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29.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Talking past each other, but in proximity Permalink to this item

Watching the Newshour about Obama's meeting with the Congressional Republicans today, I thought it was a remarkable attempt on Obama's part, even if he was mostly telling them that we're not that far apart, and them refusing to admit anything of the kind. Their well-formulated "questions" were designed to state a contrary position to every initiative that the Obama administration

"After three elections in a row," Jeb Hensarling of Texas said... which would be the last three special elections, conveniently drawing the curtain this side of the upstate NY election that repudiated the Tea Party? "Let me draw the most self-serving inference possible," he might as well have said. Let's talk about the net effect of the last 500 elections, shall we?

It was all done "with all due respect," but I didn't see much movement closer together.

"America the Beautiful" on sale Permalink to this item

Detractors restyled the "Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act" as the Recreational Access Tax, and smell that RAT worse than ever. One of the takebacks that had escaped my notice was the sly sunset provision for the supposedly "lifetime" Golden Age/Access passes that started in the mid-1960s, encourage holders to trade them in for the FLREA replacement, the "America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior/Access pass," thereby buying into a less attractive deal supported by policy rather than law.

Concessioners (who now run half of the almost 5,000 National Forest campgrounds, and more than 4 out of 5 that take reservations) only have to honor the deal "to the extent practicable."

Bill Schneider describes the out-of-control Forest Service fees, and invites you to get your comment in by February 1st.

It might not to send a little love to Senator Baucus in Montana, and Senator Crapo in Idaho for their bill to repeal parts of the FLREA, either.

Interesting source of support for public TV Permalink to this item

From the (commercial) Idaho State Broadcasters Association:

"Idaho Public Television's programming and services complement the commercial services offered by other ISBA members, providing coverage and feeds from state government activities, statewide Emergency Alert Services, and pre-school through adult educational services. Idaho Public Television also serves a vital broadcast student training role in conjunction with the University of Idaho and Idaho State University."

Fundraising a little slow? Permalink to this item

The RNC goes for marginally legal deception with a DO NOT DESTROY OFFICIAL DOCUMENT to try to raise money from the unwitting. Seems to be pretty much in keeping with Michael Steele's style.

They're doing it in Minnesota, among other places. MPR has a photo of one of the faux forms.

The RNC "defended" the mailing by noting they used the same scam the last time a real census was going on, in 2000. Good one.

Update: Sisyphus suggests that while the RNC may have steered just barely clear of the federal Deceptive Mail Prevention and Enforcement Act, they might not have cleared the constraints of Idaho's Consumer Protection Act, prohibiting causing confusion or misunderstanding "to the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods or services;" or "as to affiliation, connection, or association with, or certification by, another," and more generally, "any act or practice which is otherwise misleading, false, or deceptive to the consumer."

Which is exactly what the RNC's mailing is intended to do.

Cutting edge Permalink to this item

This could be—arguably should be—on theonion but no, it's Fox "News", counting the number of times that Obama uses "I" in his speeches, "all this month."

Because... "much attention has been given" to it. From the comments: "This is riveting... Please count the number of times he uses the word 'the' next month. Please!!!"

28.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The reaction Permalink to this item

I had other distractions and didn't watch the Obama's State of the Union address last night. (Horrors!) The White House was kind enough to mail me advance "excerpts," which I gave a look-through, said "huh," and figured there would be nothing earth-shaking, set the DVR, and figured I'd come back to it at some point. I also avoided seeking out others' reactions, so that I wouldn't be swayed one way or the other before I came up with something on my own.

I heard on the radio that Obama had actually managed to provoke a response out of Associate Justice Samuel Alito, an interesting accomplishment, given that any members of the Supreme Court typically "sit stony-faced and never clap or cheer." Alito apparently shook his head! And mouthed the words "not true" in response to Obama's expressed opinion about their recent Citizens United decision and its implication.

What a thrill to see the Supreme Court in action, of sorts! Just imagine what it would be like if they let C-SPAN in, and we could watch them all the time.

I liked the first comment to Linda Greenhouse's Opinionator post, from Mark in Pittsburgh:

"I've never seen a Supreme Court justice so visibly and publicly peeved. All that was missing from tonight's scene was Mrs. Alito sitting conspicuously behind the justice with tears streaming down her cheeks as she did during his confirmation hearing."

27.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Corporate takeover Permalink to this item

Salmon Building, Portland, Oregon Stuart Taylor, Jr.: The End of Restraint

Richard Viguerie: Good Riddance to Incumbent-Protection Censorship; Hello Insurgents. (He thinks that's wonderful news.)

News Writer: Welcome to America, Inc.

Sandra Day O'Connor: "the problem of campaign contributions in judicial elections might get considerably worse and quite soon."

Severo Ornstein: Some Voices Are More Equal Than Others

A qualified repudiation Permalink to this item

They're innocent until proved guilty after all, but this one word in the middle of the story about soon-to-be-former conservative hero James O'Keefe and pals getting busted for an alleged plot to tamper with phones in a U.S. Senator's office jumped out at me:

The Salt Lake City Republican Party had previously arranged for O'Keefe to be keynote speaker at a fundraiser next month, but when the news broke, they changed their plans. The County GOP Chairman said that O'Keefe "doesn't necessarily represent the Republican Party."

Doesn't necessarily?

Oregon looks to taxes to get out of its jam Permalink to this item

Oregon voters approve two tax measures by a wide margin in yesterday's special election. Randy Stapilus comments on the big yes on Ridenbaugh Press:

"Oregon voters have not approved a new tax or a tax increase in 80 years (when they okayed the income tax). This is a truly remarkable reversal."

