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Next read; link to the publisher's site. Listen to Terry Gross' Fresh Air interview, from Oct. 6.

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31.Dec.13 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Meet the Daisicals Permalink to this item

Woke up this morning with an odd word on my mind, and wondering if there were any cousins to go with "lacka." There certainly should be.

~ stackadaisical - unstable filing system
~ smackadaisical - bull in a china shop
~ slackadaisical - and laid back
~ shackadaisical - rather slutty
~ plaqueadaisical - time to see the dentist
~ jackadaisical - master of none
~ trackadaisical - NSA ADHD
~ flackadaisical - press releases spreading like crazy
~ psychadaisical - more cunning than you realized
~ pyscheadaisical - oh wow man
~ swagadaisical - jumbled trinkets from the trade show
~ blackadaisical - New York fashion
~ spackledaisical - freeform plaster patching
~ nastydaisical - bad drunk
From the 2013 Tour de Fat in Boise ~ snagadaisical - now where did this come from?
~ tackadaisical - casual bulletin board
~ flockadaisical - fake snow all over the place
~ distracadaisical - regular old ADHD
~ bikeadaisical - Tour de Fat
~ spikeadaisical - casually rejected your submission
~ clockadaisical - untimely
~ parkadaisical - had to pay for two spots
~ sparkadaisical - only fools fall in love
~ snarkadaisical - hello blogosphere
~ starkadaisical - confronting one's bad habits
~ sharkadaisical - we're done here.

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

The Grinch who delivered Christmas a little late Permalink to this item

Never mind being grateful for what you already have, what did you get? And most importantly, did it arrive on time?

We had one near-perfect delivery, late Christmas Eve from UPS, with no ring and run or any other notice, and on the front porch, rather than down the chimney and under the tree. (Nice to live in a neighborhood where people aren't watching for delivery trucks and helping themselves from porches. Yet.) It would have been a perfectly delightful Christmas miracle to go out for the Wednesday paper and find the package waiting for us, except that it was a gift we'd ordered for someone else, thinking we'd have time to re-ship it before Christmas (and somehow save on "free shipping" in the process).

Trish Regan thinks online shopping has hit its limit because it does not provide instant gratification. That can't be news to anyone, can it? But watch for the "lasting effect":

"News that overcapacity at UPS caused thousands of Amazon packages to be delayed and not reach their destinations in time for Christmas will dampen the final online rush in 2014. It means less potential revenue for online retailers in the final week preceding the holiday – and more sales for brick-and-mortars.

My first prediction for 2014 is that she's wrong. Perhaps "we should all think twice before believing in the delivery system again" as she recommends, but Christmas 2014 is hundreds of news cycles down the road. We'll all forget, and wait until the last minute again. We always do.

Sense and sensibility Permalink to this item

Hoarforst on spruce needles, 2013

George Will assesses 2013's lesson for conservatives from a cock-eyed Bizarro World perspective, turning annus horribilis into mirabilis with some "counterfactual history" to "illuminate the present." It was "mirroring progressives’ lack of respect for the public" that led "some conservatives" to "consider it imperative to shut down the government in order to stop Obamacare in its tracks."

They, those some conservatives, "feared that once Americans got a glimpse of the law’s proffered subsidies, they would embrace it," but lo and behold it was terrible! Hooray for conservatives!

In George Will's universe, that one with the "spontaneous order of a market society" raining peace and prosperity about the land, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is still the antichrist, his hubris only exceeded by Lyndon Baines Johnson. "Convinced that a merely sensible society would be a paltry aspiration," LBJ and the Democratic supermajority of 1964 "vowed to build a Great Society by expanding legislation and regulation into every crevice of Americans’ lives."

I missed the whole Pajama Boy dustup, so thanks for that. Nothing succeeds like ridiculing someone else's ridiculous meme, amirite? And being "tone-deaf in expressing bottomless condescension toward the public and limitless faith in their own cleverness."

It's payback time, people. And consider the conservative's upside: millions are still without insurance "and/or experiencing sticker shock" and the real name of Obamacare is even more deliciously ironic. "Affordable Care," ha! And yay for a judicial ruling that fought back against those government employee pensions in Detroit "extorted from taxpayers," and Scott Walker's union busting in Wisconsin.

Most worstest of all, the NSA (because, um, that's "progressive"?) and this year's faux talking point that "the administration has corrupted the Internal Revenue Service, the most intrusive and potentially the most punitive domestic institution."

"Conservatism is usually served by weariness of government."

Ask not what your country can do for you, ask how little you can do for your country, you weary soldier of sensibility.

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

Reaping the whirlwind Permalink to this item

The New York Times has made a reporting project out of the story that ran hot in the 2012 campaign, and then bubbled off into various conspiracy theories as GOP talking points wore out their welcome. Call it a deadly mix in Benghazi, for sure.

I don't know what (if anything) we've learned in Afghanistan beyond that going to war in that part of the world is a generally losing proposition. But in Iraq, and Libya, the flashing billboard announcement is that yes, there are worse alternatives than despotic strong-man rule. June 2012:

"...a column of as many as 200 pickup trucks mounted with artillery as they drove through downtown Benghazi under the black flags of militant Islam.

"Some trucks came from outside Benghazi. Others bore the markings of the city’s major militias, the groups ostensibly allied with the government and effectively in control of the city. Among them were February 17, Libya Shield and the Supreme Security Committee.

"Participants described the parade as a demonstration of their opposition to democracy, calling it a violation of their vision of Islamic law....

"Taking stock of the deteriorating security situation on Aug. 8, 2012, a cable titled 'The Guns of August' and signed by Mr. Stevens struck an understanding tone about the absence of effective policing. It noted that Libyans were wary about the imposition of a strong security apparatus so soon after they expunged Colonel Qaddafi’s. “A diverse group of independent actors” — including criminals and “former regime elements” as well as “Islamist extremists” — was exploiting the vacuum, the cable said. But it found no signs of an organized campaign against the West."

The thing about mayhem is, it doesn't depend on organization, really. And this, from chapter 6, the Aftermath:

In the days after the Benghazi attack, meanwhile, Mr. Abu Khattala was still at work on construction sites and moving at ease around the city, even mocking the American political debate about the ambassador’s death. “It is always the same two teams, but all that changes is the ball,” he said in an interview. “They are just laughing at their own people.”

