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

Little Red Riding Hood Permalink to this item

Dried umbels in snow, 2004 A tale from twilight in the snowy woods of North Idaho.

Me and Izzy were out with the homeys, fresh smell of 3 dozen elk in the hood, dusk coming, when we can see better than they can (and sneak up good), and here comes this weird old ewe UP ON ITS BACK LEGS, coming up the road in the snow.

Thank GOD there were four of us, that thing was scary. Some kind of glow stick it kept putting up the side of its face, bleating like no sheep I've ever heard before.

Then it CALLED to us, if you can believe that. Like we were going to just saunter down the road and get ourselves kicked in the head? Izzy actually got sucked in at first, started to follow after it, but we finally got him to his senses. We're a damn PACK, not a herd.

We made off into the trees, and I say stay away from that place! We can wait for the elk to move on and get after 'em later. Too creepy.

Food safety a partisan issue? Permalink to this item

In a contest with Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser on one side, and Glenn Beck and Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), guess who's side I'd pick?

"On the floor of the Senate the week before last, [Coburn] claimed that only 10 or 20 Americans a year die from a food-borne illness, that the government doesnít need mandatory recall power because 'not once in our history have we had to force anyone to do a recall,' and that the annual cost of the new food safety requirements—about $300 million—is prohibitively expensive.

"Senator Coburn is wrong on every point. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 5,000 Americans annually die from a food-borne illness. Last year, at the height of a nationwide salmonella outbreak that sickened thousands, spread via tainted peanut butter, the Westco Fruit and Nuts company refused for weeks to recall potentially contaminated products, despite requests from the F.D.A.

"And as for spending that extra $300 million every year, a recent study by Georgetown University found that the annual cost of food-borne illness in the United States is about $152 billion. In Senator Coburn's home state, it's about $1.8 billion. Compared with those amounts, this bill is a real bargain."

Not that spending $1 per capita is actually going to save 5,000 lives and give a 450x return on investment, but it gives a sense of the opportunity—and the depth of the opposition's willful ignorance.

Update: the Senate passed the bill on Nov. 30, 73-25. Idaho's two Senators were among the all-Republican no votes. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Christopher Bond (R-MO) didn't vote.

Baby it's cold outside Permalink to this item

It's a federal deep freeze, no increases in civilian pay for federal employees for two years, 2011 and 2012. The White House estimates it'll save "$28 billion over the next five years, and more than $60 billion over the next 10 years," which are kind of oddly long-term projections for a 2-year freeze. Assuming future increases (should be there any) will be smaller, too? As Peter Baker points out in the NYT, there are some deserving targets:

"The number of federal workers making more than $150,000 a year has grown 10-fold in the last five years and doubled since Mr. Obama took office, according to a USA Today study this month. Since 2000, federal pay and benefits have increased 3 percent annually above inflation, compared with 0.8 percent for private sector workers."

The regular members of Congress, and District Judges are among those who passed the mark in the last 10 years: from just over $140k at the dawn of the millennium, to $174k/year now.

Update: It seems that the Cato Institute's Chris Edwards banging the drum for 4 years promoting the meme of "overpaid government workers" has finally paid off (as it were). Howard Risher examines the issue with what seems a less preconceived approach.

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

Warnings from the past (and present) Permalink to this item

Some of the past we need to remember in order to avoid repeating it is fictional, just as "real" as actual history (just as fiction can be as "true" as non-fiction). Thanks to Marc Johnson for his short testimony to Chalmers Johnson's historical insights and the link to a 2007 Talk of the Nation broadcast, discussing the book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. (The NPR site offers a transcript of the show, an audio recording, and the first chapter of Johnson's book.)

"Nemesis was the Greek goddess of revenge, of retaliation for hubris, for people who—through their arrogance and loss of understanding of the way the world works—commit crimes that are unforgivable. She was a very important figure—the sister of Erato, the goddess of love poetry. She's the one who led Narcissus to the pond, and he looked in and saw his face, fell in love with it, fell into the pond and drowned. She's a rather fierce figure. I believe, I contend in the book, that she is already present in our country, just biding her time before she carries out her divine mission."

But we're exceptional, right? What do we need to care about those crazy Greeks and their made-up gods?

"What happened to [Congress'] constitutional obligation to attempt oversight on a military budget that is larger than all other military budgets on earth put together—once you add in everything for nuclear weapons to wounded soldiers and foreign military sales and things of this sort that are not in the Pentagon.

"In that respect, I believe it is time to observe that our military is very largely out of control, protected by secrecy. Bear in mind, 40% of the defense budget is black....

"Secret, absolutely, secret, just as in the case of the 16 intelligence agencies—everything they do is secret. The only serious—there was no oversight at all until the Church Committees in the 1970s. As we now see regularly, the oversight that we do have is largely farcical. It is the president's private army, as I try to argue in Nemesis, and no president since Truman—once they've been told that they have a private army that can do anything they order: overthrow a government, teach terrorism, assassinate somebody—no president has ever yet failed to use it."

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

Invest in Dutch fairy tales Permalink to this item

Or at least a Dutch consultant (who's now set up a shop stateside). I hear they have quite a bit of experience with holding back the sea.

Leslie Kaufman's report in the NYT says there are no global warming skeptics among Norfolk's homeowners. And even though the state's Attorney General is still "trying to prove that a prominent climate scientist engaged in fraud when he was a researcher at the University of Virginia," Norfolk's acting director of public works "prefers to think of [the] contingency plans as new zoning opportunities."

After they get done moving houses, lifting roadways, giving back parks to wetlands, creating "retreat zones," and managing flooding for, um, ever, the city would "have a first-mover advantage and be able to market its expertise to other communities as they face similar problems."

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

"Assume this was not an accident" Permalink to this item

For 18 minutes last April, the traffic on tens of thousands of worldwide computer networks began flowing toward China, before being routed to its final destinations. Just a slight delay, you didn't notice. But for those 18 minutes, China Telecom had a tap on the world's networks. One of the architects of the modern Internet, Rodney Joffe:

"In the grand scheme of things, this was a seminal event. So, this wasn't a minor security event. This wasn't a hiccup—99.9 percent of the world didn't even think this could be done. Engineers didn't even think about it."

More in tonight's report on the Newshour on PBS.

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

Primary energy and transportation Permalink to this item

White Bird Cr. breaks, in fall, 2009 Reading about mileage estimates for electric cars, I was reminded of the paper I just read in regard to the energy performance of buildings, Understanding Primary/Source and Site Energy. That boils down national average multipliers for the amount of energy required to deliver a unit quantity to your house, via electricity, natural gas, fuel oil, or propane.

For the fuels, the factor ranges from about 1.09 to 1.16. That is, there's about 9 to 16% "extra" energy required to get the stuff where you need it. For electricity, the average is 3.365. That is, it takes more than 3 kWh in the system to deliver 1 kWh to your circuits.

But How does that translate into the gas tank vs. battery pack question? The efficiency of an internal combustion engine is a long way away from the mid-90s percent of a modern condensing furnace. The EPA estimates that only 20% of the energy in gasoline makes it to your wheels, versus 75% of the chemical energy out of batteries.

