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30.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fireworks in CD-01 Permalink to this item

And these are the guys in the same party! Idaho Reports had a hell of a show tonight. Highlights, loosely paraphrased:

Ward: Bailouts bad. Very bad. My opponent is "somebody who defends illegal aliens."

Labrador: It's a shame my opponent who defended the Constitution hasn't got around to reading it.

Ward: I'm the outsider candidate, and I've got a great political organization already.

Labrador: I've got experience fighting the federal government, and I know what to do. "It's not something my handlers told me to do."

But we can all agree on the pernicious nature of the 17th Amendment. (You know, the one that established direct election of United States Senators by popular vote.)

Didn't see that one coming!

More highlights, from Betsy Russell (but of course you can watch it for yourself, on Idaho Public TV).

The future of offshore drilling Permalink to this item

The NYT Room for Debate feature on "What the Spill Means for Offshore Drilling" is an interesting read, giving multiple perspectives on the disaster. It leads with a satellite image of the now 100km wide spread of oil in the Gulf.

From David Burnett, director of technology for the Global Petroleum Research Institute and research coordinator for the Petroleum Engineering Department at Texas A&M:

"Within our little world of energy exploration, the recent Gulf of Mexico rig disaster is equivalent to NASA's Challenger loss. We are devastated by our human losses, dismayed by the financial fall out and (personally) somewhat betrayed by our own technology. That rig was on the cutting edge of technology with triple redundant systems to detect and intervene to avoid such blowouts."

Reserving capacity to act Permalink to this item

We have been offered a great Learning Experience by this Financial Dislocation which lined the pockets of so many on Wall Street (no news there) while fleecing the credulous on Main Street (no money down! Also not news). Now that the glorious rising tide of real estate lifted every slap-dash raft with better than neutral bouyancy, and then ran out, the tide turning on the Bay of Funds to leave us to gyre and gimble in the wabe, what lessons, exactly, did we learn?

Did bailouts save us? Cheat us? To listen to Mitch McConnell channeling Frank Luntz, our hope of salvation is to let the biggest banks fail. It worked to get the Democrats in Congress to remove the financial industry-funded insurance fund fund from consideration. No bailouts here, no sirree!

Meanwhile, as the Eurozone continues its implosion, and Republicans pump the anti-deficit, anti-government organ using it as an example, Paul Krugman offers a more thoughtful analysis of the Euro Trap, noting that governments being able to act to respond to crisis is essential to mitigating the inevitable damage from free market fandangos.

"[W]hen each European nation had its own currency[,] costs could be brought in line by adjusting exchange rates—e.g., Greece could cut its wages relative to German wages simply by reducing the value of the drachma in terms of Deutsche marks. Now that Greece and Germany share the same currency, however, the only way to reduce Greek relative costs is through some combination of German inflation and Greek deflation. And since Germany won’t accept inflation, deflation it is.

"The problem is that deflation—falling wages and prices—is always and everywhere a deeply painful process. It invariably involves a prolonged slump with high unemployment. And it also aggravates debt problems, both public and private, because incomes fall while the debt burden doesn't."

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

Clash of the Titans Permalink to this item

High above this mortal realm, the giants of the American Enterprise Institute fight over name-calling. As I understand the story so far, Ornstein began with "Is not!" and Gingrich replied "Is too!" Now, Onstein answers in The New Republic: Is not!

I'm glad we got that settled.

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

That's a "mind map," actually Permalink to this item

Excerpt of 'Afghanistan Stability / COIN Dynamics' working draft V3 The comments bucket had already filled up (701) by the time I got to reading Elisabeth Bumiller's popular item, We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint. The "PowerPoint diagram meant to portray the complexity of American strategy in Afghanistan certainly succeeded in that aim," reads the caption.

Ok, first of all, this is the first time I've seen someone use PowerPoint to generate a mind map, and my guess is it's not very well suited to the task (but someone made it work, with considerable effort).

Secondly, while the snarky caption is accurate enough, the underlying problem of the complexity of using the military to "help people" is not made worse by attempting to portray it. Mind mapping is a useful tool for ideation, like brainstorming, and not an end to itself.

I think it's probably a good thing that there were at least 3 drafts of an attempt to diagram counterinsurgency dynamics. The question is not why are we using PowerPoint, but then what happened with the analysis? What action should we take? Did we take? What happened? Now what? Use the best tools you have to figure it out.

A better, bigger picture than mine Permalink to this item

I had private pushback from a more knowledgeable source, regarding my "so that" in the previous post, the implication that the AIG bailout was particularly intended to benefit Goldman Sachs. (Just a helpful coincidence that the Treasury Secretary at the time and architect of the bailout, Henry Paulson, was the former head of the "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money," as Matt Taibbi so memorably described the firm.)

Try Bethany McLean's take as she writes a book with Joe Nocera of the NYT about the financial meltdown. She finds plenty of blame to go around, but the buck stops with "our government," the only entity with a "duty to protect us from the greed" of the various dubious actors intent on making as much money as possible for themselves.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Federal Reserve, the S.E.C., and of course Congress itself, the body that "repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment and commercial banking, yet failed to update the fraying regulatory system."

Doing away with regulation was all the rage back then, eh? Let the market work! Get government off our backs!

Ok, we gave that a try. Now what?

Taking it in the shorts Permalink to this item

Excerpted from Doug Mills' photo from the NYT, for commentary That Lloyd Blankfein is so smart, it cooked all the hair off the top of his head. A friend forwarded an excerpt from an unnamed newsletter, commenting on yesterday's 10 hours of testimony.

"We will only summarize: Goldman proved once again they are the smartest guys in the room. Goldman essentially decided before everyone else, the mortgage market was going to crumble, and they acted as they were supposed to. They executed their business model and risk management policies, upholding their responsibility to shareholders."

He's so smart, he brought a two-ream ringbinder with him to the Senate Permanent Subcommittee (on Investigations) of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and I bet he knows everything inside its 901 pages.

He's not smart enough to make people feel good about having been taken to the cleaners over the last couple of years, though. It's not a good sign when you have Senator John Ensign of Nevada refining the complaints about Wall Street gambling with "the better analogy" of having someone playing a slot machine while the "guys on Wall Street are tweaking the odds in their favor." At least Nevada slot machines take your money fairly and consistently. With Goldman Sachs, they keep dreaming up new ways to take your money, some of which are detailed in that stack of paper there. Here's Blankfein in a November 2007 email, Exhibit 52:

"Of course we didn't dodge the mortgage mess. We lost money, then made more than we lost because of shorts."

Goldman Sachs obtained (you can't say "made," because the only thing they make is "financial instruments") $15 billion net income over the last year. Some shorts. Pretty much 100% of that net income derived from the U.S. taxpayers bailing out A.I.G. so that the failed insurance firm could pay off Goldman's credit default swaps at full price.

Update: You know the time for financial reform is ripe when Ben Stein carries water for President Obama:

"...think of the people of Wall Street as a bunch of wild, out of control fraternity boys, drunk on money and power, making stupendous, unimaginably big bets with your money on events you have only a dim idea about. When these bets pay off for the frat boys they have staggering paychecks. If things go bad, you—Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer—might wind up picking up the tab."