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

Could've used this yesterday Permalink to this item

WATCH FOR ICE in Albuquerque, courtesy of Bob 'Stronglight'

Pulled out the "summer" bike because it was easier to get out of the garage with the car in there, and I was in kind of a hurry to get to the post office before closing, and it was just a quick jaunt... A little too quick, and what was probably wet in the middle of the day was definitely icy in the late afternoon shade, and not providing enough friction to resist my not-so-clever-in-retrospect parking lot chicane.

Knee, elbow, wrist and then head, meet pavement, and oh, that's why you always want to put on a helmet, isn't it? Or slow down perhaps, and yeah, watch for ice when it's around freezing. I knew the driver in the approaching car had seen me try the turn, and was going slowly enough that she wasn't a threat, so I just laid there for a moment, taking stock and thinking about inertia, momentum, friction and physiology.

"Do you need help?" she asked, now pulled up next to my tableau. I knew I hadn't broken anything, and I was thinking I hadn't hit my head quite hard enough to call it a "concussion" or try to count how many fingers I had left.

"I think I'll be OK," I replied, picking myself up to test the theory. "It's going to hurt, though."

I don't bounce off the street the way I used to, but I did finish my errand and made it home a bit more carefully and without further incident.

Pale blue dot Permalink to this item

Snippet of selfie from Saturn

The podcast link embedded in the Mother Jones piece featuring Carolyn Porco has an intro script that promises stories from "the space where science, politics and society collide" which is rather funny below the "You Are Here" interplanetary selfie, taken by our robot in orbit around Saturn. That little dot is indeed the space where science, politics and 99.9999% of everything else humans are up to in the solar system "collide."

But Saturn is a long way away, so incredibly striking in its own right, it's a little difficult to engage with all of us 7-odd billion humans packed into a handful of pixels. It was the "blue marble" that first triggered the evanescent awareness of our life-giving planet in a lonely sea of vast emptiness. Taken 41 years ago (by the Apollo 17 crew), over half the humans alive today probably take it for granted, a perspective that's always been available.

There is a deep, rich and wonderful photographic archive of photos taken from space by now, but in looking for something between the blue marble and the pale blue dot, I found a couple I hadn't yet seen. Voyager 1 imaged a cresent Earth and Moon on its way to the edge of the solar system (and beyond), in 1977. More recently, 21 years ago, the Galileo spacecraft captured this view of a "half" Earth and Moon, from about 4 million miles away, a casual "cruise" photo taken en route to its "real" mission around (and ultimately into) Jupiter:

Earth-Moon system, imaged by Galieo, from

Boxing Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Merry Christmas from the Archdruid Permalink to this item

Not sure how John Michael Greer gets to be the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America, as he claims to be, but let that be as you consider his Christmas speculation and/or suggestion about how team members can recognize each other as they hobnob in the usual circles.

"Coming up with a Satanic shibboleth that would be instantly recognizable to other devil worshippers, but completely opaque to devout Christians, might seem like a tall order, but it’s one that seems to have been met with aplomb.

"Yes, this is where we discuss Ayn Rand. ..."

It's all jolly fun, with ample criticism for multiple sides along the way. With only two major political parties, it's easier to identify one you don't agree with and quit there, rather than having to claim that you agree with the other. The art of compromise makes it difficult to be whole-hearted in one's enthusiasm.

"All this may suggest some sobering reflections as we approach the beginning of another US election year, in which most races will pit a candidate from a party that puts its faith in Lucifer against a candidate from a party that for all practical purposes believes in nothing at all. Still, when supposedly Christian politicians start waxing rhapsodic about the alleged intellectual or literary virtues of Ayn Rand, I trust my readers will remember that what they’re saying actually works out to “I worship the Prince of Darkness, and you should too!” Any of my readers who happen to be devil worshippers themselves can proceed to welcome them as friends and brothers, while those of other faiths can cast their votes as their own ethical views suggest."

He does make me curious about Anton Szandor La Vey's The Satanic Bible, which I see has one copy "Lost" and another that's in the "staff reference" section at the library.

Bezazzled Permalink to this item

The season of shopping 'tis the time to try out new merchants, perhaps, something I'm coming to enjoy even less than shopping itself. But one outfit had a unique product of interest to me. You may have noticed a railroad trestle photo or two on the blog from time to time, and chances are it's one of the ones on the old Camas Prairie RR, a.k.a. the "railroad on stilts." It's part of the splendid scenery along U.S. 95 between Lewiston and Grangeville, Idaho. Part of the line lives on as the Bountiful Grain & Craig Mountain RR, but it uses few or none of the beautiful old trestles, and in any case no longer reaches up to the Camas Prairie from points north. Bridge 21.3 burned in a September, 2011 wildfire, and no one's likely to bring it back.

26 messages from Zazzlefolk in three weeks

The unique product was Jonathan Gradin's Camas Prairie RR 2014 calendar, the product of his summer bicycle trip from Moscow, Idaho to Lapwai canyon, photographing trestles and tunnels, that he's selling through Zazzle. (His blog post about it includes a link to a public Facebook album of the 115 mile, two-day ride and hike—showing lots more than just trestles and tunnels).

All that to say: yeah, I set up a Zazzle account to buy that, not quite knowing what "Zazzle" is about, and not quite following all the user interface. There was a "step 2" to "personalize" the thing, which sure, that would be nice, but I didn't feel the need to do. I managed to get an order in, but a little while later Zazzle Content Management emailed me with a message from Quality Assurance:

"While preparing your design for production, we noticed that you didn't add any text or images to your design on the month of April. We are unsure if this was intentional."

They wanted to know how I wanted them to proceed. Produce it "as submitted," or cancel the order so I could fix it and make a "corrected design."

I'm designing the thing I'm ordering? Well, at least for April, as I found out, an interesting and unexpected choice by the designer and/or Zazzle. It turned out that I did have a nice photo of my own to use, of the most beautiful Half Moon trestle in November snow and fog, and other than a slightly clumsy editing interface that favors gigantic text, I got it done, ordered, received, and re-shipped in time for Christmas. In the meantime...

