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

What lower capital gains tax rates buys you Permalink to this item

Two things: incentive to make lots more income look like "capital gains," so that its recipients can enjoy those lower rates; and a nice leg up for the wealthy who don't much need it. Joe Nocera: Romney and the Forbes 400.

"In the last year alone, the cumulative net worth of the wealthiest 400 people, by Forbes’s calculation, rose by $200 billion. That compares with a 4 percent drop in median household income last year, according to the Census Bureau."

But, "job creators," right? Don't capital handlers make everyone better off if they get to keep more capital? We're waiting for that.

"In 1986, when Ronald Reagan was president, the differential between capital gains and ordinary income was eliminated—and the economy soared. The capital gains rate was higher during the Bill Clinton years than in the George W. Bush years, yet the economy did better under Clinton than under Bush."

Here's someone with a more specific proposal that makes a lot of sense: the 28 Percent Solution, from Richard Thaler, professor of economics and behavioral science.

If we could see ourselves as others see us Permalink to this item

Happened to have a look at BBC Newsnight today, where they featured a conservative radio commentator I'd never heard of, Joyce Kaufman on WFTL, after the intro that many of her audience (and she, from the videobite shown) feel that "the Democrats are trying to steal Florida with fake voters, and fraud."

"I hope Floridians understand that this, what happens in Florida can decide who the next President of the United States is," Senator John McCain tells her and the WFTL audience. "Absolutely," she affirms on air. Then to the BBC:

Kaufman: "I have no examples of anybody trying to supress the vote. I think that people should have to prove who they are before they vote; I can't cash a check without a driver's license or some kind of federal ID, but we're allowing people to vote who never furnish proof of their identity, who can walk into a voters' registration drive like the one in Miami, and say their name is Tim Tebow and be given a ballot."

BBC: "You are saying that there are some on the American left who are deliberately getting false names onto the voter registry..."

Kaufman: "Well we know they did it in 2008 and we know they did it in 2010, so my expectation is they'll probably do it again."

You remember Florida, of course, as the state where George W. Bush and his Republican friends in high places and black robes "decided who the next President of the United States" would be back in 2000.

And OK, I haven't heard Kaufman's response to the revelations of the GOP-contracted voter registration fraud going on in Florida and several other states just this week, but I am curious what she might have to say on the subject.

Sunday blockbuster: trash to cash Permalink to this item

Still life during a smoky sunset, Sept. 2012 Our county owes a debt of gratitude to the Idaho Statesman and the non-profit Idaho Citizens for a Safe Environment (ICSETG) for insisting on details about the waste-to-energy project that the Ada County Commission approved, and approved payments for, even as they stonewalled requests for more information and public participation. The Idaho Public Records Act was more forthcoming.

"Dynamis used county money to buy Macs, pay consultants" was above the fold on Sunday's front page, with this arresting subhead: Contract allowed up to $350 an hour; Dynamis billed 1,390 hours at that rate. Except that the top rate they were paying for engineering was actually 10% higher for additional "overhead and profit," so make that $385/hr. And add in a nice wad of additional overhead cash for the head men: $145,000 to Dynamis CEO C. Lloyd Mahaffey and COO John Johnston for "design oversight and management."

Nothing quite like billing overhead on overhead plus 10%.

There is no way, no how, any poor schmuck engineer on a government payroll in our neighborhood is making a third of that kind of hourly rate. Cynthia Sewell's report includes local comparisons of the rates we've paid for outside help:

The highest hourly rate [the Ada County Highway District] paid a contracted civil engineer who worked on the East ParkCenter bridge—one of the agency’s most expensive projects, built in 2009—was $200 an hour for five hours of work.

"The highest engineering rate I could find on our contracts was $265 per hour," said Boise city spokesman Adam Park. "This was for a regional vice president of a major consulting firm. Generally speaking, we pay managing/senior engineers in the range of $150 to $200 per hour and project engineers $125 to $160 per hour."

Meridian pays $67 to $240 an hour for professional engineering services. Both cities said they do not allow contractors a separate markup charge on labor, materials and other expenses.

The immediate past president of the Idaho Society of Professional Engineers said that billing rates for licensed civil engineers in our area run from under $100/hr up to $200/hr for specialists, with "the typical billing rate two to four times the salary rate," the markup for overhead built in. In terms of the wages coming down to the engineer, $50/hr would work out to a comfortable, 6-figure salary. The company-side rule of thumb is that the "fully loaded" cost of an employee is twice her salary, so $100/hr should provide for experienced engineering talent. $200/hr would be plenty for exceptional or specialized talent.

A long sidebar on the story describing "Where the Money Went," includes $45k dropped at MacLife for "nine computers and accessories" and $24k for "GoEngineer engineering software." Having used my share of computers and engineering software, I can assure you that one does not hit the ground running with new hardware and software (not even the whizziest thing from Apple). It takes time to set things up, learn the ropes, and get past the "overhead" to the point where you can be productive. How much of the more than 2,000 "engineering" hours, 1,022 "drafting/engineering" hours and 242 "information technology" hours paid for with public money was devoted to startup/training costs?

What about the $101,823 to Tulsa Combustion, for engineering services; $85,000 to Industrial Construction Group, of Portland, for preliminary design-build contract; $71,605 to Boise lobbyist firm GSA Results, supposedly for "federal/state regulatory compliance"; $69,460 to Erstad Architects, of Boise, for construction documents and design development; $63,188 to Rule Steel, of Caldwell, for design and technical services; $18,539 to "other engineers and drafters"; and $10,666 to JBR Environmental Consultants? That's more than $400,000 of subcontracted work, on top of the $1.1+ million they billed for their eight employees and CEO.

The story from the Commissioners has been "we don't have to care," because the project will be great, and pay for itself, and we don't need to have a public hearing, "because the garbage-processing facility is an 'ancillary use' at the already approved landfill," and besides, the company was supposed to repay the county within six months.

So, it was effectively billing itself for those crazy rates?! Maybe, but maybe not: "nearly two years later, Dynamis has not repaid the money."

The Statesman has an accompanying story (in the sidebar of the web version) by Sewell that casts doubt on our ability to collect, should pushing come to shoving, as it seems quite likely to do. A Maryland private equity firm, Potomac Energy Fund, has loaned money to Dynamis and filed notice with the Idaho Secretary of State that it has collateral claims on Dynamis' existing projects, as well as

"all fabricated and raw steel Dynamis has housed at Rule Steel in Caldwell; all Dynamis equipment and inventory 'of every type'; 144 pieces of Burner Control Technology equipment located at Rule Steel; and all present and future accounts, proceeds and payments" and "all tax refunds of every kind and nature to which the Debtor now or hereafter may become entitled."

It sure looks like some folks have turned waste to money—or at least effected a transfer of quite a bit of cash from Ada County taxpayers' pocket to theirs.

28.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Chronic fatigue Permalink to this item

I heard a soundbite from a Romney campaign speech this week, something about "tired of being tired," and I was thinking take a nap, man. When I went to look for the quote in context, I discovered that he's been using it for a while, all the way back to Super Snoozeday in April, and VPOTUS Joe Biden was using it in January and February. Was one or both of them channeling Fannie Lou Hamer (who was "sick and tired of being sick and tired"), or just going off in a new direction? I'm not seeing fatigue as a winning strategy, in general. Not that Romney's problems are limited to a catch-phrase.

On the Newshour tonight, Mark Shields: "Mitt Romney is the first presidential candidate, certainly in the last 35 years, who, wherever he campaigns, does worse. ... The more they see him, the less they like him."

He's got more than enough advice to stay busy trying new directions, and a sympathetic polling organization to make things look closer than they are, but in reality, Romney's chances have slipped to less than 1 in 5 after another bad week. That could explain a lot of tiredness.

Lost in translation Permalink to this item

Sarcasm doesn't always communicate well; crossing an ocean, language barrier and a gulf or two could make it even more difficult. Hence the Iranian Fars News Agency took one of our "news sources" a little too seriously. Perhaps they're used to watching Fox News and were hard pressed to recognized the difference between that and The Onion, "reporting" that Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer Ahmadinejad To Obama.

Not one to miss an opportunity like that, the "ONN" invited readers to "Please visit our Iranian subsidiary organization, Fars" for more on this story, with a link to a screen shot from the Fars News Agency site, no longer featuring "its" report.