What I'd like to be doing on Saturday Permalink to this item

This just in on the Brundage Mountain Powder Alert email list: 6 inches of fresh snow overnight, it's 16°F at the summit this morning, and there's and another 6 to 12 in the forecast this week. They're closed midweek, but opening for one more hurrah on May Day.

All we got down here in the valley was a gigantic thunderstorm with hail and what sounded like a 5-minute long continuous roll of thunder at one point.

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

The real story behind the new Arizona immigration law Permalink to this item

At least Greg Palast's theory certainly could be real: it's about who's voting down there.

"What moved GOP Governor Jan Brewer to sign the Soviet-style show-me-your-papers law is the exploding number of legal Hispanics, US citizens all, who are daring to vote - and daring to vote Democratic by more than two-to-one. Unless this demographic locomotive is halted, Arizona Republicans know their party will soon be electoral toast. Or, if you like, tortillas."

He goes on to describe the "racially loaded purge of the voter rolls that would have made Katherine Harris blush," led by then-Secretary of State Jan Brewer.

"Beginning after the 2004 election, under Brewer's command, no fewer than 100,000 voters, overwhelmingly Hispanic, were blocked from registering to vote. In 2005, the first year of the Great Brown-Out, one in three Phoenix residents found their registration applications rejected.

"That statistic caught my attention. Voting or registering to vote if you're not a citizen is a felony, a big-time jail-time crime. And arresting such criminal voters is easy: After all, they give their names and addresses.

"So I asked Brewer's office, had she busted a single one of these thousands of allegedly illegal voters? Did she turn over even one name to the feds for prosecution?

"No, not one."

But wait, there's more! A federal prosecutor was sent to track down those illegal voters, and investigated more than a hundred complaints. In two years, he couldn't find a single prosecutable voter fraud case.

So... Karl Rove saw to it that he—David Iglesias—was fired.

Expensive entertainment Permalink to this item

Max Abelson gives us a fine taste of the Circus Fabulous! held in the Senate Finance Committee today.

"The sound of the photographers' clicks was gargantuan. The Goldman Sachs opening statements were proud. “I would not have stayed if the people I worked with did not have high ethical standards,” former mortgage department head Dan Sparks said."

Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

In case you didn't see enough of Eyjafjallajökull Permalink to this item

A friend emailed a link to this collection from the Boston Globe. Awesome stuff. Brings back lots of memories of Mt. St. Helens, which erupted at least as spectacularly, 30 years ago next month.

Speaking up for the Idaho Judiciary Permalink to this item

We don't often get contested races for judge in the state, so having state District Judge John Bradbury run against Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick adds some interest for our May 25 primary election. (It's the "final" vote for the the judicial race.) And then when Bradbury spoke up with a list of particular complaints, most of which had nothing to do with his opponent.

Burdick's fellow Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones responded to the accusations made against Idaho's Judiciary (as seen linked by Eye on Boise), by setting Bradbury straight on a few facts. Such as Bradbury's claim that "in the last three years, twenty-two district and appellate judges retired early so their successors could be appointed and avoid an election."

That's true if by "three years" you mean "since Jan. 1, 2007," and by "twenty-two" you mean "twenty" and by "retired early" you mean "died, resigned to accept another judicial position or to pursue private employment, or retired" and by "so" you mean "and as a result."

Should a Supreme Court Justice be more careful with the facts than Judge Bradbury seems to be? I think so, yes.

26.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Stick a fork in McConnell: he's done Permalink to this item

Seriously, the Party of No is going to try to block financial reform while it complains about the problems of "one party rule"?

They're on the wrong side of public opinion, the economic interests of the country, and their own self-interests, led by the minority leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. My prediction is that after the Republicans don't do nearly as well as they'd hoped to in this fall's election—or maybe sooner—they'll find a reason to put someone else in charge.

I say that without knowing much about the clubby dynamics that determines such things, so I don't know who's next in line. But McConnell's got to go.

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

Just imagine Permalink to this item

Invitation from Tim Wise: Imagine if the Tea Party was black. "Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins."

"Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters—the black protesters—spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn't like were enforced by the government?"

H/t to my friend Heywood on Facebook.

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

The bendable straw part is pretty weird Permalink to this item

You can still get $100 tickets to watch Sarah Palin's speech to a fundraiser in Oregon on a big screen in the overflow room. The Lane County Republican Party's $250 a seat Lincoln Day Dinner at the Hilton Eugene is sold out though, as is the $1,000 a pop "chance to mingle" and pose with her.

Some of the requirements of her engagement include first class airline travel (or a "Lear 60 or larger" private job), a suite and two single rooms in a deluxe hotel (Hilton Eugene OK for you?), ground transportation will be by SUV or black town cars second choice, no thin or see-through lecterns, and they "must be stocked with two bottles of sealed, still water with bendable straws."

"All audience questions after the speech must be prescreened and posed by a designated representative."

H/t to Ridenbaugh Press.

Do you carry your birth certificate? Permalink to this item

If you're a truck driver in Phoenix, and especially if you're a truck driver in Phoenix with brown skin, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says it's "standard operating procedure" to demand a birth certificate, or else they'll handcuff you and haul you off.

"A government job isn't a real job." Permalink to this item

I don't mind Vaughn Ward being supported by his wife while he campaigns for a government job that pays $174,000 (that's only $174,000, thanks to Russ Feingold), nor do I mind that she happens to work for a quasi-government agency, or that said agency played an enabling role in the expansion of the real estate bubble.

I don't mind that he's had, and still has a government job either, and I respect his service in the Marines and the Reserves.

It's the offhand, narrow-minded, and deeply stupid talking point that waves a hand across everyone who works for the government, and disrespects their work.

The Statesman's Dan Popkey followed up yesterday's story with Ward's response, today. "I never thought... that my wife would be attacked," reads the subhead. Um, yeah, she was attacked by having her employer named. Seriously, you're a Marine, you want to be in the U.S. Congress, and you're going to call this an attack?

Let's try something more substantial. The government has become the majority stockholder in the Federal National Mortgage Association, and chipped in $76 billion to keep the "government sponsored entity" out of bankruptcy. Ward asks:

"But are you telling me that Fannie Mae survived because of the bank bailout? I don't know."

Gosh, that might be a good thing for him to find out before, oh I don't know, the primary?

Update: IdaBlue puts some good whacks on the Fox News talking point piñata, enumerating a few of the jobs that Ward tells us "aren't real."

Bending culture, in a good way Permalink to this item

'smish' courtesy of the VBP My friend Dave Peckham is trying to raise money to support the work of his Village Bicycle Project, helping to bring affordable transportation to Africa, with no paid administrative staff and over 12,000 volunteer hours donated last year, in 5 countries. It's an amazing nonprofit enterprise.

He came to the "Sages" group I look after to talk about VBP yesterday, and how it goes about the tricky process of engendering sustainability with development aid. In ten years, they've shipped 100 container-loads of bicycles and bike parts to Ghana, and held 300 one-day workshops, teaching the basics of repair and maintenance. They sell the bicycles, and those who go to the workshop get a 50% discount. From the "How We Do It" page:

"Giving away bikes (or anything) diminishes the value and floods the market, which puts local merchants out of busines. Bikes often end up in the possession of the powerful instead of the people who can put them to the best use. By selling bikes at half price, we can deliver two bikes for the same price as giving one bike away for free."