By virtue of my account setup and two orders (and one cancellation), I'm in this weird relationship with a subsidiary of eBay.

Their sales model is "constant contact" with one short-duration discount offer after another. Friday the 13th MADNESS: Up to 75% OFF! 50% OFF Our 4 Favorite Products. Happy Sunday 30% OFF all last minute gifts! Exclusive: $10 For You Ends TODAY! Need it fast? 50% OFF 2 Day & Express shipping! 75% Off Seasons Greetings and New Year Joy! How was your order? Don't forget your Zazzle Gift Certificates!

And so on, day after day. I wondered if Christmas is just their super high season, custom cards and wrapping paper and gifts their stock in trade and they twiddle their thumbs 10 or 11 months of the year. Would the barrage let up after Christmas?

On Christmas itself, of course they had to send a Merry Christmas e-card, with a link to a video of their Kuka KR150 Industrial robot ("typically used for machining, arc welding, laser cutting, assembly and other handling operations," but which they're using for "precision product photography," go figure), "hand" writing "Happy Holidays," to the tune of Mike Goudreau's "My Favorite Time of the Year," used under license. (Yes, war on Christmas hilarity ensued in the comments.)

On and on the day after Christmas... Save up to 60% during the After Christmas Sale!

I'm about exhausted.

Christmas Eve Permanent URL to this day's entry

Building a remarkable reputation Permalink to this item

Who knows who'd ever heard of KlearGear before they attempted to enforce an absurd (not to mention more than three years post hoc) "non-disparagement clause" against one of their customers. "Enforce" goes beyond "stop saying bad things about us," to "we will mess you up." Not just a demand for $3,500, but all that and wrecking your credit, too.

Seems like an open and shut case for U.S. District Court to me. By all means, let's have a jury trial, and see how much compensation for plaintiffs’ economic, emotional, and consequential damages; statutory damages under the Fair Credit Reporting Act; punitive damages; costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred in this action might total up to.

Among the many bizarre aspects in this, there is the alleged fact that KlearGear never delivered the $20 or so of product that the guy ordered. From the lawsuit:

"In sum, KlearGear attempted to punish a dissatisfied customer for his wife’s criticism of KlearGear, then abused the credit reporting system in an attempt to extort money that the customer did not owe and could not possibly have owed."

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

Bethine Church Permalink to this item

Marc Johnson's remembrance may be just one of many "tributes to the Grande Dame of Idaho Democratic politics," but it's a good one. She lived well, and died at peace.

More, from Betsy Russell, Keith Ridler and Jessie Bonner, for the Spokesman_Review.

Twenty-five questions to home Permalink to this item

My dialect map, from today's quiz

NYT Sunday Review has a little quiz you might like, about what the way you speak says about where you're from.

The last time I had a go at this, it came out murkier, most likely because my answers straddled my youthful and my current ways of speaking. Plus, I may not have had the best 25 sample of the hundred-some questions. (Have they thought through which questions to ask, and in which order, to best home in?)

My dialect is not what it was, although the discerning can detect my roots. This time, I tried to answer as immediately and reflexively as possible, and it identified my neighborhoods quite well.

The Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes now has some specific things they're after. I'm not much help for "pop" and "soda" anymore, because (a) I don't drink the stuff very much at all, and (b) I can't really remember which it's supposed to be. And so on.

20.Dec.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Darrell Issa doesn't seem trustworthy Permalink to this item

Seems like "Grand Inquisitor" would suit him better than just chairman of the House Oversight Committee. MSNBC reports on his latest leak of partial information to put the worst possible light on something he doesn't like. As opposed to, I don't know, honestly attempting to address important issues? The House Oversight Committee should be an important thing, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of possibility it is, given Issa's misleadership.

And shouldn't there be a law against this kind of behavior? (Nancy Pelosi wants to know too).

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the Oversight Committee, said, “Chairman Issa’s reckless pattern of leaking partial and misleading information is now legendary for omitting key information that directly contradicts his political narrative….This effort to leak cherry-picked information is part of a deliberate campaign to scare the American people and deny them the quality affordable health insurance to which they are entitled under the law.”

Michael Hiltzik's report of the disinformation campaign, for the LA Times: Another day, another leak from Issa, another credulous news report.

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

Here we go again Permalink to this item

Last week, I received a reply from my congressman, Mike Simpson, to the letter I sent him asking what he was going to do beyond posturing to improve the Affordable Care Act, since the whole "repeal and replace with something TBD" didn't work out, for as much as the House tried and tried and tried, etc. Rep. Simpson proposed to give a letter grade ("F", no less) for the administration's rollout performance.

Apparently Simpson and his staff aren't keeping up on my blog, nor on their correspondence history, because the new reply today is pretty much the same weak tea, not quite warmed up. And gosh, it sounds familiar... because mostly, it's almost exactly the same letter.

"Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 3350, the Keep Your Health Plan Act of 2013,"

it starts. Except I didn't mention that bill. He wants me to know it passed the House. (More than a month ago, actually.) Ok, then what? Another House bill DOA in the Senate? I would assume.

And then blah blah blah for six paragraphs that are IDENTICAL except for one sentence. The Dec. 10 letter started the 3rd of the 6 paragraphs with

"Though the website is now reportedly able to accommodate 50,000 users at a time, numerous problems remain."

whereas the Dec. 19 letter replaced that with

"With little information coming out of the administration, it appears the website may be inoperable for some time."

which—ahem—is an older (and now moot) talking point. My Dec. 10 inquiry remains unanswered:

What are you going to do BEYOND SYMBOLIC LEGISLATION AND RESOLUTIONS THAT HAVE NO CHANCE OF PASSAGE to improve upon the Affordable Care Act?