How to Dump the Teabaggers Permalink to this item

Terrance Heath outlines a return to plan A, ruling with the power of the majority, including:

And in the theme of channeling presidents past, it's decorated with quotes from Harry Truman.

"I don't like bi-partisans. Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know that he's going to vote against me."

"Looks like pure disaster" Permalink to this item

No, it's not news from Haiti, it's the early returns on Obama's latest budget idea, from Paul Krugman. Listening to Republicans on the radio this morning offering up tepid kudos for the "spending freeze" concept, it sounds like the best of all possible worlds for them. They can be cautiously bipartisan in their support, prepared to claim that the President "didn't go far enough" if it turns out to be a Herbert Hoover move and amplifies our Great Recession.

"The deficit is not the biggest economic issue—this is a partisan meme abetted by an ignorant and corporate-controlled media, including Rupert Murdoch's increasingly partisan Wall Street Journal. The red ink certainly never mattered under George W. Bush. Without a robust stimulus, investment in people and infrastructure, and tax and trade reform, the American economy can't repay the deficit, no matter this cosmetic freeze. Meanwhile, a double-dip recession remains a real possibility and sustained high joblessness a reality.

"Obama told Diane Sawyer he'd rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president. So far, sadly, he's on track to be a mediocre one-term president.


25.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Morality and money Permalink to this item

One of the possible explanations for a relatively low mortgage default rate is "norm asymmetry," as described by the University of Arizona's Brent White in Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis, and discussed in Richard Thaler's economic view in the NYT.

"[Individual borrowers] think they are obligated to repay their loans even if it is not in their financial interest to do so, while their lenders are free to do whatever maximizes profits."

For individuals, avoiding shame and guilt, and "the anxiety over foreclosureís perceived consequences" can motivate them to make decisions against their own interests. In contrast, "social control agents" emply both "moral suasion and disinformation... to cultivate these emotional constraints in homeowners" in order to "maximize profits or minimize losses irrespective of concerns of morality or social responsibility."

That corporations can act without concern of morality or social responsibility is not exactly breaking news, but it's worth reconsideration in light of the astoundingly activist decision of the "conservative" wing of the Supreme Court, unfettering the corporate money flowing to political campaigns.

The claim on freedom of expression made by an individual is categorically different than that made by a corporation, just as money (or a financial obligation) has profoundly different meaning for a person than it does for an organization. Corporate decisions are made by people handling others' capital, and all too often for remuneration that's disconnected with durable profitability, let alone social utility.

If we invent the "personhood" of corporations, we must also invent—and enforce—the corporate equivalent of morality, or suffer the consequences. The abstraction of a corporation was established as a defense against liability, after all, and it defends against "moral suasion" at least as well.

24.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Senator Jim Clark on the way out Permalink to this item

The Coeur d'Alene Press reports that The 7-term Republican from Hayden Lake is ready to call it quits, even as he's trying to throw a little tea overboard on his way out. "Good riddance" seems to be the consensus on Huckleberries.

23.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Running dogs of information imperialism Permalink to this item

I have to hope that the Global Times' editorial deriding US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "seemingly impassioned speech" earlier this week made more sense in Chinese than it did in its nearly incoherent English version. It's clear enough the Chinese don't like being pushed around by the U.S., but it seems they'd be better off leaving it at that than trying to justify their pugnacity.

The idea of an "uncensored and free flow of information on an unrestricted Internet" just doesn't appeal to the Chinese government or their editorial spokesmen.

"It must be realized that when it comes to information content, quantity, direction and flow, there is absolutely no equality and fairness."

Too much information! We should hush up some to make it more fair! Taking a lecture from an autocracy about what's "contrary to the spirit of democracy and calculated to strengthen a monopoly" makes for a light comedy.

"Unlike advanced Western countries, Chinese society is still vulnerable to the effect of multifarious information flowing in, especially when it is for creating disorder."

Fortunately for their society, the Chinese government is willing to devote considerable resources to restrict that multifarious information flow, even as it winds up to its contradictory conclusion:

"The free flow of information is an universal value treasured in all nations, including China, but the US government's ideological imposition is unacceptable and, for that reason, will not be allowed to succeed. China's real stake in the 'free flow of information' is evident in its refusal to be victimized by information imperialism."

It's nothing if not quirky: they have reader comments following the editorial, and those are pretty much uniformly excoriation. The most brutal comment was also the shortest: "This article is 'Chinese logic' at its best."

Political caricatures Permalink to this item

The latest "online strategy ballot" from the National Republican Senatorial Committee seems geared to a new generation of conservatives accustomed to multiple-choice testing. What should Republicans highlight next? There wasn't a "no to everything" choice, so I guess the strategy is set to change from the past year. "Saving Social Security" is one of the 9 choices, since when have Republicans been interested in that? The timeless "Marriage/Values" also pops up in the second item, Which of the Democrats' liberal policies do you oppose the most? (You may check more than one.) Feel free to go superlative on the full half dozen:

22.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Otter: the whole idea... was dead wrong Permalink to this item

Betsy Russell's report quotes the Governor, regarding one of his cost-saving plans: "The whole idea that we were going to eliminate the parks department was dead wrong."

Which is not to say there won't be some ripping and tearing. $4.5M in "savings," 25 positions (a.k.a. "dozens") to be cut.

Mostly, it seems that it was the terms of the donation of Harriman State Park that kept the Governor from carrying out his "concept."

Cozzens boycotts Boise: says city unsafe Permalink to this item

Brad Cozzens of Eagle is so steamed about being required to give bicyclists three feet to pass, that he's written a letter to the editor promising to "avoid driving into Boise for anything."

Ah, OK, but why would that be? "The 3-foot rule puts me at risk," he wrote. Risk of having to slow down and pass safely? Risk of getting rear-ended? Risk of public embarrassment for his letter?