75% / 3.365 = 22%, interestingly, and it would seem that the losses in centralized electricity generation and in internal combustion engines come out close to a wash.

The Nissan Leaf's window sticker is going to say the car will go 100 miles on 34 kWh (which will take 7 hours to suck out of a 240V outlet, by the way). That's "like" 99 mpg, given the EPA's equating 33.7 kWh to one gallon of gasoline. (They denote it MPGe, which a senior editor at GreenCarReports calls idiocy; your mileage may vary.)

The ultimate decision-making dimension for most people is how much does it cost? If you pay $.10/kWh (more than we do, but less than a lot of folks), we're talking 3.4 cents a mile to make the Leaf go. $3/gal. gas and a 30mpg car would be 10 cents/mi.

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

It's the JOBS, stupid Permalink to this item

Economics is a difficult subject, so difficult they teach it in college and give regular and deluxe degrees for it. But the connection between the economy and politics is really, really simple. So simple that even in 2nd place on James Carville's sign, it was enough to elect Bill Clinton President in 1992.

Whatever "Wall Street" thinks or feels, "the people" respond to one thing: gainful employment. If you've got a job and can make ends meet, one way or the other, things are OK. If you don't, even if, say, corporate profits are the highest on record, or you find out (later) that the economy grew faster than you'd heard, something's gotta change. It won't matter if your taxes are lower, your banking system has been saved from meltdown, your two largest automakers recovered from the brink, your healthcare insurance has been reformed, Pell grants have been expanded, or you have a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau covering your back. If you're in one of the 15 or so million households that knows unemployment first-hand, things are not OK.

And it won't be much consolation to find out that the "change" you just voted for is of the opinion that the Federal Reserve should care about inflation, rather than about jobs.

Yeah that's right, flush with the thrill of winning control of the House of Representatives, one conservative announced legislation to strip the Fed of its mandate to promote jobs and have it focus solely on containing inflation.

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

START update: ID Senators Permalink to this item

I sent email to Idaho's US Senators on Saturday, asking them to facilitate action on the START treaty before the end of this Congress. They both responded today, quicker action than I believe I've ever had. Mike Crapo's reply was informative, if not responsive. The usual senatorial phatic, wrapping a summary of U.S.-Russia arms control history. He might have concluded by telling me supported the latest treaty, or opposed it from that preamble, but did neither. Nor did he respond to my urging to act during this Congress rather than putting it off and starting over next year.

"Please rest assured that I remain committed to ensuring U.S. nuclear policy and international agreements remain consistent in meeting our national security needs,"

Crapo concluded, and thank you so much for writing. I wrote right back, reiterating what I wanted, and seeking clarification of (a) his position, if he had one, and (b) his intention regarding a vote on ratification in this Congress.

The reply from JamesRisch_OutboxOnly was more direct; Risch is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and was one of the minority in the 14-4 vote affirming the treaty out of that committee, so his position was predictable enough. But will he support the sometime-vaunted "up or down vote" on ratification? No mention of that, so we can assume he'll count votes and decide whether to support Jon Kyl's obstruction for "minority rules," or push for a vote and have it lose. (I hardly expect the latter; so much safer to use the rules to get your way and maintain plausible deniability than to stand up and be counted as opposing something with so much political and military support.)

Risch's case against the treaty include his claim that it "embraces an outdated 20th century Cold War style of arms control, while ignoring the flexibility needed for the threats America must confront now and in the future," with "limits on missile defense as well as conventional capabilities" as well as "weakened verification measures." [As opposed to what we have now, none.] He's also

"deeply concerned by the fact that the minority was denied its requests to hear from witnesses it requested, access to documents was delayed and questions were rarely answered in a timely matter for thoughtful deliberation.

"A recent meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee to amend the treaty greatly improved the resolution of ratification and I was glad the committee accepted one of my amendments; however, several other key amendments were rejected. Even with my amendment, the treaty did not do enough to protect the United States and I subsequently voted against it in committee."

So that's a NO vote, but will he cast it in the full Senate, or let the good old boys quash it in the lame duck?

One hundred years on Permalink to this item

September rain and early snow in 1910 snuffed the last of the epic conflagration that burned more than 3 million acres of the northern Rockies, "the fire that saved America" in the subtitle of Timothy Egan's gripping account, The Big Burn.

A century later, the contest between the forces of nature, and instincts for conservation and exploitation is still playing out, in the mountains, in the Forest Service, in Washington D.C. Egan's book provides considerable insight into the start of both the conservation movement and the progressive era. Right-wing pundits demonizing Woodrow Wilson, coming to office in 1912, miss the root of what started with Teddy Roosevelt (leading Egan's subtitle) and reached fruition under FDR. The Republican Party itself led to Wilson's victory by denying the popular will to bring back T.R. to supplant the hapless successor he'd picked, William Howard Taft. The party insiders finagled Taft as their nominee, prompting Roosevelt to form the Progressive (a.k.a. "Bull Moose") Party, splitting the Republican vote neatly enough that Wilson could win with only 42%, even without 6% going to "perennial socialist" Eugene Debs.

"The meat of the progressive agenda that Teddy Roosevelt had spoken of in his years in office and campaigned on during the Bull Moose run of 1912 found its way into law through the younger Roosevelt. Social Security for the elderly. Workers' compensation for people knocked out of a job by injury or sickness. Regulation of the stock market and banks. A minimum wage. A graduated income tax."

After saving more than 50 lives and nearly giving his own in service to country and forest, Ed Pulaski got no government help for his medical care, even as he helped pay for others'. With nothing else to do to provide for his family, "despite multiple, slow-healing burns, blindness in one eye, and badly damaged lungs," he went back to work, then was later denied disability compensation because... he went back to work, after all.

This is an outstanding volume of history, one I highly recommend.

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

Timing is everything Permalink to this item

One hundred years later, and just in time for Christmas: Mark Twain's $35, four-pound, 500,000-word doorstopper of a memoir is flying off the shelves. The owner of the Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene, Brooklyn is talking it—and him—up:

"He's surprisingly relevant right now. When you look at how much he wrote and the breadth of the subjects he wrote about, you know that if he were alive today, he would totally be a blogger."

He might even use "totally" for comedic effect.

And this: two more 600-page volumes are planned.

What to do if your groin is blurred Permalink to this item

Go with the flow, and record the humor for posterity. (Dave Barry is a lot funnier than the "don't touch my junk" guy, I have to say.)

Thanks to Bruce Schneier's backscatter and link parade for that, and the best Tweet on the subject: "It's not a grope. It's a freedom pat."

But seriously, the ramped up security theater is not making us safer. As Schneier quotes himself being quoted, "assembling better intelligence on fliers is the key to making travel safer." He gets to quote himself from 5 years ago, too:

"Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else—Secure Flight and Trusted Traveler included—is security theater. We would all be a lot safer if, instead, we implemented enhanced baggage security—both ensuring that a passenger's bags don't fly unless he does, and explosives screening for all baggage—as well as background checks and increased screening for airport employees.

