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31.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Homogenized Permalink to this item

We get enough news from the Newshour and The Daily Show and typically have something better to do on Sunday morning than watch TV, but I understand there are talk shows, and that they do a fine job of representing a cross-section of white, male, Republican points of view. Peter Hart, for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Sunday morning shows are GOP TV. You don't hear complaints about tokenism much, but what little representation non-white, non-male, non-Republicans have seems weirdly unbalanced:

"...Fox News Sunday, for instance, featured the greatest number of African-American roundtable guests—but 24 of those 27 were Fox pundit Juan Williams. ABC's This Week featured 19 African-American debate guests, 13 of whom were Democratic strategist Donna Brazile."

A two-fer shot in the arm for the diversity stats!

One-on-one interviews featured 70% Republicans, 86% men, 92% whites.

30.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Occam says: audit the Romneys more carefully Permalink to this item

I've been doing our household's taxes for many years, and here's what I know for sure: (a) I've attempted to comply with the tax code, that ever-moving target; (b) I've made mistakes from time to time, some of which the IRS has been kind enough to tell me about; (c) I'm not sure if we paid too much, or too little; and (d) I'm guessing the errors average out in our case. As for what our tax rate is, meh. And it depends how you measure. Income tax is OK; you don't have to pay unless you have income. Sales tax is sort of OK, we don't spend that much money. Property tax is OK in moderation, and in proportion to the services we enjoy.

I would hope that if I had millions—millions!—of dollars of income every year, I would have better things to do than keep track of how much tax I had to pay. And indeed, Mitt Romney seems unsure what rate he's paying. Let's take him at his word, and assume he's correct in his certainty that he hasn't overpaid, and consider the remaining alternatives: (1) he paid exactly what he owes; or (2) he has failed to pay the full amount he owes.

We give him props for self-confidence (and sanctimony), but for a return that runs hundreds of pages, the probability of zero errors is... zero.

Even more fascinating is what he imagines to be a prerequisite for the Presidency:

"I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than are legally due I don't think I'd be qualified to become president I'd think people would want me to follow the law and pay only what the tax code requires."


Seriously? Someone who accidentally or on purpose pays more tax than is legally due should be disqualified?

29.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nowhere man

We've had some fun with where in the world is Mitt Romney's money, and after his unwelcome expression of concern about the London Olympics, and David Cameron's slapdown, the British press wittily connected the dots to local pop music with Cam's quip. (Oh, and the middle of nowhere quipped back, for what that was worth.)

But for someone with homes and bank accounts spread all over the world, there are some questions we might ask. Where's "home" for our peripatetic candidate? Michigan, where the trees seem to be the right height and the lakes reach up over your cuffs? Utah, where he used to have a Park City shack and a used Olympics? California, where his Alma Mater and his car elevator are?

Or the unfinished basement of his son's house in Massachusetts, where he said he resided when he wanted to vote for Scott Brown in 2010, and what he showed us on the one tax return he's released?

There seems to be a lot of "there" lacking in this man, whether it's business, voting, or the most basic question of residence. Where does he live? Who is he, really? The parts of his biography he's willing to share don't tell us.

...Romney has spent most of his adult life working in a closed and secretive business climate where he controlled access to most aspects of his life and fortune. ... This look at the past two decades of Romney trying to transition into public life shows that he is still in the secret-business mode and may bring that mindset into the White House. If we wait until he is possibly elected, it will be too late for our country to find out his true convictions. He has so much trouble remembering what he claimed from campaign to campaign that, in May, he gave this now-famous quote when commenting on Reverend Wright:

"I'm not familiar precisely with what I said, but I'll stand by what I said, whatever it was."

Such is the "business experience" Romney wants to sell us in order to add 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to his list of home addresses.

The bicycle clash Permalink to this item

Must've been a slow news day in late July to feature Car-bike crashes rise since 2007 as today's front page headline. My first thought was "compared to what?" Lots of things have increased in 4 years, including traffic. So the Idaho Transportation Department reports the total number of car-bike crashes in Ada County was 179 last year, versus 143 in 2007. Why 2007? Is it monotonically increasing? Noisy? What's the history?

The ITD has more than a dozen years of stats on their website, but the annual reports don't break out counties. The 2011 report for the whole state shows total "bicycle crashes" pretty flat over the last 5 years, 345 ± 1 in 2008, 2009 and 2001, down in 2007, up in 2009. After a horrific seven fatal bicycle accidents in 2009, we had none in 2011, that's good.

If the 179 reported for Ada County in 2011 is the same measure as "Bicycle crashes" in ITD's reporting, well more than half of the statewide total were here in Ada County.

As appears inevitable whenever the topic comes out, the usual tireless (and tiresome) diatribes fly back and forth in the comments. "AverageJoe" says "bicyclists have been allowed to take over the roads & streets around here." "Beefcake" says:

"Cyclists are adults who want to act like little children and play with their toys out in the street, and we're supposed to feel bad for them if you and your little bicycle don't want to get hit, then stay off of the road. The road is a place for adults to commute, not whiny little children like you."

No sympathy from JLF, who feels obliged to "comment whenever such a story is run."

"I am angry that adult bicycle riders, who act as though they are impervious to injury or worse, put me in jeopardy of being involved in such an accident by thier behavior."

He (I'm guessing) is angry that cyclists exist, and create the possibility that he might hit one. So angry he might just hit one to get it over with? He didn't say. But it goes on and on.

