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31.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Three letters Permalink to this item

The Idaho Statesman took its time before running my letter responding to their knee-jerk editorial on January 18 (which I also opined upon here on the blog, day of), apparently to group with others by subject. That made for two against one, with Bill Plowman of Boise sarcastically thanking Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney for showing his "true colors" (it's "yellow!" for the Sheriff to uphold his oath of office and the Constitution, interesting); and the unfortunate Warren Grover who says he lacks the "wherewithal to move to a different county where I would be protected." Grover's hypothetical challenge:

"Does [the Sheriff] truly believe that if a law calling for confiscation of weapons, ammo, or firearms accessories is passed, this administration will not begin immediate enforcement?"

Tricky. Grover claims "The Idaho Sheriffs Association stated that it will not enforce such a federal law," which of course we don't have, and no one has any actual evidence to believe we will any time soon. Nevertheless, many are not holding back expressing indignation at strawmen that can be stuffed together.

Coincidentally, the same Gary Raney who Grover rails against is the current president of the Idaho Sheriffs' Association, which has not, that I've seen, made the statement Grover says it has.

Slide to unlock surprise Permalink to this item

Feeling all anniversary-y today, 30 years after my first day at work at tech-giant Hewlett-Packard. I started as a wave solder process engineer, which involved both figurative and literal fire-fighting. Once we had the new Electrovert Century 2000 set up, burned up, and re-set up, we were ready to junk the funky old Hollis. Connections were made with a fledgling local outfit, Micron Technology, to have them buy it for a new production line they were starting as they made first steps to branch out from their memory chip manufacturing business into personal computers.

We settled on what seemed like a generous price to help them on their way—to becoming a tech giant in their own right. They also became one of the most prolific generators of patents, which continues to the present day. News from slashdot is that they managed to score a broad "Slide to Unlock" patent, scooping Apple in the process. U.S. Patent #8,352,745 B2 came from a continuation of a Jan. 24, 2011 filing, which was a continuation of an Aug. 26, 2004 filing, which was a continuation of a Jun. 25, 2004 filing, which was a continuation of a Feb. 23, 2000 filing, thus scooping Apple's measly claim of priority from 2004. (Three other patents issued out of that chain as well: 8,176,547, 7,877,612 and 6,766,456.

Figure 3 from US Patent 6,766,456, issued July 20, 2004 The earliest of those cites a patent that issued to Lucent Technologies in 1996 for a "graphical password," imagined as touching a sequence of "tap regions" rather the simpler, short, straight line we now know as "slide to unlock." But obvious to someone skilled in the art, as they say, especially after someone else skilled in the art and a lawyer have spelled it out.

Dennis Crouch notes at PatentlyO that Samsung has a 10-year cross-license deal with Micron. It's a potential "complicating factor" that Micron may be a supplier for all of the potential defendants in recent litigation. Just one happy family, with squadrons of lawyers.

Following the link to the inventor's site is interesting too. It seems he worked in tech support at that fledgling Micron PC once upon a time, and describes how a patent could start a life of its own that could be worth $8 billion (if enough lawyers and judges make it so):

"When we worked at Micron PC there was a patent program where you could submit patent disclosures and the company would review them and decide which to persue. I had been involved in the program for a while after I moved into engineering, and knowing that Russ was a smart guy I told him about it too. He would submit like 10 disclosures a month, which was probably a record."

HP had that sort of program too, with financial incentives for disclosures (which could be rather absurdly simple), and patent filings (for which a hired gun lawyer did most of the work). We had ample smart guys (and gals), but the ones with the most disclosures weren't necessarily the smartest. I knew one who was just happy to game a system that spit out cash rewards at the same time he was getting his regular salary. Why not? More filings, more lawyers, more patents, more money, everybody's happy.

30.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Taking crazy to a whole new level Permalink to this item

An Idaho state senator has solved the Da Vinci Code and sees where insurance companies are headed, thanks to the Affordable Care Act's provision for health insurance exchanges:

"The insurance companies are creating their own tombs. Much like the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps, private insurers are used by the feds to put the system in place because the federal government has no way to set up the exchange."

You couldn't make this stuff up. If you did, you wouldn't try to get it into the Spokesman-Review, you'd be sending it to The Onion, amirite?

And you sure as hell wouldn't dream up the President pro-tem of the state senate saying there, there, I can't fault her, because "there's a lot of 'stuff' going around" (air quotes?) and ruh roh, "as we get closer to making that decision, the rhetoric's going to get more dramatic."

Wow. It's going "more dramatic" from here, you say? This could be interesting.

Capitol security Permalink to this item

Idaho's notion of maintaining its "old west" flavor creates some strange juxtapositions. During the heyday of "Occupy Boise" last year, lawmakers were near-apoplectic about an extended campout, and this year after being unnerved by a gun-packing busybody shuffling through papers and snapping photographs on the Senate floor, they want to assure us that no, no, there is no plan to go back to banning guns in the Capitol.

The second amendment packs more firepower than the first, don't you know.

Happily, I guess, it turns out that Bryan Carter "was just being a regular dad" and making sure that none of the Cub Scouts on the floor were doing anything untoward. Oh, and trying to get pictures of "an internal legislative phone list and an invitation to a lobbyist-sponsored social event in which he had an interest."

But the pictures didn't turn out so good, so what's the difference?

Dan Popkey's account turns into kind of a jolly feature for Mr. Carter, how he frequently attends public hearings, and how much money he supposedly saved taxpayers by home-schooling his children the past eight years. (Just think how much I've saved taxpayers by not having any children for the past eight years.)

But at the end, we're left with the Idaho State Police saying that Carter committed no crime, and a member of the Idaho House saying "what he did was wrong." Which can't both be right, can they? What was wrong about looking at what Senators left out on their desks? There's no reason you can't take photographs, is there? And the gun on his hip is neither here nor there, is it?

But hey, we're damn sure we don't want anybody camping on the lawn.

29.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Finding fun in an airport Permalink to this item

The Sky's the Limit, my photograph from 2003 I haven't been spending much time in airports (or airplanes) lately, but I still have lots of memories. The distance from discomfort, annoyance and pain might be creating a favorable bias, as might the rosy recollections of people and destinations visited. Having been referred to Seth Godin's blog and his post, Eleven things organizations can learn from airports, I found myself objecting, item by item.

For me, flying and airports are both means to an end. I don't mind them, mostly, but I'm not wild about either, and can't hardly favor one over the other. I don't go hang out at an airport for a good time, I'm just passing through. So, then:

1. No one is in charge....

No one is in charge on the highway most of the time, and that's not a problem. There are rules, regulations and controls around airports and the planes flying in and out, and they seem to work well enough most of the time. I don't need to know all the behind-the-scenes stuff, and could hardly expect to. An airport CEO walking the aisles, and asking "how ya doin'?" I'm not seeing how that helps.

2. Problems persist because organizations defend their turf instead of embrac[ing] the problem....

Yeah. Organizations do that.

3. The food is aimed squarely at the (disappearing) middle of the market....

Best not to eat at the airport if you can avoid it.

4. Like colleges, airports see customers as powerless transients....

Yes, ideally, we're transients.

5. By removing slack, airlines create failure. In order to increase profit, airlines work hard to get the maximum number of flights out of each plane, each day. As a result, there are no spares, no downtime and no resilience. By assuming that their customer base prefers to save money, not anxiety, they create an anxiety-filled system.

Prove them wrong. Pay more.

6. The TSA is ruled by superstition, not fact....

If this is about airports, do we have time to get into the TSA? I mean, you could make a list of 11 things about the TSA.

7. The ad hoc is forbidden....

Well mostly. That's a good thing when you're flying.

8. Everyone is treated the same. Effective organizations treat different people differently....

Boarding order is not just "some window dressing at the edges" if you're wondering if your rollaboard will be taken from you and submitted to the horror of "gate checking." (If I wanted to give you a shot at losing my bag, I would have checked one.) Whether as a frequent or not-frequent flyer, the non-equal bits of treatment stand out against a largely monotonous background, and even though they're mostly between minor and trivial (until your flight is cancelled, or delayed enough to break a connection!), they become the focus of attention.