The way he put it in his talk yesterday was more striking, and seems to explain a lot of how things work here as well as in African villages:

"The wealthy get in the front of the line whenever there are handouts."

It's not just redistribution though, shipping goods depreciated by one culture that has more than it needs, to another that has less. Beyond the investment of time and effort to make the piles of parts useful, there is the effort to educate, and empower women and girls in particular. One of VBP's volunteers, Brittany Richardson, describes the experience of teaching girls to ride in her blog:

"Aminata, Salamatu, Moleh, Mabinty, Kadija, Ajaratu and Abibatu. The rock stars of the class. These 7 students from the Bakhita school have become so good in their riding skills, we have begun small rides through town. Taking the group outside the compound builds important skills in coordination, steering, control, braking, turning, listening and looking. Not to mention building confidence. As we road down Port Loko road, it was pretty sweet to hear the women on a nearby porch cheering for tiny Ajaratu...."

Earth Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ok, that was actually a lot of fun Permalink to this item

If I had a favorite tulip, this could be it, 2010 I was feeling like there was nobody in the Egyptian that I knew, spotted one guy across the room and thought ok, one guy. There's getting to be a lot of space in the twenty-something, thirty-something, and forty-something categories, none of which I'm in any more.

But the generous intermission (fueling Table Rock sales, handily) gave me time to circulate, and find a half dozen people to have pleasant conversations with, and one intense one.

The Tweetdeck scrolling along the left side of the screen was the only entertainment for me while I waited for the show to start, and as my niece so succinctly observed, Twitter sucks. (I'm sure there are good things about it, and the question of "ib4 lovefest or circle jerk?" was certainly open at the time, but "There is a problem - don't panic," and "Rate limit exceeded," meh. Ok, here: the Ignite Boise 04 Presenters) It's possible to grab attention without deserving it, as I scribbled on the back of my ticket, having brought no electronic devices with me, unlike 99% of the other attendees, who captured bad pictures of the theater, thumbed urgent messages, and played shared games while getting "phone tans," as another tweet noted.

Ultimately, I can see the attraction of the medium. 5 minutes, 20 slides, 15 seconds each, not in the presenter's control, a lively crowd clammering for they know not what sort of entertainment. There were a couple that plodded through in PowerPoint read-bullet-point style ("I don't know what's on the next slide, wait for it"), one that had too many, too similar slides making kind of a downer subject even more of a downer, a Tea Party-ish dude who got the most negative crowd reaction of anyone, and a bravura performance by Matthew Cameron Clark of Boise Contemporary Theater who pulled off his presentation in spite of the slides going dark. Oh, and Wendie Gone Feral, live.

Thanks again Chris!

I'm Going to Ignite This Evening Permalink to this item

Come on baby light my fire. Thanks to Chris at TreasuredValley offering his early admisssion tix for grabs and me getting first in that line. I haven't been on the inside track before this, and standing in line to maybe get in isn't really my thing. But that option is still there for you.

I hear people who twitter just tweet like mad about this kind of thing. Are those butterflies I feel?

Head spinning. Make it stop. Donate now. Permalink to this item

Mr. Republican Comedy, Michael Steele, has jumped the shark countless times, but today's fundraiser email can't be deleted without comment. He's complaining about Obama being the "Fundraiser-in-Chief," "crisscrossing the country shaking down his fat-cat pals for campaign cash."

That Grand Old Party of small donations from grassroots leaders needs your help to correct this frightening imbalance. You can help fight the "Obama/liberal special interest money machine" by making a small contribution. (I think they'll accept large ones too, though.)

You can check their interactive chart to see how your state is doing. (Idaho's goal is $1,338, and they're already 0.6% of the way there, with $8 donated. No doubt more is on the way.)

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

Strong President, strong country Permalink to this item

Thomas Friedman: "[A] weak America is like a world with no health insurance—and a lot of pre-existing conditions."

"While Obama’s health care victory prevented a power outage for him, it does not guarantee a power surge. Ultimately, what makes a strong president is a strong country—a country whose underlying economic prowess, balance sheet and innovative capacity enable it to generate and project both military power and what the political scientist Joe Nye calls 'soft power'—being an example that others want to emulate."

The Lupus of News Permalink to this item

I think when you get skewered by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, hitting back with an unfunny, self-righteous, and badly argued reply, and inviting another round is... comedy gold! Fox News' Bernie Goldberg played straight man this week.

"Ok, two things. One, not all of us have your guts, Bernie. It takes a tough man to walk into O'Reilly's lion's den and criticize liberal elites.

"And two, to say that comedians have to decide whether they're comedians or social commentators, uh, comedians do social commentary, through comedy. That's how it's worked for thousands of years. I have not moved out of the comedians' box into the news box.

"The news box is moving towards me."

Tempestuous teapot Permalink to this item

Looks like Wayne Hoffman won't be accepting the comment I offered on his diatribe over the supposed mainstream media "outrage" over conservative-sponsored news. As creative writing, it's fine, but given no actual basis for imagining said outrage, let alone "hysteria," or "bombardment," it has the problem of being so totally FAKE as to be laughable.

He really should have saved the ghost of the Hindenburg for something with a bit more actual drama in it.

You can judge the "hysteria" yourself, in the Eye on Boise post, including John Miller's AP story. Looks mighty fair and balanced to me, and it also looks like 4 people worked on what the AP put out.

Hoffman can't bring himself to discern the difference between being "agenda-driven" and having an opinion about anything. I don't know about the Missoulian's support for a land deal, drunken driving ordinances or opposition to a "ban on congressional pork barrel spending" but I'm not seeing an agenda in that list, other than perhaps Hoffman's: no to land deals, drunken driving ordinances and spending. "Pork barrel" is superfluous; if Hoffman has ever voiced support for any government spending, I missed it.

Any support whatsoever for government constitutes "statism," the real agenda the traditional media are "promoting, soliciting and supporting," in Hoffman's reality.

We can agree on one point: "the most important, and perhaps only, measure for a news organization is content." I've been paying attention to his Idaho Reporter as I do to the Statesman, NewWest, the Spokesman-Review and others. His count of stories covering last Thursday's Tea Party events supposedly demonstrates the "superior job" his two reporters are doing?

"Story" #1: 2 pictures, one paragraph ("a large crowd"!). More coverage later today!

Story #2: nice collection of signs (no misspellings!), interview snippets with participants.

Story #3: covering the small counter-demonstration from the Boise Coffee Party . Three more pictures.

Story #4: when I first saw Dustin Hurst's summary, it said "According to estimates, approximately 1,300 people showed up," and I posted a comment wondering whose estimates he was using (and also why he didn't make his own). It's been edited to say "approximately 1,235 people showed up," which I'm pretty sure is the first time a "reporter" has modifed his work to add sarcastic precision in response to my criticism. He also changed "roars of applause from the thousands gathered," and its contradictory "estimate" of attendance to simply "roars of applause from the crowds." (He didn't address my inquiry about what a "roar" of applause sounds like.)

I guess story #5 is the one where Hurst researched the fact that "rally-goers lived up to their battle cry by not imposing extra costs on the Boise Police Department," by holding their rally on a weekday. Which, uh, Tax Day always is. In spite of his headline ("Rally-goers avoid extra costs") and 2nd sentence expressing action by organizers, Hurst responded that "nowhere in the article did I say event organizers specifically picked a weekday to avoid costs."