Just considering Patrick Orr's reporting, it was strange to read the subhead observation that "it seems drivers and cyclists are equally to blame" when the tally for the "worst intersection" (Meridian Rd/Cherry Lane/Fairview Ave) was 7 or 8 motorists at fault, compared to 3 or 4 cyclists ("driver not seeing cyclist riding on sidewalk" the toss-up). From that, how do we make sense of this?

The ITD study does not indicate whether the drivers of the cars or the cyclists were at fault. Meridian police delved deeper into the ITD data to show a diverse mix of causes for the crashes at Fairview/Cherry/Meridian.

"We have an almost 50-50 split" between drivers and cyclists whose violations cause the crashes, said Meridian police Sgt. John Gonzalez.

After the jump, "some tips to help cyclists ride safely," starting with pay attention, improve your attitude. Please, let's all. Also, practice safer behavior and show more courtesy.

Top of the tips featured a table tersely describing the special rules for bicyclists in Idaho Code that allow them to treat a red light as a stop sign (OK to proceed after stopping if it's clear), and a stop sign as a Yield. They kind of punted on the third row of the table, for the Yield sign, saying "no provision" for bikes, when in fact there's no special provision. Yield's a Yield for bikes and cars alike. That works? Except if, uh, you don't understand the concept of "yield" (or "sharing") in which case you're a bit of a road hazard, aren't you?

27.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

They're gunning for me Permalink to this item

Cary Driskell photo, edited by me "TOLL FREE" something or other on the caller ID, stand by for robot... It's an NRA robospam, Wayne Lapierre's voice which sounds remarkably whiny and petulant. Am I tired of endless demands for recordkeeping, blah blah blah?

Actually no, I'm not. I don't think we have enough recordkeeping of guns and who's holding them, and I think there should be a national registration database.

The punchline has something to do with "complete removal of civilians' firearms from the scope of any treaty," huh. And now for the "poll":

"Do you think it's ok for the UN to be on American soil and attacking our gun rights?"

Haven't seen anyone in a blue helment in our neighborhood lately, but I suppose he's talking about UN HQ in NYC? Anyway, this is a yes [1] or no [2] answer they're looking for, and while I was still thinking of all the possible nuances, receiving their thanks for my participation, and the succeeding dead air... a live human came on the line!

Was I disturbed by Wayne Lapierre's message?

Ah, finally, a question I can answer. Yes, I was disturbed, by having a robot make my phone ring, by listening to the NRA's deceptive b.s., and by their instruction that I should call some number to get off their list.

The hell you say.

Wrong about everything Permalink to this item

That's when you double down, right?

Someone else will have to provide the detailed roster of the parade (Time's top 25 mebbe? Love the mugshot-esque background for the photos), but top of the list is Alan "Gobsmacked" Greenspan, stunned to find out that invisible hands don't know how to contain themselves, and this week, Sandy "persona non grata" Weill, satisfied that he's got his, announcing that gee, maybe Glass-Stegall was actually a good idea.

Then there are the inflation harpies, gathering in chorus to warn that the U.S. could go just like Greece, because there are so many eerie parallels. Our GDP is within a factor of 50 of theirs. (Ok, so it's only twice their GDP per capita, I kid.) We both have currencies, and alphabets, and mobile phones. And just because the predictions of soaring interest rates have been spectacularly wrong so far, it doesn't mean they will always be wrong. While we wait for that, here's a suggestion:

"[I]t's time to stop paying attention to the alleged wise men who hijacked our policy discussion and made the deficit the center of conversation. They've been wrong about everything—and these days even the financial markets are telling us that we should be focused on jobs and growth. "

Escalation Permalink to this item

In another context, a friend shares helpful advice that applies to so many situations:

If you aren't getting satisfactory results, ask the first-level agent to escalate your call to the second-level group. Use the key word "escalate"...

I haven't used that tactic all that much (or the hoarier, "I'd like to speak to the manager"), mostly because I recognized the low probability of success in organizational problem-solving. But in the interest of making the world a better place, I will provide "feedback" from time to time, during, or after the fact. The keyword I usually look for is "Contact us." Some organizations are able to recognize that listening to the direct voice of the customer is the most powerful marketing tool they have.

I let Delta Airlines know how I felt about their horrid non-seat assignment process on our flight earlier this month, and they responded with an abject apology. Possibly too abject, as the unctuousness was a bit treacly:

"I can only imagine your disappointment when your family was not provided with seat assignments until you arrived at the departure gate. ..."

Hmm, maybe that was dripping with sarcasm? (And it wasn't "until we arrived," it was until well after we arrived, and the boarding process had actually started.)

"I am so sorry for the frustration you encountered with not knowing whether or not you will be able to travel as planned."

Ok, that sounds sincere. (And "anxiety" was the word you wanted there.) It goes on. To the punchline, a "gesture of goodwill for the seat discrepancy" (otherwise known as putting you in the back row even though a bunch of people were assigned seats hours after you were), 3,700 bonus miles to each of our SkyMiles accounts.

I have to wonder how they arrived at that particular number. In comparison to flying from Ottawa to Sainte-Foy? Or how far three Great Snipes can fly without stopping? Ah, I've got it: our RT was 3,284 miles, so they're giving "110%" (and rounding up).

