no way in hell would I support Donald J. Trump for the Republican nomination, because that would be INSANE," there is something wrong with you. Party loyalty should not trump insanity.
By Ryan Lizza's interesting account, A House Divided, the same leading light of the so-called Freedom Caucus who came up with the Motion to Vacate the Chair this past July, Mark Meadows (R-NC), also bubbled up the idea to hold funding the rest of the government hostage until Obama agreed to defund the Affordable Care Act, back in early 2013. That became H.R. 123. Lizza:
...[Devin] Nunes (R-CA) who is the chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence, told me that the biggest change he’s seen since he arrived in Congress, in 2002, is the rise of online media outlets and for-profit groups that spread what he views as bad, sometimes false information, which House members then feel obliged to address. The change has transformed Nunes from one of the most conservative members of Congress to one of the biggest critics of the Freedom Caucus and its tactics.
“I used to spend ninety per cent of my constituent response time on people who call, e-mail, or send a letter, such as, ‘I really like this bill, H.R. 123,’ and they really believe in it because they heard about it through one of the groups that they belong to, but their view was based on actual legislation,” Nunes said. “Ten per cent were about ‘Chemtrails from airplanes are poisoning me’ to every other conspiracy theory that’s out there. And that has essentially flipped on its head.” The overwhelming majority of his constituent mail is now about the far-out ideas, and only a small portion is “based on something that is mostly true.” He added, “It’s dramatically changed politics and politicians, and what they’re doing.”
Then Speaker John Boehner ultimately "let them have their fight" but they didn't learn the lesson he thought they would. That was the part of the story that Greg Sargent picked up, and that I blogged yesterday; Labrador "learning" that people forgot about the shutdown pretty quick. Presumably Raúl did not have a confab with Newt on the subject of long-term memory. The next part, about how Ted Cruz jumped out in front to seize credit for the hostage idea, is somewhat delicious.
“Our position was more nuanced,” he added, insisting that he and his fellow hard-liners were willing to settle for a one-year delay of Obamacare.
That would be a "nuance" that somehow got lost in the more than half a hundred votes to "repeal" the ACA, and in the actual carrying out of the shutdown threat itself. There were a number of "delays" in implementation (I lost track), and now Labrador is saying that's all they were after? That would be droll if it hadn't been so expensive.
Labrador's problem is that he confuses his generous majority support in ID-01 as a mandate for monkey-wrenching the whole country according to his notion of conservative principles. His promise to be a different sort of politician has been fulfilled, and perhaps "close enough" for the most vocal, hate-all faction of his supporters, but this after-the-fact "nuance" and the cloakroom infighting with actual tactics of shutdown, stalemate and political assassination seems mighty old school to me.
And it's easy to see why Labrador tweeted a link to the "excellent story on origins of @freedomcaucus": Lizza gives him credit for tipping Boehner to resign. The irrefutable argument was that "Republicans could not win the Presidency if Boehner remained as Speaker, because conservatives wouldn’t be energized." (Does that mean the 2012 loss was Boehner's fault, too? Labrador professed that he was "excited" about Romney in April, 2012, just after Boehner had endorsed him; not to be confused with Louie Gohmert of Texas who said he was "not as excited as I am desperate.")
Somehow Paul Ryan's ascension is another coup d'etat, with the Freedom Caucus rejecting (still) second-in-command Kevin McCarthy in favor of... well, he was Boehner's preference for a successor, after Eric Cantor got bounced by a right-wing primary challenger, go figure. Now, Paul Ryan is what the FC wanted, and “the first thing we told him was that we were not going to accept any of his demands,” Labrador said. They do plan to keep driving from the back bench. And this:
Labrador said that Ryan was “shocked” when he heard how the Freedom Caucus had been treated by Boehner.
Such an interesting idea. Ryan had no idea what was going on, with his head down and concentrating on Ways and Means? The party's 2012 nominee for Vice President and chair of the most powerful committee in the House hadn't noticed the full extent of the war in the GOP? And then he found out nobody from the Freedom Caucus was on his committee!