Update: I see Rep. Simpson has tweeted up the House Majority Leader's list of bills passed by the House and "stuck" in the Senate. Don't think "stuck" means what he thinks it means. #DOA

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

Creepy megaloads Permalink to this item

The latest gigantic chunk of equipment on its way through the Pacific Northwest is having some trouble wither winter driving, moving about as fast as molasses left out in a frosty inversion. Around Thanksgiving, it was at the port of Umatilla, several locks up the Columbia, and ready to roll on Oregon highways. The trip was "expected to take 20 days" with six in Eastern Oregon. Three weeks later... it's wandered south on US 395, run into disorderly conductors, and still in Eastern Oregon. They had permission for a daylight run yesterday. Assuming they find the Idaho border sometime soon, it'll be 488 miles in our state before it sees Montana.

You can follow the progress (or lack thereof) with Portland Rising Tide's Megaload Tracker. And oh look, there are two more queued up in Umatilla.

17.Dec.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The previous war on Christmas Permalink to this item

Hoarfrost on pine needles, 2013

Once upon a time, "Christmas was an occasion for revelry and misrule, Christmas carols were drinking songs, and people in lower social classes ritually invaded the homes of their wealthy patrons to receive food, drink, and presents in exchange for goodwill." Sounds a bit like Trick or Treat, in colder weather. We want some figgy pudding, so bring it right here.

That's what the Christians got for deciding to co-opt the solstice and Saturnalia back in the 4th century A.D. Bit at least one wave of European conquerors in this country weren't having any of that.

"Puritans were fond of saying that if God had intended for the anniversary of the Nativity to be observed, He would surely have given some indication as to when that anniversary occurred. (They also argued that the weather in Judea during late December was simply too cold for shepherds to be living outdoors with their flocks."

Gail Forsyth-Vail lightly reviews Stephen Nissenbaum's 1996 book, The Battle for Christmas, telling the story of how unruly festivities were rescued from being outlawed, and then domesticated. By liberals and commercial interests, ho ho ho. Between the ancient history, the doctrinal revision, and our current commercial and political paroxysms, this:

"In early modern Europe, roughly the years between 1500 and 1800, the Christmas season was a time to let off steam—and to gorge. It is difficult today to understand what this seasonal feasting was like. For most of the readers of this book [and this blog!], good food is avaiable in sufficient quantity year-round. But early modern Europe was above all a world of scarcity. Few people ate much good food at all, and for everyone the availability of fresh food was seasonally determined. ... December was the season—the only season—for fresh meat. Animals could not be slaughtered until the weather was cold enough to ensure that the meat would not go bad; and any meat saved for the rest of th eyear would have to preserved (and rendered less palatable) by salting. December was also the month when the year's supply of beer or wine was ready to be drunk."

That old eat, drink and merry never really went out of style, though. We smoke 'em if we got 'em, and happy tales to tell around the Yule log blazing.

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

Let's be really frank Permalink to this item

With some sleep deprivation running through the U.S. Senate, members are getting more cantankerous than usual, so forgive Kentucky's Rand Paul for an intensifier that only highlights the absurdity of his superfluous preamble.

"Let's be really frank," he said. "Senate Democrats have for petty partisan reasons taken away the power of Congress, taken away one of the checks and balances on a rogue presidency."

By "the power of Congress," of course, he's referring to the power of the minority party—and indeed, one obstreperous malcontent—to throw a wrench in the works and completely halt proceedings for approving a judicial or executive branch nominee's confirmation, not because the nominee is unqualified or unworthy in any way, but "just because" whatever.

Because Obama's presidency has "gone rogue." Because there's a war on Christmas. Because it's cold and snowy in parts of Kentucky. Because he or they aren't getting his or their way, mostly.

Never mind that the nominee is qualified, that there are sufficient votes to confirm the person, and that the business could be dispatched with alacrity, and the comity of the normal three-day workweek restored, the minority is fed up and they're not going to play along anymore. Rand Paul on Roll Call's Heard on the Hill:

“I don’t think there’s going to be unanimous consent on anything until hell freezes over.”

Or Kentucky, maybe.

Harry Reid is fed up with the fed-up minority, so he made everyone stay after, and after, and after. 48 hours straight! That's like two weeks in two days, before they figured out how to quit early on Friday afternoon and have at least one day off for everybody (and three for most of them).

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

About Congress' bipartisan triumph Permalink to this item

Brings to mind the 40 years it took Moses to lead his people from Egypt to Israel. "The way is not clear." Robert Reich gets to the nut of it:

"That yesterday’s budget agreement is being hailed as the start of a new era of bipartisanship shows how low our expectations have fallen. It’s a minor agreement that puts off the worst of the sequester cuts for two years but doesn’t extend unemployment benefits, or close tax loopholes for the rich, or invest in new jobs. As the House goes home for the holidays, the 113th Congress has accomplishing nothing on immigration reform, gun safety, the minimum wage, the environment, campaign-funding disclosure, or the nation's crumbling infrastructure."

But yay, we won't be driving off any fiscal cliffs or shutting down National Parks or defaulting on the national debt for a little while. Reich also mentions "Tea Partiers in Republican states" about which Idahoans know a thing or two,

"doing what they can to undermine the Affordable Care Act – allowing insurance companies to violate it, hobbling enrollment, and refusing to expand Medicaid even though the federal government will pay almost all of it. Right-wing groups such as the Koch-funded “Generation Opportunity” are actively trying to dissuade young people from signing up."

That all is more focused-sounding than Idaho's Tea Partier in Chief who was both "tea party before tea party was cool" and is so cool he never actually joined the Tea Party. It's so much about freedom you see that "any time you try to formalize a movement like that, you actually take away some of its legitimacy," and yes, I'm quoting him and not The Onion or The Daily Show. Taking away some of the Tea Party's legitimacy, imagine.

Labrador was also given the last word in WaPo's news of the House passing the deal, "demoralized" by their account and "cynical" by his own, joking "bitterly" that

“I think we should just cave. Actually, it feels better if you just fight a little bit and cave later.”

Look for the Club for Growth to dial up its campaign against Idaho's other Congressman, Mike Simpson, who was among the majority of the majority who voted for the deal. The Club is with out-right GOP Senators Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Tom Coburn, and the disgrunteld rump of the House-right. And not just because they're a girl who cain't say anything but "no," they did too "carefully review" it before they were wholly opposed.