"Then we could take all the money we save and apply it to intelligence, investigation and emergency response. These are security measures that pay dividends regardless of what the terrorists are planning next, whether it's the movie plot threat of the moment, or something entirely different."

Note to Jon Kyl: GET OUT OF THE WAY Permalink to this item

From the President's radio address today:

"Indeed, since the Reagan years, every President has pursued a negotiated, verified, arms reduction treaty. And every time that these treaties have been reviewed by the Senate, they have passed with over 85 votes. Bipartisan support for New START could not be stronger. It has been endorsed by Republicans from the Reagan Administration and both Bush Administrations—including Colin Powell, George Shultz, Jim Baker, and Henry Kissinger. And it was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a strong bipartisan vote of 14-4.

"...[I]t has already been 11 months since we've had inspectors in Russia, and every day that goes by without ratification is a day that we lose confidence in our understanding of Russiaís nuclear weapons. If the Senate doesnít act this year—after six months, 18 hearings, and nearly a thousand questions answered—it would have to start over from scratch in January."

Just sent a note to my two Senators inviting them to do the job they're so handsomely paid for before the end of this session.

First snow Permalink to this item

That heavy gray overcast of "snow sky" and first light, wet snow, sticking a little, a week from the solstice.

First snow at first light, the neighbor's fence

Just for fun, underneath these yellowing raspberry leaves, dusted with snow, there are cold, wet, juicy, ripe raspberries. (They can't last into December, can they?!)

Raspberry leaves in first snow, Nov. 20

May your life be as a song Permalink to this item

Something wonderful for a Saturday morning, from Jim Scott and friends:

This song is in our hymnal supplement, Singing the Journey, as a round with just the melody line of the chorus; who knew Bossa Nova and a Russian folk song would go together so nicely?

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

Two more years of economic gloom = Republican glory? Permalink to this item

The Democrats and Obama rode into power on the economic debacle of the busted housing finance bubble at the tail of the Bush administration, and the Republican response was to do all they could to obstruct anything to improve things. It was a stunning success! Blaming the Democrats and Obama for all our trouble (and making damn sure there wasn't a 2010 turnaround to counteract the rout), now the Republicans are on the upswing.

It's hard to make sense of "objections that range from the odd to the incoherent," what Paul Krugman describes as the "China-Germany-G.O.P. Axis of Depression," on their face, but if you take Mitch McConnell at his word, and assume he'll do everything possible to keep Obama to a single term, that could explain them.

It's not going to be easy to bring unemployment down and get the economy humming again, even if the politicos could find a way to work together. If the GOP plan is to keep up the sabotage, we're in deep trouble.

And if anybody is taking any advice from William Kristol, good night.

Happy forecast Permalink to this item

Could it be... a Thanksgiving weekend opener? The numbers don't actually add up just yet, but we'd love to see it up at Bogus Basin.

Snow coming

A look at Idaho's GDP Permalink to this item

The U.S. Dept. of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis updated their historical estimates, issued a press release, the Idaho Department of Labor looked through the numbers and issued a press release, the Idaho Statesman echoed it to the public, along with a rather mangled sidebar jumbled subcategories in the arbitrarily sorted list of industries (as provided by the BEA), close to unintelligibility.

Interesting numbers, I thought. I wonder what the economic picture actually looks like? The BEA's site is replete with statistics and tools for excerpting and examining them, for Idaho and the rest of the country. Here's one slice of information:

Idaho GDP (in billions of 2005 dollars), by sector, from 1997 to 2009
Source: US Dept. of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis
Graph of Idaho GDP, by sector, 1997-2009

One of the remarkable things about this graph is that "government" (comprising state, federal civilian, and federal military amounts) has been relatively constant over these 13 years; it's grown by a compound annual growth rate of just 1.6%, not quite 21% overall during a time when the state's total GDP has grown more than 60% in constant dollars.

The IDL report showed a striking drop in (the combined category of) agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, -23.4%, but in "chained 2005 dollars," adjusted for inflation and for the national prices for goods and services, the drop is calculated as only 4%. Not sure how that could be, but the adjusted numbers are what I've graphed. The construction category comes out -18% in both series.

Maybe not CHANGE the world Permalink to this item

But if we're talking about the U.S. Senate, one person can certainly make a go at keeping the world from changing. That's the goal of Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, who after more than half a year to consider the issues, decided that the lame duck session would be a good time to poke a thumb in the President's eye, and obstruct ratification of the new strategic arms reduction treaty, signed by the U.S. and Russia in April, debated by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (on June 8 in a closed session, June 10, June 15, June 16 and June 24), and having garnered support from 6 former Secretaries of State, 3 former national security advisers, 4 former Secretaries of Defense, 9 former Senators (including 6 Republicans), 7 former commanders of Strategic (Air) Command, and the current Commander of Strategic Command, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Joint Chiefs, and the current Secretary of Defense (a.k.a. the entire current U.S. military leadership).

"The American people want to see Republicans and Democrats working together on national security."
Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State

Did I mention the Secretary of State, the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and 14 of the 18 members of the committee? (Clinton was remarkably unfazed giving her presentation on Wednesday when most of the power went out. No problem with the State Dept. video recording, though.) Chairman Kerry:

"I made a decision to delay asking for a vote on this at the request of a number of members on the other side of the aisle so we could give people more time to be able to evaluate this treaty. We have done that. As of today, I know that the last questions that were posed by some Senators have been answered.... The American people have just expressed their will in a very difficult, divisive election here. They asked the Congress to do its business. They asked the Congress to get rid of the politics. They asked us to protect American interests. And it is this Congress that has done the work on this treaty. And it is these Senators who have a Constitutional responsibility now to deal with this treaty."

Ranking Member Richard Lugar (R-IN) was unequivocal in his support for ratification, and its urgency. Why is it urgent? Clinton:

"[W]hen the prior treaty expired we lost the ability to have inspectors on the ground. We need to get our inspectors back into Russia after a gap of nearly a year. As our intelligence and defense colleagues have repeatedly noted, we are much better off with New START than without it. Jim Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, said yesterday, the earlier, the sooner, the better. We need the stability, transparency, and predictability that New START will provide by giving us insight into Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal."

So as Jon Kyl works to score some political points, obtain some ransom money for the next decade... the President is insisting on support for our national security interests. Just how far is Kyl willing to push his temporary position of power to define "lame duck"? We already know that the Senate's Minority leader has a single-term for Obama as his top priority. Is it a higher priority than national security?

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

The offer is still available! Permalink to this item

Clay Bennett's editorial cartoon from February still seems to provide the last word on compromise between Obama and the G.O.P. "I'll tell you what—if you move some, I'll move some."

I like that Association of American Editorial Cartoonists' site, where you can see the guy's profile, recent work, and of course, lots of other people's work, too. Cartoons to fit every opinion.

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

Credit where credit is due Permalink to this item

Very nice thank you note from a grateful nephew (name of Warren Buffet) to his rich Uncle.