Here are the results of my unscientific observation of Hoffman's satellite: his premise, that "mainstream media's increasing abandonment of state government news" has created a demand for alternatives, is demonstrably false in Idaho. If it were, it's far from evident that his two reporters could pick up the slack, nor that more coverage of Tea Party rallies is our most pressing, unfilled need.

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

Looking for better angels Permalink to this item

Rather than feeling buoyed by the patriotic fervor shown at yesterday's "Patriots Day" rally, I'm wondering if this is the best we can do. The U.S. government is a criminal syndicate? Armed self-defense is what separates "free individuals from slaves"? I thought it was the Civil War that took care of that.

Considering Michael Boss' recollections of 40 years ago when there was fighting in the streets, I guess the message is that if only the hippies had been packing heat, that would've turned out better?

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

Symms sighted Permalink to this item

Marc Johnson's Who Pays and Why is an interesting read. I'm not on the Idaho Freedom Foundation's fundraising appeal list, so I appreciated the news that one of their fundraising appeals went out with former Republican Senator Steve Symms' boosting. We haven't heard much Symms in Idaho politics lately, mostly because he's been a Washington D.C. lobbyist for the almost two decades since he traded his Senate seat for a more lucrative position.

It would make a lot of sense for the "full service government relations firm" of Parry, Romani, DeConcini & Symms (who "can help you become a significant player in Washington") to bankroll Wayne Hoffman's "think tank" with a little news on the side. And no, I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for Hoffman to exhibit the same transparency that he wants to hold others to. You can't be Mr. Coattails if you're not discreet.

The discussion is joined, on Huckleberries Online.

15 years on Permalink to this item

Bill Clinton: "Americans have more freedom and broader rights than citizens of almost any other nation in the world, including the capacity to criticize their government and their elected officials. But we do not have the right to resort to violence—or the threat of violence—when we don't get our way. Our founders constructed a system of government so that reason could prevail over fear."

Fire up the class warfare! Permalink to this item

Is it too late to wish everybody a Happy Tax Day? The National Republican Senatorial Committee didn't really want you to be happy, though. Their cheesy "web video" (um, aren't videos supposed to have action?) depicts two seemingly happy and very white people who pay "one-fourth" and "one-third" of their salaries to the federal government. (The happy lady apparently doesn't make as much as the man who can't afford a razor.) But by the end of the "video," guess what? They're not really happy.

"Man I hate tax day," she says.

"You said it friend," he concludes.

Anyway, that's kind of last week, no point in sending the NRSC money now. If you need something to feel good about this week, take heart that it's still Confederate History month.

18.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Eyjafjallajökull makes ash of self Permalink to this item

I'm not seeing that name in print a lot, even as the tales of woe of European air travelers multiply. Hard to spell, for one thing, and pronounce ("AYA-feeyapla-yurkul" maybe?), travelers may know it as the "aye yi yi awful" volcano, if it keeps making trouble for what could be a couple of years. It puts my own experience of a day's delay in the ash cloud of Mt. St. Helens in perspective. (I spent the night of May 18, 1980 in an Ellensburg church, with a hundred or so other volcanic refugees.)

Here's NASA's satellite view of the cauldron in Iceland, the highly-rated Eruptions blog with photos and updates from Iceland and other volcanoes around the world, and another source for vids of the ongoing eruption.

One picoampere Permalink to this item

excerpt of the illustration in the paper's abstract Here's something I hadn't thought to try: gently inserting a gold nanoelectrode through an algal cell membrane, and into a chloroplast, to intercept electrons excited by light in the middle of the biological chain of photosynthesis.

"Ryu said they were able to draw from each cell just one picoampere, an amount of electricity so tiny that they would need a trillion cells photosynthesizing for one hour just to equal the amount of energy stored in a AA battery."

WonHyoung Ryu is the lead author of the paper published in the March issue of Nano Letters, "Direct Extraction of Photosynthetic Electrons from Single Algal Cells by Nanoprobing System."

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

Waves of fear and trembling Permalink to this item

The news that the S.E.C. has filed suit against Goldman-Sachs for participating in a scheme to bundle together sure-to-fail mortgage securities and then bet against them reportedly caused the stock market to punctuate its week of upside with a very gloomy Friday. We understand they all like "business as usual," but are we really to understand that this its usual business?

"[Hedge fund manager John] Paulson handpicked sick, diseased pigs to be made into sausage, then bet millions that the resulting sausage would make people sick. Goldman, for its part, made the poisoned sausage (and got paid), sold that sausage to its own unwitting customers (and got paid again), and. like Paulson, bet millions that those customers would get sick (and got paid yet again)."

It all depends how you ask the question Permalink to this item

If you think the U.S. Congress is dysfunctional, you ain't seen nothing like California's legislature. Forget about 60 votes to break a filiubster, they need a full two-thirds of both houses to either pass a budget or raise revenue via taxation. That sort of minority power can lead to extraordinary incapacity. 37% of both houses are "far-right Republicans" who have, as author and linguistics professor George Lakoff puts it, "led to gridlock, huge deficits from lack of revenue, and cuts so massive as to threaten the viability of the state."

"Unfortunately, most Californians are unaware of the cause of the crisis, blaming 'the legislature,' when the cause is only 37 percent of 'the legislature,' the 37 percent that runs the legislature under minority rule."

In a lengthy, detailed, and well-worth reading piece on Huffington Post (with a h/t to Randy Stapilus on Facebook), The Poll Democrats Need to Know About, Lakoff describes in detail the work of "perhaps the premier California pollster," David Binder, in measuring the public's response to different framing of a proposed solution. One the one hand, there's "a 14-word, single-sentence initiative that went to the heart of the matter," The California Democracy Act:

"All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote."

And on the other... it still remains to be seen, but former Governor, Oakland mayor and now Attorney General Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown wrote a "title and summary" for that initiative that goes like this:

"Changes the legislative vote requirement necessary to pass the budget, and to raise taxes from two-thirds to a simple majority. Unknown fiscal impact from lowering the legislative vote requirement for spending and tax increases. In some cases, the content of the annual state budget could change and / or state tax revenues could increase. Fiscal impact would depend on the composition and actions of future legislatures."

Astoundingly, that wording is what would appear on the ballot if it qualifies, and would have to appear on all petitions. What Binder found in polling is that the original had almost 3-to-1 support, 73% in favor. The garbled bureaucratese? 56% opposed. A shift of 69% for the same question, framed differently.

If you don't get through all the details, at least jump down to look at his conclusions, What Does All This Mean?

"[T]hese results show the effectiveness of the radical conservative communication system operating 24/7 using the same effective framing year after year. It operates on an unconscious level, slowly changing the brains of those engaged (on either side) of the discourse that the conservatives define. Their communication system is so effective, and Democratic leaders have to deal with it so often, they too can get taken in."

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

A few tax facts Permalink to this item

Contrary to what you may have heard, about 10% (not half, not 47%) of all households pay no net federal taxes. Three out of four households pay more in payroll taxes (Social Security and Medicare) than in income taxes.

Social Security has been taking in a lot more than it's been putting out (for many years), helping support the huge deficit in the rest of the federal budget. Sort of. What's a government-to-government IOU worth, anyway?