Not that we'd miss his traffic that much, but this threat to "cost businesses dearly." Could we ask him to quantify just how much he's been spending, and plans to spend before we start talking about repealing the ordinance (before its ink is dry, no less)?

Sauce for the geese, but not the ganders Permalink to this item

Canada geese in Julia Davis park Idaho's legislators are sympathetic as all get-out, but they're not about to give up the full-time health insurance benefit they get for their part-time jobs. (And in fact, while they're working more than full-time, in session, they could get a little testy about the suggestion they ought to. Never mind that their work is whacking everyone else's budget right now.)

"Ready for a fight" Permalink to this item

The financial euphoria over Scott Brown's election and the return of the supposedly cloture-proof Republican minority to kill health care reform was short-lived. The Obama administration stole back the news cycle with tough talk about making those "too big to fail" smaller than that threshold.

"While the financial system is far stronger today than it was a year one year ago, it is still operating under the exact same rules that led to its near collapse. My resolve to reform the system is only strengthened when I see a return to old practices at some of the very firms fighting reform; and when I see record profits at some of the very firms claiming that they cannot lend more to small business, cannot keep credit card rates low, and cannot refund taxpayers for the bailout. It is exactly this kind of irresponsibility that makes clear reform is necessary."

The proposal would prohibit banks and financial institution that contain a bank from owning, investing in or sponsoring a hedge fund or a private equity fund, or proprietary trading operations unrelated to serving customers for its own profit (so-called "proprietary trading"); and place broader limits on the excessive growth of the market share of liabilities at the largest financial firms.

Perhaps they'll even come up with a title for the bill that has Too Big To Fail as its acronym.

Whoopsie Permalink to this item

If you've got a Microsoft Windows operating system, and are wired up to Windows Update, you may have noticed a little something "extra" yesterday. Patch Tuesday was last week, so what's this on the third Thursday?

Get Firefox It's a fix for an exploit in their Internet Explorer code ("primarily" IE6, but also 7, and 8) that they learned about in September, and planned to roll out in, oh, I don't know, February? After Google was famously hacked through it, they thought maybe it was time to do something. Less famously, more than 30 other companies in high tech, finance and defense have also been attacked.

Given the dubious interconnections between the MS browser and the operating systems, you need to get patched whether or not you still use IE, but seriously, PC people, shouldn't you be using Firefox or Chrome or Opera by now?

21.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Coastal forecast: 2 meters higher Permalink to this item

You can't call the low-balled forecast from the IPCC "sandbagged," because that's the wrong way around. Sandbagging a forecast for sea level rise is something you might have to take literally. They backed off an early report estimating 3 feet, to just two. The authors of The Rising Sea make the case that "governments and coastal managers should assume the inevitability of a seven-foot rise in sea level," as "the most prudent, conservative long-term planning guideline."

The summary on Yale Environment 360 includes recommendations to immediately prohibit the construction of high-rise buildings and major infrastructure in areas vulnerable to future sea level rise, and to stop government assistance for oceanfront rebuilding:

"The guarantee of recovery is perhaps the biggest obstacle to a sensible response to sea level rise. The goal in the past has always been to restore conditions to what they were before a storm or flood. In the United States, hurricanes have become urban renewal programs. The replacement houses become larger and larger and even more costly to replace again in the future. Those who invest in vulnerable coastal areas need to assume responsibility for that decision. If you stay, you pay."

Shooting the messenger in the dark Permalink to this item

State economist Mike Ferguson has been the go-to guy for budgetary facts and forecasts for as long as I've been paying any attention, and he seemed to have an excellent record, and a lot of respect for his work. Until revenues turned seriously south. No one likes bad news, but both the Governor and the Legislature are thinking Ferguson's take isn't bad enough these days, and are making their own, lower, forecasts for what revenue the state will have this year and next.

Brian Murphy's report in the Statesman today describes the "outright disdain" that's being shown for Ferguson's projections of late. In his defense, Mike makes two good points: regarding forecasts, "the only thing we know for certain about [them] is [they] will be wrong"; and, if he had forecast a plunge in revenues from a financial meltdown before it had materialized, no one would have believed that, either.

So, if you're not confident in the numbers produced by the qualified expert who's on staff, what's the next best thing? Committee-generated gut feelings, "without underlying data," as Murphy puts it. Brilliant! Some of those gut feelings will turn out to be correct, too, and I guess we can follow the rising star of some legislator who gets lucky more often than not.

Since we're looking for efficiency ideas to help the state, here's one: have whoever makes the best guess buy some lottery tickets and donate the winnings back to the state. I've got a feeling that will work really well.

New digs have downside Permalink to this item

We got a little taste of this during the open house on the 9th, when we followed our noses into a hallway between two of the new garden level hearing rooms, and a rent-a-cop stationed inside curtly turned us around and sent us packing. In Dan Popkey's report today, he says "the doors at either end of the building's new below-ground garden level were closed Tuesday to all but legislators and staff, eliminating easy access to hearing rooms and most lawmakers' offices."

So they've closed the front doors to the hearing rooms as well as the back ones?! The doors have glass in them, so the public can at least look through and see the sun streaming through the skylights, maybe?

The serendipity of chance meetings, and the occasional glimpse of how the legislative process actually works may not justify keeping the lawmakers in cramped quarters but it sounds like architectural conveniences and the amplification of security, with "card-activated door locks and private stairways and elevators" have seriously cut public access.

I noticed the "raised platforms" and protective woodwork in the hearing rooms, and the statement they make. The people up front should be seen, and heard... and so they're a little above you. Legislature Live can make up for some of that, but not all: it's the give-and-take that matters, not just the broadcasting.