26.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nationals lampoon Mitt summer vacation Permalink to this item

While we wait for the Romneys to release their tax returns, there's not much to do but speculate on what sort of awful secrets they must be concealing to drag their feet so hard, so long. The Manchester, NH Union Leader spells it out in good old New England plainspeak:

"What could he possibly have been thinking when he failed to ensure that everything contained in those documents was above reproach? Or was he simply not thinking at all? Surely he could not have arrogantly believed that he could withstand any storm that developed by bluffing his way through it? If so, it hasn’t worked."

"If Romney intends to win, he is going to have to make the tax forms public."

"Of course it's easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere."
UK PM David Cameron

In other non-transparency news, I didn't realize that there was a tradition of burning Olympics records right after you put out the big flame. (Maureen Dowd asks the obvious question: "Wouldn't it have been simpler to just burn the records in the flame?") There seems to be a pattern surrounding Mr. Romney. Never short of business ideas, though: after bragging about complete openness under his Olympics watch, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee charged news outlets $25/hr for records requests research, "even if the requests were eventually denied." Then to seal the deal on plausible deniability:

"Salt Lake Organizing Committee officials confirmed to the Globe that most administrative records were destroyed in the months after the Games concluded."

So much tidier that way.

With all that experience in running things, Mitt couldn't help dispensing some opinions about the London Olympics, leading more than a few to wonder who the hell invited this guy? Or to observe that he seems to have a special knack for screwing up a party.

25.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Send in the clown Permalink to this item

While I was out in the mountains for a long weekend, Amy from the Governor's office called back in response to the message I'd sent, asking what the hell Wayne Hoffman was doing on a supposed working group to move forward with expanding Medicaid and a health insurance exchange, given his outspoken calls for opposition to the Affordable Care Act.

When I returned the call just now, Amy apologized that she didn't remember my message in particular, she makes a lot of calls... so instead of my more carefully worded (and not all that long) message, we went with my shorter, "why was Wayne Hoffman appointed to a working group...?"

She corrected my misapprehension that it was a "working group" to implement anything. Their charge is to "understand" yada yada yada. More investigation and useless palaver? How droll. And Mr. Hoffman reflects membership covering "both ends of the spectrum," where Representative John Rusche represents the other. As a... flamingly moderate Democrat from Lewiston, and the Minority Leader of the Idaho House who also serves on the Idaho House Health and Welfare, Revenue and Taxation, and Business Committees. That's Dr. Rusche, who practiced medicine in Idaho for 15 years, and retired as Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Regence BlueShield of Idaho and Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah.

I protested that this was not any sort of "spectrum," from someone with relevant knowledge, experience, interest in doing something useful, to someone who has made it clear his only interest is in obstruction and sabotage. (I didn't use the "s" word in our conversation, and Amy was not the least bit interested in what I had to say; her job is to respond with the Governor's talking points, and she did that. He's made his decison, so that's that. All in a taxpayer-funded day's work.)

Sadly enough, this is what passes for a political spectrum in this state. We have thoughtful and reasonable on one end, and flat-out ridiculous on the other.

Update: Thanks to the Idaho Statesman's reprint of our neighbor's editorial, I see the Lewiston Tribune made the same point as I have, albeit more politely calling Hoffman an "odd duck" for a group of otherwise qualified participants. (And as a bonus, a suggestion from the Idaho Falls Post Register for what to do with the state's expense-haunted Governor's mansion.)

24.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Loose cannon Permalink to this item

So, GOP candidate seeks to burnish foreign policy cred with a little international travel (and maybe a layover or two to visit some of his money?) and misquoting a foreign minister here and there. Sure, that could work.

And have a spokesperson say, I don't know, something warm and meaningless like "He will stand by allies and restore American strength and resolve to protect our interests abroad and defend our values."

VPOTUS Joe Biden responded rather well, I'd say. He had me at "all we heard from Governor Romney was empty rhetoric and bluster," but he went on at some length. A "whopping" 800-some words, as one gal at National Review Online put it. (I guess they're used to their reading in more bite-sized chunks. If you can't make fun of the substance, by all means, go for the length.)

"Thanks to President Obama’s leadership, bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive—and everything we have learned from Governor Romney today and during this campaign tells the American people that a Romney presidency would have resulted in just the opposite."

19.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Something dead for breakfast? Permalink to this item

What I saw across the pool Went up to the lake yesterday, hoping to get my sail on, but alas, the wind was not sufficiently up. Hung around with the guys a while, picked some serviceberries, took some photos and then went down the left bank to have a look at Foote Park, which is a bit rough and ready, from what I saw. But it has nice views of the top of the pool above the Diversion Dam that sets the New York Canal on its way, and it was a lovely summer morning. Looking back toward Sandy Point, I saw something I couldn't quite tell what it was, some rocks sticking out? I took a photo at max zoom and figured I'd check it out when I got home.

Can't say for sure, but it looks like a congress of vultures, having a morning snack on somebody's carcass, doesn't it? Yum.

Here's something a little more pastoral, perhaps, electricity flowing out of the Lucky Peak generators and off to the downstream market.

On the road to Foote Park on the Boise River

18.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Speaking of free stuff Permalink to this item

Free and wild, serviceberries picked today Satellites beam signals to our planet, and we've arranged to have a receiver on our roof, and state-of-the-art electronics to convert the radio waves into moving pictures and sound. We pay, handsomely, for the service, unlike the good old days when you could just pluck signals out of the air, for free. Not that you can't, still, find some free signals, they just don't include... Comedy Central.