"I donít know precisely how you orchestrated [you remarkably effective actions]. But I did have a pretty good seat as events unfolded, and I would like to commend a few of your troops. In the darkest of days, Ben Bernanke, Hank Paulson, Tim Geithner and Sheila Bair grasped the gravity of the situation and acted with courage and dispatch. And though I never voted for George W. Bush, I give him great credit for leading, even as Congress postured and squabbled."

Listen to the American people Permalink to this item

Selected result of the CBS poll, Nov. 7-10, 2010 CBS News rang up a random sample of 1,137 adults nationwide, after voters threw some bums out start of this month, and plus or minus 3%, here's what they said the 112th Congress should concentrate on in January: 56% chose the Economy/jobs. Duh. 14% chose health care, 4% the budget deficit, and 2% each for War, Immigration, Taxes, Education.

Only 30% of Americans think the Republicans have a clear plan for creating jobs, versus 38% for President Obama. But hope springs eternal: nearly 60% are optimistic the new Congress will do a better job of improving the nation's economy than the old one did. (Even a stopped Congress is right twice a decade?)

Do the American people think Obama and the Republicans will work together? Maybe. 73% think Obama will work with Republicans, but only 45% think Republicans will work with Obama. (How does that work? Oh wait, we've already seen.) More than half of those sampled think the main goal of Republicans in Congress is to pass their own policies (36%), or don't know what Republicans' main goals are (15%), and the other half think the main goal is to block Obama's policies.

But on the question of should the parties compromise, it's more than 3 to 1 (72% to 21%) calling for Republicans in Congress to compromise, and almost 5 to 1 calling for Obama to compromise (78/16). Which means the feelings about government in D.C. aren't too likely to improve from a smattering "enthusiastic," 1 in 5 "satisfied," and three-quarters "dissatisfied" (56%) or "angry" (18%).

Don't even get us started on the lame duck session of the 111th.

H/t to Richard (RJ) Eskow for highlighting the CBS poll, and his commentary on it and the Six Percenters.

"The Campaign for America's Future co-funded a post-election poll which showed that even when deficits are being discussed, the public prefers a simple approach: raise the payroll tax cap. The Washington elites are pretending that option doesn't exist - or that it's a "hard left" proposal (despite the fact that a majority of Republicans, and even Tea Party supporters, are behind it.) Instead, the DC consensus has coalesced around a right-wing approach that favors tax cuts for the highest earners (that's right - a deficit plan with tax cuts), along with a blend of middle-class tax hikes that will hurt most other Americans now and Social Security benefit cuts that will hurt them later."

In case you haven't been to the highlands of the payroll tax cap, here's how it works: you know how when you look at your pay statment, you see that 7.65% of your gross pay goes off to "OASDI" and "Medic"? That's your part in financing Old-Age, Survivors, and Disability insurance, and Medicare's hospital insurance. (Yes, the government requires you to purchase both kinds of insurance.)

If you're fortunate enough to have a job that pays more than $106,800 a year, when your gross pay gets up to that limit in October, or November, or maybe just in time for the holidays, you get a 6.2% bonus. (And so does your employer, by the way, who also pays 6.2% of your gross for OASDI in addition to withholding part of your paycheck.) Or, as some folks like to say "you get to keep more of your own money." Whatever. If the highest earners get to keep more of their own money, everybody else has to pick up the slack, or we have to increase the deficit.

In 1990, the Hospital Insurance cap was untied from OASDI's, and eliminated as of 1994. Since then, all wage income gets taxed 1.45% from you, and 1.45% from your employer for Medicare. Why should the least needy among us get a November/December bonus? (Or, for members of Congress, a nearly $1,000 a month bonus that starts in the middle of the August recess, given their $174,000 annual salary.)

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

The right and the righter Permalink to this item

Paul Krugman figures the "bipartisanship" of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform amounts to "a compromise between the center-right and the hard-right," and a hijacking:

"[T]he co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases—tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans—the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest—and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate."

The good news is that pretty much anybody can balance the budget, given the right tools. Even Congress could do it with the NYTimes interactive feature. (Here's how I did it, for example, coming up with $463 billion near-term and almost $1.5 trillion by 2030).

Could it really be this simple? Permalink to this item

Rob Bovett, Lincoln County, Oregon's D.A., proposes How to Kill the Meth Monster, based on his state's experience.

"Sales of products containing pseudoephedrine in the United States now amount to nearly $600 million a year. Yet, according to the pharmaceutical industry, only 15 million Americans use the drug to treat their stuffed-up noses, and these people typically buy no more than a package or two ($10 to $20 worth) a year."

That would leave one-half to three-quarters of the pseudoephedrine being used to cook into meth. The proposal is to put it back on the controlled substance list and make it a prescription drug. Seems like it's more than worth a try.

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

Rags and riches Permalink to this item

US Debt in 2009 $ and as a % of GDP, from Wikipedia The latest weekly column by the New York Times' political theater reviewer provides an unequivocal assessment of the 2010 election's biggest winners.

"The Americans I'm talking about are not just those shadowy anonymous corporate campaign contributors who flooded this campaign. No less triumphant were those individuals at the apex of the economic pyramid—the superrich who have gotten spectacularly richer over the last four decades while their fellow citizens either treaded water or lost ground. The top 1 percent of American earners took in 23.5 percent of the nation's pretax income in 2007—up from less than 9 percent in 1976. During the boom years of 2002 to 2007, that top 1 percent's pretax income increased an extraordinary 10 percent every year. But the boom proved an exclusive affair: in that same period, the median income for non-elderly American households went down and the poverty rate rose.

"It's the very top earners, not your garden variety, entrepreneurial multimillionaires, who will be by far the biggest beneficiaries if there's an extension of the expiring Bush-era tax cuts... The resurgent G.O.P. has vowed to fight to the end to award this bonanza, but that may hardly be necessary given the timid opposition of President Obama and the lame-duck Democratic Congress."

The policies enabling the wealthy haute categorie were not dictated by a Protestant god, any more than they are a necessary condition for the trickling down of general prosperity. As Rich summarizes from Winner-Take-All Politics:

"Inequality is the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election."

That's what has ten more effective policy options for increasing employment—unquestionably the most important issue for the economy, and the failure that powered the Parties of No, and Tea to their big win on November 2nd—lower on the priority list than the deadline-driven push for new tax cuts. Yes, they'd be brand-spankin' new reductions in taxes, since the changes enacted in 2001 and 2003 were of finite duration, in recognition of their budget-busting nature.

The big winners had to be ecstatic at the invention: pay us now, and maybe pay us later too, when anything other than "extension" (or even more deluxe, "making the cuts permanent") can be derided as tax increases. Look at the budget, people, the federal government has been been living on borrowed money for a decade, the debt run up to 11 figures. How can it possibly make sense to pay out hundreds of billions more to the biggest lottery winners the planet has ever known? There is no answer with "jobs" in it less than a diamond-studded hallucination.

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

Not that I care, but BCS! Permalink to this item

Here's the word, right out of the paper of record that Boise State should be in the national title game, after the old line powers sort out who should be their opponent.