I'm thinking actually treating everyone the same would be an improvement. You all are getting in this conveyance, and modulo the time it takes to get on and off, are all going to leave and arrive at the same time. Would could be more equal than that?

9. There are plenty of potential bad surprises, but no good ones....

I try to maintain my surprise and delight when things work, even though they do most of the time. And when things go wrong, if somebody can fix my problem, that's a surprise, and a delight, for sure.

10. They are sterile. Everyone who passes through leaves no trace, every morning starts anew....

Again, ideally. There are some people who get a cheery "welcome back," but those people are spending way too much time in airports and airplances. I'm OK with things being clean and new and I'm a stranger.

11. No one is having any fun....

I take responsibility for creating what fun I can out of it, or at least getting through with equanamity. That can mean empathizing with someone else's misery (which I'm not currently experiencing), or perhaps the shared misery of the unlucky, or that great delight of getting on the plane, and leaving, sometimes close to on-time. Next time you see me in an airport, I do hope to be having fun of some sort, even if it's only imagining my destination.

I love the art in airports. I love seeing all kinds of people going every which way. I love the ballet of planes landing and taking off. I love the sparrows who live in the rafter trusses at Boise's airport. I love "The Sky's the Limit" at O'Hare, beautiful terrazzo floors, people movers (when they're moving), local color, clean restrooms, comfortable seating, ubiquitous electrical outlets, customer service counters (when I don't need them), happy babies who have no idea what the hell is going on, free newspapers, free Wi-Fi (please), getting through security, leaving for an exotic destination, coming home.

28.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Is "stupid party" unfair? Permalink to this item

Molly Ball's interview with outgoing Rep. Steve LaTourette (was R-IN), about whether people were being unfair to the House Republicans, as he finished up his 18 years in the House was in The Atlantic, early this month. LaTourette was "an outspoken ally" of John Boehner's.

Since Idaho—the other Congressional district, thanks—is home to one of the rumpiest of the Tea Party rump insurgents, Raúl Labrador, the question has special relevance here. Beyond saying no (or sometimes heck no) to everything, and an as-yet undefined political ambition to something greater, it's hard to know what, if anything, Labrador could be moved to say yes to. One Q/A seemed to capture the essence of the "reject everything" group:

Q: Is there any way for Boehner to assert some leadership now that he's been reelected and bring the insurgents into line?

LaTourette: "He resisted, the entire last Congress, until the very end, the temptation to punish anybody. I sat on the steering committee, and there were cries from all parts of the conference: 'These guys are ruining everything!' He wouldn't chastise them or do anything until the recent mini-purge.

"I don't think his inclination is to punish people. But I have to tell you, I don't know how he does it. You look at the very beginning of the last Congress, H.R. 1, the omnibus, there were hundreds of amendments from the stupid to the sublime. One was offered to defund the president's teleprompter. Another was to defund the electrical upgrades needed to bring the White House up to code. But Boehner's deal was, OK, go for it, let people participate. There was an expectation that, given the opportunity to improve the bill, they would then vote for the bill. But beginning with that bill there have been 20 to 50 members who will make adjustments to the bill that guarantee you're not going to get one Democrat to vote for it, and then they still vote against the bill themselves and deny Boehner the 218 votes he needs to bargain with."

27.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

See no gun evil Permalink to this item

Last we heard, in the aggregate, having guns in your home doesn't necessarily make you safer; you face a "significantly elevated risk of homicide and suicide. Chances are, chances haven't changed in a couple decades, but it's not being studied, as explained by today's NYT editorial, "What we don't know is killing us."

"The research freeze began at a time when the C.D.C. was making strides in studying gun violence as a public health problem. Before that, the issue had been regarded mainly as a law enforcement challenge or as a problem of disparate acts by deranged offenders, an approach that remains in sync with the N.R.A. worldview. ...

"The N.R.A. denounced the research as 'political opinion masquerading as medical science'..."

Because the NRA would be your go-to source for evaluating medical research, wouldn't it?

The headline for Elisabeth Rosenthal's piece in the Sunday Review section is more direct: More Guns = More Killing.

"I recently visited some Latin American countries that mesh with the N.R.A.'s vision of the promised land, where guards with guns grace every office lobby, storefront, A.T.M., restaurant and gas station. It has not made those countries safer or saner.

"Despite the ubiquitous presence of "good guys" with guns, countries like Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Colombia and Venezuela have some of the highest homicide rates in the world."

Don't worry, be happy Permalink to this item

Bobby Jindal is getting a lot of ink and pixels for his call to the GOP to stop being the stupid party, but his gratuitous snipe at the New York Times editorial board was probably not his most clever idea. The editorial page's editor is more than happy to engage him in debate. I hadn't gone past the catchy quip myself, but now I see Jindal isn't proposing any changes of position, just a "happy" rebranding? Wow. Andrew Rosenthal:

"Mr. Jindal and Mr. Gingrich both seem to assume that those who oppose the Republican Party don't object to Republican programs and goals. They just don't understand the G.O.P. message. If that's not 'insulting the intelligence of voters' (as Mr. Jindal put it), I don't know what is."

26.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Sheriff's statement Permalink to this item

Blue jeans territory, accidental shot with the iPad cam Our county sheriff spoke up on the hot sheriff topic of the moment, but with a different angle than most of the newsmakers. Normally it wouldn't be news to have someone affirm he takes his oath of office seriously, and that he plans to uphold all of the Constitution, not just part of it, but here we are.

"Many others have indulged that pressure and now we see Oregon sheriffs, Wyoming legislators and others making hollow promises to protect you from the intrusions of the federal government. Let me respectfully remind you that we are the federal government, the state government and the local government.

"I did not swear to uphold just part of the Constitution. Our Constitution includes the right to keep and bear arms, but it also includes the 'supremacy clause' that says that every state shall abide by the laws passed by our Congress.

"So, despite the fact that I personally oppose some of the gun control measures currently under consideration, my oath requires me to uphold the laws that are passed by our federal and state representatives.

"When we disagree with those laws, the checks and balances built into our government point us toward the proper remedy: changing the laws or challenging them in the judicial branch. ..."

Mad men Permalink to this item

Timothy Egan gives a well-deserved healthy heaping of derision to "the perpetually puckered" Mitch McConnell and the rest of the critics of Obama's second inaugural address:

"Liberal, liberal, liberal! The wedge label is the last weapon of people who are out of step with their era. Rove and company are betting that 'liberal' still has the power to scare. But did you notice that these opponents of President Obama's Inauguration Day aria didn't take issue with the substance of what he said? Are they for a legal system that excludes gays from rights that other citizens share? Do they favor global warming? Do they intend to deport the millions of immigrants without papers, and further alienate the fastest-growing block of voters?"

Nothing says "conservative" like insisting on a message that the people have rejected.

"[Obama]'s trying to 'just shove us into the dustbin of history,' said House Speaker John Boehner this week. No shoving was required—the Republicans climbed right into the dustbin and put the lid on to keep out the light."

George Will chortles that Obama has "a contradictory agenda certain to stimulate a conservative revival," makes a go at dismissing climate change with a grab bag of statistics and a celebration of the current oil and gas boom. Regulation, makers and takers, debt... just because those themes thudded in the last election doesn't mean they're not about to make a comeback!

The deficit hawks may be down but by golly, they're not out. Never mind that it's "been almost two years since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles declared that we should expect a fiscal crisis within, um, two years." We could still turn into Greece! Right after we get past this stubborn economic turnaround that floated Obama's re-election.

25.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Lost and in the way Permalink to this item

I had no idea that David Horsey writes opinion pieces in addition to penning brilliant editorial cartoons. I was looking for a pointer to his first inaugural/second inaugural elephants, which were picture-perfect while certain losers were complaining about how bitterly partisan Obama's most recent speech was. "Lincoln and M.L. King watch over Barack Obama's inauguration" is short and to the point, if not as succinct as a one-panel cartoon. Progress.

And here's the one I was after, with Horsey's extended caption beneath it: Obama's inaugural speech provokes rattled Republicans. In this case, "provocative" is a good thing.