The wealthy (and especially the very wealthy) have had their tax rates lowered more than any other group in the last 30 years, even as the income disparity between them and the vast majority of workers have barely kept pace with inflation. David Leonhardt:

"So why are those radio and television talk show hosts spending so much time arguing that today's wealthy are unfairly burdened? Well, it's hard not to notice that the talk show hosts themselves tend to be among the very wealthy.

"No doubt, like the rest of us, they don't particularly enjoy paying taxes. They are happy with the tax cuts they have received lately. They would prefer if other people had to pick up the bill for Medicare, Social Security and the military—people like, say, firefighters, preschool teachers, computer support specialists, farmers, members of the clergy, mail carriers, secretaries and truck drivers."

The Obamas paid $1.8 million in federal income tax on $5.5 million income last year, not counting the $1.4 million Nobel Prize money that they gave away directly. (One of the benefits of the job: everybody and their blogger can pore through your tax return.)

And 20 more tax facts that will make your head explode.

Still the economy, stupid Permalink to this item

Sign in Boise's Capitol Park Yes, there's still the white elephant in the Tea Party living room, but the top headline in today's Business section speaks volumes about the flag-waving freedom criers who rallied (in the tens and thousands if not tens of thousands) on Taxes Due Day.

Not the big one on the front section, Electric bills will shrink soon, under which we read that expected monthly reductions of $3 or so "should help boost consumer spending" and "contribute to the state's economic recovery" (really, the front page headline?) but this one: Idaho home reposessions up 677% over 1st quarter 2009. March had 1600 foreclosure filings in Ada and Canyon Counties, and almost 9% of mortgages are 90 or more days behind in payments.

The tax-free wars of the Bush administration, and the "market based solutions" which reached their zenith in The Great Real Estate Bubble, with its cloak of consequence invisibility for anyone wearing a suit and likely to testify before Congress were good times, while they lasted. Now it's time to pay, and pay, and pay, and just because your taxes are lower, or you've been receiving extended unemployment benefits, or some kind of stimulus payouts doesn't mean you're going to get to stay in that house if you can't find a job.

So why not put on a costume and head for the park on a sunny day in April with the temperature into the 70s? If you live in Spokane, you might even get a chance to see Idaho's Governor give a speech.

Update: "Another_Perspective" connects the dots between yesterday's rally and the economy, in the comments of the Spokesman-Review story about Spokane's event: "The crowd was mainly composed of middle age conservatives. Luckily with all the nearby parking meters limited to 1½ hour, the ones that showed up at 3:30 were packing to go home."

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

At night Permalink to this item

New sliver, tonight, slipping into hazy clouds Looking up...
We noticed...
Things are not as they first seemed.
"Wanderers" signaled
we are not at the center of the universe.
That one, there, morning & evening "star"
Waxes and wanes
Just as our moon.
It revolves!
Not just round us, but around our sun.

And that broad swath of milky light spread from horizon to horizon,
a swarm of stars, like our profound and life-giving sun, but
unimaginably distant
unimaginably numerous
a Galaxy of "solar systems"
This uninmaginably vast universe?

No. Just a component. One of

(Big h/t to Nova's Hunting the Edge of Space.)

14.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Looking under the Tea Party hood Permalink to this item

We're shocked, shocked to find that the Tea Party people are wealthier, better educated, more Republican, whiter, and manlier than the general public. Who could have imagined that they were the angriest slice of the right wing? There are hints of normalcy:

"[M]ost describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as 'fair.' Most send their children to public schools, do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, think that Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost. They are actually more likely than the general public to have returned their census forms, despite some conservative leaders urging a boycott."

The problem with this country is not "us," it's "them." Them what "lives for having children and receiving payment from the government for having those children. They have no incentive to do any better because they have been conditioned into it." (Is this guy describing the denizens of Wall Street, I wonder?)

And guess what, they don't like Obama hardly at all!

"I just feel he's getting away from what America is," said Kathy Mayhugh, 67, a retired medical transcriber in Jacksonville. "He's a socialist. And to tell you the truth I think he's a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don't care what he says. He's been in office over a year and can't find a church to go to. That doesn't say much for him."

13.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Now that the euphoria has worn off Permalink to this item

The Physicians for a National Health Care Program are not satisfied with what we ended up with for "health care insurance reform," and if much of what David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler have to say is on the mark, few of us will be, either.

"The new law will pump additional funds into the currently dysfunctional, market driven system, pushing up health costs that are already twice those in most other wealthy nations."

Oh yeah, that.

"Private insurers win in the marketplace not through efficiency or quality but by maximizing revenues from premiums while minimizing outlays. They pursue this goal by avoiding the sick and forcing doctors and patients to navigate a byzantine payment bureaucracy that currently consumes 31 percent of total health spending."

It's actually quite odd that Republicans should be up in arms over what passed. The idea of making people buy insurance to avoid implementing a national health care system was Richard Nixon's idea long before it was Mitt Romney's. It's too bad the partisan warfare over tactical advantages having nothing to do with promoting our general welfare ruled the day. It seems as true "after" reform as before that, as the PNHP advocate, a non-profit, single payer national health insurance program is the cure for what ails us. How do we get started on that reform?

Frontline has a broadcast of interest for this subject tonight: Obama's Deal. They bill it as "a sobering look at the push to reform health care, revealing the realities of American politics, the power of special interest groups and the role of money in policy making."

Or, sit down and don't be counted, whatever. Permalink to this item

Palm Springs Sunrise, 2007 News is, some Republican whiz kids have realized that if their fellow travelers boycott the census and don't get counted... holy enumeration, Batman, we'll get discounted!

Looking for a convenient story to link to, searching on Republican Census, I was suprised to find a page by yours truly atop the 6 million results, and even more surprised to see that I'd written that back in 2006, for an earlier iteration of the bogus fundraising tactic the RNC used again this year.

But I digress. The real census is really going on right now, and no less a leading GOP whiz than Karl Rove is PSAing on its behalf.

"If you've not yet mailed back your 2010 Census form, it's not too late. Please answer the 10 easy questions. They're almost the same ones that Madison helped write for the first census back in 1790."


Ok, here's your news, in The Wall Street Journal no less. Republicans Fear Undercounting in Census, because so many of their people are too stubborn, or stupid, or hey, proudly patriotic but weirdly misguided! to cooperate with the process.

40 years already?! Permalink to this item

This coming Earth Day—a week from Thursday—marks 40 years since the first one, coming from an idea of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, in 1970.

Commemorative and other events galore including tree planting (ReLeaf Boise) and plant sales by the Idaho Native Plant Society, and Idaho Earth Institute.

Update: The newspaper reminded me that it was also 40 years ago today that those fateful words left Jack Swigert's lips halfway between here and the moon, "Houston, we've had a problem."

I'm no triskadecaphobe, but you might not blame the crew if they got that way: Apollo 13, April 13th, and it was... a Monday. Still, we got them back to earth, and made a great movie out of it.

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

Proudly leaning left Permalink to this item

Glenn Beck, master of baiting, innuendo, and emoting, has found new and damning (damning, I say!) evidence of Obama's suspect "foundation." No, not undergarments, we're talking about the church(es) his grandparents went to. OMG!