Free the Corporations! Permalink to this item

Teddy Roosevelt, on the 1904 stump. From an AP photo Ay yi yi, the Supremes blasted the dam holding back corporate money from flowing into elections, and there is going to be a lot of silt coming downstream.

Common Cause calls on Congress "to free itself from Wall Street's grip so Main Street can finally get a fair shake," which frankly, I can't imagine happening in my lifetime. As the torrent of email requests for contributions attests, raising money is job #1 for members of Congress, and the highest court in the land just gave them a windfall.

NPR's got an interesting timeline of a century of campaign finance law, starting with the scandal in TR's 1904 campaign that led to an outright ban on corporate contributions in 1907. Take a trip down memory lane through the Federal Corrupt Practices Act, the Teapot Dome, the Tillman Act applied to labor unions, the birth of political action commitees, the "corporate money and other corrupt funds" in Nixon's re-election campaign, the timeless principle that "money equals speech," and the "explosion" of "soft money."

What's left? "The 1907 bar against direct corporate contributions to federal candidates and national party committees," even as they "may spend freely to support or oppose candidates for president and Congress," a loophole large enough for a fleet of armored trucks.

20.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Open Letter to the Idaho Legislature Permalink to this item

Posted on, and signed by an impressive list of our state's leaders.

One year hangover Permalink to this item

Spring skiing at Bogus (2004) On the anniversary of Barack Obama's historic inauguration, the Democrats are pretty much reeling from the stunning upset in Massachusetts, where voters sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate for the first time in almost 4 decades. Of all the myriad causes, the Senate's health care reform morass may well be the most proximate. Is this because the state's voters don't have to care about health care reform? As Tovia Smith points out, "Massachusetts may not be the best place to measure support for overhauling health care, since voters already here have universal coverage through a state program that continues to enjoy broad support."

With the party switch of the seat Ted Kennedy held, the morass can only deepen; if the voters wanted to veto the national reform effort, giving the Republicans a super-minority of 41 was just the ticket, enough to defeat cloture votes under the current Rule 22, and so to block anything... and everything from getting through the Senate? Seems like there must be some limit to this power, since stuff came through the Senate for lo these many years without either party having 60 seats.

I'd like to see the minority power trimmed enough to cut Joe Lieberman loose, at least. If Scott Brown's victory gave Lieberman more power rather than less, what a weird twist that would be.

More commentary from the NYT Room for Debate blog:

Glenn Greenwald: this "bizarre resurgence of a party widely assumed to be dead only a year ago" "conclusively proves that something has gone radically wrong for the Democratic Party. One has to be in serious denial not to acknowledge that their approach is not working." This is not because of Obama's fascism, socialism, or both, but rather because the new boss is same as the old boss, "guardians of the Washington status quo." It's not exactly a rightward move to try to be more of that.

Theda Skocpol: It's the Democrats' "learned timidity and ready-for-defeatism." "Democrats will be able to use 51-vote rules only if they start breaking things into popular, obvious steps that tax the well-to-do and fund benefits for ordinary people. Democrats have to stop using regulations to do everything indirectly, and turn to policies with clear budgetary implications in order to make reconciliation usable."

19.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How super is the remaining majority? Permalink to this item

Now that Teddy Kennedy's seat has been moved into the red column, and the Democrats retain "only" 57 (or 58, or maybe 59, on an especially good day) of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate, the Republicans holding 41, will the Party in power start seriously considering an UNDO of the Constitutional rewrite embodied in Senate Rule 22?

The filibuster is out of control, mostly because it's been made all too easy to engage: "they donít even have to start [talking]; they just say they will, and thatís enough. Senators need not be on the floor at all. They can be at home watching Jimmy Stewart on cable. Senate Rule 22 now exists to cut off what are ghost filibusters, disembodied debates."

An interesting set of letters responding to Geoghegan's Op-Ed ran yesterday.

MLK Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Senator LeFavour's speech: Dreaming of Fire Permalink to this item

Another one of our legislators was downtown, but she's not conservative, and she wasn't at the Tea Party thing: her speech for the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Day Rally.

"We can be a state kinder than our policy makers. We can ourselves create a state of promise in spite of those who would divide us, those who would marginalize or demean those we love or care for, our neighbors, coworkers, family, friends."

Another report from downtown Permalink to this item

Randy Stapilus was in town today, and his take on the Idaho TEA rally is interesting. The Eye on Boise report (link in item below) mentioned the themes of hard currency and abolishing the Federal Reserve, but I didn't get the sense of the small size (he estimated 150, including a "substantial chunk" of conservative Republican legislators, taking a break from their non-holiday today) and the fact that it was more about campaign speeches than anything else.

Good news: get together Permalink to this item

Some wildly disparate groups converged on the Idaho State Capitol for various demonstrations and festivities around the the Martin Luther King Day holiday, and everybody apparently got along OK. There was the little incident with the Tea Party people taking something that wasn't theirs, but that eventually got sorted out.

Bad news: forced apart Permalink to this item

The 14th trip to Cuba didn't turn out as well as the previous 13 for Mark Slegers and Cuba AyUUda; this time they were refused entry, apparently because their "religious activities" license (required by the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury) made the Cuban officials think the trip was about "proselytizing."

There's always a first time, I suppose, but accusing UUs of proselytizing is, how shall we say, ironic.

At least they were treated better than the U.S. treats some of its detainees, before they were all sent home.

17.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A comfortable margin Permalink to this item

It might have just been my imagination, but a few days after the Boise City Council enacted the state's first "three feet to pass" ordinance, it felt like drivers were giving me a little more room out on the road. Not necessarily the full three feet, but more than usual. Felt kind of nice.

When I was out driving later in the day, and found myself about to pass a cyclist, I slowed down and waited a bit for oncoming traffic, so I could give him 3 ft. and then some. Pass it on.