"[H]aving lost House seats and having failed to take back the Senate or the White House in the 2012 campaign, the GOP’s permanent rejection of anything the president proposed does not seem like such a clever tactic."

On the Republican side, what Bobby Jindal said (more than two months ago, and sticking to his guns at Thursday's RNC meeting):

"We've got to stop being the stupid party. It's time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults," he said. "We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I'm here to say we've had enough of that."

It's not clear who is listening. The RNC chairman coasted to re-election, as expected. Molly Ball summarizes for The Atlantic:

"Reince Priebus presided over an electoral drubbing. The party is directionless and adrift. But nobody wants to rock the boat."

Clash of the NGOs Permalink to this item

The Idaho Petroleum Council takes a bit of a victory lap in their latest newsletter, slinging some mud in the Idaho Conservation League's direction. The ICL's statement on their Idaho state legislature issues page:

"The Idaho Legislature will be asked to support a rule governing injection wells related to natural gas development. We oppose this rule because it lacks appropriate safeguards to protect groundwater and allows harmful waste to be disposed of in injection wells. We will also continue our efforts to ban the use of cancer-causing chemicals in fracking."

The IPC says it's after "new, modern regulations" and sadly shakes its head that "some people used fear and misinformation to oppose the rules." It deprecates ICL's "private" communication (in, um, their "private" communication), saying the ICL "went so far as to attack the collaborative process that led to the rules the legislature was asked to approve."

The Petroleum Council has no reason to criticize rule-making being a political football because they're winning the game, and feigns surprise at "representatives of [the ICL] stand[ing] before legislative committees today opposing a rule they sat at the table to help craft."

If you're on the committee, you're supposed to swallow your objections and celebrate everything that comes out of it, showing "faith in the process"? IPC's Executive Director Suzanne Budge's message is ripe with artful innuendo, closing with a toast to sobriety:

"Here's to hoping the debate will rise to a sober discussion about the facts. After all, as our Quote of the Week shows, there's a lot at stake. We can create good jobs here in Idaho or we can send them out-of-state. I know where our organization stands, and we look forward to the many legislators, agency staff and community leaders who agree."

Said quote is from a job ad for 10 people to work "as Frac crew operators" in Williston ND, "15 days on 6 days off." That's kind of interesting since the Idaho Department of Labor job postings are for jobs in Idaho. I searched for "frac crew" and found offerings "in Salmon, ID" and "in Pocatello," which they are not:

"U.S. Corporation looking for 10 individuals to work as Frac crew in the natural gas and oil fields. Qualified candidates will have Class A CDL be at least 21 years of age, clean driving record, clean criminal report (no felonies or DUI,s ), high school diploma or GED equivalent. Qualified candidates will work 15 days on 6 days off in Williston ND. Transportation provided by company to and from Williston, housing and meals provided, full benefits (health, dental, vision, 401k, stock options, 3 weeks vacation 1st year, yearly income $65,000 plus)."

Yes that's right, $65 large per year, room and board, full benefits and three weeks vacation out of the chute for a GED, clean record and a commercial driver's license. Welcome to your Man Camp.

Given that Idaho is below the map threshold for proven oil and gas reserves, the kind of boom going on in North Dakota is a crazy pipe dream. So why the fight over rules here? My guess is our state provides a conveniently tilted playing field for resource developers; no market too small to set a useful precedent.

Animated weather Permalink to this item

Early Thursday morning PNW snippet from NOAA animation The pun police fell asleep on the job and let this item on NPR stand as a "really cool video," but don't let that distract from a beautiful data presentation from one of our great federal agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For NOAA's part, they went with a more subtly chilling metaphor: "A shroud of cold air descends on the U.S."

Back where I came from, I imagine it's a stronger dose of "deep winter" than usual, but not so much to write home about? Wednesday's weather left northern Idaho and western Montana off the ragged trailing edge of that continental polar air mass, even as the inversion persisted across southern Idaho's Snake River plain (with a tongue of cold air occupying central/eastern Washington). Warmer temperatures aloft and cold air in the lower elevations of the SRP turned snow into freezing rain overnight and into Thursday morning, a quarter-inch of all-over ice coating making travel by automobile "interesting," at best. (We survived a trip across town unscathed, wisely keeping our distance from the Interstate.)

Taking away recess Permalink to this item

Score one for Congress in the federal gimmickry contest: all three judges of a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said that Obama did not have the power to make three recess appointments last year to the NLRB, because those minutes-long (at most) gavel-whacking "pro-forma" theatrics kept the Senate "technically" in session.

For sure, the Supremes are going to have to weigh in on this question, but in the meantime, "hundreds of decisions issued by the [National Labor Relations Board] over more than a year" may be invalidated, and the fondest dream of the Senate Republicans could be realized:

"It also would leave the five-member labor board with just one validly appointed member, effectively shutting it down. The board is allowed to issue decisions only when it has at least three sitting members."

Which brings to mind a poster I saw on Facebook yesterday: if unions are irrelevant, why are corporations spending $billions to kill them? (And damn, it's hard to find something I saw yesterday on Facebook; I gave up looking, but found half a dozen other things I liked.) Bill Moyers asked the question, and hosted answers to it, last summer. He said Betsy Mazzone summed it up (on Facebook, no less):

"As long as some people think corporation are people ... you bet we need Unions."

Powering tomorrow Permalink to this item

From our 2nd stay in the Bay area, 2000-1 Utility bills used to be a monthly chore, but with autopay, it seems to get my attention quarterly or semiannually now. Catching up on our Idaho Power statements, I did take the trouble to download a couple "inserts," knowing that they do a nice job on the few pages that the mailman used to deliver. The December Customer Connection featured a piece on cloud seeding, which is not just a relic from the Wizard of Oz years, but an expanding program for them. Makes me wonder how much of the 7-13% increase in precipitation in the mountains they estimate they've obtained is coming at the expense of folks downwind. Not that the midwest could blame a drought on some cloud seeding, but still.

The piece included a teaser to Idaho Power's YouTube channel, which, who knew? It's loaded with some rather high quality shorts (although maybe they don't use that term). It took a search to find the video in question, since Harvesting the Storm was published last May.

"Teaching the water how to freeze" with silver iodide still relies on a winter storm to get it started, they say. They've got one plane, and 26 "cloud-seeding generators," temporary towers set up in the mountains for the winter. (Wikipedia's page on cloud seeding is even more impressive.)

But the Idaho Power video I really liked is top of the stack right now, touting their "Powering Tomorrow" grants, and one of the recipients they've supported, the Boise Bicycle Project. I'm guessing a pretty small investment can go a long way towards realizing BBP's vision:

"We believe that Boise has the potential to be the cycling capital of the U.S. and envision the Boise Bicycle Project as one of the key community leaders to help it reach that potential. By teaching and making the sustainable benefits of the bicycle available to the entire community, we see Boise becoming a better place to live each and every day."

"What if a vehicle for change is a vehicle?"–BBP

And hey, they've got job openings! "P/T Mechanic (aka 'Bike Reviver') 1-3 years professional shop experience required. Please visit the shop for an application, or email a resume with 3 references, and 1 paragraph about your life in relation to bicycles and/or volunteering in the community."

23.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Please flush our airshed Permalink to this item

Above the inversion, along Bogus Basin Rd Doesn't look like we're going to make that forecast high above freezing today, with the storm coming in later than the original estimate. But maybe we'll level off in the 20s overnight and then up tomorrow, instead of the 0°F-ish night icebox we've been having. The semi-literal "orange" air quality alert continues through midnight. Two inches of snow in the valley and up to four in the mountains would be lovely, but oh, this is bad news in the NWS winter weather advisory:


Our multi-week ugh will continue into the weekend. Next hope is "another storm Saturday should remove the inversion."

Morgan Stanley took it in the short too Permalink to this item

Jesse Eisinger describes one of the sorry financial tales from the middle of last decade's catastrophe, in which a Taiwanese bank left holding one of the bags has managed to clear the "high hurdles for document discovery," in the NYT Dealbook section.