“That was the moment that we realized there was a little bit of us in Paul, and Paul realized we weren’t as crazy as everybody tried to make us out to be.”
"Not crazy" is one of those assessments you really need a third-party to make (or at least confirm). Charlie Dent, "the head of the Tuesday Group, a caucus of fifty-six center-right Republicans," describes the other factions as
"seventy to a hundred governing conservatives, who always voted for the imperfect legislation that kept the government running; seventy to eighty “hope yes, vote no” Republicans, who voted against those bills but secretly hoped they would pass; and the forty to sixty members of the rejectionist wing, dominated by the Freedom Caucus, who voted against everything and considered government shutdowns a routine part of negotiating with Obama."
Dent's view of what it means to be conservative seems about right to me, and completely at odds with what the Freedom Caucus is about:
“Stability, order, temperance, balance, incrementalism are all important conservative virtues. Disorder, instability, chaos, intemperance, and anarchy are not.”
Labrador is nothing if not sure of himself and his end-justifies-the-means willingness to wreak disorder, instability, chaos and anarchy. His time in office has been one media grandstand after another, and how sweet it must be for him to have Lizza give him the last word, to "bask in his achievemnts, including Boehner's fall":
“I came here to change Washington five years ago, and I think I have accomplished that in a big way.”
Which, unfortunately, is not the good news. As ample quick memes spell out in a social medium near you, the big-picture numbers from Obama's time in office are remarkably good. Whether it was simple reversion to the mean, dumb luck, or staying the course, any Republican would be touting these from every mountain top as confirmation of their brilliant policies. Since the Freedom Caucus's "victories" include essentially no legislation with the possibility of positive effect outside the civil war within the GOP, we can at least be sure that they deserve zero credit for any of it.
Maybe it's just the boilerplate talking, but Patrick W. Stutzman, Vice President of Service Assurance Repair for CenturyLink sent me an email in regard to yesterday's conversation with a call center representative, asking for some of my time (no more than 5 minutes) and my feedback, via a link to centurylinksurveys.com. On the one hand, it's an imposition. On the other hand, I am eager to give him a piece of my mind.
It's just as well I didn't receive one of these regarding the conversation with a different representative four days ago. That one didn't go nearly as well, and after waiting through a very annoying hold queue (it's not the wait, it's the recordings; "did you know you can chat online..." but no, I could not), one of the first line techs tried to walk me through all the myriad possibilities of what might be wrong at my house. But if any of those could have fixed the problem, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Anyway, the Monday call did go well, and even though the aggravation of being without useful internet for the 3rd day running was greater than it was on the first day, I was more motivated to reach a resolution. That was "dispatch," as in actually sending someone out into the field. The next day (today), somewhere between... oh, 9:30 in the morning and 1:30 in the afternoon. As it turned out, our service was kind of back to normal (as if by magic) this morning, so we both stayed busy catching up on and were not much inconvenienced. I was a bit worried that when the guy did finally show up, almost 1:30, he wouldn't be able to find any trouble, and we'd be at the mercy of repeating the story.
After the tech said "take me to your modem" (without a sci-fi pun intended, alas) and saw things were plugged in OK (after insisting "you've got 'em plugged in backwards!" and me saying, "no, I don't think so"), and what state it was in, he checked the line at the service entrance. He gave our internal wiring approval for being sufficient (after only 31 years in the house with pretty much the same wiring, who would've thought?) and said "you might need some new technology," and drove off to see how we were connected in the neighborhood junction. (He never did say quite what that would be; when I mentioned it to another tech friend, he said "that's wire nuts instead of just electrical tape.")
Less than an hour later he called to say "you're all set," and a quick speed test showed that we were, indeed. Instead of just under 1 Mbsp and lots of drops to near-zero on the download side, we were boosted to 1.33M, nice peaks and no troughs. Such a shame I didn't get through the support agent wicket all the way to "dispatch" one of the last couple times the service went south and I was desperate enough to try calling for help.