Speaking of your privacy Permalink to this item

It was internet eons ago when I first wrote about the Ad Attack on you and your little browser (hey, there's Jerry Mander on that page, too), and lots of things have changed. Way more attackers have figured out—and enhanced—the technology for tracking your online movements, Google bought Doubleclick (magically transforming evil into goodness?), and so on.

What was once a handful of arcane geekantations has blossomed into a whole category, of "spyware," thus spawing its own anti-category. Long story short, you have to keep up with your protection, unless you're OK with whomever doing whatever with you and your little dog, too. Riva Richmond updates tools and techniques for resisting the online tracking programs.

Adobe's Flash is a new and pernicious channel into your digital persona. My #1 DIY suggestion is to start by going to "your" Website Storage Settings panel (a user interface hosted on Adobe's, Macromedia being the company that invented Flash, then was merged into Adobe), and Delete all sites. Then go to the Global Storage Settings panel, set storage to zero, check "Never Ask Again" and uncheck "Allow third-party Flash content to store data on your computer."

In general, no "third-party" has your welfare at heart.

Update: one of my favorite readers said he was just about to follow my instructions and wondered if that wouldn't get rid of all of his Favorites in Internet Exploder, and he didn't want to do that. Would it?

No. Bookmarks (in the Mozilla lexicon) and IE's Favorites are stored on your computer by other means. Your browser's cookies may persist login information, site preferences, track your movements, visits, etc. I like staying logged in to non-financial sites (like Some sites won't function, or won't function well if you don't take their blasted cookies.

Theoretically, Flash cookies could be used in a "helpful" way. I'll believe when I see it. At any rate, following the links above to will show you the interface to make changes to your Flash configuration, and you can decide what, if anything you actually want to do. Before you "Delete All Sites," for example, you can see what sites have stored Flash cookies "for" you. (And hey, look at that, Adobe can see that, too.)

A Change is Gonna Come Permalink to this item

The old year, on its way out, as seen in a tree The latest in viral list-making came to me in email (duh) from a pal who inserted his comments in the list of 9 items, and quirkily mentioned his copyright for those. The original author apparently forgot that footnote! Was it... Grandson, on the blog E-Mail from Grandma? Without abusing his, or anyone else's copyright, here's my response to the changes coming to our lives, like 'em or not.

  1. The Post Office will die a slow, lingering death. The contest is between secure digital identification, and the strong encryption that implies. Spooks would love the former, hate the latter, but you can't pick one without the other.
  2. Checks will likewise resist going quietly into that dark night, due to the same legal inertia you suggest for the Post Office. People will use so few of them that the cost of processing will be irrelevant. Most of the physical handling has been eliminated. Still, I had no idea how many of these buggers are flying about: howstuffworks says there were 70 billion written in the US a decade ago, 270 million per business day; the high water mark? What that article doesn't say is anything about the physical process. Most (all?) checks are going to image files sooner or later. Since the sooner that happens, the cheaper the handling is, it'll be pushed as close as possible to the teller window. (Which goes first, the check, or the teller?)
  3. Newspapers – perhaps you noticed that the Idaho Statesman's revived standalone Business section is actually titled "Business & Legals"? As noted earlier, they have the font-sizing backwards, as it's mostly Legals. (But surely, the rate of foreclosure we're seeing won't go on forever, will it?)
  4. The book is not going away. It's too far superior to supposed replacements. Don't get me started.
  5. Why am I hanging on to my landline? Yes it's better quality and higher reliability than cell service, and yes it's rather ridiculously expensive for all that. Because I like DSL? Having "a line" is really useful, can I please have a line of glass fiber instead of this old copper? I can't claim valid predictive experience, given how far behind the cell curve we are. Luddite-caliber.
  6. I've fallen out of the music mainstream, but music is still an integral part of my life. Not so much commercial music. I'll have to plead Ludditehood here, too. Haven't decided whether to move the record cabinet full of vinyl back into our living room after having new carpet installed this week. They belong in cool storage by now, don't they? And the turntable? And the big Advent speakers I bought in the mid-70s? And no, I did not watch the CMA awards, did you?
  7. I don't know about television by itself, but television+DVR ain't going away. It's way too good. (Speaking of good television, have you been watching the Circus on PBS? Wednesday evenings. Not sure how long it'll go, but they've had 4 hours so far, and it's fabulous.) There was a piece on the radio a little while ago talking about Ted Kaczynski's writing, and how it may well be marked as prescient, "depending on how things turn out." They mentioned Jerry Mander's seminal work, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television from the 70s, which I read as a feature article in Whole Earth Review. (A magazine, remember those?) I'm sure that I have that copy of Whole Earth Review somewhere in the house. I guess magazines are already so over they didn't even garner mention. (United Airlines has offered to turn my soon-to-expire "miles" into magazines. Who says there's no free lunch?)
  8. Maybe John Lennon could imagine a world without things in our possession, but not many of the rest of us can. I have quite a few (and yeah, too many) I plan to hang on to.
  9. Privacy ain't what it used to be, I'll grant you, but I still have some, and no, "they" do not know where I am nor what I'm up to 24/7... unless I become (or they decide that I'm) a lot more interesting than I currently am. I'll tell you what part of privacy I really want to stamp out though, is license plate-hiding, and tinted window identity concealment in motor vehicles. There ought to be a law enforced.

Let's try something totally different Permalink to this item

As if throwing some newbies at Congress will be a stroke of genius? Word is there are "roughly" 35 members of the House and 4 Senators "who have never [before] been elected to something." The most recent new wave was 1994, which had 30 FOB House members. Of course by "totally," we really mean "kind of." Jennifer Steinhauer reports that

"The Tea Party movement, with its message of encouraging citizen-legislators, the broader anti-incumbent mood and the sheer amount of turnover—at least 60 House seats will change hands in January—combined to put into office doctors, small-business owners, a dentist, a pilot, a youth minister and a popular local pizza man, among others."

Throwing the bums out rises to a whopping (or "sheer")... 14% turnover. That's why they call it an institution, I suppose. Speaking of institutions, there's the National Republican Congressional Committee, with its spokesperson blurting that "Their lack of political experience was and is their best asset."

Yes, I'm sure the more experienced members and the cabal of unelected Washington insiders who run the place will be blown away by these fresh winds of change, and the "inept body" will all of a sudden become ept.

When it does come time to grade their performance, let's hope someone gets around to checking the actual record (as Ezra Klein just did, for the 111th Congress) rather than just declaring victory (or defeat) in a studio roundtable of barking heads.

Veteran's Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

The non-starting tax proposals Permalink to this item

I thought about diving into the early draft of the Bowles-Simpson debt plan, but given the way it's being attacked by both sides, I wonder if it's worth the trouble?

You've got Grover Norquist with the pledge of never, ever, ever raise any taxes, ever on one side (with almost 300 members of Congress signed up), and labor and the left saying never, ever, ever cut Social Security (whether directly, or via mean-testing, or by raising the retirement age), as seen on TV.