"Hundreds of pages of internal Morgan Stanley documents, released publicly last week, shed much new light on what bankers knew at the height of the housing bubble and what they did with that secret knowledge. ... [T]he documents suggest a pattern of behavior larger than this one deal: people across the bank understood that the American housing market was in trouble. They took advantage of that knowledge to create and then bet against securities and then also to unload garbage investments on unsuspecting buyers."

Morgan Stanley's defense is that the buyers should put on their big boy pants and caveat emptor, and besides, Morgan Stanley lost a ton of money after the market cratered too. That wasn't because it didn't know what was in the bags, but because "it couldn't find nearly enough suckers around the world to buy them all."

22.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Minority report on Idaho's business property tax Permalink to this item

Moscow's state senator, Dan Schmidt has an interesting explainer about Idaho's tax on business property with charts and figures and a constitutional argument (Article VII, Section 8 is plain enough in its opening statement: "CORPORATE PROPERTY MUST BE TAXED.") He didn't mention the governor's State of the State and budget address, calling upon the legislature to make eliminating the tax "which nearly everyone agrees is an unfair drag on our economy" (oh?) a priority, and for which "we now have consensus," which means a lot of Republicans are on board, I guess.

What doesn't add up is that "personal property tax receipts are a significant part of how some of our counties pay for public services" and the set-aside of $20 million "for easing counties' transition" would be a small fraction of the $140 million revenue that would be foregone.

Senator Schmidt shows that our state's per capita taxation, and tax relative to income is the lowest in the region, and the lowest (per capita, and near lowest, by income) in the entire country. That might be because we're super-smart and super-efficient. Or not.

"We are last in the country in our K12 investment per student. We have the lowest wages and personal income in the nation. We cannot maintain our roads or buildings. This has forced our local taxing districts to pick up the slack to fund their schools. Business personal property tax is one revenue source that helps ease the burden on local communities and the families within them."

One of Idaho's largest businesses made the news earlier this month by saying actually they're not interested in eliminating the tax:

"[L]ocal governments and schools in Caribou County, where Monsanto has phosphate mining and refining operations, depend on the business-equipment tax for more than 40% of their revenue, to fix roads, educate kids and provide law enforcement protection.

"[Monsanto government affairs director Trent] Clark said the potential that repeal could send local officials scrambling to preserve those services - or shift costs to others - convinced Monsanto to refrain from joining the legislative fight."

The executive director of the Idaho Public Employees Association isn't in the "nearly everyone" consensus. Neither is the director of BSU's Center for Business Research and Economic Development. Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy director (and former state economist) Mike Ferguson said "the simple answer is the math doesn't work."

"I've looked at the numbers and the counties and the school districts and the cities, not so much cities, but counties and school districts rely heavily on the property tax, and the business personal property tax as part of the mix—they don't have high incomes. They don't have the capacity to have a local option sales tax or a local option income tax to make up the kind of losses we're talking about. So, it works great in Ada County, but not so great in Power, or Caribou, or any of the other counties that have a high proportion of business personal property taxes in the mix."

Obama's second term Permalink to this item

"My fellow Americans, we are made for this moment, and we will seize it—so long as we seize it together."

Winter weather (such as it was—mid-40s sounds balmy after weeks of single-digit inversion nights here) didn't chill the crowd's enthusiasm for yesterday's ceremony. A million people, give or take, showed up and millions more saw some part of the festivities on media. People with the most mixed feelings weren't there (not counting the "obligated"), but this, from the Washington Post:

"Last time, it was buoyant and jubilant and hopeful," said Mike Savonis, 58, of Takoma Park, as he headed down Constitution Avenue with his daughter, Sarah, 14. "This time, there's more reality. He has the Republican House to deal with, and the Congress generally, and the NRA."

Citing gun control, climate change, immigration reform and Afghanistan, Savonis added, "I think there's a sense that we have a lot of work to do."

The mainstream pundit analysis seems to have settled on the adjective "liberal" to categorize the message in the president's speech, but I read it as a renewal of the progressive, not least because the L word has been watered down and blunted by the opposition's use of it as an epithet. Our course must bend toward justice:

"We must be a source of hope to the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice—not out of mere charity, but because peace in our time requires the constant advance of those principles that our common creed describes: tolerance and opportunity; human dignity and justice."

And there is work we must do—can only do—together:

"We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries—we must claim its promise. That's how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure—our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That's what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared."

It remains to be seen whether Congress is up to such a task. Just the briefest of mentions for them: "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."

19.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Shooting from the hip Permalink to this item

Peter Shane's analysis of the hysteria over Obama's executive orders is useful and succint. Those who take the time to actually read the three memoranda that were published can see for themselves that there are no affirmative demands for action or forbearance on the part of state, county or local authorities. (The memoranda are a lot more readable than most of what's produced by the Congress or Idaho Legislature, btw.)

Maybe the Idaho county Sheriffs who were moved to pipe up are reacting to something they saw on Fox News? Which I guess would resonate with their constituents well enough. The pointless Idaho Statesman editorial responds to facts not in evidence as well, giving sarcastic credit to Vice President Joe Biden for having "slapped together one of the most sweeping gun-control bills in American history," said imaginary Bill become "those legislative proposals and executive orders" in the next sentence, and losing its sweep for good measure, since (in the editorial board's opinion) none of them "would have prevented the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, or any other shooting in the future."

I know the Statesman has access to the New York Times, since they run plenty of articles from it, so perhaps the editorial board could be more specific about which of the executive actions and proposed congressional actions the NYT enumerated they have a beef with.

Just off the top of my head, I'd say future Newtown-like violence could be reduced by a strengthened assault weapons ban (with the best possible definitions and the fewest exceptions), limiting magazine size to 10 rounds, confirming a nominee for ATF director, better training for police officers, first responders and school officials on how to respond to active armed attacks, and improving financing for mental health programs for young people, should Congress chose to implement any or all of that. (It's too early to start holding your breath.)

The executive actions appear similarly reasonable, sensible, and god almighty something to try in the right direction. It seems to be the editorial board rather than Joe Biden or anyone else in the Obama administration that is "play[ing] to the worst fears brought out in the campaign that 'Obama wants to take away our guns'."

And yes, there is some tinpot hysterical grandstanding on this subject, which the editorial board might more usefully decry.

Update: Is this related? No mention of hip shooting—North Carolina State Fair chief of police said "I want to emphasize that this is an accident"—but there were three accidents at gun shows for Gun Appreciation Day, five injured.

18.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Did the Sheriff really read what he said he did? Permalink to this item

I'm wondering, because Garrett Epps' proposal to talk calmly about Obama's "Executive Orders" starts out by saying a scholar of separation of powers says the president signed three, not 23, executive orders. What does the president say he said?

The Briefing Room isn't keeping up. Latest they have in their list of Executive Orders is dated Dec. 27, 2012. I see some topical memoranda, though: Engaging in Public Health Research on the Causes and Prevention of Gun Violence, Improving Availability of Relevant Executive Branch Records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and Tracing of Firearms in Connection with Criminal Investigations.

Nothing to say "boo" to the Canyon County Sheriff in any of those.

David Weigel has a list of 23 things called "proposed executive actions" (helpfully run through the NRA Tyranny Translator by Charles P. Pierce for Esquire.

14. Issue a Presidential Memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence.

(Sure. The CDC will declare gun violence a disease and we'll all have to get vaccinated and then we'll all get autism and the UN will control our minds.)

At least the Sheriff did say "actions"; the Idaho Statesman editorial board flew straight off the handle on the supposed "23 executive orders that go into effect without congressional action" without troubling to sort out actions, orders, proposals, and... the actual content in question.

Rootin' tootin' Permalink to this item

Hoarfroast on the Russian Olive in our yard What Marc Johnson said about the NRA and its accumulated political power, with the benefit of most of three decades distance from Cecil Andrus' campaign for Governor in 1986:

"[as] the most feared lobby in the country, the NRA has been nothing if not brutally consistent. For the NRA there is no room for compromise on guns and gun issues — none. If you're in public office you are either for the NRA down the line or you are soft on the Second Amendment and not to be trusted with public responsibilities and very likely a one of those willing to standby when the government comes for the guns."