There should be a punchline after all that, so here we go: what feedback do I have for the service department?
1. Fix the awful recordings in your hold queue messages. Silence is near-golden, and an occasional update on the estimate wait time is plenty. Don't command customer attention the whole time; we have other things we need to do.
2. Please assume that when someone who has had your service for half a dozen years calls there is a genuine problem to solve. We don't need a lot of time at the "is it plugged in" level of troubleshooting.
Given the happy outcome (even if it was preceded by three less-happy days, and two previous outages this year), I guess that's about it.
Last week, some of his best friends were Muslims, and "they're wonderful people." This week... not so much. Trump says he'd totally stop letting any more in. What about Muslim-American citizens currently abroad? Spokeswoman Hope Hicks replied: “Mr. Trump says, ‘Everyone.’”
But really, you can't stop there. If some poll by some DC "national security think tank" says a quarter of US Muslims think bad thoughts, shouldn't we be rounding them all up and putting them in internment camps?
Updates galore: All the other presidential candidates had to weigh in and shoot this duck in a barrel. "Reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive," Hillary tweeted, and yes, it makes us less safe. Lindsey Graham calls on "every candidate for president" (including Trump, why not) to do the right thing and condemn Trump's statement. Jeb! tweeted "Donald Trump is unhinged." Chris Christie said “Again, this is the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don’t know what they’re talking about.” And you don't suppose it's hurt Trump's popularity with his supporters, has it? But the piéce de resistance, Dick Cheney:
“Well I think this whole notion that somehow we need to say no more Muslims and just ban a whole religion goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean religious freedom’s been a very important part of our, our history.”
Update #2: NYT fact check on that poll, which was an "online survey," not an actual representative sample of opinion in the population. The "pollster" Frank Gaffney, Jr. is “one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes” who is “gripped by paranoid fantasies about Muslims destroying the West from within” by the SPLC's estimate.
Not that I've ever troubled myself with reading Ayn Rand, but my understanding was that her most heroic figure, John Galt, was an architect, and as such, I imagine he architected something or other in her fictional accounts. It would have fallen to smaller people to actually build what he designed, but never mind that.
Contrast that with the self-centered, self-righteous saboteurs of the No-Nothing wing of the GOP these days, with Rep. Raúl Labrador as the closest thing they've come up with for a heroic figure. As recounted in Greg Sargent's compliment to Ryan Lizza's piece in the New Yorker, "a particular anecdote from the story ... reveals the underlying dynamic rendering the GOP intransigent with an uncommon level of clarity."
Unlike many Republicans, Labrador did not see the shutdown as a permanent stain on the Party. He grabbed one of two large poster-board polling charts leaning against his desk; it was titled “Before /After 2013 Shutdown” and showed the Republican Party’s approval ratings quickly recovering. “Within a couple of months, people forgot what happened,” he said. “So our favorables went back up, and our unfavorables went back down.”…
Labrador then pointed to another chart, which showed that the G.O.P.’s favorable ratings this year dropped from forty-one per cent, in January, to thirty-two per cent, in July. “This is what happens when we do nothing,” he said. “This is the new G.O.P. majority in 2015, when we stand for nothing.” The problem, in his view, was that the Party was “governing,” he said, adding air quotes to the word. “If people just want to ‘govern,’ which means bringing more government, they’re always going to choose the Democrat.”
No government shutdown has yet impinged on Labrador's paycheck, staff, or prospects, apparently. So screw the rest of you, he has a principle to defend, no matter how much it costs someone else.