If you follow the money, the Big Three budget items are Defense, Social Security, and Medicare. If you're serious about cutting spending, you have to choose at least one, and more realistically, all three.

Health care insurance reform isn't going away Permalink to this item

Wendell Potter explains why health care insurance reform will be "adjusted", rather than repealed: there's way too much to like for the industry.

"They will go through the motions, of course. They'll hold hearings and take to the floor of both Houses to rail against the new law, and they'll probably even introduce a bill to repeal it with much fanfare—but it will all be for show. That's because health insurers, one of Republican candidates' biggest and most reliable benefactors—the industry contributed three times as much money to Republicans as to Democrats since January—can't survive without it."

Cigna's top lobbyist (and former top aide to Senator Bill Frist) explained why the individual requirement to buy insurance or pay a penalty won't get repealed, after that company shifted its 50-50 political contributions to go 70-30 to Republicans: "The whole thing blows up. It doesn't work. The cost would explode." Potter summarizes the operative plan:

"In other words, feel free to repeal those pesky consumer protections, but keep your hands off our mandate."

Saved by a trumpet Permalink to this item

We heard part of Colonel Jack Tueller's story on the radio this morning. It's a good one to listen to on this particular holiday.

"I was the only one to come back out of twelve, survived 140 missions."

10.11.10 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The vote count must continue! Permalink to this item

At least until the judge's ruling gets appealed to the Supremes? This just in: not all of the write-in votes were for Lisa Murkowski. There were two for Joe Miller. Two write-ins. For a guy who was on the ballot.

I especially like the update on the Alaska Politics Blog of the Anchorage Daily News at 12:15pm:

"There have been questions from the ballot observers about the criteria [the] Division of Elections Director is using to rule on the Miller campaign challenges of Murkowski ballots."

That Director told the reporter:

"If I can pronounce the name by the way it's spelled, that's the standard I'm using."

The name of this Division of Elections Director? Gail Fenumiai. Yeah, that's right, Ms. F-E-N-U-M-I-A-I is deciding whether the spelling of M-U-R-K-O-W-S-K-I on the write-in ballots is close enough.

Run fer yer lives, boys! The WOLVES ARE COMIN Permalink to this item

Story is hunters kill wolf out of fear for their lives but not everybody reading the Great Falls Tribune is buying the tale. In the comments, RedneckHippie writes:

"Again, I want to know just WHAT part of California these two numknuts are from! NO ONE from Montana lives in whitefish and columbia falls! These bozos have outta stater fraidy cat writ LARGE all OVER them! And seriously, the dude "thanks god" to be alive??? What a teawankin' fourwheeler! Where you from, boys? Don't lie now like you done with the wolf story!!!!!"

Signs (and forecasts) of the times Permalink to this item

The Idaho Statesman launched (or brought back?) their new standalone Business section, calling it Business & Legals, the headline font size tweaking not quite comporting with the contents. In today's paper, the section had six pages, and more than 3½ of them were "Legals," almost all notices of trustee's sales. Then there's most of a page of commodity price and stock quotes, which I have a hard time believing any one looks up in a paper these days, given the ubiquity of free and more or less real-time quotes online.

There is room for exactly one locally written story, Bill Roberts' feature on lower recovery projections in the October 2010 Idaho Economic Forecast from the state's Division of Financial Management. "Not like a sea change," says one local economist, just 11 or 12,000 fewer jobs than previously forecast, and $820 million less personal income by 2013.

Revised graph from Idaho's economist, edited by me
You saw it here first

The graphics (which the Statesman lifted right out of the State's full report) are interesting, showing Idaho construction employment and housing starts, non-farm employment (divided between "goods-producing," and "nongoods-producing" sectors; we're hyphenation outlaws!), and computer and electronic products employment. (The report also breaks out mining, and logging & wood products employment separately... but not farm employment for some reason, which isn't included in the report's tables, either.)

Neither the state nor the Statesman troubled themselves to differentiate history from forecast. And as if the whoop-de-doo of the housing bubble and bust weren't "sea changey" enough for you, the state chose to graph it with a non-zero baseline, over the top of construction employment.

I wrote to the state's economist, and he agreed with my opinion that it's better to have a level playing field, sent updated graphs for the two sectors that had housing starts overlaid. I edited it to divide past from future, where employment is projected to return to 1999 levels... in 3 more years.

He also sent me a link to the Department of Labor's information on farm labor, currently just under 50,000 jobs, or about 8% of Idaho's total employment.

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

A plague upon the land Permalink to this item

Our local paper picked up Rob Thornberry's piece from the Idaho Falls Post-Register about Caribou-Targhee Forest Service officials "escalat[ing] their war against people who pioneer illegal roads on the 3 million-acre forest." We're told that they closed 377 of them this summer and fall, spending about $750 apiece (federal stimulus!) of our taxpayer money to do it.

"Illegal use of (all-terrain vehicles) is a huge problem," Forest Engineer Wes Stumbo said. "Unmanaged recreation is one of the top four threats to the health of the forests across the country, and 85 to 90 percent of the time, the problem is illegal ATV use."

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation registration statistic explains the source of the problem: "In 1990, there were 9,000 registered all-terrain vehicles in Idaho. By 2009, there were 137,000 registered ATVs."

If you could shrink a thousand ATVs into a 30x19 pixel graphic, the fleet registered in 1990 would look like this:

9,000 ATVs, sort of

Not quite two decades later, after a 1400% increase, the ATVs registered in Idaho would look like this:

137,000 ATVs, sort of

In spite of this looking like several mechanized divisions of a marauding army, the "war" metaphor might be slightly unfortunate, with talk of "battle" and "three-pronged attack," given that the means of "attack" are education, signage, and some air patrols, combined with using an excavator to build berms, dig trenches and knock down some trees.

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

Secret oak Permalink to this item

Out with the old, not yet in with the new We had the evidence in the bedrooms, but that ancient brown carpet had been part of our experience of "home" here for 26 years. Supposing that there must be a hardwoood floor underneath is nothing at all like seeing "like new" oak shorts in daylight. Word is, it used to be Code to put in wood flooring, even if it was to be carpeted over.

My advice, if you're thinking of taking out old carpet in a house of a certain age, and not 100% sure you want to replace it: don't decide until you take out the old stuff. Worst case, you'd be temporarily bare between removal and replacement. Best case, you'd save a lot of money and have a beautiful "new" floor.

The problem with market signals Permalink to this item

They're relatively noisy, and can't anticipate dislocations. Our rate per therm of natural gas just went down (slightly) in time for the heating season (coming off its all-time high in 2006). Electricity remains remarkably cheap (and reliable, plus or minus a squirrel). And the relatively high cost of green power is scuttling projects.

One thing the market does do well is amplify existing solutions. Hence, a boom in drilling for natural gas, and many customers finding themselves closer to their energy supply (than they might like). Problem in your drinking water? Gosh, we don't think it has anything to do with that drilling.

"Southwestern has vehemently denied the allegations, arguing among other things that the primary chemical contaminants identified in the lawsuit—barium, manganese and strontium—were never used at the well site. The company pointed out in a recent press release that 'barium is one of the most common elements in the Earth's crust and occurs naturally in many water supplies.'"