As fate would have it, our expensive satellite-based television service doesn't include Comedy Central either right now. It seems CC parent Viacom and DirecTV are having an economic firefight over who can have more of our money. (Viacom says they deserve more of it, but they don't care if it comes out of DirecTV's profits, whatever. Either we forgo their channels, they rob DirecTV, or DirecTV robs us on Viacom's behalf. I'm not seeing the consumer upside here. And Viacom, twenty-six of my favorite channels, seriously? I'll, uh, chip in 1/26th of what you're asking, for ONE of those, 'k?)

Thank goodness someone has a sense of humor about it, and thank goodness we have the means to route around damage (don't we?). Otherwise, 20 million of us would be out in the cold. As it is, only "old people" have been cut off.

"None of this matters. None of this is indispensable. ... You're pulling the show from the internet?! Viacom, what are you, China?"

They don't, actually, seem to have pulled the web feed of The Daily Show, which is good, because Jon Stewart's been on vacation for a couple weeks, and there's a lot of stuff to catch up on, including, Democalypse 2012 Bain Damage. Let's hear from the candidate himself:

"The documents show, that there's a difference between 'ownership', which is that I owned shares in Bain, but I did not manage Bain..."

Yes, he owned all the shares, innit? Stewart translates:

"I was just the guy with the smokescreenish yet still legal title of CEO and Managing Director who was paid at least $100,000 a year to do what according to me, Mitt Romney, was nothing.

"That's the kind of common sense business experience I hope to bring to the White House."

And for bonus footage, don't miss 1994 Mitt Romney explaining the "age-old ruse" of a blind trust. And the horse prom.

17.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Good news, bad news Permalink to this item

John McCain does indignation ("It's just outragous!") as well as any grumpy old guy, but here, he's providing the first "good news" of the week for the beleaguered Romney campaign: it wasn't something in Romney's tax returns that led McCain to pick Sarah Palin for a running mate, she was just a better candidate. Seriously! Or else, um, the McCain/Romney ticket would have had too many houses between them. McCain's top campaign adviser in 2008, Steve Schmidt:

"Sen. McCain got caught flat-footed answering a question about how many houses he owned. In fact, they were Cindy McCain's properties but that distinction was lost in the political optics and we knew it would be a big liability that the presidential and the vice presidential candidates together owned more than a dozen homes. It was like something out of a Saturday Night Live skit. I mean, come on."

Yeah, come on. On another note, it seems Al Green is OK with Obama using a snippet, but not so much the Romney campaign. Darn those intellectual property rights! I guess the good news is, if "America the Beautiful" weren't in the public domain, the rights owner would definitely want to squelch any further dissemination of Romney singing it. That's painful.

16.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Cognitive dissonance is a beautiful thing Permalink to this item

Decaying sign, Chinden Blvd., 2012 Especially when you're campaigning. How else could you bring "the deficit is going to be our doom" and "taxes are too high!" together without having your mind explode? Paul Krugman explains why we're not discussing facts and figures and reaching an objective conclusion: there are enough facts and figures to keep us on the spin cycle indefinitely.

"Perhaps in a better world we could count on the news media to sort through the conflicting claims. In this world, however, most voters get their news from short snippets on TV, which almost never contain substantive policy analysis. The print media do offer analysis pieces—but these pieces, out of a desire to seem 'balanced,' all too often simply repeat the he-said-she-said of political speeches."

Since we don't live in that better world, we have to "cut through this political and media fog" by getting personal.

"Thus the entirely true charge that Mr. Romney wants to slash historically low tax rates on the rich even further dovetails perfectly with his own record of extraordinary tax avoidance—so extraordinary that he's evidently afraid to let voters see his tax returns from before 2010. The equally true charge that he's pushing policies that would benefit the rich at the expense of ordinary working Americans meshes with Bain's record of earning big profits even when workers suffered—a record so stark that Mr. Romney is attempting to distance himself from part of it by insisting that he had nothing to do with Bain's operations after 1999, even though the company continued to list him as C.E.O. and sole owner until 2002."

Doofus spoofus Permalink to this item

It's surprising there aren't more successful spoofs and phishing, given how easy it would be to take an "official" email and tweak it to nefarious purposes. There is the theory that being rather obvious weeds out the insufficiently credulous, so that only the really easily duped marks take your time and effort in moving the scam along to the profitable levels.

But things that make you wonder include today's effort, supposedly from Intuit Support, with the email return address well-spoofed, but the payload uselessly garbled. In my case, it was bound to fail at any rate, with a subject "Your payroll processing through Intuit." I'm not on a payroll, and don't process anyone else's payroll, so that's that.

The body was sent in "multipart/alternative" format, but with only a text/plain version included, and the text lacked linebreaks, after the three word header, "Payroll processing status":

DirectDeposit Service CommunicationStatus updateDear tva...

and so on for 800+ characters. "Weobtained your payrollon July 16, 2012at 1:25AM Pacific Time" is attention-getting. And $4,925.77 at issue, you say?

"Please downloadyour payroll here."

Where? Where should I send my payroll?

" please make sure youhave enough fundsavailable by 12 a.m. on the date fundsare to be withdrawn.Intuit mustobtain your payroll by 5p.m. Pacific time, two banking daysbefore your paycheck dateor your employees will fail to be paid ontime...."

Well, thank goodness I don't have any employees.