Found some of that voter fraud you were looking for Permalink to this item

The Republican National Committee is busy cutting ties to the consulting firm it hired to do the work, and sure, filed a complaint, why not? The L.A. Times reports that "Florida elections officials said Friday that at least 10 counties have identified suspicious and possibly fraudulent voter registration forms turned in by [Strategic Allied Consulting,] working for the Republican Party of Florida." In one county, the "problematic" applications were running around 25% of what the state Republican Party turned in. Mickey Mouse was there in spirit, even if his name didn't appear on any of the apps:

"Anyone with any sense would have known there was something wrong," said elections supervisor Ann W. Bodenstein.

Most were changes in current registrations filed in the names of real voters, but signatures were spelled differently than the applicants’ names. Fake house numbers were given, and date of births did not match the names. The biggest red flag was that most of the forms were missing Social Security numbers.

"It was that flagrant," she said. "In no way did they look genuine."

The Colorado and North Carolina GOP have also fired the firm. The Brad Blog reported that SAC is "owned by Mitt Romney's paid political consultant, and longtime GOP operative, Nathan Sproul." Confirmation and lots more, from Lee Fang at The Nation. Fang writes that Sproul

"is infamous for accusations that his firms have committed fraud by tampering with Democratic voter registration forms and suppressing votes."

Stand by for effusive outrage from Fox News, in 3, 2...

Frenemies and crowd-sourcing for fun and profit Permalink to this item

But maybe "frenemies" is more love than Apple's feeling toward Google these days? I mean, Google solved the problem of how to sort through six million hits to the one thing you were actually looking for, and made the web deeply useful. And that nice Maps thing that saves us from the agony of MapQuest. But what have you done for us lately, Google? And we're worried you're getting too big and powerful. And profitable.

Excerpt of Apple Maps app icon? I've heard my share of the jokes and criticism, along with a smattering of "it's not actually that bad" from people who actually are using the new Apple mapping service (but then, they're Apple users, you can never be sure they're not delusional). Still there's this: Apple CEO Tim Cook's "extremely sorry" that their new product isn't up to snuff, and offering "a few interim solutions," which, huh, has a way to get to Google Maps as the fourth choice. But steady on, Apple users!

"The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you."

In otherwords, after you get the wrong directions, drive off a bridge or whatever, please do send them your "feedback" so they can make it better? Hmm.

Update: MapQuest as punchline? No so fast: the joke's on me.

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

Black and blue and white all over Permalink to this item

What, is this some kind of football blog? As long as necessary... One of the arguments in the pleadings to bring back the "real" refs was about "player safety." Having been in my share of sanctioned contests with officials (if not the NFL), I've been there, done that, and got the bruised shins (and mended metatarsal) to show for it. It made me think back to the many contests where fouls went just as far as players could get away with, based on the referee's skill, attention, and response. Oh, that's OK? How about this then? That's how the NFL was rolling at the start of this season, the "slightly out of control" portion of the games starting earlier and lasting longer as the replacements made more mistakes, and got increasingly flummoxed.

You almost feel sorry for them. (Having been a referee myself, I can empathize anyway, but city league soccer is not quite the same stakes, less mayhem, a lot fewer rules, cameras, and pension plans.)

The least contentious and injurious matches were the self-officiated ones, by far. All but the newest and most clueless players know what's fair and what's foul, and are quite capable of their own adjudication when there's no back judge, side judge or instant replay. (One of the very least contentious matches I ever played was when our city league volunteers went to the state penitentiary for a "friendly" match, which I'm not remembering whether we had a referee or not now, but I do remember we all had a good time.)

So, no pressure on the A-team when it's back at work this Saturday, but we do expect you to get everything right. All the time. Just like the good old days.

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

Stolen glory Permalink to this item

Not likely to be the last word, but some good ones from Timothy Egan, on Zebra-nomics, what gave rise to Monday night's debacle, distilling "pension reform" and union-bashing to terms everyone could understand. If it spoils a good football game, it's just wrong.

"[T]he 'inaccurate reception,' as they're calling the interception-that-became-a-touchdown Monday night, could spur many of the couch-dwelling citizens of Football Nation to give Mitt Romney's Bain-style corporate economics a hard look. It's worked so well for the rest of the United States, this wealth gap, this creative destruction on behalf of the noble job creators. Now look what it's doing to the true national pastime.

"Just look at who wants to get the union referees back on the job today: Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin, and Paul Ryan, Romney's union-dissing running mate. 'Just give me a break!' Ryan tweeted. 'It's time to get the real refs.'"

The NFL owners are holding out because they want to cut the referees' pensions by about 0.03% of the league's revenue, the price of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl. How's that working out for you?

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

Do you ever listen to yourself? Permalink to this item

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney said Tuesday that he believes corporations should be banned from making political contributions because corporate leaders often negotiate contracts with Republican politicians they've helped elect, a situation he called an extraordinary conflict of interest. Ha ha. Of course he didn't. He said "he believes teachers' unions should be banned from making political contributions because union leaders often negotiate contracts with Democratic politicians they've helped elect," blah blah blah.

And no, I am not making this up. I did add the italics, though.

Welfare moms Permalink to this item

A friend of Jeanette's (and later, mine) going back to the time they were both young mothers and students at Lewis-Clark Normal School posted Larkin Warren's powerful op-ed for the NYT, I Was a Welfare Mother, one of a million stories.

"I was not an exception in that little Section 8 neighborhood. Among those welfare moms were future teachers, nurses, scientists, business owners, health and safety advocates. We never believed we were 'victims' or felt 'entitled'; if anything, we felt determined. Wouldn't any decent person throw a rope to a drowning person? Wouldn't any drowning person take it?"

I started reading out loud and asked my wife about her experience from back then.

"Everybody has a right to turn you in," Jeanette told me, speaking in the present tense of yesterday-as-now. Neighbors, the postman. The postman turned her in back in 1965, because she wasn't home when he delivered the mail one day, and there were a couple of not-yet-unpacked moving boxes in sight. She was suspended, but managed to explain things to her social worker, that she was upstairs looking after the neighbors' two boys. "She believed me, I was lucky." That was during her four months on the New Deal's Aid to Families with Dependent Children, a.k.a. welfare.

Later, after she'd married that man upstairs and was now raising her one and his two kids, in Moscow, Idaho, she was on the USDA's Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and had had her own experience with the food inspector knocking on the door.

"The commodities were distributed in a former garage on Main Street, then the highway through the center of town. There was no sidewalk. We waited in line along the highway for a turn because the building was so small. George and I wrote a letter complaining that this was dangerous. Very soon after, we got the knock on the door, the inspector flashed his ID, said he had the right to examine everything in the house for evidence of fraud. When I asked him what was the reason for suspicion, he said it was because we took everything we were allowed to. Nobody did that. They assumed I must be selling it. Oats, bags of flour, lard, canned meat, foods that any normal human being would consider inedible. But I'd been a 4H-er, I'd won blue ribbons and I spent Saturday and Sunday when I should have been studying and cleaning house baking bread and crackers and cookies and making soup ahead for lunches."

"The agent went through our closets, our checkbook, and then he sat down at the table while we ate lunch and told stories of women who had 200 pairs of shoes in their closets."

We're in the 53% now, one or both of us having paid income tax for the last 40+ years (along with payroll, sales, property, and state income taxes). But there isn't a chance in hell we'd vote for Mitt Romney.

We wuz ROBBED! Permalink to this item

Monday Night football last night devolved into an object lesson in greed, incompetence and mismanagement. For those of you not familiar with the story, after last year's brinksmanship between the National Football League and the Players Association was settled in the nick of time, this year's preason featured the league putting the squeeze on the referees when their collective bargaining agreement expired. When the two sides couldn't agree, the NFL locked out the refs and hired scab replacements. Bryan Knowles had a breakdown of the situation, ending with a fabulously incorrect prediction that "by the time the regular season begins, I have a feeling this story will be a non issue."

Week three ended last night, in a remarkable debacle, culminating with what Jon Gruden said were "two of the worst calls at the end of a football game I can remember." Especially the ONE at the end of the game, its moment captured in Joshua Trujillo's still for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, via the AP and the NYT (where I saw it, under the headline Refs Turn Hail Mary Pass Into OMGs). The official on the right, back judge Derrick Rhone-Dunn, is on top of the action, signally "time out" (superfluously, since time had expired) because Green Bay's M.D. Jennings had intercepted Seattle's last Hail Mary pass in the end zone.