(That's "most common" right behind O, Si, Al, Fe, Ca, Na, K, Mg, Ti, H, P, Mn and F, and amounting to about 0.05% of the crust.)

What can we work on together? Permalink to this item

Watching Steve Kroft's interview with Barack Obama from last night's 60 Minutes, and like the President, I'm wondering what there is that Congress and the administration can "work on together." Given the low esteem that the voters hold both parties, and Congress, expectations couldn't be much lower. Some people are celebrating the enhanced gridlock that a split Congress will bring, the "government is broken so the less it does, the better."

Just finishing the FY2011 budget (that started October 1) would probably be work enough for a lame duck session, but there are other things people want done. The Secretary of Defense wants Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed.

"A lot of businesses don't know what the economy is doing," Obama observes, without mentioning that they're sitting on a mountain of cash while wondering how things will shake out. More than a quarter $trillion in share buybacks announced this year! The Republicans' frame for all our economic problems is nothing if not conservative: it's been the same through boom times and bust. Lower taxes and less regulation, and wealth will roll down like water. So lowering taxes is definitely on their lame duck agenda. Maybe they'll get around to the spending side later, or maybe not.

Rand Paul's maybe notion is to start by decimating the Federal work force, and cutting the pay of the remaining workers by 10%. (But not the military.) Should we start with Congress? $174,000 a year plus lots of benefits? Let's do.

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

But honestly Monica Permalink to this item

One of the most oddly memorable bits of my extended college education was a quip from a professor in a drawing and design course who advised us for one of the projects that "if you're going to fail, at least fail spectacularly." Better advice in entertainment than engineering, but it seems to keep finding new applications. Judith Griggs, editor of the Cooks Source magazine took it to heart when responding to an author whose work she'd stolen:

"...But honestly Monica, the web is considered 'public domain' and you should be happy we just didn't 'lift' your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally."

Destined to be a classic in the annals of the intertubes.

Test of leadership Permalink to this item

Tobin Harshaw's rundown of the Pelosi-Bachmann Conundrum is entertaining handicapping of the next round of politics in Washington. For as much as the right demonized Speaker Nancy Pelosi (to their apparent advantage), the demons of the right are not as obviously a fit in the "practical place" of Congress. John Boehner's first test of leadership is whether to the help the barbarianatrix into the inner circle of Republican leadership. (Speaker, Majority leader, Whip, and... Republican Conference Chair, a post that's usually well below the public's radar. What's outgoing Chair Mike Pence (R-IN) done for us lately?)

As Sam Stein understates it on HuffPo, "some establishment Republicans are suspect of Bachmann and uncomfortable with some of her ideas. And moving her into leadership could make some GOPers wince." Not to mention the rest of us.

The "Constitutional conservatives" are feeling their oats after their success last Tuesday. Bachman was kind enough to say she'd vote for Boehner for Speaker, if he was the only one running. She's more likely to have competition than Boehner is, so much for building bridges.

But this isn't about building anything, eh? The Teas aspire to be the Party of Deconstruction, and what better to have in the vanguard than the "Tea Party heroine" who worked for Light Bulb Freedom of Choice?

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

Life Changing Christian PC Video Games Permalink to this item

Ok, now where in the hell did this come from? Spam sent by "Left Behind Games Inc." (least inspired business name ever?), dba Inspired Media Entertainment, tells me that

"It is our understanding that you may be interested in receiving coupons and discounts on our quality PC-based Christian video games for children, teens and adults."

Actually, no. Even though they may be "supported by Focus on the Family, the Billy Graham Center and numerous evangelical preachers."

The creep factor of the NRSC Permalink to this item

John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, still asking for money:

"Joe Miller in Alaska is dedicated to the conservative principles we need in Washington DC. But he faces the potential of a lengthy recount. And in Alaska, they are still counting votes from election day. We need to get Joe the resources he needs to win the vote count."

It would be nice to believe that people in the state of Alaska are actually capable of fairly counting ballots without help (or interference) from outsiders. If they can't, I doubt very much whether John Cornyn can produce a "fairer" outcome.

You either have to laugh or cry Permalink to this item

And if you read Gail Collins' The Day After the Day After, it'll be the former.

"Boehner announced that his party's plan was to 'roll up our sleeves,' which is coincidentally exactly what Harry Reid said his plan was. So you can look for lots of naked forearms in Washington in the near future."

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

Dear Mitch McConnell Permalink to this item

You seem to have confused yourself with someone in a position of certain power—you're not—and with a spokesperson for "the American people."

I am one of the American people, and you don't speak for me. You're the head (I guess) of the minority party in the U.S. Senate. Get it? Minority. We're not going to repeal the health care insurance reform among other accomplishments of the last two years. The President is a Democrat, and the Democrats are in the majority in the upper house of Congress.

So no, we don't all need to come around to what you say. You've made your plan clear enough: obstruct progress, and do everything you can to defeat the President in 2012. You've put your party politics ahead of the welfare of the American people, and you have the unmitigated gall to imagine you speak for those people?

Get over yourself.

3.Nov.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Money can't buy you love Permalink to this item

Or Senate seats, as seen in the tale of two hundred million dollars spent with nothing to show for it but some used confetti, bumper stickers and yard signs. Call it a wealth redistribution plan, pumping some of the corporate largesse that flowed to Whitman, Fiorina and McMahon back into California's and Connecticut's economies.

"For all the obvious attention to the onstage antics, it was, to a certain extent, the real-world business experience that brought McMahon down. Just as attacks of heartless labor cuts hurt Fiorina and Whitman in California, Blumenthal pointed to her decision to send pink slips to 10 percent of World Wrestling Entertainment's workers."

No compromise Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein's Wonkbook: Welcome to gridlocked America. No power, no responsibility, hard to imagine much comity... so maybe a short break and then we might as well start the 2012 campaign.

"From the perspective of actually getting anything done in the next two years, there was perhaps no worse outcome. Republicans don't fully control Congress, so they don't have enough power to be blamed for legislative outcomes. But Democrats don't control the House and they don't have a near-filibuster proof majority in the Senate, so they can't pass legislation. Republicans, in other words, are not left with the burden of governance, and Democrats are not left with the power to govern. Republicans don't have to be responsible, and Democrats can't do it for them."

We've got an OPT OUT! Permalink to this item

You don't need to be someone who has "always disliked uniformed authorities shouting at me" to find Joe Sharkey's account of the latest T.S.A. drill disturbing. I don't have a problem with getting whole-body imaged; I use to bare it all for a life drawing class for (the then princely sum of) $5 an hour, so having someone peeping at a fuzzy digital rendition of my all-together is no big deal. But gratuitous X-ray absorption is not my personal cup of tea. And this:

"No, no. The process has always been the same, at every airport."

People in uniforms making stuff up and pretending it's the truth and always has been. That gives me the creeps.

Tough sell Permalink to this item

But at least it's over, right? Not so fast. The NRSC National Director is still asking for money, because... three Senate races are too close to call.