"Obama has portrayed his mother's parents as conservative Methodist and Baptists from Kansas. There's a problem with that. At some point they changed, because when they lived in Washington State, his mother's parents were members of the East Shore Unitarian Church, a left-leaning congregation in Bellevue, near Seattle."

In the swirling miasma of the endless hours of TV time Beck must fill up, there are Marxists and Reds and people with FBI files and "fellow travelers" (Hello Joe McCarthy!) and hotbeds of radical leftists.

"It is amazing to me, this kid didn't have a chance to be rooted in the Founding Fathers, this guy doesn't have a chance to actually think anything but radical thoughts based on everybody on his life so far," Beck says, about the woeful situation of the teen-aged Obama.

And yet, he grew up to be President of the United States. Is this a great country, or what? Even a clownish buffoon on Fox News can give a nice Unitarian Church free publicity if he wants to.

Update from Bellevue:
their Senior Minister sent a letter to the congregation about Mr. Beck's providing publicity, wanting to let them know that "our church was in the news for all the right reasons." Part of it:

"...Glen Beck's recounting of the history is that he focuses on the fact that during the 1950's, one of the local newspapers called East Shore the "little red church on the hill." The congregation was unashamedly liberal in theology and social policy. It held public forums on controversial issues including, reports Mr. Beck, things like whether Red China should be admitted into the United Nations. He also found it interesting that Dr. John Stenhouse, a leader in the congregation, a founder of Group Health Cooperative and the President of the Mercer Island School Board, was called a Communist and brought before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. During the controversy, East Shore stood behind and supported the Stenhouse family."

Stand up and be counted Permalink to this item

It's like a scene from a bad Western... Git offa my property, ya damned REVENOOER or ahll fill yer hide with BUCKSHOT if'n ya don't!

Richard L. Powell's next appearance—a command performance, no less—will be at the Benewah County Courthouse for a pretrial conference to see how much of 6 months in jail and a $1,000 fine he'll be serving for his exhibition of a deadly weapon to an audience of one: a U.S. Census worker.

You can weigh in on the imbroglio over at Huckleberries Online, where I found the story.

11.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The 70% solution Permalink to this item

How can you me a Master of the Universe when you're only right 70% of the time? Hey, nobody's perfect. This week's parade of no one to blame for anything is getting old in a hurry.

ProPublica and This American Life teamed up to tell the story of the Magentar trade on today's show, one of the more interesting twists in the increasingly familiar debriefing of Collateralized Debt Obligations and Credit Default Swaps. Honey, they blew up the financial universe, for a few hundred million dollars in individual take-the-money-and-run, "innovation" on a previously unimagined scale.

It seems slightly too fictional to have a company that was pumping up Weapons of Financial Mass Destruction for the purpose of cashing in on insurance contracts when they exploded to be named after a collapsing star that develops an extraordinary magnetic field as part of its death throes, but here we have life imitating art.

Bet Against the American Dream from Alexander Hotz on Vimeo.

Mr. Potatoe Head Permalink to this item

That 1992 loss to Bill Clinton and Al Gore, abetted by Ross Perot's independent run, still smarts and Dan Quayle's giving advice in a WaPo Op-Ed. On their website, the headline's "Don't let the tea party go Perot," while the Statesman put "Tea party members are the natural allies of the GOP" over it when they ran it 6 days later.

The advice is to his party, and can be boiled down to this: co-opt this movement, lest you find yourselves skewered this fall by a splitting of the right-wing vote.

Other than that, there's a lot of interesting fantasy. Rather than a response to economic dislocation and the election of the first non-white as President, Quayle deems the Teas "a spontaneous and pointed response to the Obama agenda," that ever so-slightly left of right-center nudge we've experienced.

"After sweeping into power, Democrats assumed they had redrawn the political map forever, and they took this as a mandate to remake the federal government forever."

That's "forever" as in 2 or 4 years now? I'm having a déjà vu from the late 90s when Republicans thought they'd redrawn the political map and could impeach a President over sexual peccadilloes. You'd think Quayle would have said something about what it was that made Perot an attractive candidate. What was it that he and George H.W. Bush were lacking, anyway?

Of course, the liberal media are at fault now and forever.

"Since the very first tea party gatherings, the national news media has covered this movement in the only way it knows how—as something grubby, impertinent and possibly dangerous. Of course, in any movement, violence and unlawful behavior are always to be condemned without reservation. But attempts to portray the tea partiers as a surly mob have the contrived feel of a political strategy."

Yes, that's it. The great left-wing conspiracy!

"If this were a liberal crowd, they wouldn't be getting grief from Washington—they'd probably be getting funding."

His list of presidential contenders for the next go is a bonus hoot. Who is Mitch Daniels? John Thune? Mitt Romney, ok, but Bobby Jindal? Seriously?

10.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Shared anonymity? Permalink to this item

A certain "Lawmiss" was posting comments on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's website, and a staffer of the news outlet got suspicious, "who, when investigating the pseudonym, stumbled on an e-mail address linked to [Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Shirley] Strickland. "

The judge's lawyer says she never commented on anything currently pending, or ever before her court, and that the comments were actually written by the judge's 23-year-old daughter. And for good measure, Strickland is suing the newspaper for $50 million because it either breached its privacy contract, or committed fraud.

NPR reports... but doesn't riddle us this: if the judge's daughter has been effectively outed, what's the judge's case? Does the Plain Dealer owe everybody and anybody who the judge lets use her AOL email address the same obligations? Checking the website's user agreement I can see all sorts of defenses for the CPD.

"You may not impersonate, imitate or pretend to be somebody else when registering and/or setting up an account on the Website."

"You may not authorize others to use your Registration Information."

"You are solely responsible for all usage or activity on your account including, but not limited to, use of the account by any person who uses your Registration Information, with or without authorization, or who has access to any computer on which your account resides or is accessible."

It seems that the judge breached the agreement three ways to Sunday. What's more, the privacy policy doesn't actually outline much in the way of privacy protection for the user, that I can see.

They say "[W]e reserve the right to use the information we collect about your computer, which may at times be able to identify you, for any lawful business purpose, including without limitation to help diagnose problems with our servers, to gather broad demographic information, and to otherwise administer our Website."

I think Lawmiss will get her suit tossed. No legs to stand on.

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

Ok with having a Bishop make your end-of-life decisions? Permalink to this item

While I was raised Catholic, I left the church close to 40 years ago, and have my own church now, thanks. I also have made my own decisions about what kind of measures should be taken on my (body's) behalf should I be incapacitated and diagnosed as having an incurable condition or being in a persistent vegetative state. I used the State of Idaho's codified language to express those wishes, and the short version is that I want "all medical treatment, care and procedures withheld or withdrawn, including withdrawal of the administration of artificial nutrition and hydration."

So it came as a bit of a surprise to read in the Chicago Tribune story that the Statesman picked up earlier this week that the director of clinical ethics at Chicago's largest Catholic health care system would say she has "never seen an advance directive that says, 'If I am in a persistent vegetative state, I ask that you withdraw food and water.'" The Statesman story says:

"Catholic medical institutions - including Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise, Mercy Medical Center in Nampa and Holy Rosary Medical Center in Ontario - are required to honor the [U.S. Bishops'] decision, issued late last year, as they do church teachings on abortion and birth control."