The official on the left, side judge Lance Easley, is looking at Rhone-Dunn, incorrectly inferred the call was, and is signalling "touchdown," without the possibility of actually seeing what did happen, or is happening. Interception, game over, Packers win 12-7. Or... touchdown, game effectively over, Seahawks win by at least 13-12. Greg Bishop:

"The play that best defines this N.F.L. season occurred at the end of another game in which replacement officials looked less like actual referees and more like the Keystone Kops. It was bizarre enough to almost defy description."

Scott Walker's tweet: After catching a few hours of sleep, the #Packers game is still just as painful #Returntherealrefs So bizarre that there were more yards walked off in penalties than the Seahawks managed on offense. So bizarre that Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker has become a union fan.

And just to heap absurdity on to comedy, never mind the minutes of perfunctory kneel-downs that conclude some games already decided, there's an actual rule that with time expired and the win settled (whether by a play, or by the worst call ever), a touchdown must be followed by a point-after try. (In this case the replacements' temporary "error" in not enforcing the rule was more like mercy.) There's no reason for it, It's Just Our Policy.

Just like stiff-arming the low-level employees who enable the bazillion-dollar player salaries and owner profits.

Since the customers think the current situation is horrible (except of course some Seattle fans short on self-esteem), here's an idea: what if the Players Association said they wouldn't work until the real referees are back on the job?

Update: USA Today reports that the NFL admits mistakes were made, and the wrong result obtained. "This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game." But calls get missed all the time, what are you gonna do? As for the other reason Green Bay should have won, the ball being intercepted after the offensive pass interference that didn't get called on the final play, they stand by the "yeah we made the wrong call on the field—touchdown—but no indisputable evidence found on the video," even as they provide Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5 that explains how yeah, that was an interception.

Data from the black lagoon Permalink to this item

Ancient disk drive innards, 1995 Back in the day, I knew a guy who worked at IBM in the group who recovered data from the tape in "black box" flight recorders. He had a real enthusiasm for the forensic challenge. I thought of him while reading this fun story on TechHive, about The camera from the bottom of the lagoon. (It was Boston's lagoon, but that doesn't make as good a headline, eh.)

That's also quite the advertisement for the folks at DriveSavers Data Recovery, a service I've never had to use, knock on wood. The nearest thing for me was the adventure with Seagate last year after their bad firmware bit me, some cross-country intrigue enused, and finally, the happy ending.

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

Multifaceted man Permalink to this item

The medley of interviews with the two major party candidates for president on 60 Minutes last night was interesting. ABC News reviews that and other campaign news, including Romney's doctor's "vigorous man" testimonial. We read there that Mitt accused the president of "trying to fool people into thinking that I think things that I don't," which has to be reconciled with the fact that a lot of people are trying to figure out what Romney does think, with mixed results. All the under, over and mixed-representation "ends at the debates," he said.

"I hope I'll be able to describe my positions in a way that is accurate and the people will make a choice as to which path they want to choose."

We can all hope for that.

One of the positions he reiterated in talking to Scott Pelley was his plan for tax reform. Significantly lower income tax rates, "the current rates less 20%," "All the rates come down."

"But unless people think there's going to be a huge reduction in the taxes they owe, that's really not the case. Because we're also going to limit deductions and exemptions, particularly for people at the high end. Because I want to keep the current progressivity in the code. There should be no tax reduction for high income people. What I would like to do is to get a tax reduction for middle income families by eliminating the tax for middle income families on interest, dividends, and capital gains."

Lower rates, but no "reduction in revenue coming into the government," and not through the miracle of being on the right side of the Laffer curve (which we're not, given the lowest tax rates in many decades), but rather some major remodeling. Any specifics? No. He'll lead Congress in coming up with a solution, because that's what leaders do.

His "plan" to cut the size of government is about as detailed as a hand-drawn slide that would be laughed out of an undergraduate political science class. Repeal Obamacare, transform major federal programs into block grants and reduce the rate of growth, "as well as go after the fraud and abuse and inefficiency that's always part of a large institution like our government," said with the sincerity and cadence of fine print boilerplate.

Romney said repealing Obamacare would save $100 billion, and I looked to see what estimate he might be talking about. No doubt there are plenty to choose from, but the Congressional Budget Office's estimate in July, after the Supreme Court dashed hopes for five men in black robes to undo what Congress could not, had something like that number but with the opposite sign. That is, the 10 year effect of repealing Obamacare would be to increase the deficit by $109 billion.

Not that $100 billion this way or that addresses a budget out of whack by about ten times that amount (annually), but it would be a 1% start ... in the wrong direction.

23.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Good timing Permalink to this item

October (2005) flowers While working in the office this morning, I heard an animal pecking around in the gutter, and went outside to yell at a magpie. "GET OFF MY HOUSE." The second time it happened, I went out and shooshed it, and noticed that there was a cacaphonous chorus in the trees. Starlings, probably. What were they talking about? The change of the seasons?

Maybe. Anyway, I climbed up on our brick wing wall to have a look at what the magpie had found interesting, and yes, of course, the gutters needed cleaning. We live under an old oak tree, eh. So I got out the ladder and gloves and a bucket and made the rounds, a little dusty but better on the dry side than wet, I can tell you from long experience.

I felt a few drops of rain when I was about two-thirds of the way done. But it didn't start raining, and I figured it was just one of those funny little teases that pass over the desert now and then, virga hanging a little lower than it should.

But no. A couple hours later, some genuine RAIN under an overcast sky. The sound of water on the roof, and falling in downspouts is musical. Beautiful weather today.

App magic Permalink to this item

Down toward the bottom of Jenna Wortham's description of tapping into "useful apps providing services in the nick of time," she quotes Altimeter Group analyst Susan Etlinger raising the issue of intimacy, and of safety, which had popped into my mind about the time "a clean black Audi pulled up, with a chatty young man at the wheel" in the third paragraph.

But everything's worked out well so far, and the only thing standing between her and continuing discount instant gratification seems to be a bit of guilt about hiring servants.

Data-mining evangelicals for Romney Permalink to this item

Ralph Reed is back from being exposed as a humbug and being trounced as a candidate himself, now working to apply "an estimated $10 million to $12 million from contributors across the Republican spectrum" for a "microtargeted get-out-the-evangelical-vote operation."

In this morning's local paper, an insert from the Idaho Technology Council featured local entrepeneurs in the field of data analytics, including ProClarity, which got subsumed into Microsoft, and the founder's next company, Whitecloud Analytics, focused on the healthcare industry as it moves to electronic recordkeeping and the datamining opportunities that will bring.

The NYT story about Ralph Reed's work on behalf of Romney describes some of how this industry rolls:

"To identify religious voters most likely to vote Republican, the group used 171 [parameters].

"It acquired megachurch membership lists. It mined public records for holders of hunting or boating licenses, and warranty surveys for people who answered yes to the question 'Do you read the Bible?' It determined who had downloaded conservative-themed books, like Going Rogue by Sarah Palin, onto their e-readers, and whether those people also drove pickup trucks. It drilled down further, looking for married voters with children, preferably owners of homes worth more than $100,000.

"Finally, names that overlapped at least a dozen or so [parameters] were overlaid with voting records to yield a database with the addresses and, in many cases, e-mail addresses and cellphone numbers of the more than 17 million faith-centric registered voters—not just evangelical Protestants but also Mass-attending Catholics. The group is also reaching out to nearly two million more people who have never registered to vote."

The NYT "obtained" a partial list of the donors Ralph Reed isn't legally obligated to disclose, and mentioned Rick Santorum's backer Foster Friess, religious conservative money man John Templeton Jr. and Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot, who "supports abortion rights but wants smaller government."

Equinox Permanent URL to this day's entry

Wealth of a nation Permalink to this item

Jeanette likes to kid me about a remark I made when I was young and foolish, about my journal-keeping and how I never edited what I wrote. It was close enough to true at the time, but no closer to genuinely clever then than now. Put another way, being pithy is not the same as being succinct. But hey, this isn't about me, it's a tangential point that popped into my head while considering the amusing etymology of a translated tweet gone viral. What made it go viral was the essential idea which can be—and has been—distilled into less than 140 characters, in whatever language works for you:

"A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It's where the rich use public transportation."