Not so much in resistance to tyranny, but more as "a front group for gun manufacturers." He's writing from the neighborhood where the supposedly liberal-leaning capital daily just offered a slapped rammed crazy knee-jerk editorial as some red meat for the locals, and the next-door County Sheriff is standing on his hind legs to say the president's 23 Executive Actions are "just political posturing and I'm not going to fight hysteria with hysteria," so he'll just pick and choose what laws he thinks are Constitutional. To a chorus of cheers in Canyon County, I would presume. We so hate the federal government, and accepting its money. (Some of us would rather use gold and silver coins, don't you know.)

Yes, that's right, our plain-spoken CanCo Sheriff is here to tell us that "gun ownership is not a political issue," it's just a constitutional right, and he doesn't even know why we're having this conversation.

More seriously, Jon Stewart provided a nice summary of the sorry state we've come to on Wednesday's Daily Show. We've got the same 2500 ATF agents we had 39 years ago. Presumably, there is the same tiny fraction of dealers providing almost all the guns to bad guys but the Bureau is prohibited from creating a federal registry of gun transactions, and from inspecting dealers' records more often than once a year, and from requiring dealers to actually keep track of their inventories, and from pretty much any practical enforcement of our existing laws, as the video of duplicitous former Representative William Tiahrt illustrated.

The deeply perverse element here is that the rabid paranoia from before the first Obama administration about "coming to get your guns" has gone to a new level after the mass killing in Newtown CT, and the gun industry has never—never—done business like it's doing business right now.

The rabid paranoia industry is doing really well, too, but then that one has always been recession-proof.

Inversion forecast Permalink to this item

Cool, calm and collected, our bubble of trapped air remains parked over town, and forecast to stay put for several more days. Can't remember when snow—and ice—has stuck around town for weeks. Somebody dreamed of a white Christmas and here we are past the middle of January and it's still here.

There's still not enough snow to make a trip up the hill compelling, but it would be nice to get out of this for an afternoon... the downside—literally—is that you have to come back down into it.

The National Weather Service's point-based forecasts, neatly presented with a Google maplet in the sidebar of a seven day forecast with all the gewgaws, have an hourly forecast for temperature, dewpoint and wind chill. Compositing the one at our elevation, 2,700', and up in the mountains at 6,000' shows what we're missing, temperature-wise:

Composite forecast graph at two elevations near Boise, ID

Three thousand feet above us, nighttime lows slightly warmer than our daytime highs, and it's getting above freezing in sunshine. Our winter nights are single-digit, icebox cold.

We're looking forward to some new weather, "chance of snow" middle of next week, and flush this bubble of cold, stinky air out of here.

Update: Bogus Basin "helpfully" posted a topside photo on their Facebook page with the caption, "It may look like sun where you are standing in the valley, but this is what you are really in... and it's about 20 degrees warmer up here!"

16.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Original sin Permalink to this item

We watched just the first episode of the PBS/WGBH American Experience series, The Abolitionists covering some of our American history in more detail than I can remember from high school. Pretty sure it's not because I wasn't paying adequate attention or am now so old I've forgotten. Civil rights was a hot topic back then, but it was more in current events than 18th and 19th century history for us.

It's not easy to watch, even at this remove.

The current current events of gun violence, gun rights, and the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution has a whole lot of north/south flavor to it, and Thom Hartmann's piece for Thruthout explains why that may be so: the Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery.

If the story's true that James Madison changed a pivotal word (from "best security of a free country" to "of a free state") specifically to uphold slave patrol militias, where shall we find the black-robed "originalists" who will acknowledge the mistake embedded in our founding, and thus establish the basis for its repudiation these three centuries later?

Retreat! Permalink to this item

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee generously offered some suggestions for the House Republicans' retreat agenda this week, including "Science 101," "Big-picture thinking," and some practice interacting with women and minority voters. Also, a tip on how increase approval ratings.

The actual items on the agenda seem equally incredible, and a lot less fun(ny), if the report from the National Journal can be believed: "a lot of focus on how to flip the script, or at least the party's image."

Wednesday's events also will include a polling session on the topic, "What Happened and Where Are We Now." Pollsters involved in that presentation are scheduled to be David Winston of the Winston Group, Kellyanne Conway, and David Sackett of The Tarrance Group.

I guess Nate Silver was already booked.

No less than William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, and a columnist with The Wall Street Journal will discuss "What is the role of the Republican majority in the 113th Congress?" Because... they oughta know! I'm reminded of Frank Rich's post-election synopsis, Fantasyland:

"This year's instantly famous declaration by the Romney pollster Neil Newhouse that 'we're not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers' crystallized the mantra of the entire GOP. The Republican faithful at strata both low and high, from Rush's dittoheads to the think-tank-affiliated intellectuals, have long since stopped acknowledging any empirical evidence that disputes their insular worldview, no matter how grounded that evidence might be in (God forbid) science or any other verifiable reality, like, say, Census reports or elementary mathematics. No wonder Romney shunned the word Harvard, which awarded him two degrees, even more assiduously than he did Mormon.

Keeping score for the family feud Permalink to this item

The Idaho Statesman calls it a draw in a rather pathetic attempt to be nice to both sides, even though Republicans of most stripes treat it as a liberal rag barely worthy of lining a catbox. No, Editorial Board, they will not like you any more for this.

The skirmish is a draw only to the extent that Congress is a useless debating and posturing society—which is exactly what Labrador and his Tea Party pals have been working to turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. If Labrador and Simpson are "tied," the rest of us are sorry losers.

15.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Family feud, episode 2 Permalink to this item

You might imagine that if a Republican decorated veteran and former Senator were nominated for Secretary of Defense, fellow party members would be pleased, and even more so if he were nominated by a Democratic President. But no. One time pals John McCain and Mitch McConnell aren't so sure anymore. Once collegial Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) has "a lot of concern." Bob Corker has questions about Hagel's "temperament."

The National Review provided space to Eliot Abrams to air his negative opinion, with a bio blurb that he's "senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations," not quite as forthcoming as Abrams' Wikipedia entry, leading with describing him as "an American criminal, attorney, and conservative policy analyst who served in foreign policy positions for two Republican U.S. Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush."

Not to put too fine a point on it, who really gives a rip what Eliot Abrams' opinion on anything is?

Vying for similar irrelevance is fellow neocon William "wrong about everything" Kristol, "running a relentless attack campaign" with a stop for assistance from Fox News tool Chris Wallace. Kristol thought the post-9/11 escalation of the war in Iraq was a great idea, and Hagel did not. Hagel's opinion has been amply proved correct, but Kristol is not about to let being wrong motivate a change of opinion. (What would he have left?)

Colin Powell's OK with Hagel. McConnell, and Abrams, and Kristol are not. Pretty much case closed, innit?

Family feud, episode 1 Permalink to this item

Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey buttonholed our senior member of Congress at a City Club meeting, and in spite of former Idaho Speaker Bruce Newcomb's friendly attempt at distraction, Mike Simpson spoke his mind about his junior colleague's credibility problem after his most famous publicity stunt to date. You can't make it much more public than the headline Just how much do Simpson and Labrador dislike each other?

For his part, Rep. Raúl Labrador, contacted in Morocco during a globe-trotting boondoggle led by California's Darrel Issa sneered about Simpson being an "old-school legislator that [sic] went to Washington, D.C., to compromise." Labrador has an extremely high opinion of himself, and his efforts to date, for which there is no tangible evidence. Labrador brags that

"I have been in the middle of every negotiation, I have been in the middle of every fight that we have had in Washington, D.C., and my opinion and my voice has mattered in every single one of them."

For which... we can take his word for it? In regard to Labrador's non-vote for Speaker of the House, "Simpson's anger sharpened":

"He just didn’t vote. Which, as anyone who's ever been in a legislative body will tell you, you got one thing going for you and that's your credibility. And once you lose that credibility it's gone and it's gone forever. You don't get it back."

But wait, there's more! Labrador is mulling whether he should be Governor! There in the sidebar, along with a another dig to his colleague: "I don't want to be a legislator who's there for 14 years and hasn't done anything."

He's got his first two years in and hasn't done anything, at least.