16.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And a really bad idea Permalink to this item

Spelling out the effects of the Governor's recommendation to eliminate state funding for Idaho Public Television: if the state withholds $1.6 million, IPTV will have to give up an additional $1.8 million in federal grants and related funds.

I don't know, if you want to kill public TV, maybe that makes it a two-fer?

And cutting 19 FT and 37 PT jobs, closing the studios in Moscow and Pocatello and the Boise studio that supports Idaho Legislature Live, stopping maintenance of 39 of 40 rural translators and relays... all icing on the cake?

And another good idea Permalink to this item

From Paul Krugman: "[A]s Congress and the administration try to reform the financial system, they should ignore advice coming from the supposed wise men of Wall Street, who have no wisdom to offer."

The bankers do have some shrugs though. Financial crises just come along "every five to seven years. We shouldn't be surprised," says Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase. And hey, if the taxpayers don't bail out bankers who make tens of $millions a year next time around, they shouldn't be surprised either.

Here's a good idea Permalink to this item

The credit card companies who skim their expenses and a generous profit from the transactions they handle might agree to waive some or all of their fees on charitable contributions. At least for the outpouring of charity for Haiti?

It began innocently enough Permalink to this item

Signed up for Facebook this morning, motivated finally by some folks at our church having set up a page for it. Makes an OK opt-in broadcast medium for that I guess, even though its profile image manipulation is not well-documented, and better suited for faces (duh!) than logos.

I guess more than 350 million people are getting something out of it (for nothing eh), so what makes me think I'm so special to complain about anything. There is the incessant filling of Captchas (robot filtering is good), with the only way to turn it off to "verify" by having a text message sent to a mobile phone... which I don't have, thanks. (And gosh, that could never be spoofed by a spammer?!) I'd think filling in a dozen or more Captchas should qualify me as human.

The Facebook email contact mining widget The two creepiest parts about the signup process were (1) the first page of "Add Friends" showing "people you may know" that was much more accurate than I had any reason to expect (WHERE IN THE HELL DID IT OBTAIN ALL THAT INFORMATION?); and (2) the way it keeps asking for my email (which I've already supplied) and my email password, in order to mine my contacts list for more possible friends. (Ah, that answers question #1, doesn't it? All those people I may know are folks who let Facebook mine their contacts and found my email address there.)

The reassurance that Facebook won't save the password I give it is not quite sufficient for me to give it something it should not be asking for.

I'm also not keen on giving up my date of birth to any random malefactor who can search the web for it. The default setting is to show what you tell it to the world. I started with a convenient date that makes me "legal" (which indeed I am), which happened to be after I graduated from high school. Interesting, it let me say I graduated from HS before I was born, but not for college: it trims the year list to start at the DOB provided.

And then the ads... oh, I see it wants me to interact and teach it how to market to me. Bummer that everything it shows is "Irrelevant" to me (so "Repetitive" seems superfluous).

15.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Convergence on the Capitol Permalink to this item

Monday should be an interesting day in downtown Boise: as Dan Popkey reports in his Statesman blog, the 1st Amendment will be on parade, with the local Tea Party having reserved the Capitol's main steps for 4 hours centered on noon, while inside, the Governor and the Idaho Human Rights Commission will be having a Martin Luther King Jr./Idaho Human Rights Day event. The MLK/Human Rights Day rally had to settle for the plan B venue, Boise City Hall.

Otter undertakes the crusade against public TV Permalink to this item

Budget crisis? Let's kill a program we've never liked!

Never mind that the amount of money at issue is not enough to have a significant effect on the hole in the budget, or that the impact of the cut would be multiplied by the loss of federal matching funds, or that Idaho Public TV provides a lot more value than the state is paying for; it's a matter of ideology.

Marc Johnson reminds us that this has been tried before in Idaho, back in 1981. State funding was partially restored the next year. The University of Idaho declared a "financial exigency" in 1981 also, costing Jeanette her tenure-track faculty position running its Learning Center. After they'd got rid of her and the Center, they found out they couldn't keep the football team's grades high enough, and the program was reinstated. Not that the football players were the only students who benefited: the Registrar's statistical analysis showed that the program was effective in improving the performance and retention of competent students, not simply "remedial work" as its critics had contended.

The broken heart of Port au Prince Permalink to this item

I've gone quiet for a few days, for two reasons: one, I got caught up in three successive problems with some code I maintain (I could go into great detail, but it's so utterly banal), and two, the tragedy that is Haiti right now, after Tuesday's massive earthquake.

Knowing of the suffering, but too far from being able to physically help, there are many ways to contribute to the relief effort. One of these is organized by two organizations I know and trust. Jeanette and I have long supported the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, which has launched a Joint Relief Fund with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Consider giving to it.

It also makes me think of myriad roles our governments play in providing for our collective welfare: regulating utilities, emergency preparedness, education, planning and zoning... We don't think about building codes until disaster strikes, and their importance is literally laid bare. Wealthy countries such as ours have a reservoir of resources they can draw on to support both their own communities, and communities in other countries when the need arises.

But helping dig out from an earthquake, finding survivors, burying the tens of thousands of dead, providing drinkable water, something to eat, minimal shelter, is not enough. How will they re-start civilization, change the history of crushing poverty that made such broad-scale devestation from yet another natural disaster possible? I have no idea whatsoever. And Haiti is just the most recent, and most dramatic of catastrophes...

12.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A little good news in the bad Permalink to this item

State budget woes gave some local correspondents a chance to be on the national news, the Newshour's segment on tight budgets, and growing deficits. Idaho Public TV's Thanh Tan was one who was featured, reporting on her own agency being targeted for elimination of state funding. The Statesman's Kevin Richert also reported on what it felt like to be on "Idaho Reports" with Wayne Hammon, Administrator of Idaho's Division of Financial Managemen.