H/t to Tim O'Reilly on Google+

An innovator's dilemma Permalink to this item

BUUF roof sunset, 2012 Two bad scenes this week, countervailing the celebrated rollout of the exciting (I assume) new iPhone: the brilliant ad campaign by Samsung (can they still sell those things after the court case?), such as here, and here and yes, that's a minute-and-a-half ad that I went out of my way to watch; and the uncomfortable question posed by Joe Nocera's op-ed: has Apple peaked? It's not just that Steve Jobs has left.

"When Jobs returned to the company in 1997, after 12 years in exile, Apple was in deep trouble. It could afford to take big risks and, indeed, to search for a new business model, because it had nothing to lose. Fifteen years later, Apple has a hugely profitable business model to defend—and a lot to lose. Companies change when that happens."

Stump farm Permalink to this item

535 of our highest-paid federal employees called it a day and went home to campaign to keep their jobs (or in the case of two-thirds of the Senators, just went home) after semi-successfully kicking the can, or something, down the road for six months. My expectations were so low for this pre-election rump session I have to admit I wasn't paying attention, and were it not for Gail Collins I wouldn't know how it all turned out.

The headline news is that there'll be no repatriated polar bear carcasses to help Jon Tester's re-election bid. (Kudos to Mitch McConnell for that!) And no Farm Bill. Still not sure about the U.S. Postal Service, but no help yet for escaping the unnecessary bind Congress put it in, at least.

No solution for the temporary, extended, expiring tax cuts that no one wants to be responsible for letting expire. No solution for the spending sequestration that wasn't really supposed to happen. No solution for the 30% cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors coming on the first of the year. No jobs bill, of course. No shortage of finger pointing. No competition for the least productive or lowest approval trophies.

We do have a half-year continuing resolution to keep the government running as best it can while we see how many of these bums can be thrown out and try again next year.

21.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Etch-a-sketchy Permalink to this item

So, the Romneys' 2011 tax returns are out, and along with telling us they gave a ton to charity ($4 million, "nearly 30% of their income") and paid a surprisingly low effective tax rate (14.1%), they found a way to "disclose" 20 years' worth of "information," with a letter from their accountant (notarized!) saying it's all really true. Ropes & Gray LLP Trustee Brad Malt notes that they only deducted a little over half of that chunk of charity however:

"The Romneys' generous charitable donations in 2011 would have significantly reduced their tax obligation for the year. The Romneys thus limited their deduction of charitable contributions to conform to the Governor's statement in August, based upon the January estimate of income, that he paid at least 13% in income taxes in each of the last 10 years."

Thus? Limited their deduction to a conform to a statement? Ok that sounds a little strange. Speaking of conforming to statements, how about what Mitt Romney said to ABC's David Muir in late July:

"I don't pay more than are legally due and frankly if I had paid more than legally due, I don't think I'd be qualified to become President."

A certain amount of hand-waving about this tax return is understandable: the federal return alone runs way past 300 pages. Some of what I saw:

The wealth of nations Permalink to this item

Two pear leaves in late summer Professor Lotterman's latest gives a compact explanation of what "public goods" are, and why investing in them can float your boat. Down the Mississippi, say. (Actually, it's not his latest, it ran in the Twin Cities Pioneer Press two weeks ago, but is apparently delivered to the Idaho Statesman by second string Pony Express riders. Still, timeless understanding.)

"[U]nder-spending on roads, bridges and other public works, undermines the productivity of our economy. But it doesn't seem to be much of a priority for any presidential candidate or for Congress."

The money quote is slipped in with Brazilian soybeans:

"One factor that distinguishes rich from poor countries is that the wealthy ones learned to invest in public works earlier and more effectively."

Are we on the right track, or getting derailed by anti-government think tankers?

"We no longer spend enough to offset the wearing-out of facilities our parents and grandparents built. Like a South Bronx slumlord, we maintain current consumption by depreciating out our assets."

Made in the USA Permalink to this item

BigThink has produced a video of Bill Nye's succinct statement that the curiously American denial of the central concept in biology is nonsense inappropriate for children.

"I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, in your world that's completely inconsistent with everything we observe in the universe, that's fine, but don't make your kids do it because we need them. We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future. We need people that can—we need engineers that can build stuff, solve problems."

A related item linked from Slashdot, Kentucky legislators were recently shocked, shocked to find the ACT test has questions about evolution on it. Standardized testing, who knew, right? Sen. David Givens (R-Greensburg) "said he asked the ACT representatives about possibly returning to a test personalized for Kentucky, but he was told that option was very expensive and time-consuming." And yeah, crazy.

20.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Your mountain is ready Permalink to this item

Dust and sunburn-free, huge props to Teddy Sunders, Parker Howell, William Walsh, and the beautiful swan song's author, Theodore Seuss Geissel. You can't help but think he would have loved Burning Man and his words coming to life on YouTube.

Thanks to my friend Heywood, and Facebook for sending this my way on another strangely orange morning in Burning Idaho.

De-Occupy Boise Permalink to this item

Maybe we should put the state in charge of BSU parking? Their secret plan for hey you kids, get off our lawn shows they know from crowd control.

"Pursuant to a court order, the State was also forced to reveal its plans for 'Operation De-Occupy Boise.' The documents, which the federal court ordered released [in redacted form] despite the State's opposition, revealed emails between law enforcement and state officials about increasing security at the Capitol as a result of Occupy Boise. As part of a later plan ... crafted by Idaho State Police in coordination with the Boise Police Department, the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney's office, and state agencies, the documents also offer insight into an enforcement operation that would have included a 'media staging area' and arrests and detention of protesters, despite that the new state's anti-camping statute only authorizes ticketing violators, not arrest."

(From Tuesday's ACLU press release, linked from Eye on Boise there.)

Le miserable parking situation Permalink to this item

That's what's planned for Boise today, with a touring Broadway show at the Morrison Center and the home opener of the local football team expected to bring 70,000 people to the Boise State campus. The news release charitably mentions "regular university classes" (good luck with that) and the women's volleyball team.

Boise State has 7,700 parking spaces... so a $10 spot seems wildly underpriced, doesn't it? If you're crazy enough to try driving down there (or unfortunate enough to have no alternatives), check the parking news.

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

Facts about taxes Permalink to this item

Excerpt of NYT infographic, for comment; link to original The Tax Foundation's map of "nonpayers" was making the rounds yesterday, with the top 10 states highlighted in bright red, and the top 10 payers not quite so highlighted in pale blue. The NYT provides a quieter version today, with 2010 data sorted into three tiers colored in neutral gray.

But more relevant is the detail they provide under the question "what about other taxes?" When state, local, payroll and other federal taxes are included, there is no deadbeat half of the country to be found. Even those "lucky duckies" with income under $20,000 a year manage to chip in an average of 17.4% in total taxes.

The more disturbing trend is that working the system for one's advantage seems to make you more Republican. Dartmouth political scientist Dean Lacy details the "federal fiscal paradox" in his 2009 paper, Why Do Red States Vote Republican While Blue States Pay the Bills?

"States the get the most money from the federal government relative to their taxes paid are more likely to vote Republican in presidential elections, and increasingly so."

He concludes the same thing you hear from politicians speaking on the record: it's not sustainable.

Middle management Permalink to this item

Not that Peggy Noonan persuades me, but I imagine her opinion that it's time for an intervention says what a lot of Republicans are thinking about now. Talk about your buyer's remorse! Think of it: we could have Newt Gingrich on the stump right now. Or Rick Santorum. Herman Cain, even. I miss Herman Cain.

"This is not how big leaders talk, it's how shallow campaign operatives talk: They slice and dice the electorate like that, they see everything as determined by this interest or that. They’re usually young enough and dumb enough that nobody holds it against them, but they don’t know anything. They don't know much about America."

Mitt wanted to soothe the base and win the middle, but he's provided a bit too much off-the-cuff, inelegant reality TV. All you shiftless students, seniors, soldiers, working stiffs who've given up personal responsibility and care for your lives, get out of the way! Israel, we're kicking the can down the road. Everybody, stop apologizing!

No wonder there is ample wide-eyed incredulity to go around. Speaking of operatives, Noonan's not ready to just concede the obvious and wait for the next time around. We've still got seven weeks to "right this thing," "to stabilize it." But first, admit the obvious:

"It's time to admit the Romney campaign is an incompetent one."