She's dreaming of a white Christmas Permalink to this item

Not so live anymore, but from Fox News' The Kelly File

Ok kids, it's time to play "How many things wrong can you find in this picture?" This moving picture, provided by "The Kelly file" on "Fox News" (LIVE), lovingly analyzed by Jon Stewart and Jessica Williams for The Daily Show' "War on Christmas - S#@t's Getting Weird Edition" and hosted by mediaite. Some of the highlights of the highlights:

Megyn: "Santa is just white."

Gretchen: "Why do I have to drive around with my kids to look for nativity scenes and be like 'oh yeah kids, look, there's baby Jesus, behind the Festivus pole made out of beer cans.' It's nuts."

Megyn: "Jesus was a white man too."

Megyn: "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change."

Monica, FTW: "You can't take facts and then try to change them to fit some sort of a political agenda!"

So, how did you do? Check your answers:

  1. People should get together for the holidays. These four are locked in separate studios.
  2. Talking head #3 has fallen asleep. (That was the easy one.)
  3. Talking head #4's smile is not sincere.
  4. Her top is too dark. Disembodied is not a good look.
  5. "News." Please.
  6. And of course, Monica Crowley blabbed Rupert Murdoch's business plan to the whole world.

12.12.13 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Lost all credibility Permalink to this item

John Boehner's speaking for more than just "conservative groups" in his complaint about loss of credibility. The House he's running has had a sorry session, and yes, sure, because of those incredible conservative groups, but it'll take more than sprinkling in a few "frankly"s to make his feigned incredulity plausible.

"You know, they pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government," he said. "It wasn't exactly the strategy I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government re-opened, one of the people at one of these groups stood up and said, 'well we never really thought it would work.' Are you kidding me?"

Not exactly the strategy he had in mind, riiiight. Especially not after its failure.

Just in time for Christmas, maybe, here we go again, with a twist: call it a budget misdeal that's still barking up the wrong tree for what ails us. Huzzah for Paul Ryan and Patty Murray for agreeing to some terms of surrender, but not actually solving any problem other than the "we can't agree on anything" one.

It's as if we've agreed that the meeting table should be round, the chairs upholstered, what lighting level to maintain, and when the afternoon snacks will be brought in, but not on the actual agenda. Visitors and lobbyists stroll around outside the room and steal things while the media is covering the circus inside.

No fix to the worst-possible-outcome-we'll-avoid-at-all-costs sequester. No fixes to mention for any Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid problems. No plan for jobs. No increase in the minimum wage. No immigration reform. No tax code reform. No plan to make up funding for the free ride we've been taking for a dozen years.

Robert Borosage's conclusion is that "We will never get to the priorities we need so long as Republicans have the power to stand in the way."

"We are not moving on the agenda America needs because Republicans are standing in the way.

"Republicans opposed repeal of the sequester. They won that.

"Republicans oppose any tax increases. They won that.

"Republicans oppose expanding investments vital to our future. They won that.

"Republicans oppose focusing on our problems here at home, while getting Pentagon spending under control. They won that.

"Republicans want deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Democrats stopped that."

Not quite a total loss, but close enough.

11.12.13 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Reply all Permalink to this item

"wait but why" is a funny blog by Tim Urban (and Andrew Finn?), who has a way with words and "drawing stick figures at a 2nd grade skill level" and "getting called an out-of-touch Baby Boomer even though he's 31." New post every Tuesday, so this just in: 11 Awkward Things About Email.

"Within the adult internet-using world, no one is allowed to not have email," and chances are, all eleven of these will hit home. It helps to have a world full of people typing with their thumbs now, and agreeing that Twitter has been a godsend to the art of communication.

I mean, if you can't get your point across in 140 characters, how important could it be?

10.Dec.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not making the grade Permalink to this item

The old way of communicating with Congresscritters, through the mail, was pretty slow, and slightly asymmetric: the distal end didn't (still doesn't) have to pay postage. But a letter doesn't cost that much to send, and the investment of time was a greater cost. The new way, inevitably through a web form with anti-spam and anti-not-constituent protections has not improved the slow response time, and is even more asymmetric.

This just in from my Congressman, an e-mail "letter" in response to... how am I supposed to remember? (That email form doesn't save what you put into it, doesn't send you a courtesy copy in the auto-acknowledgement, and of course the response from the Congressperson, should there be one, doesn't reiterate anything you say.) That's why I put my letter on my blog last month, subject "Obamacare," a.k.a. the Affordable Care Act.

Of course Rep. Mike Simpson agress that the ACA needs improvement, and of course he didn't respond to my point, that we need the Republicans to stop the theater and sabotage and start pulling their weight, but he did address my question of what he was going to do.

He has cosponsored the House version of the Delay Until Fully Functional Act of 2013, by golly. It and Marco Rubio's Senate Bill 1592 have garned zero Democratic co-sponsors, and gives a sorry prognosis: 20% chance of the Senate bill being passed (sounds high), and just 1% chance of the House bill getting past committee, 0% chance of being enacted. But the funny (not ha ha) part of Simpson's letter is the opening salvo:

"As you well know, the initial implementation of Obamacare, particularly the rollout of the federal exchange website, has been an abject failure. Even many of the most ardent supporters of the law have admitted that the administration should receive an 'F' for their performance as the law has been rolled out."

I'm not an "ardent supporter" by any means (let's talk about scrapping the ridiculous insurance industry kludge and job security plan and implementing single payer, shall we?), and no question the rollout had its problems. But "abject failure"? Not quite that bad, actually, and here on December 10, three weeks after I sent you an email, and a month and a half after the symbolic Senate Bill and House Resolution were introduced and D.O.A., quite a few of the problems have been addressed. Still lots more work to do, but zero help from H.R.3359 or S.1592.

You want to give out grades for performance, really? The very best grade the 113th Congress could get is "incomplete," but even that would require some showing of an intention to make up the missing work. There is no possible grade other than "F" to apply to its work.

I wouldn't bring that subject up, if I were you.

The spirit of Christmas Permalink to this item

A remarkable cross-cultural connection in the realm of "holiday giving," beautifully captured in a blog moment: Oh Little Town of Guijing Village.