15.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nice non-work if you can get it Permalink to this item

The Romney campaign wants it to be old news, but until they take William Kristol's Sunday advice and start coughing up some tax returns, the speculation will run. If and when the returns do come out, there will be still more to talk about, I'm sure. (George Will figures the campaign must've weighed their options, and decided the rampant speculation is better than disclosure. Interesting point.)

The mystery years at Bain Capital, 1999-2002, make a fascinating story one way or the other. Was he in charge? Or just the guy who signed the papers as President, CEO, Chairman of the Board, and 100% owner? (And how can you be President, CEO, Chairman of the Board, and 100% owner without being at least sorta, kinda in charge?)

Let's say the SEC forms they filled out saying he was in charge were just perfunctory, and too bad for the credulous who imagined you could actually rely on statements in SEC filings, and all he really was was 100% owner, enjoying the fruits of everyone else's labor. $100,000/year for doing nothing, whatsoever? Maybe it was just a friendly deal, hoping he'd come back after the Olympics.

But he didn't. He "retired," "retroactively," rather an interesting concept. And one worthy of some fun today, "critics tweeting out ironic things that happened #retroactively." (I looked through a few, but sadly, I didn't see that Newt Gingrich had weighed in.)

Bastille Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nadir Permalink to this item

While still thinking about what I might say about Mitt Romney's campaign two-fer, the "brave" appearance in front of the NAACP, followed by his recounting the tale for a friendly audience, and I see that Matt Taibbi pretty well covered it.

"The twin appearances revealed the candidate to be not merely unlikable, and not merely a fatuous, unoriginal hack of [a] politician, but also a genuinely repugnant human being, a grasping corporate hypocrite with so little feel for how to get along with people that he has to dream up elaborate schemes just to try to pander to the mob."

It's not that Romney and his friends are absolutely opposed to "free stuff"; it's just free stuff for the unwashed masses that's a bridge too far. I haven't waded through the whole of Taibbi's feature in Rolling Stone, but the story's familiar enough, having unfolded just these past few years: The Scam Wall Street Learned From the Mafia. The business has kept going well enough under Obama, but Romney is more their man.

Some things in western Michigan Permalink to this item

Grand Rapids is where the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is. In spite of the alluring recommendation (I think she said we could see his body? their bodies? right in the entrance, without paying to go in. But I might be remembering wrong), we didn't actually visit that. Nor did we actually see the rapids on the Grand river for which the city is named. (Or if we did see them, the town should've been named Grand Riffles.)

We stayed in Allendale, near family in-lawed over the weekend, and halfway between Grand Rapids and Lake Michigan. There's not a lot of there there, but there is the Grand Valley State University, and we enjoyed walking through the Calder Art Center to see student work on display, and the mostly quiet facilities in summer rest, but still replete with the smell of clay, sawdust, graphite and linseed oil. We got a good tip to the current show at the Red Wall Gallery in Lake Ontario Hall, The Asafo of Ghana: A Life History of an Asafo Flag Dancer, telling the story of Professor Amy Masko's ethnography work. (Lake Ontario Hall was interesting all by itself, still fresh from its 2005 completion and showing off what earned it a LEED Silver rating.)

We enjoyed the hospitality of Ottawa County parks at the Rosy Mound Natural Area, "a classic Great Lakes dune system including high wooded dunes, foredunes, beach and a dune blowout." And swimming in the great lake!

With a late departure on Monday, we had time for an unhurried visit to the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park; put it on the list of must-see attractions in Grand Rapids. The place runs on a lot of volunteer (as well as paid) effort, and you'll probably run into some you like. We had a delightful time with one gal who showed us around the carnivorous plant house and the tropical conservatory. The narrator on the tram ride, mmm, not so much. Turns out the walk around's not that far, and we should've saved the $3 ea. for that part of the experience.

'Scarlatti,' by Mark di Suvero, at Frederick Meijer

The museum show of Beverly Pepper's work, Palingenesis 1962-2012 runs through August 26, don't miss that, and there's a summer concert series with big name talent scheduled.

The tip to go see the Meijer Gardens came from a friendly security guard at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, where we stumbled into their Special Friday Nights, with free admission, live Celtic/World Beat music from An Dro, and a knock-your-socks-off (and tear-your-heart-out) show of 30 monumental color photographs of "Detroit Disassembled" by Andrew Moore, part of their larger Cities in Transition exhibit. That's on through August 26 also, but if you can't be there in person, you can at least enjoy the video from Moore's talk at the June 21 opening, "Making History." Moore's website has web-sized images which you'll need to blow up about 5x to approach the "live" experience.

Dear Governor Otter: Permalink to this item

I'm happy to read that you are moving forward with work on expanding Medicaid and creating a health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act. But I'm mystified and dismayed that among the 26 public and private stakeholders appointed to work on the issues, Mr. Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation is included.

As recently as last week, Hoffman reiterated his recommendation for you to "continue your opposition" through legislative and legal "remedies." Hoffman seems like the ideal person to come up with new and novel ways to obstruct forward progress.

And an utterly inexplicable choice for participation in a working group. Hoffman is not a "stakeholder." Please explain why he was included.

13.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Understanding the dimensions of the problem Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein's Wonkblog charts out 14 reasons why this is the worst Congress ever, some amazing stats. Hardly any laws passed is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is kind of what Congress does, after all. Except not so much this Congress.