Newly enacted Idaho state law now provides your health care professionals the "freedom of conscience" to override your explicit directive, indemnifying them from civil, criminal and administrative liability. Catholic Bishops apparently have the power to dictate organizations' and individual's "sincere beliefs," so giving them the super-power of Attorney.

8.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Costco FAIL Permalink to this item

There are two kinds of people in the world: Costco members, and the rest of us. Once upon a time when we needed new tires, and Costco (a) had the slightly special ones we thought we needed, and (b) had a sizable membership promotion discount, we crossed the divide between the two camps, and became Members, for exactly one year.

The tires with the sign-up discount were a good enough deal that anything beyond that was gravy, and I suppose we "saved" some money in subsequent shopping trips, but I never liked shopping there. There's just too much going on that's about doing things their way. Some people convince themselves it's a great deal, but I just don't think so. There's too much attempted convincing going on, for one thing.

Anyway, we're a season past the need for new tires on the Prius, and when I dug out the old info from the glove box, I found out that this second round of tires, like the OEM set, had worn out prematurely, by about a third of the warranty. 60,000 mile warranty, 40k-ish miles of wear. Their warranty says it's valid "for sixty (60) months from the date of purchase or when the tire reaches 2/32 of an inch of less in remaining tread depth regardless of age."

Ah, OK, so are our 5¾ year-old, worn-out tires covered, or not? I tried calling. They don't answer the phone in the tire center. "If you need information, please leave a message..." and who knows, maybe we'll call back? I left two messages, priced what I could for new tires on their website, contemplated how much "adjustment" they'd give us, and a new $50 membership (with no inducements this time around), and decided it wasn't worth the annoyance factor. I sure as hell wasn't going to drive out there to get them to answer my questions (and to find out whether they had suitable replacements in stock) because they couldn't be bothered to answer the phone.

Other businesses will answer the phone, and I talked to a couple of them, priced some alternatives, found Firestone's adequate website, functional catalog and store locator, and gave them the business. Same money, less travel time, better tires than I would've got from the no-phone, members-only people.

Update: Costco MemberServices was interested enough to respond to my "Contact Us" nastygram and ask me which store it was. I told them, adding that as of 10:45am this morning, neither message I left had been returned. Rather astounding discourtesy for a retail business. (Maybe that's why they call themselves "Costco Wholesale Corporation.")

Taxed enough already? Permalink to this item

Got our tax returns done "early" this year, a week and a day to spare. Not sure what I'll do with all the extra time on my hands now. Oh, I know, all those jobs I put off for the last week!

Between the vagueries of post-corporate economic life and our semi-retired household, it's harder than ever to make sense of the Code and its many inducements and disincentives. For many years, I attempted to "figure it all out" on my own, modifying a multi-spreadsheet workbook of the calculations that go into the forms and schedules, but (a) the entertainment value wore off (about oh, 15 years ago now?) and (b) each new bollox of tax legislation added more layers (I mistyped "lawyers" there at first—ha!) upon the layers.

I'm not prepared to report any broad inferences out of my own experience, but I do know that the Bush administration lowered our taxes (mostly by increasing the national debt, it seems), and the Obama administration has not reversed that trend. This year the federal government promised (and delivered on its promise) to chip in $1,500 toward a high-efficiency furnace and air-conditioning system for our domicile. The furnace was definitely due for replacement, and with its first season mostly behind us, I can report it's been great to have gas bills well below $100/mo. through the winter, rather than 2 or 3 over that mark.

At some point last year, the government plunked a $250 "stimulus payment" into our account. And now at tax time, we find (or "TurboTax told me about," I should say) Schedule M for "Making Work Pay," contributing the rest of $800 on our behalf, based on our having "earned income from work." Let's hear it for making work pay!

So while the Tax Foundation makes press with its trademarked (?!) "Tax Freedom Day" (they say it's tomorrow, April 9), Isaiah Poole notes that you may have already missed your Tax Freedom Day. ®.

"The report calculates the [date] based on the total amount of federal, state and local taxes collected nationally and total national income, and comes up with an average tax rate of 26.89 percent. Unstated, but obvious, is the obvious disclaimer: Your tax rate may vary....

"In fact, average rates today for all taxes are much lower than they were under President Reagan in the 1980s, by the Tax Foundation's own admission."

If you haven't had enough numbers to thrill your soul, check out Bruce Bartlett's report on the misinformed Tea Party Movement in Forbes. Or just go with the bottom line (which Bartlett buries):

"Federal taxes are very considerably lower by every measure since Obama became president."

6.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Get your book on this weekend! Permalink to this item

Flying books image, from the BPL website. It's time for the whommer Friends of the Boise Public Library book sale this weekend! Get on down to the warehouse (behind the main library downtown, between 8th and 9th), Friday (9am-7pm), Saturday (9am-5pm) or Sunday, (noon-4pm), "half price day." If you're a member of Friends, you can get in Thursday afternoon, for the 4-7pm Preview Sale. If you're not a member... you can join at the door! (Minimum donation is $5, so if it's nothing more than a Preview ticket for you, it's still a good deal.)

Cash or checks only. Additional books stocked throughout the day Friday and Saturday. Fanstastic bargains, and a fun way to support the development of our branch libraries. (The Friends raised more than $130,000 last year!) First editions, coffee-table books, cookbooks, local interest, thousands of LPs, CDs, VHS movies, sets of books, all priced to sell.

Jeanette and I are both Friends, and she's one of the volunteers who "sort through about 100,000 items to prepare for a sale."

The stupidity rule Permalink to this item

It's time to talk about executive compensation, or as Andrew Ross Sorkin's headline has it, the party favors. On Thursday, the former charirman and CEO of Citigroup, and former Citigroup board member, top adviser, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin are going to testify to our Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.

"Mr. Rubin and Citigroup's other directors decided to pay the $12.5 million bonus knowing very well that Citigroup’s market value had dropped by $64 billion during Mr. Prince's tenure.

"So the simple question for Mr. Rubin and Mr. Prince is, Why? Why would you knowingly reward such failure? What is it about the culture of Citigroup and Wall Street that encouraged you to approve such a large party favor? Why was there reason to give a bonus at all?"

That Citigroup's board could, legally, share its stockholders' wealth with their departing CEO was apparently demonstrated by a Delaware judge who dismissed a lawsuit based on "the business judgment rule," also known among some lawyers as the "stupidity rule."

"This rule, at its essence, means that no matter how [stupid] a board's decisions proved to be, as long as they were not fraudulent and were made in good faith, they were O.K. Even running a company into the ground is O.K. as long as the board provided a 'duty of care.'"

Sorkin doesn't provide a translation for said "duty," but it seems to boil down to anything short of whatever is beyond gross negligence, or of course, outright fraud, which isn't so common, because once you make your way to the pinnacle of banking, who the hell needs fraud? You run a company into the ground and you get an eight-figure parting gift.

Judge William B. Chandler III writes of protecting directors from "the debilitating fear that they will be held personally liable" for company losses, but that's hardly the issue. No one's trying to extract the $64 billion Citigroup lost during Prince's reign from him. It's not "liability" to limit compensation to sanity.

5.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

They met the old-fashioned way Permalink to this item

On a "discussion board about urban legends," no less. Now, the couple behind, David and Barbara Mikkelson are an institution, worthy of description in the Sunday New York Times.