Randy Stapilus saw this feud festering before Popkey applied his shoe leather to making it front-page news, and fills in some history from when Simpson was cutting his teeth in the Idaho legislature, another realm Labrador skipped through without doing much of note.

On the right, Dennis Mansfield celebrates Labrador in the red trunks over Simpson in the blue, who he thinks "brought a knife to a gunfight." Probably not what Dennis was thinking, but it put in mind a parallel between the Tea Party's scorched earth approach to "governing" and recent incidents of gun violence. Oh but Labrador "stood firm on his principles," so hooray for him, and hooray for his "national following of principled people all across the land."

Principle #1 appears to be "I am right, so compromise is fallacy."

If Labrador had an actual claim to being right, instead of simple dogmatic insistence, or if there were some tangible evidence for his "fighting for Idaho" as Dennis puts it, there might be something to celebrate. Pounding one's fists and kicking one's feet and saying "cut spending!" over and over again may be fighting, but it's not leading. And it's not getting the job done.

14.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Crazy bad air Permalink to this item

Screen shot from PBS Newshour, Jan. 14, 2013 When we visited China in November, 2003, our first stop was Shanghai and the air pollution was one of the remarkable sights to see. The other end of the trip was Beijing, and we had the benefit of a cold front coming down from Mongolia ahead of us. Snow (that was mostly gone by the time we flew in), cold, and most importantly, clean air. But in both metropolises, the direction things were going was obvious (if not "clear"): more cars. In the meantime, there was plenty of high-sulfur coal burning going on, and plenty of sulfurous smog in the air.

Ten years on, Beijing is setting records, and not in a good way. Beyond "crazy bad" to "all of Beijing look[ing] like an airport smokers' lounge."

"It was unclear exactly what was responsible for the rise in levels of particulate matter, beyond the factors that regularly sully the air here. Factories operating in neighboring Hebei Province ring this city of more than 20 million. The number of cars on Beijing’s streets has been multiplying at an astounding rate. And Beijing sits on a plain flanked by hills and escarpments that can trap pollution on days with little wind."

The new business as usual.

Good news: the @BeijingAir twitter feed shows that the air has improved to "unhealthy" in the last couple days. Better than "hazardous" and much better than "beyond index."

Fashion faux pas Permalink to this item

Excerpt of Mario Anzuoni/Reuters photo for comment I'm not sure I've ever made a blog post about fashion... but then after more than a dozen years, there's a lot I've forgotten. But anyway, after watching video of Jodie Foster's interesting speech at the Golden Globes, I slipped over to the NYT slide show of "The Red Carpet at the Golden Globes" which is an interesting set of mostly quartets in "related" designs, and featuring the famous wearers equally with the famous designers.

The men's costumes are not nearly as interesting as the women's (or as they were in Downton Abbey times, I might add), but some unintended, weird humor on slide 17, along with the nice photo of the Jackmans and the Hoffmans:

"An earlier version of the caption with this photo incorrectly identified Denzel Washington’s daughter as his wife and misspelled Mr. Washington's surname."

Mr. Washington's daughter is an attractive young adult (in a lovely gown), and I can understand how someone might make the mistake... but how in the world do you misspell the surname "Washington"?!

Java catch 22 Permalink to this item

As a Windows user, I see my share of pop-up alerts. The ones from Java have been getting fewer and farther between, mostly out of sight and mind, for a bit of infrastructure I rarely use (as far as I know). I did notice one recent call to update from an XP machine and waved it away as a distraction, but after seeing the NYT Bits blog piece that the Department of Homeland Security had something to say on the subject, I see I need to pay closer attention.

Turns out my main machine (running win7) doesn't even have Java on it. And gosh, I haven't missed it, what do you know. But for others, DHS said:

"Java 7 Update 10 and earlier contain an unspecified vulnerability that can allow a remote, unauthenticated attacker to execute arbitrary code on a vulnerable system. This and previous Java vulnerabilities have been widely targeted by attackers, and new Java vulnerabilities are likely to be discovered."

The good news in yesterday's update was that Oracle says they fixed it, and announced all was well in the inimitable and near-incomprehensible jargon of the trade. The shorter version is "an update is available; you should get it."

The bad news is as expressed in reply from a friend still in the thick of the high technology business, and whose job is maintaining infrastructure:

"This all makes my head spin.

"Oracle's main business tools make extensive use of Java, but they don't always support the latest versions of Java. We officially only support Java 1_6_17 on systems here since that is the official version that works with our versions of Oracle business tools. Java is constantly trying to auto update, but Oracle's own tools aren't supported with the newer Java versions. We disable Java's auto-update when doing new OS setups to prevent surprise updates.

"Now here is an über-important Java update that people shouldn't ignore, but potentially may not work with Oracle's own business suite. This could be interesting..."

I attempted to update the XP machine, the download failed for an unexplained reason. I figured I'd at least disable the plug-in for Firefox... but found that Firefox had already disabled it for me! Nice. A Windows Update for IE8 was also in the queue, maybe looking after the same thing, but it didn't go into detail.

13.Jan.13 Permanent URL to this day's entry

That's that then Permalink to this item

Jon Carson answers 9 of the petitions for state secession on the White House's "We the People" subsite: Our states remain united. More politely than they deserved, really.

And in other petition news, we won't be building a Death Star in the next couple of years.

"We are living in the future! Enjoy it. Or better yet, help build it by pursuing a career in a science, technology, engineering or math-related field."

12.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Riding the range with Idaho's new Speaker Permalink to this item

Cows in the lake, at the 3rd Owyhee Rendezvous Dan Popkey (and photog Joe Jaszewski) has another half-page spread for the new Idaho Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, this one about Bedke's support for Idaho management of the 34 million acres of federal land in the state. Stipulating no sale of it, that's slightly out of our "sagebrush rebellion" mold. As a fourth-generation rancher enjoying below-market rates for 130,000 acres of federal grazing allotments in Idaho and Nevada, he's amply familiar with the concept.

The jolly ride in a pickup and sailing through a remote stop sign on his own recognizance is quintessential Idaho, but the darker bits about organizations that would be happy to take the Speaker for a ride should not be overlooked. Popkey reports that the author of the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act, Ken Ivory,

"spoke to the Idaho Freedom Foundation during the Legislature's organizational session in December. A lawyer and president of the American Lands Council, Ivory says the acts of Congress admitting western states didn't surrender claim to what have largely remained federal lands."

Popkey's expression is ambiguous: the United States didn't "surrender claim" and retains ownership. Is Ivory saying the states didn't surrender claims on property that wasn't put in their ownership? Perhaps somewhere in his rambling 50+ minute scare video on the ALC site he explains himself. But Ivory's legislation for the state of Utah is clear enough:

"On or before December 31, 2014, the United States shall:
(a) extinguish title to public lands; and
(b) transfer title to public lands to the state."

As defined in the act, their bold claim does exclude 5 National Parks, 6 National Monuments, 33 Wilderness areas and the Golden Spike National Historic Site, as well as Indian lands. That leaves 30 million acres to their attempted land grab, give or take.

The act also includes the review note from the state's Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, with ample case law citation that "any attempt by Utah in the future to enforce the requirement [would] have a high probability of being declared unconstitutional." Not that that assessment could stop the Legislature or Governor of Utah from staking their claim!

Maybe Scott Bedke sees it more like the soft sell from Utah's Lt. Governor, describing the unconstitutional grandstanding as simply

"an earnest and timely effort to generate cooperative, constructive dialogue with the federal government about gaining more say in how Utah's public lands are managed"

rather than an invitation to dozens of lawsuits draining state resources and having no beneficial effect for the people of the state. Our deposed Speaker, Lawerence Denney has been put in charge of the House Resources Committee and is reported to plan "informational hearings" for an Idaho version of Utah's bill. We can hardly wait.

11.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Flip a coin Permalink to this item

Paul Krugman does a nice job of explaining that trillion dollar platinum coin you've been hearing about, and "the vile absurdity of the debt-ceiling confrontation": Coins Against Crazies

"Under the Constitution, fiscal decisions rest with Congress, which passes laws specifying tax rates and establishing spending programs. If the revenue brought in by those legally established tax rates falls short of the costs of those legally established programs, the Treasury Department normally borrows the difference.