Going viral Permalink to this item

Mind-bending science in this report by Carl Zimmer: Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA. That our genome contains snippets of viral DNA by itself is no more (or less!) astounding than the fact that mitochondria have their own DNA and a family tree half as big as "ours." But "scientists have found about 100,000 elements of human DNA that probably came from viruses," in 8% or more of the human genome.

"Thierry Heidmann of the Gustave Roussy Institute in France and his colleagues put the fossil virus hypothesis to a spectacular test: they tried to resurrect a dead retrovirus. They first identified a number of copies of the same virus-like stretch of DNA in the human genome. Each version had its own set of mutations that it acquired after the virus had invaded our ancestors.

"By comparing the copies, Dr. Heidmann and his colleagues were able to figure out what the original sequence of the virus's genes had been. When they synthesized the genes from scratch and injected the genetic material into cells, the cells produced new viruses."

Democrats respond to State of the State Permalink to this item

From Senator Kate Kelly, and Representative John Rusche:

"During the last decade, Idaho's Republican leaders have made short-sighted decisions to hand out tax breaks to their special-interest supporters. They have hijacked the future of our children by shifting control away from the local school districts. They have squandered good economic times, only to be left with a fragile economy when times get tough. Idaho businesses are closing, we're bleeding jobs, people are losing their homes, and families are struggling to pay their bills....

"The current budget crisis is a symptom, not a cause, of our problems. It is the result of a lack of vision and a seeming determination to drive an ideology rather than achieve results. In the last two years Idaho has lost nearly 70,000 jobs, and one in five Idahoans is unemployed or underemployed. Recovering these jobs—and saving the ones we have left—must be our top priority. Here is what we should do. Establish a vision of jobs for all Idahoans. We must avoid decisions that put people out of work. We propose that every cut in a state agency include an estimate of its effect on private sector jobs. Every agency must have as a priority support for those private sector jobs."

The Eye on Boise post on the subject includes John Miller's AP story.

11.1.10 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Governor's S.O.S Permalink to this item

Watching C.L. "Butch" Otter give his State of the State and Budget Address today made me think about how reading from a teleprompter isn't as easy as some people make it look. I wondered what was going on in his mind as he wandered off script to say things like "Please remember that my door is always open, and remains open to you, within 24 hours."

Everybody's joking about how much they want a short legislative session... wouldn't it be better if we had a productive and useful session? Then it wouldn't matter if it was short or long. ("What government does, it must do well, effectively, and efficiently." Hear, hear.)

Let's give a big shout out for our University football teams! (Right before we start slashing the hell out of the budgets for higher education.)

The top 5 priorities start with not raising taxes, and maintaining our cash reserves. Then lip service to education and health and safety. And let's duplication of effort and "any waste." Not only is "no new taxes" top of his priorities, he wants to eliminate the personal property tax, increase tax credits, and add a home buyer tax credit.

The "nanny" government is bad, especially if it's "federal-style."

Transportation's important, but we've figured out a way to push contention out away from this session. "Millions of dollars of savings" from the Idaho Transportation Department, not counting the money we're spending defending ourselves from Pam Lowe's wrongful termination lawsuit.

"Limited government" is an important theme for the governor. No one watching the process in Idaho could have any doubts that government has some serious limitations. His "responsibly conservative" budget recommendations, include "sweeping changes," "meant to be permanent." And unironic, I'm sure.

Hear, hear for our approved plan to manage the "federally imposed predator."

And some of that old time wailing and rending of garments over health care, along with more business for lawyers, we'll sue the Federal Government if we have to.

Upping the ante Permalink to this item

Hard to know if Duane A. Coates of Meridian is serious with the letter he sent to the Idaho Statesman, but it makes an interesting read, after three warmup acts: "Learn how to tell time," "Media show ignorance of Gregorian Calendar," "Ten years later and the same old mistake," and last but hardly the least, Coates' Shame on the hypocrites and the blasphemers. The millennium starts with 1, people! And the decade too! Take back all those Top Ten lists! Blasphemers!

But then even that's not what it used to be, with burning at the stake gone out of style. True enough that "the Gregorian calendar based on the birth of Jesus did not start at zero," in no small part because Pope Gregory XIII decreed the calendar in 1582. (It took almost 3½ centuries to get most countries to agree on using it, so go figure.)

If the essential fact is Anno Domini, the "year of our lord," then it should matter just which year that was, eh? The calendar designers had a notion of the birth of Jesus on December 25, in the "year zero," just before we ticked over to 1. We can't know the date, but we can make a pretty good guess of the year, and the best guess is 4 B.C. That makes Jesus neither a zero (as Coates decries) nor a one (as he avers), but a minus 4.

Call me a blasphemer, but I'm going with the crowd, and the vast majority, with the feeling I get when I see the odometer roll over (or blink over, as the case may be) with one or more zeroes at the end. It's the start of something new. As we all figured out on Jan. 1, 2000. So, "ten years later and the same old mistake," but it's the one Lonnie Cook and his friends are making, rather than the one they're decrying.

Welcome to the new. (And the third "binary" day of the month.)

10.1.10 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Closer to the root of all evil Permalink to this item

Eye-popping doesn't begin to describe what anyone paying attention to what's about to happen in the banking sector. The American taxpayer bailed out AIG with how many hundred $billion, so that they could pay off Goldman Sachs' credit default swaps at 100 cents on the dollar, because meltdown! collapse of global banking system! the sky is falling unless we get all your money! and here comes the payday:

"Goldman Sachs is expected to pay its employees an average of about $595,000 apiece for 2009, one of the most profitable years in its 141-year history."