On the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we're all contemplating what the next wave might look like. The home-grown terrorism and ridiculously frequent shootings are one thing, but even though it's far less often, something about the enemy without coming here and attacking is more disturbing. Just going by headlines (since my internet has been having a bad day for 4 days and counting), the FBI says the San Bernadino assailants "were radicalized and have been for quite some time," right up to their visiting a gun range to practice their aim in the last few days. (What else would you practice there, your quick draw?) Tashfeen Malik, the dead woman who still wears a veil (lest she tempt any necrophiliacs) studied at a "conservative" but "not yet linked to jihadist violence" Islamic school in Pakistan. Or, ah, maybe it is now linked to jihadist violence?
Whatever. If not that school, hundreds or thousands more willing to inculcuate malleable young minds with hatred and violence and the most poisonous pedagogy you can imagine, and launch them out into the world. Some will be attracted to the richest countries in the world, why not? If you're going to go ballistic in service to suicidal ideology, it might as well be somewhere nice.
Is a more comprehensive surveillance state going to ferret out the missiles of the new millennium? It can try, but it can't find them all. How much of our civil liberties will we have to forgo to feel more secure? So far, it seems the only one we're clinging to is the 2nd amendment, which has some decidedly counter-productive aspects. Also, when the next Tashfeen Malik and Syed Farook finish practicing and become active shooters, they will no doubt unload far more ordnance than any good guys with guns on the scene can do.
“The purpose of terrorism is to make ordinary people afraid to do the ordinary things that make up their lives,” said Janice Rutherford, a member of the county Board of Supervisors. “We can’t be afraid of our lives, of our community, of our neighbors, of our coworkers.”
But... how can we not be afraid of them, for at least a little while? And how can this not color the 2016 presidential campaign in the most xenophobic and militaristic way? Another headline today: Far-Right National Front gains in French regional elections. We'll be hearing more from Marine Le Pen ahead of that country's 2017 presidential elections, after we get done with our own.
There's all this money (a lot of money), all dressed up, and no one's sure if it's going anywhere. News from Miami is that the Bush team tries to soothe donor concerns and see if this would work for you:
"The final quarterly gathering of donors this year came on the same weekend as Art Basel, and in a nod to Miami's glittering art festival, Mr. Bush's donor event was billed as "Pop Art, Politics and Jeb," and featured a reception at the studio of Romero Britto, whose bright-colored paintings and sculptures are beloved by the city. (In a street art flourish, a video attached to an invitation showed a tattooed graffiti artist spray-paining "All In For Jeb" in bubbly letters on the side of a Dumpster.)"
That's some "flourish," all right, "All In" on the side of a Dumpster. (But "bubbly.") It seems that the Jeb! team is positioning their candidate as the Po-Mo Bush, self-deprecatingly ironic in a way the presidential campaign has yet to see, other than perhaps John McCain running as a "maverick" in 2008... Oh, and Sarah Palin for his running mate, never mind, we've had post-modernism already, haven't we.
We are strong. And we are resilient. We won't be terrorized. So sayeth our President (and our hegemonic defense spending). We are also incredibly well-armed at home. So sayeth the nice pop in Black Friday arm weapon sales, indicated by background checks on the day up 5% over last year, plus however many unlicensed dealers made sales without requiring background checks.
And still the shootings continue. Is this a literal war on Christmas, some dude on Fox News wanted to know? Yer darn tootin' it is, and a war on civilized life in general. Grandma's shopping for ammo so she can set her mind at ease while cruising the aisles of Target and Wal-Mart. It's like Sheriff Joe Arpaio says: “all armed citizens to take action in the event of mass violence or terrorism until law enforcement can arrive.”
I'm wondering just what not being terrorized would look like, because grandma packing to go Christmas shopping at Target looks pretty messed up to me.
Update: Here I could have just posted Michele Fiore's Christmas card and saved myself a thousand words.
Prompted by the first episode of the outstanding series narrated by neuroscientist David Eagleman (The Brain), I borrowed a library copy of his 2011 book, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, and found it be a fascinating, provocative, and wonderful read. Eagleman is brilliant, entertaining, and superbly talented at explaining both the explicable and the inexplicable. The latter remains the larger part of the story, tidily noted "as the quip goes" at the very end of it: If our brains were simple enough to be understood, we wouldn't be smart enough to understand them.
That doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile to give it a try, even if, as he so persuasively shows, we are and will remain largely incomprehensible to ourselves.
"What a perplexing masterpiece the brain is, and how lucky we are to be in a generation that has the technology and the will to turn our attention to it. It is the most wondrous thing we have discovered in the universe, and it is us."
Sorry for the lack of spoiler alert, but that ending statement could have just as easily been an epigram at the start. Just a couple of highlights: chapter 6, "Why Blameworthiness is the Wrong Question," considers our current understanding of organic malfunction of the brain (such as the tumor that turned Charles Whitman into a mass murderer in 1966), and its limitations in the context of our criminal justice system. With our overloaded prison system doing double duty as a "mental institution," he proposes a way forward focused on rehabilitation to the greatest extent possible, protection where necessary, and without the not-useful element of retribution. "Sentencing based on modifiability" would offer hope for a different future than cycles of crime and punishment and increasing numbers of wasted lives.
In the next chapter, after some discussion of the interaction of neurobiology and narcotics (broadly classified), and noting that certain molecules happned to "fit lock-and-key into the microscopic machinery of the reward circuits," specifically the mesolimbic dopamine system, this lovely footnote (fleshed out from the bibliography):
* The basic architecture of this reward circuit is highly conserved throughout evolution. The brain of a honeybee uses the same reward system your brain does, running the same sotware program on a much more compact piece of hardware. (See Montague, et al., "Bee foraging.")
The picture of the unfathomably wealthy, brand new parents inspired to give away almost all their fortune was hard not to like, but Jesse Eisinger finds some ways. It's not quite as likeable as it might have seemed at first blush, starting with the fact that an LLC isn't really "away." It may or may not turn out to even be charitable. Or taxed.
In the biggest picture of the course of human events, after you boil down the myriad events that an individual life comprises, only one thing matters for posterity: did you pass along your DNA?
For the last few millennia, we've managed more than the mere biological, and can talk about the durable ideas and tools and processes of culture, too. One branch of all that is the study of our recipes, the formulae we mix and match to launch new generations into the fray. We're up to the point when we can do things like collect DNA from dozens of human remains dating back eight millennia, 8,000 years, and catalog the genetic variations at hundreds of thousands of points. We can also collect DNA from a hundred skeletons dating back about 3,400 years and sequence their entire genomes. Our story so far seems to be that
"Until about 9,000 years ago, Europe was home to a genetically distinct population of hunter-gatherers. ... Then, 9,000 to 7,000 years ago, the genetic profiles of the inhabitants in some parts of Europe abruptly changed, acquiring DNA from Near Eastern populations."
It seems that both farming practices and the farmers who practiced them spread into Europe from Turkey, as the hunter-gatherers retreated to pockets between the farming communities. What next?
From 7,000 to 5,000 years ago, however, hunter-gatherer DNA began turning up in the genes of European farmers. “There’s a breakdown of these cultural barriers, and they mix,” Dr. Reich said.
Yeah, after you hang out in the same neighborhood for a few tens of centuries, a certain amount of cross-fertilization kicks in. And then?
"About 4,500 years ago, the final piece of Europe’s genetic puzzle fell into place. A new infusion of DNA arrived — one that is still very common in living Europeans, especially in central and northern Europe.
"The closest match to this new DNA, both teams of scientists found, comes from skeletons found in Yamnaya graves in western Russia and Ukraine."
What an adventure! What an adventure figuring it all out 4,500 years later, when dead men (an women) seem to be telling tales after all.
Props to Politico for "Republican party elders" in their subhead, even though I don't think the party's ills actually sort out by age. Momentum to bar Syrian refugees slowing seems like a trend toward a modicum of sanity. "Some Republican lawmakers are expressing concerns about the House bill" that was whipped up in the frenzy after some other country had a terrorist attack by not-Syrian refugees, "saying refugees pose less of a national security threat than foreigners who arrive by other means."