We already knew they're hideously unpopular but showing them right next to Hugo Chavez?! The good news is they're still ahead of Fidel Castro. (And who knew the IRS is more popular than the airline industry?) Incredibly polarized, of course; set back the recovery, duh. There actually are problems they need to solve. And so on.

7. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal. Repeal.

"House Republicans have now voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act 33 times. Every time they take this vote, it's time they could be spending on other issues. Other issues like, for instance, what they would do instead of the Affordable Care Act. But though they've found the time to vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act on 33 separate occasions, they have voted to replace the Affordable Care Act exactly ... never."

Wizards of id Permalink to this item

Orchids at the Frederick Meijer Gardens The defamation suit involving (but not targeted directly at) the Spokane Spokesman-Review (as discussed here, on May 30) has now hit the national news, coverage in the L.A. Times, on TPM, etc., at the point that the judge has ordered the S-R to identify the pseudonymous commenter. Judge John Patrick Lester did reject the call to reveal the identities of the two actually innocent bystanders who commented on the intemperate comment (without adding or multiplying the snark, let alone the defamation), supposedly as "witnesses," to the ephemeral, but already stipulated act.

I'm from the same old school as Randy Stapilus, in which a request for publication had to be accompanied by a verifiable statement of identity before it would be considered. Not that it ensured quality in the Letters to the Editor, but pre-publication review does provide for filtering out the worst submissions, one measure of "bad" being "likely to cause a lawsuit." We've moved on, to "fix it we have to" systems on many sites, often with "report abuse" means for the rank and file to augment a moderator's ability to keep up with the flow. Turns out those "Terms of Use" may actually be important from time to time.

I think the judge made the right call in the case, and while I have a certain amount of admiration for the S-R in its willingness to push back against something that seems blown out of proportion, I also don't quite understand their interest in protecting a likely non-paying customer from his or her own bad act. For the perpetrator, and all others, the reminder that "free," as in speech, has responsibilities attached seems a Good Thing.

The end of Carl Franzen's well-written piece for TPM is unfortunately garbled, but what I think he meant to say was that the S-R's attorney, Duane Swinton, "said that he still believed that the entire reason that Jacobson sought the commenter's identity in the first place was because ... of an interparty fight [in the] local Republican Party." If so, the snark and/or defamation might have been well-amplified offline and created some of the damage claimed in Ms. Jacobson's lawsuit.

The story takes on a different coloration as political infighting leaked to the public sphere than it does as insouciant and poorly thought-through sniping about someone's appearance, not all that different from what fills the Intertubes day to day. I'm not seeing it as a landmark case in the annals of free speech, but it may provide a useful preventative for some kinds of bad behavior. If it retarded the general flow of ill-considered commentary, that would be OK too.

12.July 12 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Now you see him, now you don't Permalink to this item

When is a CEO not a CEO? In Mitt Romney's case, the answer seems to be whenever it's convenient. He owned 100% of Bain Capital, got paid $100,000 for being its "executive," and was listed on SEC filings as the man in charge, but, really, he left in 1999?

Mr. Romney's relationship with the truth is "complicated," as they say in Facebook. A severance agreement finalized some years after he "left," offshore accounts and accounting all at sea, something is very fishy about all this. You think the Republican competition was bloodthirsty in calling for tax returns, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Show us the money, Mr. Romney. What have you been up to all these years?

Update: says nothing to see here, move along. No real evidence he was working at Bain those years... just because they paid him $100k, and put his name down on those SEC filings, that stuff. Business as usual. That severance agreement was worked out all fair and square and three years retroactive. Pay no attention to that little man behind the curtain.

But The Globe said they're not retracting. And TPM provides a slice through the bamboozlement from another angle:

"For Romney to be truly off the hook politically for the stuff Bain was doing, he'd have to claim not lack of control, but lack of knowledge. And that's just not going to wash with anyone. He could try going the 'I didn't have even the slightest idea what the company I technically still owned was doing' route, but he'd be marking himself as either dishonest or incompetent. And yet that's really his only out. ..."

11.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nobody's unpredictable Permalink to this item

Once in a while, when I'm wondering if Behaviorism is right, and all the stuff going on inside my brain is just random noise (or predictable response to stimuli I've run into), I resolve to do something truly random and disprove it once and for all. I forget whether I've done that, or not.

But after some weird pollsters showing "IPSOS" called for the second time today, and I looked them up on the web, I see that their motto is "Nobody's Unpredictable," so it's clear enough where they come down on the question. The URL for their What we do page ends with, simply, "Experts."

"Our activity consists in asking the right questions, i.e. those that enable the people we interview to express their opinions, desires and expectations. It also consists in observing, listening and analysing; this is what our experts in qualitative research do everyday."

It sounded like it was the "innovation and brand research specialists" calling today, wanting to know what health insurance companies we'd heard of, if we knew the "full name" and so on. They probably wanted to talk to me, but Jeanette knew I would not be having any of that, and she was curious, so she strung them along, and after tiring of the first caller's 20 questions, got a follow-up call, apparently an attempt to tidy up the "incomplete" first interview.

Maybe it was all predictable, but it didn't add up to a good datum for their marketing research.

Fired for effect Permalink to this item

Bill Cope's column in last week's Boise Weekly had a subhead summary, addressed to ID-1 Representative Raúl Labrador: "you don't know what contempt is." But he proceeded to provide a pretty good illustration for our freshman TeaPublican attack dog of the running right.