JPMorgan Chase employees likely to collect $463,000 on average. Five of the largest banks that received federal aid together set aside about $90 billion for compensation.

Too bad there are too many ex-bankers running the Treasury Department these days, we might do the right thing and put a 50% tax on bonus payouts over, what? A couple $100,000? Given unemployment at 10 or 20%, and the contribution to the deficit those bailouts provided, I'd say an excess profits is the very least the bankers could do to participate in the debacle that they were so instrumental in creating.

9.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

State remodeling project Permalink to this item

Gov. Steunenberg and the crowd outside the Capitol Idaho's just finished a major refurbishing and remodeling of its Capitol, and it's a beauty. There were dignitaries, the Pledge and Anthem, the 25th Army Band and a 250 voice Capitol Celebration Chorus singing the world premiere of "Under Eternal Sky" (conducted by the The crowd surges into the rotunda composer, Dr. Paul Aitken, lyrics by Neysa C.M. Jensen) outside in the winter air, some mercifully short speeches and everyone singing "Here We Have Idaho" for the finale, then we all piled inside to see how our $120 million were spent.

Idaho's Capitol rotunda Idaho Public TV broadcast their story of the building, and this major renovation this evening: Capitol of Light. There's talk of it being the finest of the state capitol buildings, which may or may not be so, but there's no doubt that it's a dandy.

Corinthian capital and the House's dome Consulting our map after the fact, we can see that we missed a good part of what there was to see: Legislative services (¾ths of the first floor), the Governor's office, the JFAC room. After seeing the House, we decided to skip the Senate. (Did I mention it was crowded?)

The Capitol and the foothills, from Idaho St. The new wing on east side of the "Garden Level" (which everybody's calling two wings, I guess one on each side of the skylit main corridor) was of particular interest: 5 big public hearing rooms, where it really will approach being the "people's house," moreso than the gala lip service it received today.

Back to Idaho Street and the Eastman parking garage, we enjoyed the view looking back toward the Capitol and the foothills, even under a snow-bland winter overcast. (The House dome is visible just over the "BLOCK" of the Union Block. Click on today's pix for larger versions.)

Robbing us blind Permalink to this item

Humans aren't good at assessing risk. A catastrophe halfway around the world rivets are attention, but crossing the street is a more immediate risk to life and limb (especially if you live near Cole Road in Boise!). We sweat a few cents a gallon, some of us, when looking to fill up the gas tank, but have you seen what Wall Street's been up to? Unemployment is at 10% (or closer to double that if you count the people who have just given up), and those banks that were on the brink of melting down to a catastrophic puddle so that we had to bail 'em all out... they're paying 7 and 8 figure bonuses and paying out just about nothing for interest and still charging plenty (disguised as "fees" as needed).

Frank Rich: The Other Plot to Wreck America.

Mother Jones has a half dozen articles on the Accountability Deficit, with two of the authors featured on this week's Bill Moyers Journal.

"[C]omplexity is the friend of the financial industry. If you really want to control them, you need simple rules. So, for example, Paul Volcker, former Fed Chairman. He thinks that we ought to simply prevent banks from being in the securities business. [You know, like we used to, after the Great Depression.] They should make loans. They should underwrite bonds. They should give advice on mergers and acquisitions. The sort of things they've done for years. But they shouldn't be trading securities. We should leave that to hedge funds." – Kevin Drum

The next best thing to being there Permalink to this item

Gary Sasaki does the Consumer Electronics Show. I'm not even trying to keep up anymore.

7.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not that we're itching to pay more sales tax... Permalink to this item

and of course we ALWAYS report our intertube purchases on our state tax return so we can send in our 6% "use" tax, but apparently not everyone does. Idaho Senate President pro-tem Bob Geddes says the problem of collecting taxes on Internet sales is one that needs a national solution, and that "Idaho would be very hard-pressed to do something on its own."

Sharon Fisher helpfully points out in the comments that there is a national solution, thankyouverymuch, the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board that's been under development for a good 10 years now, and in which Governor Dirk Kempthorne ordered Idaho to participate, "on this 29th day of July in the year of our Lord two thousand and five, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred twenty-ninth and of the Statehood of Idaho the one hundred fifteenth" (after the 2005 House sat on SJM 110 earlier that year). The House likewise killed a 2008 bill, and one one in 2009. ("Rep. Barrett said that we have been through this before and she does not want to go down this road one more time.")

Fisher reported on that and five other good ideas you won't see out of the Idaho Legislature this year, on

Countdown to the sausage mill Permalink to this item

Nice "Legislative Preview" feature from Boise State Radio, featuring Betsy Russell and her essential blog for following Idaho government, Eye on Boise.

Avalanche danger Permalink to this item

Today's Life section of the Statesman had an article about avalanche beacons and backcountry safety today. It's essential reading for anyone headed into the mountains right now. An experienced member of the local snowkiting list writes:

"This thin snowpack and the cold temps early in December have created a rotten base as bad as I've ever seen. I was hoping the new snow would start to break it down, but the opposite has happened. It is still cold at night and the new snow on this weak base isn't heavy enough to settle the old weak snow. I went up a north facing ridge and traversed across the top of a small bowl that had some wind deposited snow and the whole thing moved with very little effort. This was a huge red flag for me and I avoided anything steep enough to slide the rest of the day....

"Any additional snow will only add weight and increase the avalanche danger especially in wind filled bowls. Use extreme caution on and under any of the cornices and bowls."

These are the conditions that led to 25 avalanches along Idaho 21 between Lowman and Stanley last weekend, 11 of them hitting the roadway.