And then... fire the staff and start over? I hear Romney likes to fire people, so that would suit him. And then... it's time "big, serious, thoughtful speeches must be given." Yes, I'm sure some of those will fix it! Some "fresh writing and fresh thinking."

And more people, so Romney's not out there by himself. Bring in the "old ones," "Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush, and the young ones, like Susana Martinez and Chris Christie and Marco Rubio—and even Paul Ryan." There might be a problem fitting an appearance into the calendar, though:

"Some of them won't want to do it because they're starting to think Romney's a loser and they don't want to get loser on them."

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

Not elegantly stated Permalink to this item

The man born with a silver foot in his mouth is working to walk back the private persona exposed by the recording smuggled out of a campaign event and forwarded to Mother Jones. The campaign's first response was to note that his comments were "not elegantly stated," but I imagine they were elegant enough for those clinking glasses and murmuring agreement before cracking out the checkbooks.

I haven't watched all of the videos (but I do expect The Daily Show to have the best excerpts for tonight's lampooning), so I missed the one where he declined an SNL invitation out of concern it would come across as "slapstick." (Do you suppose Tina Fey could come up with a Paul Ryan impression?)

And God bless half of America! Not that selecting out income tax over all other tax burdens makes for a legitimate argument (or one with legs—10% or fewer people pay no federal taxes), but the Tax Foundation's map of 10 highest percentages of non-income tax payers makes an interesting geographical statement: the south, and Idaho. This is not "base" territory for Obama.

And not that fact-checking is going to resolve the questions raised by elite tone-deafness, and the devestation of our middle class by outsourcing all work that can be outsourced to those who will work more cheaply, but Glenn Kessler starts with the "conflating": mixing up a rich emotional stew of "them," that aren't like us. We pay taxes, they do not. We don't like Obama, they do. We don't rely on government assistance, they think they're entitled to it.

It doesn't matter whether this amounts to mere "shading of the facts," "significant omissions and/or exaggerations" or to the three Pinocchio level of "significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions"; these are emotional "truths" that amplify the leadership entitlement that Romney and his supporters expect to reclaim.

As a significant bonus, they reinforce the notion that taxes should be lower for rich people, too. Never mind that the well-endowed and well-connected Romneys pay lower rates than most middle and upper middle income earners. One reason to keep those tax returns secret: the complexity and detail are doubtless sufficient to occupy the conversation from here through October, and beyond.

So here's the $64,000,000 question to which you already know the answer: does it matter to Romney's supporters that their guy is all sanctimonious and patriotic when he knows the cameras are on him, and sings an insider song when he thinks it's a private affair? Please, put your best speech writers on this problem, and give us the elegant statement of how you plan to ignore the half of the country that's irrelevant to you.

Update: David Brooks is not always my cup of tea, but he has worked to study culture and social groups, and he has some good insights about the people behind the statistics, those nuances that Thurston Howell Romney seems incapable of picking up. Even with the benefit of the doubt as to the candidate's kindness and decency, "he's running a depressingly inept presidential campaign."

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

Wisconsin do-over Permalink to this item

If the state Supreme Court tilts conservative (as we're told it does by Patrick Marley and Mark Johnson of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), then they should vote in favor of the U.S. and state constitutions, shouldn't they? Well, we'll see, after Dane County judge Juan Colas threw out most of Governor Scott Walker's signature union-busting legislation.

While the U.S. Supreme Court has, on occasion, defied expectations, [Marquette University Law School professor Paul] Secunda said Wisconsin's highest court appears less inclined to do so. "This is not a court," he said, "that instills a great deal of faith in people who want to see a nonpartisan, deliberative process take place."

We've already seen that corporations and unlimited campaign funds enjoy "free speech" protection these days, what could be more conservative than free speech, free association and equal representation under the law for workers, too?

Yeah I know, crazy talk.

Tell us how you really feel, Mitt Permalink to this item

Nice to have him tell the truth for a change, sucking up to a dining room full of swells... as he pitches them to chip in to his campaign. Classy.

The camera operator is perhaps among the disaffected, those 47, 48—hey, maybe 51%—folks who are behind the President, for whatever combination of reasons, "dependent upon government," as he put it, and with a belief that they're entitled to all sorts of things.

Hmm, an overblown sense of entitlement, you don't say.

It's Romney unplugged, as David Corn puts it:

"With this crowd of fellow millionaires, he apparently felt free to utter what he really believes and would never dare say out in the open. He displayed a high degree of disgust for nearly half of his fellow citizens, lumping all Obama voters into a mass of shiftless moochers who don't contribute much, if anything, to society, and he indicated that he viewed the election as a battle between strivers (such as himself and the donors before him) and parasitic free-riders who lack character, fortitude, and initiative. Yet Romney explained to his patrons that he could not speak such harsh words about Obama in public, lest he insult those independent voters who sided with Obama in 2008 and whom he desperately needs in this election. These were sentiments not to be shared with the voters; it was inside information, available only to the select few who had paid for the privilege of experiencing the real Romney."

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

Libya, Egypt and the Butterfly Effect Permalink to this item

Detail of some sort of rock machine That's the subtitle of professor Juan Cole's blog post about Romney jumping the shark, but most of it is about what's behind the scenes regarding this "low-budget bad propaganda film gotten up by two-bit frauds and Christian supremacists, and then promoted by two-bit Egyptian and Libyan fundamentalists," looking to gain some sort of relevance by stirring up trouble. His hopeful conclusion is that

"the violence and extremism of the hardliners on both sides is a phantasm of the past, not a harbinger of the future. The wave of democratic politics sweeping the region has left the haters behind, reducing them to desperate and senseless acts of violence that will gain them no good will, no popularity, no political credibility."

And perhaps more importantly,

"A little-noted major event of Wednesday was the democratic selection of a new prime minister in Libya for the first time in the country’s history. Mustafa Abushagur defeated the Muslim Brotherhood candidate handily. Abushagur for a long time taught college in the US, at the University of Alabama Huntsville. Libyans again showed themselves nationalist and non-fundamentalist. This remarkable achievement, and what it portends for the shape of Libyan politics, will be drowned out by the atrocity in Benghazi, but it is the development that is likely to be marked by future historians as a turning point in Libya and in the Middle East."

Beclowned Permalink to this item

Definitely a reflexive verb with reason to exist, never mind that it came from yet another conservative blogger pointing a finger at "the media," as the right doubles down on what a good driver they've got in the back seat. Rather than reporting on the facts on the ground in North Africa, "the media wanted to focus on Mitt Romney" you say? No, Mitt Romney wanted the media to focus on him, and mission accomplished.

Getting ahead of the news cycle is not such a good strategy if your tactic is to do it with both feet in your mouth. What better measure could there be that Peggy Noonan was offering sage advice?

"...everybody should cool it, absorb, think and then say only serious and meaningful things, and never allow themselves to look like they are using it as a political opportunity. Romney looked weak today."

But hey, the "never apologize" meme is popular enough; we're exceptional, damn it! (Mitt wrote the book.) Even if we sometimes get confused about what values it is we hold most dearly. The right to express religious bigotry? Yes, definitely. The right for idiots in an election campaign (who enjoy Secret Service protection) to freely second-guess career diplomats living and working in harm's way? Absolutely.

Omer Belsky's 2010 review of Romney's book sounds rather prescient today:

"More troubling are the earlier chapters, the ones about foreign policy. They showcase a politician prone to cliché, to vilification of the current administration coupled with the white washing of the previous one, and perhaps most important, a politician without any ideas of how to deal with the world's complex problems."

The NYT roundup of reactions includes the statesmanlike, from the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King (R-NY): "When something tragic happens and a quick statement is made, it can be interpreted as political. I would probably have waited 12 or 24 hours and put out a more comprehensive statement."

To the beclowned, Senator Jon Kyl employing a rape analogy.

Update: Bill Keller's analysis is a worthy read: Mitt and Bibi: Diplomacy as Demolition Derby. For a man who has so few fixed ideas, Romney seems to have latched on to a couple in his latest bumbling, and left himself no way out. It seems too late now to do "the right, the classy, the traditional and, incidentally, the politically popular thing to do" by tempering his remarks, after he's amplified them. Rather the same reason he can't release any more tax returns after he's so adamantly refused to do what seemed the simple, obvious and right thing to do, months ago.