"Into this village wandered not Maji, but 4 French, 1 Singaporean, 2 Germans, 2 Canadian, 2 Hong Kong, 4 mainland Chinese, and 1 American with 4 inkjet printers*, 2 coffee machines, 4 walkie talkies, 1 reporter from NPR, 15 bowls of wontons and a partridge in a pear tree."

Improbable theater Permalink to this item

And what better byline to report on it than @LOLGOP, on The National Memo, Rand Paul to Detroit: You're being punished because you don't worship the rich. Ok, that's not literally what he said, but pretty close to it. He dropped a lot of soundbites during his day in the 'hood, doing "black outreach" for the GOP. Electablog has some fascinating coverage of the day, including the parts of his talk promoting colorblind justice, adhering to the rule of law, and reforming drug laws (hear, hear) at a venue where the bouncers demanded non-existent "tickets" to select the audience.

What's wrong with politics today is "cronyism," Paul said. Capitalism is the most democratic institution we have: "you vote every day." And yeah, some of us are more equal than others in that system. But that's ok, you should feel good about that.

In a city where "Republicans have probably been getting less than 10% of the vote" (the ballot votes, not the store-bought votes) he thinks "our vote potential is only upwards" with the right message. Ha ha. Don't ask for money, people, ask for lower taxes and less regulation! You should keep more of your money, so you can vote more often.

"The president plays this sort of thing of envy and he says to us, 'You should not like the rich people, you should punish the rich people.' I say no, reward them. They create the jobs. That’s who we work for. Anybody here work for a poor person?"

Ha ha ha!

"So you want rich people to have more money so YOU can have more money."

Anybody here work for a poor person?


Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky?


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

A House divided against itself Permalink to this item

David Lightman's account of the Washington D.C. World War II memorial closure as case study for the government shutdown as an interesting wrap, of sorts, on the political theater two months gone from the nightly news.

He says "both major parties share the blame for the breakdown, in the House of Representatives and the Senate," and the bottom line is:

"The infrastructure built up in the Congress to handle its most basic job — appropriating the money to run the government — no longer works."

In late July, with the tedious detail of actually doing their jobs weighing upon them, and oh, so many amendments...

House Speaker John Boehner explained, “We had 50 amendments yet to consider in that (transportation) bill. Considering everything else that we’ve got going on this week, (we) decided that … finishing that bill in September was the right step.”

Which was a crazy bad judgment. Can't work in August, wha? And in September, nothing got finished, except for the old fiscal year, on the 30th.

About half the House Republicans have been in office only since 2010. None has ever worked in a Congress that passed into law any appropriations bills, let alone a majority or all of them.

“They’ve never seen regular order,” [Appropriations Committee chairman Rep. Hal] Rogers (R-KY) said. “They don’t know what it is.”

David and Goliath trademark Permalink to this item

Hadn't come across the word "Roubaix" in recent memory, but it's French, obviously, and here I see that it's a commune (like a township in the U.S.) near the border with Belgium. East of Dunkirk, NW of Lille, W of Brussels, that sort of thing. It's also the finish of the Paris-Roubaix cycling classic, "one of the most prestigious events on the cycling calendar" according to Wikipedia. Something to do with bicycling.

Nice badge for a little bike shop

Nice name for a small business in Cochrane, Alberta then, tucked between Calgary and the Rocky Mountain parks: Café Roubaix Bicycles, started as "a small town bicycle repair business running out of a garage" and expanded to custom wheel building, and "a store front in which high quality bicycles and parts would be offered in a boutique setting."

Oh, and the U.S. giant Specialized liked that French name too and put it on a line of their bicycles and claimed a trademark on it. Before Dan Richter did up there in Canada, eh.

If I say "Roubaix" are you confused about a French commune, a road race, a ridiculously expensive line of bikes from Specialized and a small bike shop and wheel builder in Canada? Of course you aren't. But Specialized says it's "simply defending its legally owned trademark." It doesn't sound to me like they have much of a case. The connection between bicycles and Roubaix is what Specialized usurped; a bike shop is not a bicycle, and neither are custom wheels to be confused with frames.

But Specialized can afford a legal battle, and Dan Richter can't: his lawyer "thinks they have a good case to make, but the fight could cost upwards of $150,000 in legal fees, a price too steep for his small company."

Back when I ran a small bike shop, Specialized was relatively unknown, but an up and comer. I thought it was a cool brand, made in America and all. One of their early bike designs is in the Smithsonian! They made it big: annual revenue estimated at half a billion dollars, and a Wikipedia page with a litigation section.

I think Specialized should man up and let Dan Richter do his business under the name he chose. News coverage and social media have turned up a lot of people who think likewise.

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

You've got to pick a pocket or two Permalink to this item

The acronym for the American Legislative Exchange Council would also serve nicely for "Applying Legislation to Enrich Corporations." Idaho's local ALEC tool and "educational charity," the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its headman Wayne Hoffman, started the anti-pension propaganda campaign at least 4 years ago, complaining about the state "forcing taxpayers to subsidize employee retirement programs."

Then there's the problem of forcing taxpayers to subsidize employee health insurance, along with employee housing costs and groceries. Why don't they just run the state with volunteers? I'm sure Hoffman would be happy to help. He's happy to have his supposedly independent "news" outlet, the Idaho Reporter run anti-pension opinions, just coincidentally congruent with his thinking.

Idaho's state public pension system is small potatoes compared to the big fish to fry, in places like Illinois, Detroit and Chicago. Dean Baker notes that pension theft is taking class warfare to the next level. In some places, it's been a long time coming, with government officials making deliberate choices to push funding off to future taxpayers; complexity and long-term actuarial calculations can be gamed in lots of ways.

Detroit's workers are likely to be left the biggest losers, never mind apparent protection in Michigan's constitution. Illinois' workers are next, and then Chicago's. It'll be the un-gift that keeps un-giving to retirees.

But not about Tibet Permalink to this item

There may be some oxen gored over nepotism (item below), but culling the herd over particular matters will be a minor, pecuniary business to be sorted out in tiresome investigations and inconveniences. The meddling in affairs of state repression of dissidents is another matter. Not that we're necessarily holier than thou, but we have from time to time made a point of our publicizing how well we see other nation's faults.