"In Colorado and Washington the margin between the two candidates is razor thin; and, in Alaska, we begin the lengthy process of waiting for all the votes to come in and then election officials to begin tallying the write in votes.

"As the votes in all three states continue to be counted we need to make sure we don't have another situation like Minnesota in 2008."

Um, ok, but send money? So what, the Republicans can "help" count ballots like they did down in Florida to start the Bush/Cheney administration?

Party time! Permalink to this item

Maureen Dowd does some artful recycling, connecting the dots between the pithy wisdom of Speakers-to-be. Déjà vu all over again? But somehow the tide refused to sweep away Harry Reid. Or sweep Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman in, in California. Matt Bai:

"The question that will dominate the conversation among Democrats in the days ahead is how it came to this, especially since Republicans offered little to voters beyond an emphatic rejection of the presidentís policies. Some Democrats believe they fell victim to the inevitable tide of midterm elections. Others blame the economy, plain and simple, while a growing chorus accuses Mr. Obama of failing to communicate the partyís successes."

Here in Idaho, the down-ticket statewide offices had the same familiar margin as judicial retention questions. 3 voters say "the Republican" the same as they say "keep the judge I've never heard of" to every 1 that says "No." If the judges, Secretary of State, and Controller keep their noses clean and stay out of the news, 3-to-1.

Tom Luna, our Superintendent of Schools who likes to call students "customers," won almost as handily, better than 60/40 a little past midnight.

The only major race that wasn't a foregone conclusion, the ID-01 House seat, appears to be tipped back into Republican hands, with Raul Labrador taking over after Walt Minnick's single term. Minnick's 9,000 votes behind (50.7 to 41.6%) with well over half the precincts reporting.

Election Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cargo cult Permalink to this item

It's a lovely, clear morning here, the sun just skimming some golden treetops, and anything is possible, an hour after the polls opened. But realistically, it's going to be a national beatdown for the party in power, because things aren't as good as people would like, and because of a variety of failures in communication. Strangely enough, Idaho Republicans, who dominate politics in this state, are unlikely to taste the same sort of repudiation. The winning campaign slogan: "it's not our fault!"

People always vote their personal economic interests, however those are perceived. Thanks to the Supreme Court, the people with the largest economic interests now have the loudest voice and, weirdly, a fair measure of anonymity to augment their ability to persuade from behind the scenes. Corporations are persons, and their money is free speech. And knowing who's speaking is somehow an unconstitutional inhibition? The Koch brothers funding the Tea Party? If you made this up, it would be bad fiction.

When things aren't going well, the urge to throw bums out can overcome the inertia of incumbency. If you can work "not our fault" and deflect blame well enough, you can keep your seat. So the Republican message is that it couldn't be their fault, because they didn't do anything.


A brilliant, if utterly destructive, strategy.

Between the deep disillusionment of the people who voted for Hope and Change and got More of the Same (without the cake and ice cream), and the messaging of the Party of Fear, what's a voter to do? Pull the lever, punch the chad, fill the circle, touch the screen for the Masters of Prosperity, delivering consumer electronics in the wide-screen format.

And hope you can keep the electricity on and dodge foreclosure until after the football season.

1.Nov.2010 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Haley Barbour: FUD is our friend Permalink to this item

On the Newshour, the chairman of the Republican Governor's Association says "the wind has been at our back for longer. The intensity has been greater, the enthusiasm higher." That's the wind of "anger and even fear" being generated by the Republican drum circle. Confonted with the fact that voters have a net negative view of Republicans, Barbour observes that

"This is very important for Republicans to understand: if voters repudiate Obama's policies, we still have to earn their trust."

Behind the Arizona immigration law Permalink to this item

An NPR investigation finds that the private prison industry played a key role in drafting "model" legislation that subsequently became law. America's industry for the future!

Follow the money Permalink to this item

John Boehner is number one on the House list for donations from Wall Street this year, much of it (as Frank Rich highlights) from financial institutions bailed out by the Toxic Assets Relief Program (TARP). $200,000 for the likely Speaker-to-be, and $187,000 for his right-hand man, minority Whip Eric Cantor.

They're selling us out wholesale for a comparative pittance of campaign contributions, used to buy radio and TV and print ads, and robo-calls to convince voters to keep their scam going. What a way to go. Rich:

"What the Tea Party ostensibly wants most—less government spending and smaller federal deficits—is not remotely happening on the country club G.O.P.'s watch. The elites have no serious plans to cut anything except taxes and regulation of their favored industries....

"What made the Tea Party most useful was that its loud populist message gave the G.O.P. just the cover it needed both to camouflage its corporate patrons and to rebrand itself as a party miraculously antithetical to the despised G.O.P. that gave us George W. Bush and record deficits only yesterday."

Stuck in a rut Permalink to this item

Or as Ken White put it, in one of the better letters to the editor for the campaign season, it's déjà-moo all over again, "a feeling that Iíve heard this bull before."

"Crapo wants to increase truck limits on the interstate. He thinks it wonít damage the road surface. I think he, too, has been looking directly into the sun. It doesnít take a rocket highway engineer to see the amount of damage already done from the current 40-ton limit.

"Ever wonder why there are so many single-car accidents on I-84 where the driver overcorrects and loses control? Could enormous ruts left by heavy trucks be playing a part? Even truckers have trouble steering in those ruts."


Can you keep a secret? Permalink to this item

If you're a radio talk show host? Probably not a good bet, as Raul Labrador's campaign spokesman Phil Hardy found out. Downside was that the candidate had to actually make good on his "media advisory" and knock on some doors in Eagle on Saturday. Hope he wasn't contagious.

Ada Co. Republicans support WHAT?! Permalink to this item

Seriously? Phil Hart? Extremists on parade from southern Idaho speak up for the member of Idaho's Legislature with the least integrity. We start with "Boise guy" Jim Thomas (who happens to be the 2nd Vice Chairman of the Ada County Republican Party, and "a programmer, which means I'm in the workforce, versus on the welfare rolls"), who thinks Hart is "one of the brightest guys I've run into, and not only that, he's a character."

A character who... is a deadbeat when it comes to paying both his state and federal taxes, and a character who stole timber from the State of Idaho, and who has wasted a ton of the state judiciary's time with his pettifogging. "The basic concepts that made this country great."

There's Dennis Mansfield remembering favors from long ago, Rod Beck (complaining about the folks up in Kootenai Co. giving Hart a raw deal because they "have sour grapes"), and Hart himself, flogging that book of his with "research" still waiting for a judge who won't laugh it out of court.

Apparently Ryan Davidson's (he's "3rd Vice Chairman" of the County Party... there's a lot of vice to look after) sense of smell differs from that of the courts'. "Phil's going to be seen as a pioneer" in overthrowing the income tax.

"One of the most principled men we have in the Legislature," Lucas Baumbach says. Wow.

They've even got Jack Stuart "also known as Patrick Henry," speaking up for Phil Hart's "honor."

More in Dan Popkey's report in the Idaho Statesman.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Friday, 03-Dec-2010 23:31:21 MST