"Lately, revenue has fallen far short of spending, mainly because of the depressed state of the economy. If you don't like this, there's a simple remedy: demand that Congress raise taxes or cut back on spending. And if you're frustrated by Congress's failure to act, well, democracy means that you can't always get what you want.

"Where does the debt ceiling fit into all this? Actually, it doesn't. Since Congress already determines revenue and spending, and hence the amount the Treasury needs to borrow, we shouldn't need another vote empowering that borrowing. But for historical reasons any increase in federal debt must be approved by yet another vote. And now Republicans in the House are threatening to deny that approval unless President Obama makes major policy concessions."

What didn't happen last time we had this theatrical performance on Capitol Hill was "the president simply [declaring] that as he understands the Constitution, his duty to carry out Congressional mandates on taxes and spending takes priority over the debt ceiling," but some of us thought it should have. That was before the election, so maybe Obama thought it would spoil his chance at a second term. With that moot, perhaps he'll show a bit more backbone?

Or, as Krugman recommends, "mint that coin!"

The alternative is to continue the current program of periodic brinksmanship to advance poorly formed ideology while Congress doesn't do all the things it's supposed to, thus scaring the bejeezus out of economies around the world, while shooting ourselves (and everyone else) in the foot. Some sleight of hand may be required to maintain the illusion.

Update: Ezra Klein's take of what would happen if we breach the debt ceiling elaborates on the shooting ourselves in the foot thing:

"Ironically for those who want to use the debt ceiling as leverage to reduce the deficit, busting through the debt ceiling would make our future deficits far worse. The damage to the economy now would increase the deficit, as spending goes up and tax revenues go down when the economy flags, and the higher borrowing costs later would increase the deficit, as we’d be paying more to service our debt than the Congressional Budget Office expects."

Connecting clever words and ideas Permalink to this item

When it came time to give the single-phrase description of my blog, nothing pithy popped into mind, and I've casually stuck with "views from fortboise on politics, religion, economics, engineering, life" for lo these many years. Just as for my first time through college when I refused to limit myself to a single discipline, I deliberately cast a wide net for what I might opine upon.

Maybe that makes me admire it more when someone comes up with a clever, catchy meme to organize a blog. Such is Wordnik with its subhead/slogan, "Connecting people with meaning." Of course.

Angela Tung's most recent post has a Santa-sized sackful of interesting links I'm not going to pursue this afternoon, but you might enjoy: This Week's Language Blog Roundup: Passings, words of the year, foreign words.

H/t to Kim Day on Facebook for the link.

Idaho boating confusion Permalink to this item

The lawyer for the guy who crashed his boat into another boat on Priest Lake last summer is complaining that Idaho's law against negligent operation of a vessel is unconstitutionally vague. How are we supposed to know what's safe and what's negligent eh?

Well... let's start with the fact that the other boat was at anchor. And that at least five people were hurt.

"[Attorney Bryce] Powell argues the statute is unconstitutionally vague because it does not sufficiently advise the public what is considered prohibited conduct while at the helm of a vessel, forcing people to guess."

Let me help you out, Sherlock: just guess that when you run your boat into something anchored, that's negligence.

I don't know if anyone got around to codifying the first rule of maritime navigation into a statute or not, but AVOID COLLISION seems very understandable to me.

Transparent, if not very usable Permalink to this item

Hooray for the State of Idaho, rolling out a new website, on a catchy subdomain: The Governor can proudly stand behind the Controller and point to this accomplishment.

Without the motivation to study the whole of the state's government details, I can't guess what might have been added to the corpus of public knowledge, and how much is a revised organization, but there were some odd quirks that caught my eye. Start with the admonition at lower left that "This site best viewed in 1680x1050 or greater resolution." It seems sort of old school (and not in a good way) for sites to (a) suppose they know what's best for me, and (b) insist on unreasonable particulars.

Yes, I've got ample screen real estate to run a browser at that size (at least on the machine I use most often), but hey, I don't want to most of the time, and very few sites make that sort of silly demand of me (or have that much of a "landscape" layout). Even more oddly, they've styled their home page content with big buttons and a central 1200 x 715px block that wastes half of the browser area it says I should provide.

Some of the bits, such as boilerplate about accessing public records and a handful of links to other sites (with an address that, ahem, is not suitable for sharing) chops the area down still more, to a black-over 660 x 520px, less than 20% of the "recommended" real estate.

The primary payload information is in PDF exhibits wrapped in HTML containers with needlessly fat margins. With a 1920 x 1050 display devoted to my browser, the content bucket expands only to 1540 x 710. And since I'm not currently enamored with browser-wrapped PDFs, I have Firefox configured to send the content off to Adobe Reader anyway. That leaves me looking at unintended photographic humor (but very nice eye candy) for "Transparent Idaho":

Screen shot of Transparent Idaho

Do I quibble? Well, let's consider some of the hard data, such as the "10 year state employee count," presented as a marching bar graph with a non-zero baseline and sturdy 80px wide bars. The graph, and data table, and generous whitespace margin, at PDF 100% on my screen comprise 1209 x 715px, still well less than how many they say I should have, and frankly, about four or five times more than needed to present the information at hand.

So, a remarkably inefficient, and misleading presentation of some rather simple data. But the numbers are nice and readable if you're interested. You could just make your own graph. Like this:

Same employment data, simpler, zero-based line graph

9.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Kaveman hit the big time Permalink to this item

Congratulations to local author Sharon Fisher, and to the committee of Eagle History Museum staff and volunteers for the nice spread the Idaho Statesman gave their newly published books, in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series. The feature is nice on the Statesman website (the photo of the Teed family at Kuna Cave is actually better on the web), but not the same effect as front page news for the daily.

Add Kuna and Eagle to make 28 total products in Idaho, as Arcadia puts it.

Haven't seen one of the series in the flesh, but I'm guessing mileage may vary from one to the next. Give them credit for identifying a rich vein and digging relentlessly to fill their hopper.

8.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Estabrook Permalink to this item

This time of year, memories are trimmed in snow and ice
Trees are bare against gray sky, and I am skating on a frozen pond.

There's a river nearby, and it can't be trusted
(almost fifty years after my brother's classmate went out on a sled,
went through, drowned in cold, black water.)

Thirty years I've been in this new home
where ponds rarely freeze skate-hard
This river slow and shallow now, struggling just to keep its gravel damp
You could walk across if you didn't mind wet feet (which you would)

but I remember what didn't happen to me
because it might have
in Winter
under a gray sky lined with bare trees
trimmed in snow and ice.

My mind holds fast to good, solid, dark ice.
Can it be trusted at the edge, sure? Can I break it? No? Good.
How about here? Does it answer a good stomp?
Does it jangle below the surface, nerve-message
traveling faster than sound in air to say "Yes," (or
"beware," step back, very carefully.

7.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Re-Art Permalink to this item

The Treasure Valley Institute for Children's Arts (a.k.a. TRICA) has an art program for children ages 5-12 to "encourage exploration of art in new contexts, inspire creative minds, and foster critical thinking to help our children connect with the world and with each other." Sounds interesting and fun, doesn't it? Your child's ticket to "a richer, fuller life through participation in the arts."

This coming weekend, TRICA's Re-Art offers four sessions of "Pen flourishing" with our own Jeanette Ross. Bring back some good old days, with your kids dipping their nibs in blueberry ink and learning to curse. ive.

It's part of Boise's sesquicentennial, don't you know, "old-timey spirit." Coming months will bring classes in book binding, acting, invention, and mosaic.

Long-term battery Permalink to this item

Christmas window decorations, and snow Things tend to break at inopportune times, which would mean furnaces and car batteries this time of year. But our last two goners have been relatively convenient. One died in the car dealer's parking lot, which was good for their business. And the latest casualty turned up in our driveway.

I had to triple-check to believe that yes, this 12V battery lasted more than 11 years, and I just replaced the original that came in our 2001 Prius. Quite the trooper! It's a bit of a "special" as to size, shape, capacity and posts, which is a bit annoying (read: overpriced), but I demurred on the various replacement hacks and just paid the freight, slightly ebullient on having the thing last twice as long as one would expect. Now the goal will be to sell the car before this one gives up the ghost, surely well before 2024.