"There is very little in the human experience more repugnant to witness than the spectacle of one minority person abusing another to ingratiate himself with his masters. That is the behavior of men so ignoble, so cowardly, so low, that they should be denied any place in history other than the shame they have brought upon themselves. ..."

His follow-on column this week points us to the useful article in Fortune by Katherine Eban, offering the truth about the Fast and Furious scandal, from their own six-month investigation.

"[F]ive law-enforcement agents directly involved in Fast and Furious ... insist they never purposefully allowed guns to be illegally trafficked. Just the opposite: They say they seized weapons whenever they could but were hamstrung by prosecutors and weak laws, which stymied them at every turn. ...

"[T]he public case alleging that Voth and his colleagues walked guns is replete with distortions, errors, partial truths, and even some outright lies. Fortune reviewed more than 2,000 pages of confidential ATF documents and interviewed 39 people, including seven law-enforcement agents with direct knowledge of the case. Several, including Voth, are speaking out for the first time.

"How Fast and Furious reached the headlines is a strange and unsettling saga, one that reveals a lot about politics and media today. It's a story that starts with a grudge, specifically [ATF agent John] Dodson's anger at [Phoenix Group VII supervisor Dave] Voth. After the terrible murder of agent [Brian] Terry, Dodson made complaints that were then amplified, first by right-wing bloggers, then by CBS. Rep. Issa and other politicians then seized those elements to score points against the Obama administration, which, for its part, has capitulated in an apparent effort to avoid a rhetorical battle over gun control in the run-up to the presidential election. ..."

Cope's target is the NRA, which miraculously (or ironically, at least) remains unrepudiated as the largest accessory to this debacle.

"[T]he ultimate irony is this: Republicans who support the National Rifle Association and its attempts to weaken gun laws are lambasting ATF agents for not seizing enough weapons—ones that, in this case, prosecutors deemed to be legal."

The chance of even a negative whisper about the NRA coming out of the Republicans on the House Committee for Oversight and Government Reform is exactly zero, the same as its chance of improving the effectiveness of the ATF in any way. Quite the contrary:

"[Rep. Darrel] Issa and other lawmakers say they want ATF to stanch the deadly tide of guns, widely implicated in the killing of 47,000 Mexicans in the drug-war violence of the past five years. But the public bludgeoning of the ATF has had the opposite effect. From 2010, when Congress began investigating, to 2011, gun seizures by Group VII and the ATF's three other groups in Phoenix dropped by more than 90%."

10.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How crazy is that Higgs boson anyway? Permalink to this item

At the Sleep Inn, Allendale, Mich. All I know about particle physics is that I don't really need to know anything, and that Isaac Newton had near enough the last word on F and m⋅a except when it comes to electronics, and somebody else can look after that for me. I understand some champagne was cracked after a lot of large hadrons were cracked, and that we've reached "a historic milestone," that's either Higgs, or Higgs-like, and that Higgs himself was available for the celebration. But I can't read the writing on the milestone, nor tell which way to turn.

It's fun to know that a thousand people stood in line all night in Geneva to join the party, even if I don't know what the party was about.

A rundown of the craziest Higgs stories is fun whether or not you know what they're talking about. (You just have to know some of what they're not talking about, such as faster-than-light travel, transporters, God, and religion of any sort.)

"The Higgs was created to fill a hole in the Standard Model and the Standard Model doesn't explain gravity. You can't really have physics without gravity."

It's also much harder to tidy up without gravity.

Hiatus Permalink to this item

Not that an explanation is really needed, but should you like one, we flew to Grand Rapids, Michigan for a long weekend and a niece's wedding. From pleasant here, to heatwave there, then pleasant there, and back to heatwave here. How can you tell which end you're on? In Michigan, it's like a sauna. In Idaho, it burns. Overheard as we deplaned, a passenger to the captain: "did you see that fire on the way in?" Captain: "I've never seen anything like that!"

Must be new on the route.

At any rate, we came back to mountain time, still in the 80s after midnight, and with a red and smoky sunrise this morning.

4.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Common senseless Permalink to this item

Idaho's junior Congressman is going all he can to establish his wing-nut bona fides. The colleagues he features in his press release speak volumes: Sen. Jim DeMint, Reps. Michele Bachman and Jim Jordan. There are 70 more usual suspects rounded up to send a letter to all 50 governors, urging them to "oppose any creation of a state health exchange [sic]" because... helping people obtain healthcare insurance will be "expensive, complex and intrusive," and "impose a threat to the financial stability of our already-fragile state economies."

In his first term, Raúl Labrador has made a fair amount of noise and done pretty much nothing useful. And he's got plenty of company.

3.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Where in the world is Mitt Romney's money? Permalink to this item

Nicholas Shaxson has a look around Mitt Romney's Bermuda Triangle of offshore accounts for Vanity Fair. Sounds like a lovely vacation just to visit them all, there, in the Cayman Islands, and over in Switzerland. (Whoops, add Luxembourg and make it a Quadrangle. But wait! There's more!) It makes for quite the detective mystery, given how minimally forthcoming candidate Romney has been. Unlike his father, who set a precedent for more or less full disclosure (12 years of tax returns) back in 1967, Mitt dribbled out one return (for 2010), and one estimate (for 2011) after "intense goading" from his party opponents, leaving many unanswered questions.

A full 55 pages in his 2010 return are devoted to reporting his transactions with foreign entities. "What Romney does not get," says Jack Blum, a veteran Washington lawyer and offshore expert, "is that this stuff is weird."