Mark the day on the calendar when a fact was able to penetrate lawmakers' awareness.
Or maybe it was the appeal from authority put into a letter from a platoon of retired flag officers, secretaries of state, homeland security, and national security advisors?
The county commissioners up in Bonner County (who I'm guessing might never have never met a refugee) are a little slow; they've just got around to calling for a halt to resettlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria until vetting rules can be reviewed.
Meanwhile, our actual domestic terrorism problem continues apace. At least 14 killed and 14 more wounded in a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California. At a center for people with developmental disabilities.
Still too soon to talk about meaningful changes to gun laws?
Apparently so. The NY Daily News reports that "hard-headed House Republicans blocked a debate Tuesday on a bill that would close a loophole allowing suspected terrorists to legally buy guns."
And here I thought the Idaho GOP's plank for "Sound Currency" was just some whacky local color.
Sec. 4 Sound Currency
"We recognize the failure of the Federal Reserve System to maintain a sound U.S. dollar and the danger of mercantile banks controlling the issuance of our currency. We believe the Federal Reserve Bank should be abolished and the issuing power restored to the people with the stipulation that the U.S. dollar be backed by gold and silver. We believe Idahoans need to protect their savings from the ravages of inflation, which is hidden taxation, and encourage citizens to participate in a systematic acquisition of precious metals which represent real value as opposed to paper currencies."
But no! Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee all think "the value of the dollar should be tied to something," and gold is nice and shiny. (Silver requires more maintenance, but Idaho has some mines.) Or maybe "make it the commodity basket," Huckabee said. Cornucopia!
The capsule history in the sidebar of the consideration of the good old days of the gold standard doesn't mention whether U.S. gold reserves would stack up against our current debts, but having our creditors clean out Ft. Knox might be an unintended consequence should the barking dogs of economic madness actually catch the car. It was when we faced "growing trade deficits" in the late 1960s that President Nixon shut it down, and we haven't really turned that around.
(In fact, the numbers served up by the Bureau of Economic Analysis just now show the excess of imports over exports peaking at a quaint $6 billion in 1972. We're currently running $400 billion-ish in arrears, up from twice that a decade ago, before the bubble burst.)
Paul Krugman, on the lust for gold: "You might think that the overwhelming empirical evidence against the hard-money view would count for something. But you’d only think that if you were paying no attention to any other policy debate."
Quote of the day, in the NYT story ISIS Promise of Statehood Falling Far Short, Ex-Residents Say
“We thought they wanted to get rid of the regime, but they turned out to be thieves.”
Save that for the next round of discussion between what's left of the moderate Republicans and the zombie Sagebrush rebels in Idaho and the intermountain west when they tell us how much more effectively the state can look after what are now federal lands within our borders.
But that's a parochial matter. There is a deep timelessness to thievery in the history of regimes coming and going.
Fluke Corporation is a somewhat storied name in my recollection, even though I never did the kind of stuff that called for their instruments, and working for a (once upon a time) instrument company myself, it would be extraordinary for them to be better than second choice. Anyway, somehow, I'm on their list, to find out that it's Day 2 of the 12 Days of Fluke, and I should "check out today's gift" for buying something.
Seriously? You're going to send me one of these annoying emails EVERY DAY for most of two weeks?
No, you are not. Somewhat cleverly, they have separate unsubscribe links in the footer, the first "If you wish to opt out of the 12 Days of Fluke emails," and a second all-purpose. Perhaps I want to see what cute marketing campaign they come up with next?
This seems like a brilliant way to find out how many of your subscribers don't actually want to be on your list. Count me as one.
There's a U.S. Department of State Freedom of Information Act website, with a search interface, and in its Virtual Reading Room, you can browse through the 256 pages of the Clinton Email November Release to your heart's content.
H/t to NPR for the link and a smattering of comic highlights. So glad we're covering this important story in such detail.
Tom von Alten