12.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Jumping the gun Permalink to this item

Josh Marshall: When you learn they're not ready. Neither the uneasy "peace" nor our national timeout on partisan bickering lasted all the way to the end of the 11th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attack. The Romney campaign's attempt to get ahead of the news cycle is pathetic enough, but somebody really needs to confiscate Reince Priebus' Twitter account.

(My thoughts about September 11 remain my own; but I did appreciate the chance to reflect on what George Takei wrote the day after it happened. "Filled with conflicting emotions," at least.)

Rethinking interviews (and waste) Permalink to this item

Estate freecycling in the neighborhood Hadn't heard of TerraCycle or Tom Szaky, but I've heard some people tell stories such as his about how they interview job candidates. I have a few of my own stories. I remember the really good candidates, because I ended up working with them. I forget the bad ones, because I have no reason to remember.

And I remember learning in a class at a prestigious university (I think it was) that one of the most reliable features of the interview as a selection tool is that candidates most like the interviewer get chosen. Viewed in that light, Szaky's treatise says more about who he is than what makes a good interview, or candidate. He doesn't put much weight on where someone went to school, because that didn't matter in his life. Good schools just make people overly ambitious, amirite?

But he likes a nicely formatted résumé. And candidates who use more than two fingers to type. And his "gut reaction," in five to ten minutes, not counting the typing test, making an Excel pivot table and a PowerPoint slide show and stuff.

Some of what he says makes good sense, maybe even all of it does. But it sounds like a random walk through justifying those gut reactions. From the employer's point of view loyalty is a fine thing:

"Have the candidates jumped around from job to job and industry to industry? Or do they join businesses and stay? This is important because turnover is costly to an organization."

Turnover is costly to employees, too, and I can think of a lot more instances of employers failing in the loyalty department than the converse. But TerraCyle has an interesting business model (collect your waste and send it to them), and a great story of starting on the ground floor, "boy meets worm."

Tempest in a trashpot Permalink to this item

The curious saga of Ada County's push to make more energy out of its trash has taken new twists, as Cynthia Sewell reports in today's Idaho Statesman. The county commission has long been the site of two-against-one battles, demonstrating just what a bad idea that sort of management can be. Commissioner Sharon Ullman is a lame duck, having lost her primary to David Case, who has been appointed to fill the remainder of Vern Bisterfeldt's term, while he awaits a contest against two others in November's election, carrying on Bisterfeldt's work of annoying Ullman in the interim.

But beyond the personalities on parade, there are the questions regarding Dynamis Energy's $75 million plan to build a trash-fueld power plant at the county landfill. The two commissioners in favor assure us everything is in order and nothing to worry about. Citizens are petitioning, the county Prosecutor and Sheriff have teamed up to appoint a private investigator (to be supervised by special prosecutor Mark Hiedeman, Bannock County's prosecuting attorney), and our county tried to quash a public records disclosure request by labeling the memorandum of the county engineer calling for a competent peer review of the project a "personnel matter."

Commissioner Case made the memo available to the newspaper, and it's simple and to the point: the "experimental technologies" (as the contract itself deems them) warrant competent engineering review before the county proceeds. As a licensed Professional Engineer, Jim Farrens knows the limits of his expertise and they don't include what's needed for this task. "It is entirely appropriate for Ada County to retain the services of a consultant engineering firm which is professionally qualified to perform this peer review," he wrote.

That's an engineering matter. The company has declared the details of its proposal as "proprietary," thus confirming their experimental nature, and providing further cause for independent review. Whoever denied the Statesman's public records request was misguided, at least, inappropriately using "personnel matter" as an excuse to avoid disclosure of the engineer's professional concern.

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

Frank VanderSloot Declares War on Idaho Teachers Permalink to this item

He's good for the local newspaper's ad sales, at least. He bought the back page of Sunday's Insight section for a "Community Page," as the gothic heading declares itself, above a union bashing screed. He's promoting yes votes on propostions 1, 2 and 3, the citizens' opportunity to vote yay or nay on the education "reform" that Superintendent of Public Education Tom Luna pulled out of his hat after being re-elected.

Of course VanderSloot would assure you that he's all for teachers (just look at that nice uncaptioned picture of an attractive young woman with a student!) but oh, those "union bosses," who have "taken advantage of these great teachers for decades"! "The unions hate Proposition 2," Frank tells us, "because it significantly increases teacher pay without union control."

"Significantly increased teacher pay" would be front-page news, so that claim is slightly incredible. The opposition provides a simpler argument: linking teacher pay to standardized testing, the premise of No Child Left Behind, is a way to increase the number of teachers teaching excellence in standardized test-taking.

You might wonder why Melaleuca (not the genus of plants in the myrtle family, but Frank VanderSloot's multilevel marketing company) would pay for such an ad. It tells us down at lower left:

"Melaleuca hires over 500 new Idaho employees every year. At any one time Melaleuca has dozens of unfilled high-paying positions because there are not enough qualified people to fill them. Better education would make a world of difference to Melaleuca and to the young people we hire."

I see they need a $9.50/hr "Machine operator" in Idaho Falls, putting product into tubes and bottles. You'll need the "ability to work under stress," and to read bottles, product, invoices, etc. Can you lift 65 lbs.? Stand and walk for an 8 hour shift? Do you have attention to detail?

A 4 day/month "shipping specialist" position has been open since April, and offers $8.00/hr. The job description is "null," which maybe the "SQL Developer" they've also been looking for since April could fix. You could be their "Hot Shot" for $7.25/hr, or "Express Verification" for $7.70/hr...

There are a few things in the jobs currently on offer that sound like they might be high-paying, but those show a pay rate of $0.00, so it's hard to say. No doubt the right person for Associate General Counsel for Regulatory Affairs could make good money, and help out with the Romney campaign in his spare time, too.

But "dozens of unfilled high-paying positions" are not shown on their corporate opportunities page at this time. I suppose "at any one time" means "at some time," and "don't hold us to this actual claim as if it were true"?

9.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How's the weather up there? Permalink to this item

One of my dad's pictures, from Majuro, 1945 If my dad were still alive, he'd be 93 today, and he would really enjoy reading the feature in the New York Times Magazine about how the weatherman is not a moron. Not that he would have needed to be told that fact, but that he would have enjoyed reading about the latest and greatest technology applied to the science he learned in a crash course in the 1940s, before shipping out to the Pacific to forecast weather for the Navy Air Transport Service, from Kwajalein, and later Majuro. It was an inexact science back then, and remains so today, but it's a lot less inexact than it used to be.

"In 1814, the French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace postulated that the movement of every particle in the universe should be predictable as long as meteorologists could know the position of all those particles and how fast they are moving. Unfortunately, the number of molecules in the earth's atmosphere is perhaps on the order of 100 tredecillion, which is a 1 followed by 44 zeros. To make perfect weather predictions, we would not only have to account for all of those molecules, but we would also need to solve equations for all 100 tredecillion of them at once."

More power has definitely been applied to the task. Rather than 64,000 meteorologists working simultaneously (as one pioneer thought we needed), we now have things like the IBM Bluefire supercomputer

"in the basement of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., is so large that it essentially creates its own weather. The 77 trillion calculations that Bluefire makes each second, in its mass of blinking lights and coaxial cable, generate so much radiant energy that it requires a liquid cooling system. The room where Bluefire resides is as drafty as a minor-league hockey rink, and it's loud enough that hearing protection is suggested."

My dad would've liked that, too, as an early adopter of computers for his business, running programs off of cassette tapes once upon a time.

7.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho's anti-Obamacare push poll Permalink to this item

Six hundred registered voters in Idaho were reportedly polled by "a national survey firm" that its three sponsors didn't bother naming, to provide fodder for the foregone conclusions of the Free Enterprise PAC, Idaho Freedom Foundation and Idaho Chooses Life.

News release! "Statewide poll finds widespread opposition to insurance exchange & expansion of Medicaid," just as it was designed to do from everything I can see. The presser quotes reliable partisan hacks Wayne Hoffman, Lou Esposito and David Ripley, celebrating the success of their "survey," followed by an addendum with "key question and answer sets" that give you just a taste of how this work is done.

"Blue Cross and several big business groups have been pushing the Idaho Legislature to create an 'insurance exchange' as part of the ObamaCare overhaul. Opponents argue we don’t need more government control over health care: Bringing down health care costs requires free market competition so that families have more choices. What do you think?