Fun factoid: "Even when there were Republicans in the White House, the mail was still overwhelmingly anti-liberal," Mr. Mikkelson said.

And depressing conclusion from the Mrs.: "When you’re looking at truth versus gossip, truth doesn’t stand a chance."

Sunday funnies Permalink to this item

Cal Thomas is pondering a Newt Gingrich run for President (or as the Statesman recast it yesterday, "What would Newt do?"). Cal thinks he will run. My guess is that while he's got plenty of bellicose for a friendly interview, he doesn't have enough fire in the belly to go for it.

"People are now much madder and sicker at the system than they were in 1994," he says, harking back to that benchmark year when the Republicans took over Congress for a dozen years.

"People actually want an open, bipartisan, transparent process." So, the Republicans' plan should be... "repeal and replace Obamacare in Feb. 2013."

And what about that "overheated rhetoric that could lead to violence against public figures?"

Gingrich's response is all in violent metaphors. At least we hope he's speaking metaphorically when he says "For people who are angry, the correct response is to beat them," rather than referring to the southerner's slave discipline manual of yore. All that overheated rhetoric is simply "people objecting vociferously to being mugged" by those who "deliberately bullied, bribed and abused the system," so... there's no need to actually answer the legitimate question, apparently.

Hello patriots! Permalink to this item

The Statesman probably earned a month of derision from the neo-natives for running T.H.Breen's commentary for the Washington Post, moving the headline from bland ("Whose Revolution is this?") to confrontation ("How real patriots wage revolution"), setting it 48pt and above the Sunday Insight fold.

And they pulled numbered bullet points out of the text for easy reading. It shouldn't be too hard to recall Breen's four little points from history: the '76ers promoted unity; protested not simply taxation, but taxation without representation; were willing to make sacrifices for the common good; and understood the need for organization and discipline that sustains the rule of law.

"Modern Americans owe a tremendous debt to the ordinary patriots who launched an insurgency that became a revolution that brought independence. Simply put, without them there would be no United States. The minimum repayment is to know their history. Anyone wishing to cloak present-day complaints in that early generation's sacrifice ought to understand how it managed during a severe political crisis to bring forth a new republic dedicated to rights, equality and liberty."

2.Apr.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Real studs just carry chains Permalink to this item

In spite of March segueing out like a lion and joining the April Fool's joke with the weather, it's that time of year again when studded snow tires are grinding away millions of dollars of good pavement. "That time" includes pretty much all of the seven (!) months of the year they're allowed in our state. (The ITD's page shows our neighbors vary from 5 months, November-March, for Oregon and Washington, to 8 months in Montana, and year-round in Wyoming.)

Shawn Vestal, writing from Washington's "studliest city," notes that even though studs make driving less safe at least as often as they make it more safe, a tax to help pay for their damage is a non-starter. Forget about a ban; the last guy that tried for that found out that "this is not totally a fact-based discussion. This is how people feel about their safety." (This in spite of Washington's own study reciting the long list of studded tires' faults.)

Random sample Permalink to this item

The results of the early season Rasmussen poll look likely enough, with the typical knee-jerk Idaho response toward the "R" column. Never mind the dismal state legislative season just wrapped up, with booster-in-chief deeming it "great", 60% of the 500 respondents either "strongly" or "somewhat" approve of the job he's doing. The same gross chunk—61%—either "strongly" or "somewhat" disapprove of the job Obama is doing. And have a "favorable" opinion of the Tea Party movement (58%). (A fat quarter "consider [themselves] a part of the Tea Party movement.")

I passed on my chance to move the results 0.2% to the left, because I pretty much give any call coming in with masked, funky, or bogus caller ID information the stink-eye, and if the first thing I hear is an obviously recorded/robot voice, I hang up. I do actually remember hearing "Rasmussen" before I did, though.

My favorite two questions were: Q: Regardless of how Congress is doing overall, does your local representative deserve to be re-elected?

Oh yes, 2 to 1. ("Not sure" runs as strong as "No" though.)

And, Q: Generally speaking, would it be better for the country if most incumbents in Congress were re-elected this November or if most of them were defeated?

"Defeat would be better" wins by more than 4 to 1 (and only 1 out of 6 "not sure" on this one).

So, guess what's going to happen.

(The Statesman's story does a better job of presenting Rasmussen's results than they do, although they only rendered their colorful pie charts in ink, and just have boring tabulation down their web sidebar.)

Update: a brief search for "judging pollsters rasmussen" turned up some interesting analysis on the stochasticdemocracy blog, leading with the "house effects for Obama disapproval," showing Zogby, Harris and Rasmussen more than 5 point outliers (and Pew and CBS/NYT outlying on the opposite side). digs deeper into the questions raised about Rasmussen's polling.

April Fools Permanent URL to this day's entry

Once and future health care insurance Permalink to this item

The Statesman ran Mike Lukovich's "Your kid is ugly" cartoon from last week today, getting aboard the Obamacare = Romneycare bandwagon, now that it's OK to talk about that. Idaho conservatives feel rather close to Romney, so it has them in a bit of a bind.

Gail Collins joins the fray with a shout-out to our "winner of the Most Fun Name for a Governor Award," who put himself out in front of the "we'll sue!" movement with the help of the bill this year's Idaho Legislature sent him for ceremony (and a little potato schtick).

"Idaho, you should not let your elected officials push the potato thing so hard. The state has a lot more to talk about—lovely scenery, great people, the world’s largest factory for barrel cheese, the smallest number of doctors per capita in the country. And what about your state fruit, the huckleberry?"

As the reality of the new health insurance law unfolds over the rest of the decade, I expect it to have relatively little effect on my own finances. Another year on my standalone policy, bought and paid for without coercion and only the modest subsidy of being able to deduct the premiums' cost as a business expense, no claims, and the new rate? Increased by 40%, after 12 months going by with al the money going from me to Regence, none coming back from them to me. It's a race between what the market will bear, and the real government health insurance, waiting for me if I survive to 65.

Whatever happens, I know for damn sure that C.L. "Butch" Otter and the Idaho Legislature are going to be no help to me.

Ok, we can save money on that Deficit Commission Permalink to this item

Now that we have a Democratic administration, up is up and down is down again, and lower tax rates don't provide greater revenue to run government. Contrary to what you may have heard at times over the last 3 decades. Dave Johnson explains, summing things up in four graphs.

Mother Nature's chilly humor Permalink to this item

Violets in the late March snow, elev. 2,700' 8" of snow in the mountains above Boise two days ago, a foot and more in central Idaho, a dash of winter just in time for "spring break." I put on sunblock yesterday, and used it for an hour or two, before being garnished with snowflakes and graupel, riding through medium-light powder, and over "Sierra cement" by turns. (Speaking of which, the Cascades intercepted 2½ feet of snow this week.)

We're lucky with our crazy weather though, not having to boat down highways the way they are back east. And no earthquakes of note.

A respite today, high 40s and mostly sunny (at least in the weatherman's mind's eye) before another dose of winter tomorrow: snow level 3,300 feet, and more snow likely into the weekend.

Well-tracked 'Inspiration' at Bogus Basin, 3/31/2010


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Sunday, 02-May-2010 13:30:48 MDT