For example, one of the features of the havenly Cayman Islands: "a confidentiality law states that you can be jailed for up to four years just for asking about [information about underlying assets]."

Romney's spokeswoman Andrea Saul assures us "everything was reported correctly," except for the "trivial inadvertent" things that weren't, like that $3 million they forgot about in Switzerland, and huffs at criticism: "Why should successful investments be criticized?" But without something better than "the most opaque [disclosures] encountered" by experts across the political spectrum, how will we know what to celebrate? Or how much to celebrate? Or perhaps, ahem, whether to celebrate:

"A report by Bain and Co. itself, looking at the period from 2002 to 2007, concluded that there is 'little evidence that private equity owners, overall, added value' to the companies they took over: nearly all their returns are explained by broad economic growth, rising stock markets, and leverage."

Extrapolate Mitt's parochial interests to the global economy, in thrall to "financialization," as the zenith of hegemony:

"[I]mperial Venice, Genoa, Holland, and Britain all saw their power rise on the back of productive industrial capitalism, followed by domination by the financial sector, which eventually began to cannibalize the productive sector in pursuit of financial returns—a process that ended in weakness and collapse."

And in a weirder twist, the U.S. has been groomed into a foreign tax haven itself, allowing foreign tax havens to provide laundry service along with the lovely view and the beach access. Such glorious business experience for a presidential candidate. Would we get the accounting staff moved over to Treasury, too?

2.July 2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Inside the SCOTUS Permalink to this item

Jan Crawford's piece for CBS' Face the Nation could be more of that mind-reading stuff, given that

"The inner-workings of the Supreme Court are almost impossible to penetrate. The court's private conferences, when the justices discuss cases and cast their initial votes, include only the nine members - no law clerks or secretaries are permitted. The justices are notoriously close-lipped, and their law clerks must agree to keep matters completely confidential."

But here we're told that "two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations" have loose lips, and "word of Roberts' unusual shift has spread widely within the court, and is known among law clerks, chambers' aides and secretaries."

The evidence of "the ire of the conservative justices" was plain enough in their joint dissent (which I haven't got around to reading yet, confident that I'll hear more of the same before Justices Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Kennedy retire or die). It's a bit surprising they wouldn't at least join as far as stomping on the Commerce Clause, given how celebrated said stomping would likely be. But not even the WSJ editorial board is celebrating, as Jacob Sullum laments: what good is killing the Commerce Clause if Congress can do whatever it wants by calling it a tax?

Guess we'll have to cross the case when we come to it.

Reading the mind of Raúl Labrador Permalink to this item

Once upon a time in July Mind-reading is as popular as ever, and the best subjects are the ones who can't disagree with you. Just in time for a patriotic holiday, the Founding Fathers are obvious favorites. Idaho's junior Congressman Raúl Labrador, for example: they'd be appalled, he just knows they would.

"The court has declared that Congress has the ability to regulate Americans' behavior by using taxes to force them to act."

Or, to pay taxes anyway. Many in Idaho are deeply annoyed by that concept. (Mr. Labrador must imagine his handsome salary and government healthcare rain down upon him like manna from heaven?)

He's not so much into tricorner dress-up, but he is playing along with the "The Tea Party's 1776 Shtick" described by Sam Pizzigati. Note to posterity: "Previous attempts to establish republican rule—in Athens, Rome, Venice, and Florence—had all failed. Inequality had wrecked them." Even if the counter-narrative that the 1776ers were all about inequality is a bit hard to swallow too. Pizzigati quotes Jefferson, saying

"We have no paupers. The great mass of our population is of laborers; our rich, who can live without labor, either manual or professional, being few, and of moderate wealth."

"We" did have slaves back then, but they didn't count in most assessments (except perhaps for property assessments). Still, that mostly agrarian society did have a much more equal distribution of income and wealth than we do today. And our political system serves wealth as surely as the slaves of colonial times did.

Heather Cox Richardson reviews James Huston's book about the American concept of wealth distribution:

"When the world of dominant big business overtook the patchwork landscape of many small-scale proprietorships—a change that Huston's statistics indicate to have occurred in the decade from 1880 to 1890—Americans could no longer ignore vast inequalities in wealth. The labor theory of value/property fell before marginal utility theory that emphasized the relativity of value; the threat of aristocracy paled before the threat of corporations. Coming to terms with this fundamental economic change, Americans discarded laissez-faire and called for intervention in the economy to promote an equitable distribution of wealth."

Two hundred and thirty years on from revolutionary minds, more than a century past the rise of industrial behemoths, and half a dozen generations of mechanized warfare later... a Puerto Rican born and Brigham Young University educated Congressman imagines those minds would be appalled, by... what, exactly? Oh, right right right, "this massive government takeover of our nation's health care."

Say what you will about the guy, he's got one hell of an imagination.

Update: Betsy Russell reported another take, from David Adler, constitutional scholar and director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. Nice touch with the "health insurance mandates" passed by Congress in the 1790s.

"[I]t seems to be just an exercise in politics, trying to draw the majesty of the framers into your argument."

Adler says "it's hard to make [the] assertion" that Labrador did, by which he means it would be hard for a person of careful scholarship to make such a claim with sincerity, and confidence in its accuracy.

It's dead simple for a politician to light off fireworks for any occasion. The best you can hope for is that it doesn't take anyone's eye out, or start a fire.


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Wednesday, 01-Aug-2012 13:42:27 MDT