"Should we go along with a state insurance exchange or should the Legislature allow more companies to sell health insurance in Idaho?"

Not that there's anything about a state health insurance exchange to give people more information about what's available to them that prohibits more competition widening the playing field, but feel free to choose between "Enact ObamaCare/Exchange" or "Free Market Competition" (or volunteering your own answer).

Conservative blogger Dennis Mansfield was so taken with the press release shouting at him that he says it was HUGE. His blog post was picked up on the Spokesman-Review's Huckleberries blog and discussion ensued, with Dennis assuring us that "even the hierarchy of the invisible GOP back-roomers respect these pollsters' results."

Maybe the back-roomers (and Dennis, for all I know) actually get to see the whole poll, but since all that's being touted is a press release, and the two sample questions/answers provided are ridiculously biased, it seems we'll just have to let the GOP back-room death panel take care of killing off Idaho's active participation in the Affordable Care Act.

Update: Checking the IFF's news organ's report actually provided some additional information. "The polling was overseen by Boise's Spartac, LLC, which is owned by Lou Esposito, operator of the Free Enterprise PAC." He subcontracted the actual work. You may remember Esposito from such great roles as First Redistricting Commission Failure and Interconnected PACs in Idaho.

Disloyal opposition Permalink to this item

Sunset at Two Jack Lake, Banff N.P. At last week's RNC, the PBS Newshour coverage included one rebuttal snippet that I saw, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin in the booth with the regular news team. Tonight, a matching segment had Virginia's Governor (and chairman of the Republican Governors Association) Bob McDonnell doing a one-on-one with Hari Sreenivasan, but not in the broadcasting booth. It was in some sort of spare room off the side of the hall, decorated with an an anti-Obama backdrop the Republican team whipped up. Classy. Not sure why PBS thought that was OK, but bully for the opposition, it made a visual statement every time the camera was on McDonnell.

While he opened with mild flattery for the "great speeches," the red letter denial reinforced his insincerity. "At the end of the day," he kept saying, he had bullet points to hammer. Gas prices are up. National debt is highest ever. (He forgot to say "We built that!") Tomorrow's jobs report will show stubbornly high unemployment.

"But this is a serious election, in serious times, and it really comes down to whether or not President Obama's policies have worked..."

and he reads the numbers to say no, which is why he's talking in front of a banner than says OBAMA ISN'T WORKING, eh? Sreenivasan redirects to the question of "better off," "inherited deep mess," and "positive trajectory?"

"The President didn't create the problem. He's just made it worse" is McDonnell's talking point. Worse? Really? No, of course not really, but it's a simple rhetorical device that assures the already convinced. Sreenivasan pushes back, McDonnell insists it's not accurate to say we're headed in the right direction "because it's not enough jobs." (You remember all those job initiatives the Republicans in Congress proposed, don't you? Well no, you don't, because the only initiatives regarding jobs they've offered were to reduce public sector employment, and eliminate collective bargaining rights.) Then the over-regulation, over-taxed, "anti-business" and "anti-free enterprise" canard-orama, cherry on the top:

"The president came to Roanoke and said you know if you built a business, you really didn't, ah, make that happen, somebody else made that happen. That is not resonating with entrepreneurs around the country."

He's a smooth talker, this Bob McDonnell, passing off that cynical talking point under his $200 haircut just like it was God's honest truth. Sreenivasan pushed back, ever so gently, gave him a chance to confess that well yeah, the Republicans have been "resonating" that lie with everyone who will listen for weeks (or is it months already):

"That particular ... phrase has become such a central theme, I saw it in Tampa playing over and over again, when you see the ... context, it doesn't seem like that's what he was saying, but that's what the Republicans are riding on, it's essentially a speech a bit out of context. ..."

But he didn't force the point, eased off to a softball that McDonnell dodged without breaking his smug, relaxed smile.

"The next sixty days, how am I going to be able to believe anything either side says on these TV commercials that I'm going to be inundated with, especially in a battleground state like Virginia?"

McDonnell acknowledged "that's a fair question." So would have this been: Governor, isn't that fundamentally dishonest to take a quote out of context, pretend the president said something he didn't say, and turn it into a theme for your Party? Aren't you building your campaign on a lie? But he didn't make McDonnell answer that question.

"Look at results," McDonnell said. "When you strip it all away, talk really is cheap." He's certainly supported that talking point convincingly. His state's doing fine, bipartisan, good unemployment (he must be a hell of a guy), but at the federal level, just across the river,

"more combat, more divisiveness, more of a toxic political atmosphere, less actual results, we've been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy about three times in the last couple years..."

Bankruptcy, seriously? And sir are you saying that your party has not been the prime mover behind divisiveness and toxicity?

Still more questions that didn't get asked. But rest assured, the same tired, toxic, divisive talking points the governor was reciting in front of the "NOT WORKING" banner will be recited ad nauseum all the way to November (and, if Obama wins re-election, for FOUR MORE YEARS).

Up, up and... awww Permalink to this item

Nasdaq composite chart snippet, 1989-2012 If the stock market is a leading indicator these days, as it sometimes has been, happy days are just around the corner. Maybe. Yesterday's report (I guess it was) ascribes the cause as "decisive moves by the head of the European Central Bank to preserve the euro zone" (and notes that previous such euphoria had previously deflated), so thank you head banker over there.

"The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index surged nearly 2 percent, surpassing the peak reached earlier this year and hitting a level last seen in January 2008, before the financial crisis. The Nasdaq composite index rose to its highest point since 2000."

You might say that the Nasdaq composite is better off than it was four years ago. And eight years ago, too. (Given that it was crazy high in late '99 and 2000 as the bubble popped, we could hear "highest since 2000" for a long, long time, but what it means, at least, is that it's higher than it was at the peak of the housing and mortgage creative financing bubble in 2007.)

Also noted is that "a weak employment number could easily derail investor optimism," and sure enough, hiring slowed to just 96,000 jobs added last month. The nominal jobless rate fell to 8.1% "but economists said that was a sign more unemployed workers were discouraged about the prospect of finding new jobs."

So, them that's got shall get. Them that's not shall lose.

6.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

United we stand Permalink to this item

There's no comparison between one convention and another for a partisan; you love yours, theirs is ridiculous. Still, this season's pair is asymmetric because of the different stories each side needs to tell. The Republicans have to convince us things are bad, horrible, nightmareish even, or as stand-up comic Chuck Norris put it, one step away from a thousand years of darkness. Whereas the Democrats have to convince us that things are not nearly as bad as they might seem, and are, in fact, better than they were 4 years ago. Whether you believe that depends on whether you lost your job, or found a new one, or whether your standard of living is upwardly or downwardly mobile.

Oddly enough, anyone whose investment portfolio bears any resemblance to the broader stock market can answer easily enough. S&P500, up 72%, DowJones Industrials, up 57%, Nasdaq up more than 100%, corporate profits up 2.5x between Q2 of this year and the Q4 2008 nadir. Not that they've shared their winnings much, but you'd think Republicans would be overjoyed. They're certainly better off than they were 4 years ago, even if (as Andy Borowitz put it), we can't tell if Romney was better off 4 years ago because he won't show us his taxes. For anything they think isn't going right, they have someone to blame, and they're exercising that prerogative every chance they get.

After all the negativity of Tampa, it's nice to hear from the happy party, the party of cooperation and optimism. Rich Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, put it simply enough last night:

"Shared prosperity is the only kind that lasts."

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

Thank you for your support Permalink to this item

Not sure how this could have happened, but I completely missed Gail Collins' takes on the Republi-con. Here's her Aug. 29 column: Renovating Mitt Romney. Of course you already know that the Tampa Convention Center was built with mostly public funds. But wait, there's more!

"'We built it' is one of the themes here, at the government-underwritten convention in a government-subsidized convention center in a city that rose on the sturdy foundation of government-subsidized flood insurance. But no taxpayer dollars were expended in the attempt to put together a New Mitt.

"None. Really, it was just private corporations and rich people."

You might have had a notion that journalists outnumbered the delegates, but you might not have guessed it was outnumbering by a factor of six and a half. 15,000 credentialed journalists, 2,286 delegates. Even if you add in the 2,125 alternates, that's 3.4 journalists per.