Epiphany Permanent URL to this day's entry

Adventures in email marketing Permalink to this item

A buddy of mine sidled up to me at a New Year's party last week and asked me some questions about this topic. I know a (very) little from the technical side of things, and have a similarly tiny bit of experience in managing various lists for various organizations that have more ambition than funding. A few months ago, I'd installed PHPList on the webhost account of our church, to see if it might be a helpful way to manage broadcast email communications, announcements, and so on. My trial run of an announcement list for fewer than 2 dozen people had gone well enough for me to suggest to my buddy that maybe they could use that. ("No budget" was an important constraint for the application he had.)

That brought my trial run off the back-burner, and after working with it a bit more, I started to run into trouble and limitations that I didn't like, coupled with the "usual" challenge of Open Source software: no one's in charge, so any "support" requests depend on how many people are actively using the stuff. (Actually, that limitation applies equally to "mainstream" software in most cases: there are always more, and often better answers available from Microsoft's user community, for example, than from the company itself.)

Fly fishing the Boise River, fall 2008 As a result of the attention, I happened to notice that one of the too-many mass emails I got yesterday came from a system of Convio's, and I thought I'd check them out. Their website is one of those lushly designed things that promises the moon, but never gets around to mentioning a price. They serve non-profits though, it should be good, eh? I inquired via their contact form, and soon heard back. The low end of the pricing was $100 per user per month, which is considerably more than $0, and a lot more than anyone I know wants to pay. (Their web design premise might well be that anyone who needs to ask how much it costs can't afford it anyway. They'll get you an Account Executive if you can.)

But the interesting part was that their web form-to-email information pipeline went via another bit I'd never heard of, the Eloqua Notification System. (Why wasn't Convio providing this very basic component itself?) Eloqua tells me they automate the science of marketing, and I'm pretty sure they do so without intending the irony that's coming at "science" from both directions in that catchy little slogan.

They spin off cute names like nobody's business, too: you can connect with Eloqua (if they haven't already connected with you!) through any number of promo blogs: Digital Body Language, Cloud Talk,, Funnelvision ("prospering in a new world where buyers don't want to be sold to"), Crowds 2 Crowds, and the sine qua non, Anything Goes Marketing. Don't forget to friend and tweet them, either.

On the Sales Enablement page, the catchy, Christmas-colored graphic caught my eye, with this arresting caption:

"Eloqua Prospect Profiler gives sales professionals fast access to their prospectís online activities and behaviors in an intuitive graphical format."

On why he's a Senior Analyst Permalink to this item

"Deep down, Americans can't help but respect the British accent." John Oliver, in his interview with Terry Gross broadcast yesterday.

Rededicating Idaho's Capitol Permalink to this item

Put it on your calendar: this Saturday's celebration of the remodeling job. Noon on the capitol steps.

Next arms race: geo-engineering Permalink to this item

There are so many ways to sow the wind and reap the whirlwind... The application of overwhelming military force ("shock and awe") against Iraq led to the refinement of the cheap and ubiquitous "improvised explosive device" (IED). Our support of Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran has led to boom (so to speak) in Iran's construction of shelters, bunkers, and tunnels.

William Broad's report in the NYT makes me wonder how much Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's experience as a transportation engineer (and founder of the Iranian Tunneling Association) has to do with his rise to his political position of president. Convenient at least, if a coincidence.

Of all the crazy things for a supposedly "intelligent" species to invest in at this point... earth-sheltered nuclear weapons development, and the Massive Ordnance Penetrator as counter-measure. To call this a failure of imagination is far too kind.

4.Jan.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Something like the peaceable kingdom Permalink to this item

Since the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded, the U.S. has been the sole remaining superpower, even as China rising challenges our economic supremacy. (It also finances our economy, both by lending and keeping its currency artificially depressed, go figure.) But when it comes to military, this country is without equal, as Tom Englehardt and Nick Turse detail on TomDispatch: The Year of the Assassin.

"[T]he Pentagon budget has risen in every year of the new century, an unprecedented run in our history. We dominate the global arms trade, monopolizing almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distant second. We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces, and the weaponry of war than the next 25 countries combined (and thatís without even including Iraq and Afghan war costs). We garrison the planet in a way no empire or nation in history has ever done. And we plan for the future, for "the next war"—on the ground, on the seas, and in space—in a way that is surely unique. If our two major wars of the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan are any measure, we also get less bang for our buck than any nation in recent history."

They've got 10 questions for the new decade, ending with What will surprise us in 2010? "Keep your eyes open for the unexpected and confounding."

2010.01.02 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Happy Palindrome Day!

A word: welcome to the new Permalink to this item

Fresh snow on Euonyymus, Jan. 2007 What better way to start blogging the new year (and decade, don't argue) than by sending you off to Schott's Vocab, for a possible rundown of the Words of 2009 and the 2000s.

What better way to assess the Zeitgeist than by new words; not the newest words, but the words that have moved from new, new thing to meh. Like blog. That was inside-speak when y2k ticked over from imagined to imaginary cataclysm. You pretty much couldn't say something about "my blog" without having to answer "what's that?" And now... it's somewhere between mainstream and passé, I guess. Twitter is the new blog. (Or is it Facebook?)

At the dawn of the new millennium, all we had was reality; no reality shows, no reality-based community. We were talking about Global Warming. We weren't talking about 9/11 or WMD or truthiness or the plural of 'Prius.' Pluto was still a planet, Katrina was a slightly unusual name rather than a force of nature and hurricane of political malfeasance. We did not podcast. We probably had dog-whistle politics, but we didn't know what we were hearing. "Nano" was something vaguely remembered from Mork and Mindy, neither small nor fast, but slightly alien (unless you were an engineer). Back then, micro was pretty much small and fast enough.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 01-Feb-2010 17:14:04 MST