Increasingly, Tibet is off the table, as described in The Economist's "Banyan" blog of Asian politics and culture ("named for a tree whose branches have sheltered great ideas"): Lip service "China seems to be winning its arguments with the West over Tibet and human rights."

"China has succeeded in shifting human rights and Tibet far down the agenda of its international relations for three reasons. One, of course, is its enormous and still fast-growing commercial clout. ... Second, alarm at China’s expanding military capacity and its assertive approach to territorial disputes is also demanding foreign attention. ... [Third] is China’s tactic of linking foreign criticism to economic and strategic issues."

And "with domestic economies in the doldrums," the importance of human rights in our foreign affairs comes after jobs, oil, nuclear weapons, terrorism, military power, illegal immigration, world hunger, strengthening the U.N. and limiting climate change. For China in particular, human rights is in a four-way tie for fourth place after debt, jobs, and trade.

That's why you haven't stumbled over the news that "over the past two years, more than 120 Tibetans have set fire to themselves in protest," nor that the winner of the 2010 Nobel peace prize, Liu Xiaobo, "remains in jail for no more than advocating peaceful, incremental political reform."

Let's make a deal Permalink to this item

Thumbnail excerpt of NYT infographic

Yet another reason for the New York Times to be media non grata in China: cronies don't care for exposure of their operations. But hey, they're just reporting what federal authorities are finding about JPMorgan's "Sons and Daughters" hiring program. No euphemism there, the plan has been to hire the children of China's rulers. As for any good business program, there are business metrics:

“JPMorgan also briefly kept 'historical deal conversion' spreadsheets, according to interviews with people briefed on the investigation. In one column, JPMorgan listed job candidates; in another, the bank recorded its 'track record' for winning business from companies tied to those candidates. Other spreadsheets listed well-connected hires and the revenue JPMorgan earned from deals with private and state-owned Chinese companies linked to those hires, documents show.”

Not that it's new news, or just JPMorgan:

"For two decades, Wall Street banks have sought out China’s so-called princelings, turning family and friends of senior officials into bank employees and consultants."

But I haven't seen any other firm's business ties to former prime minister Wen Jiabao's family turned into a helpful infographic, as the NYT did last month.

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

The hero's path is not smooth and easy Permalink to this item

Living to your 90s gives you a lot of history to cover, and various people commenting on the life and times of Nelson Mandela have remarked upon the airbrushing going on. Peter Beinart reminds us that Mandela Mandela was considered an enemy of the U.S. by many. The feeling was in some part mutual: a key lesson from his life was that "America isn't always a force for freedom." One man's "freedom fighter" is another man's "terrorist," and the Reagan administration picked the wrong side more than once, in South Africa and Central America, at least.

“[I]n Washington today, politicians and pundits breezily describe the Cold War as a struggle between the forces of freedom, backed by the U.S., and the forces of tyranny, backed by the USSR. In some places—Germany, Eastern Europe, eventually Korea—that was largely true. But in South Africa, the Cold War was something utterly different. In South Africa, for decades, American presidents backed apartheid in the name of anti-communism. Indeed, the language of the Cold War proved so morally corrupting that in 1981, Reagan, without irony, called South Africa’s monstrous regime 'essential to the free world.'”

It seems forever ago that Congress could step up and do what the President failed to, as Marc Johnson recalls,

“the intense and passionate debates in the early 1980's over whether Ronald Reagan could be pressured to impose economic sanctions on the apartheid government of South Africa. Then-Congressman Dick Cheney voted in 1985 against a resolution that called for Mandela’s release from jail and commentators from George Will to William F. Buckley defended the white South African government and condemned Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) as just a pawn of the Soviet Union.

“After much debate the Congress in 1986 voted to do what the Reagan Administration wouldn’t and imposed economic sanctions on the apartheid government of South Africa.”

Reagan vetoed the legislation, but in spite of "pulling out all the stops," the House and then the Senate voted to override his veto, by wide margins (313-83 and 78-21).

Think Progress pushes back on the convenience of forgetting: Six Things Nelson Mandela Believed That Most People Won’t Talk About and a timeline of the right wing’s campaign to discredit and undermine Mandela.

6.Dec.2013 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Pegged the meter Permalink to this item

Thom George photo

They measure pollution in Shanghai with a scale that goes up to 500, and my Eye on Shanghai says it hit 509 today. He posted a suitably airpocalyptic photo from 1pm today. The NYT's Sinosphere blog reported on the air pollution shrouding eastern China yesterday, noting that

"the authorities in Shanghai warned children and the elderly to stay indoors Thursday as concentrations of the most harmful air pollutants exceeded 10 times the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization. ... Environmental officials blamed the poor conditions on the lack of strong winds to flush out bad air..."

Perhaps the Idaho Statesman's editorial page editor could helpfully share his wisdom with the Chinese: sure coal may be dirty, but it's the best option available so, um, suck it up.

On the verge of a great success story Permalink to this item

Tom von Alten photo, Dec., 2013

The mystery about how the chemical weapons deal with Syria came into being doesn't detract from the remarkable success to date, and the possibility of solving a rather substantial international problem. The meme of Obama's "blunders" and "big mistakes" in Syria were all the rage in late August and early September. Do you remember? Keith Koffler, for example, itemized "serial Syria mistakes", winding up to the danger of "a world without U.S. leadership," because Obama was supposedly planning only a "limited attack."

"That is not worth doing. Any attack that fails to take out Assad or destroy his defenses is counterproductive. A limited strike will only rally sympathy for Assad and prove to the world that the United States won’t act forcefully to back up its word and support its interests, and that it lacks commitment to lead."

Going to Congress was a "big mistake," "reeking of weakness" to Tom Rogan. "It might be majestic political calculation," he wrote with utter disingenuity, "but this is terrible foreign policy."

Ben Smith and BuzzFeed staff gratuitously illustrated 9 key blunders ("So Far"), with the definitely creepy image of Vladimir Putin winking the punchline. Obama "played straight into his hands, making Assad's key patron look both relevant and responsible."

Hey, throw a dog a bone, would you? Puti still has the nuclear weapons, remember, and enough oil and gas to fuel heartburn for eastern Europe (at least) if they choke the spigot. They're also providing rides to the International Space Station. And as wonderful and exceptional as we may be, we—let alone our President—are not the only actors on the world stage.