You might not know (I did not know) just how much you were supporting the two nominating conventions. $136 million by one report. More than $25,000 per delegate?! Hooray for some spillover into Tampa's and Charlotte's economy.

(H/t to Joe Nocera and his comeback column, They're not what they used to be for those economic highlights.)

It's all about the stories. Such as...

"Listening to the convention speeches, it was easy to get the impression that every high-ranking Republican in the country had parents who were truck drivers or convenience store workers who moved up entirely through their own efforts. Also, there were a lot of grandfathers who worked in the mines. ...

"Shortly before the convention, Mitt Romney had pressed the coal theme with an appearance in Ohio, where he stood with a group of sooty miners whose sad, solemn faces seemed to underscore their concern about big government. Also, some of them later told the news media that they had been required to show up and weren't paid for the day."

Have you got a better one? (laughter) Permalink to this item

Rick Santorum is very pleased to hold an Etch-a-Sketch That would be embarrassed laughter, or at least it should have been, when Mitt Romney failed to address the direct question Laura Ingraham posed back in January. After running around saying Obama made things worse, and then saying "I didn't say he made it worse," Romney admitted that yes, the economy is getting better after the Great Recession that Obama inherited from George W. Bush, at a time when we weren't sure if it would be the second Great Depression, or the Panic of 2008, or what.

INGRAHAM: Isn't it a hard argument to make if you're saying, like, OK, he inherited this recession, he took a bunch of steps to try to turn the economy around, and now, we're seeing more jobs, but vote against him anyway? Isn't that a hard argument to make? Is that a stark enough contrast?

ROMNEY: Have you got a better one, Laura? It just happens to be the truth.

Um, what "happens to be the truth"? "Vote for me"? Back in January, it wasn't clear that the presumptive nominee was going to make good on his presumption. His GOP competition were firing for effect with such bon mots as "Romney is not a conservative," "Romney is not electable," "Romney would manage the decay [of Washington]," and "Release your tax returns, Mitt."

That was before Gingrich's high point in South Carolina and his subsequent decline to death throes when he observed that Republicans cannot win with "an Etch A Sketch platform that shows no principle or backbone," and Rick Santorum opined that we might as well re-elect Barack Obama if Romney won the nomination.

Romney and his boy wonder are still looking for a better argument as to why they should be elected, to the point of making stuff up. Props for creativity, at least. The party of new ideas. Brand new.

Labor Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Rounding error Permalink to this item

The Banff Hotel, Alberta, Canada Paul Ryan wants to know if I'm better off, but this seems like a trick question. If the answer were "yes," why would I send him $25? And if the answer were "no," where would I get $25 to throw away on his campaign? Here's his assessment of the last year:

"The middle class has been crushed under his administration. Gas prices have doubled, incomes have dropped, poverty is headed toward fifty-year highs, and unemployment has been above 8 percent for 42 straight months.

"And yet, he still wants you to believe you are better off now than you were four years ago."

Actually Paul, I haven't been waiting for a president to make me better off. I've taken responsibility for myself, as of... three or four decades ago. Anyway, he goes on, but this...

"The present administration has made its choices. And Mitt Romney and I have made ours: before the math and the momentum overwhelm us all, we are going to solve this nation's economic problems and get America back on track. ..."

Before the math overwhelms us? What in the world is that about? This is the guy who ran one marathon in his life, in just over 4 hours and "rounded" that to "two hour and fifty-something." So yeah, I can see why he might be worried about the math overwhelming him.

I'm not buying a platitudinous economic plan from this guy. Nor giving him $25 to squander on emails like this.

Update: revise that headline to Home of the Whopper after Ryan touts a number for business bankruptcies that's 29.3 (or "thirty" if you'd like to make it a round number) higher than reality.

Lies, damn lies, and made-up myths Permalink to this item

In tennis, when you make a bad call to give yourself an advantage, that's called a "hook." More creatively, you can accuse your opponent of making a bad call. That's the "reverse hook." In publishing when you have a book with "lies" and "exposing myths" in the title, but you don't have your facts in a row... maybe the publisher gives your book the hook and takes it off the market.

The controversial book was written by Texas evangelical David Barton. ... The publishing company says it's ceasing publication because it found that "basic truths just were not there."

That makes it time for ... self-publishing! I'm sure there's a market for rewriting myths to order.

Last month's NPR feature about The most influential evangelist you've never heard of gives the author more air time than it seems he deserves to pitch his "historical reclamation," a 30-year program to inculcate his version of history in the minds of a new generation.

Social contract Permalink to this item

Hedrick Smith has a good op-ed for the holiday: When Capitalists Cared. It starts with Henry Ford recognizing that profitable mass production depends on mass consumption, which depends on wages that enable the middle class. Smart business. I grew up in the midst of both the Baby Boom and the sustained economic growth following WW II into the 1970s that he describes.

"From 1948 to 1973, the productivity of all nonfarm workers nearly doubled, as did average hourly compensation. But things changed dramatically starting in the late 1970s. Although productivity increased by 80.1% from 1973 to 2011, average wages rose only 4.2% and hourly compensation (wages plus benefits) rose only 10% over that time, according to government data analyzed by the Economic Policy Institute."

It doesn't have to be this way. He gives examples. And he concludes:

"Today, we are all paying the price for this shift. As Ford recognized, if average Americans do not have secure jobs with steady and rising pay, the economy will be sluggish. Since the early 1990s, we have been mired three times in 'jobless recoveries.' It's time for America's business elites to step beyond political rhetoric about protecting wealthy "job creators" and grasp Ford's insight: Give the middle class a better share of the nation's economic gains, and the economy will grow faster. Our history shows that."

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

About presumption Permalink to this item

Politicians like to express empathy for various plights people who might vote for them experience, even if they might not have actually experienced the same thing. Sympathy can be nice, but there's the risk of slipping into pity, and that rarely feels good on the receiving end. The problem with plan A is that feigned empathy is likely to be rejected as well.

Not that she's a politician, but Ann Romney is working for one these days, so all that applies to her, too. Cathy Walker-Gilman's post on her ThinkBannedThoughts blog, the response to celebrity patronizing from the cheap seats, has gone viral for the very reason that it taps into the classic vein: A letter to Mrs. Romney.

"[P]lease refrain from claiming allegiance with me, from suggesting that you are an example of 'every woman.' That claim is a lie.

"Have you ever bounced a check because you had to put gas in your car?

"Have you ever been forced to calculate the cost of your groceries as you shop to be sure you're not over-budget?

"Have you ever told one of your children that they can have new shoes that fit ... after payday?"

1.Sept.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The sting Permalink to this item

After Matt Taibbi reveals the secret of Mitt Romney's business success ("borrowing vast sums of money that other people were forced to pay back") he describes the setup in exquisite detail, lacking only some Scott Joplin vamp for a soundtrack:

"By making debt the centerpiece of his campaign, Romney was making a calculated bluff of historic dimensions—placing a massive all-in bet on the rank incompetence of the American press corps. The result has been a brilliant comedy: A man makes a $250 million fortune loading up companies with debt and then extracting million-dollar fees from those same companies, in exchange for the generous service of telling them who needs to be fired in order to finance the debt payments he saddled them with in the first place. That same man then runs for president riding an image of children roasting on flames of debt, choosing as his running mate perhaps the only politician in America more pompous and self-righteous on the subject of the evils of borrowed money than the candidate himself. If Romney pulls off this whopper, you'll have to tip your hat to him: No one in history has ever successfully run for president riding this big of a lie. It's almost enough to make you think he really is qualified for the White House."

That's longer than my typical excerpted quote, but as the guy on the late night infomercial says, there's much, much more, and it's all in Taibbi's inimitable style, ever so slightly over the top, and so maybe too easily dismissed as just something in Rolling Stone. Wall Street got away with the crime of the century after all, why shouldn't Mitt get his main chance too?

There's really only one big pair of dots to connect, and let me pose a question to offer a clue: who made out like bandits? It wasn't "the American people," certainly, nor even that broad swath of those people that form the fading middle class. It's like Gordon Gecko married Ayn Rand, and they had five boys, bent on "creative destruction." Figuratively speaking.

"A takeover artist all his life, Romney is now trying to take over America itself. And if his own history is any guide, we'll all end up paying for the acquisition."


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Monday, 01-Oct-2012 11:08:36 MDT