The other good news is that the mounting is not nearly so convoluted as Brian illustrates ("because I love you, anyway") for an '07. There was just the trunk liner, one side panel, a bolted cowl and an over-the-top hold-down, all the screws readily accessible and no magnetic tool fishing required.

Temperature still well below freezing, and snowing this morning, which gave me a chance to break out the manly overalls, but other than that, the removal of the vent hose was the only hard part. (I cut the tubing rather than fight the barb... before I found out the elbow is barbed into the battery body as well, and just pulls straight out.)

Now we have an explanation for what seemed to be the driver's side door lock actuator failing, but huh, after we'd just used the key for a while, it seemed to come back, sort of. A new 12V battery has that all perky and actuating again, too.

4.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The greatest obliterative body Permalink to this item

Let's see how long parsing Senator John Cornyn's op-ed railing against everyone but him is amusing.

"Texans would have been hit with the biggest tax increase in the history of our country if Congress failed to act on the American Taxpayer Relief Act in the early hours of 2013."

Congress cast that die some while ago, so it's disingenuous (to use as nice a word as possible) to pretend it just happened. (And really, they were supposed to act in the late hours of 2012, but failed that, too.)

"The question I faced was..."

John Cornyn, Lone Ranger. And I'm outta gas already. But hello, what's this?

"President Obama engaged in the same type of brinksmanship that has become his hallmark."

With all due respect, John, you're a clownish gasbag, emitting noisome vapors that are stinking up the place, long before you get to the next "coming deadlines" that you think will be "flashpoints in our ongoing fight to bring fiscal sanity to Washington." My god man. Shut up. Sit down. Get out of the way.

James Bouie, who tipped me to Cornyn's self-serving pontification, takes Cornyn to task more patiently than I could, for The American Prospect, along the way to pointing out that the coming "flashpoint" is a dangerous threat not to provide sanity, but to stop paying bills we've already committed to. The basic deadbeat strategy. And an abrogation of his oath of office.

3.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Back-bencher Permalink to this item

J's Christmas tree window art, at sunset in the new year This last Congress gave us the tool of "a majority of the majority" for ensuring death to bipartisanship in most things. And as a parting gift, they're also giving us the same Speaker of the House for the 113th Congress as we had this last time, because really, they just don't know what else they might do.

Idaho found its way onto the national scene in yet another insignificant little cigar-in-the-punchbowl moment, our sophomore Congresscritter grumpily sitting on his hands when it was time to vote, and having the guy sitting next to him vote for the equivalent of Mickey Mouse: which is to say Raúl Labrador, representing Idaho's first Congressional district in the strange way to which it has become accustomed. David Weigel's account of Boehner winning his new term as Speaker "in maximally humiliating fashion" for Slate mentions a couple of even more mickey mouse votes, for the diselected Allen West. How droll these Tea Party rebels are!

Labrador contiues to show a decided knack for obtaining publicity by making pointless gestures. As timelessly described in Carlo Cipolla's "Basic Laws of Human Stupidity," Labrador provides a shining example of the Third Basic Law:

"A stupid person is a person who causes losses to another person or to a group of persons while himself deriving no gain and even possibly incurring losses."

Perhaps some civic-minded group is tallying up the stupidity provided us by the 112th Congress even as I write, even as the next chapter is underway.

2.Jan.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Where deficits come from Permalink to this item

After a decade of harping on deficits and the debt, at the end of Clinton's second term we had reached the threshold of reducing the latter by eliminating the former. The near-immediate response was to go on a spending spree, effectively, by lowering taxes dramatically. Fast forward another ten years or so and the resulting financial hole caused by those tax cuts (and a few other things) is yay much bigger, and we're set to make 99% of the cuts "permanent."

Just in terms of the next decade, the estimated effect of what Congress cooked up is $4 trillion. Keep that in mind when the next deficit scold pipes up.

Live your life, live your life, live your life Permalink to this item

In the Mitchell Park Conservatory, Milwaukee, Wis. Lest we skip over the deep significance of the boundary we've just crossed and rush headlong into the new year, thanks to Jeanette for persuading me to stop, look, and listen to the phone call between Terry Gross and Maurice Sendack, perfectly illustrated by Christoph Niemann, in the NYT Magazine's The Lives They Lived feature from last Sunday.

Happy days are here again Permalink to this item

The stock market was over the moon about that exciting game of chicken we just "won," huh? Idaho's two Republican Senators were in the vanguard of self-congratulation over solving a few of our problems past the deadline over the holiday. Given Mike Crapo's top-of-the-news situation with his DUI court date on Friday, his sidekick Jim Risch did him the courtesy of coming in for a "joint" victory statement. Just two sentences, but the first one had a blatant lie in it:

"The compromise that we supported protects 99-percent of all Idahoans from a tax increase and also protects the vast majority of our farm families from a permanent tax increase."

I guess the "farm families" part is code for the inheritance tax? That didn't snap back to the pre-Bush-era level that was at the bottom of the cliff, but it did just go up, from 35% to 40% on amounts over a slightly lowered, $5 million exclusion. But the bigger tax increase that all the Republicans, at least, are happy to say nothing about is the non-renewal of the 2% payroll tax holiday that's been going on for a couple of years.

The long-term financial health of Social Security made that holiday a bit dodgy, but then running surpluses for lo these many years hasn't been a guarantee for the future, either. We can debate whether having the holiday, or ending the holiday was a good or a bad idea, then. And if we were to be honest, the one-year and then one more year change was a temporary tax reduction. But we haven't always been that kind of "honest" when it came to the Bush-era dodgy that was originally set to expire in 2011, now were we?

However you chop it thin, there are a lot more than one in a hundred Idahoans who will see their very next paycheck noticeably smaller, and I'm guessing quite a few who don't agree with the AP coloration (as seen in our local paper) that it's "a tiny tax hit." For people who haven't seen a raise in a year or two, a 2% haircut is not so tiny.

Consider that our Congresspeople duked it out on behalf of the well-to-do with incomes in that $200,000 to $450,000 range to keep their income tax rate holiday from going pre-Bush... but not so much for all the wage earners making under $113,700 this year and who will be chipping in as much as a tiny $2,274 more.

New Year's Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

I think we're all bozos on this bus Permalink to this item

Hat tip and a squeeze of the nose to all the Firesign Theatre fans in the audience as we enjoy lame duck rump roast. About the time local fireworks were disturbing our sleep last night, the Senate wrapped up work with a post-last-minute compromise to inch up a few people's taxes, ever so slightly. We're really cutting into that deficit now, baby! If Boehner insists on the majority of the majority's support in the House, they may still kill it over there, even after the Democrat side of the negotiation ended up with 25% less revenue than Boehner had promised.

"I just don't think Obama's negotiated very well," Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) observed with dry understatement. Can't hardly wait for the next Congressionally-manufactured crisis; planned for 2 or 3 months from now? Never mind "leadership," we could settle for a little bit of mediocre "management" working on our behalf, but that seems too large an ask. We'd best hope the angels above are looking out for us for some reason.

A few positives, from my point of view: mention of "permanent" fixes for the rates on income, investment and inheritances, and the alternative minimum tax.

Now then, can we still snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? We read that "House Republicans reacted with anger Tuesday afternoon," because the plan raises taxes while not fixing spending. But they're damned if they don't as well as damned if they do: the expiration of temporary tax cuts looks just like a tax increase to people paying the bills. We knew the wingjobs would be against most anything the Senate could pass, but could it still get through with Democratic participation?

"[Boehner] has said repeatedly that he would allow a vote on the Senate bill, but he has also said he did not want to pass a bill with predominantly Democratic votes."

But here, time really is running out on this clown show: The 112th Congress comes to a close Thursday. And not a moment too soon.

Update: Whaddayaknow, the House passed it, and without the "majority of the majority" that the Republicans have long insisted upon, and which has blocked so much legislation. 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans voted "aye."


Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Friday, 01-Feb-2013 20:15:04 MST