Without looking very hard, I'm sure I could find someone complaining about the United Nations being made to look both relevant and responsible too, but here we are: U.N. offical details plans for removing Syria's chemical arms, never mind in the middle of the country's civil war.

Our exceptional indispensibility is being put to the task of dispensing the munitions, on an incredibly short timetable called for by the Sept. 27 Security Council resolution: the entire stockpile "must" be destroyed by mid-2014.

The U.S. has a lot of experience in the field, having spent twenty years destroying the majority of our own 31,500 ton arsenal at ten sites. The one I've seen, in Umatilla, Oregon, is out in the vast intermountain desert between the Cascades and the Rocky Mountains, where there is no civil war, no strife to speak of (beyond cold winter and hot summer), and hardly any people. The disposal out there took seven years, compared to the fast-track for Syria's chemicals, barely more than seven months.

Whether or not specific deadlines hold, what we aren't hearing about is more incidents of the use of these weapons, reporting about "collateral damage" from another mideast bombing campaign, or the right-wing whinging about how "weak" our President and Secretaries of State and Defense are. And who cares whether Putin has a wink or a twitch?

Update: Toward the end of the news wrap on the Newshour tonight, this:

"The international chemical weapons watchdog now says that all of Syria's unfilled chemical munitions have been destroyed. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced that it has verified that the Assad regime did indeed destroy the empty weapons. It also confirmed destruction of buildings at production facilities."

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

Hey, that's a good idea! Permalink to this item

Saw somewhere that the Guardian said it's dropped about 1% of the Snowden treasure trove so far. And here on PR Watch, a batch about ALEC, our statewise corporate bill-mill. Last December, ALEC's executive director said they'd thought about setting up a backup 501(c)(4), just in case the IRS gave their (c)(3) "charity" status the stink-eye, but a spokesperson said they had "no current plans" to do so.

“Just eight days after the Bloomberg story ran, ALEC formed the 501(c)(4) "Jeffersonian Project," according to a certificate of incorporation obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy. (ALEC also failed to mention to Bloomberg that it had incorporated another 501(c)(4), "ALEC NOW" in July of 2012; that entity was dissolved earlier this year.)”

The thigh bone's connected to the knee bone Permalink to this item

Bill Hayes sheds some interesting historical and personal light on that newly discovered body part meme that made the rounds last month in a NYT op-ed: The Secrets Inside Us.

"Open up a human body, and you will be very surprised by what you see. Nothing is as perfectly clean and clear as anatomical illustrations suggest. The body is murky. Muscles don’t neatly separate for you in order to display their various parts. What lies beneath the chiseled beauty that is a six-pack, to cite one example, is wet and messy.

"The precise point where a tendon turns to muscle, and ligament attaches to bone, isn’t always obvious. Parts are closely bound together in a body (indeed, “ligament” comes from the Latin for “to bind”), packed in tight and padded within clumps of protective fat, or bunched together with fascia, the corporeal equivalent of cellophane. You have to dig around to find what you’re looking for, and know what it is you are looking for."

Eyes in Shanghai Permalink to this item

Thom George is shooting up a storm during his stay in China, and sharing it with the world on his Shanghai Lens blog. The latest installment is "Chinese Street Economy," worth a visit. (The more verbose account is on another blog, Eye on Shanghai, also recommended.)

Curses! Data mining Permalink to this item

Among the things I would not have thought to do, but find very interesting to consider: using phone call "mining technology" on "more than 600,000 phone calls placed by consumers to businesses across 30 different industries from the past 12 months" and sorting them out by the state the calls came from.

The Marchex Institute did it, and found a 2-to-1 spread from most cursive (Ohio) to least (Washington). That's what you get for having a Buckeye for a mascot, I guess. Aside from the humor (and marketing) value, I found it interesting that there's a rather low incidence in what you would think would be a highly charged venue: even the Buckeye state only produced 1 in 150 customer service calls with cursing.

If you can't get enough of this sort of thing, The Atlantic picked up the story and has links to sweary heat maps, more sweary heat maps and sweary interactive maps.

World War C Permalink to this item

All I know about Fox News is what I get from The Daily Show, which last night informed me that we're having a War on Christmas. Again! Just when you thought it was safe to go out in the snow. Yesterday, we got a card from one of the financial institutions we do business with, and I was curious to see how they'd dodge the obstacle. They're "wishing [us] peace and joy in the coming new year," with a lovely snow on bare branch with cherry blossoms theme. Nice.

Diana Butler Bass ups the ante, wondering if Fox News has declared War on Advent, or something.

“Did FOX get the wrong memo? According to ancient Christian tradition, "Christmas" is not the December shopping season in advance of Christmas Day; rather, it is Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the Twelve Days following that run until early January. During most of December, Christians observe Advent, a four-week season of reflection, preparation and waiting that precedes the yearly celebration of Jesus' birth.”

"Reflection, preparation and waiting" is not easy to come by these days. Especially with a late-as-can-be Thanksgiving and omg six fewer shopping days this year.

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

Marketing failure Permalink to this item

Ron Bonjean, anti-ACA Republican strategist and talking head on the Newshour tonight, says the Republicans are "going the gamut" on their anti-marketing push. A major "digital push" from the RNC in the next 24 hours. Five oversight hearings this week in the House! That'll fix er.

"President Obama, to have an anecdote, you know, sold us a lamp, and instead now, they're saying, 'Look at this great paperweight.'"

He chortled at his funnee quip, but sadly, the Newshour does not have a laugh track, and neither Gwen Ifill nor Brad Woodhouse had any reason to be amused. Is that on the talking points script, or is this guy going rogue? "To have an anecdote" seems to be the plan to discredit any and all. If that doesn't do it, have another anecdote.

The roundabout ate my parking space! Permalink to this item

Not that this little local TV coverage tells us all we need to know, but "several new roundabouts" in a territory where the last ones got run out of town on a rail does not seem likely to end well. Personally, I like the sound of the Ada County Highway District spokesman touting a plan "to kind of change the vibe downtown" to something "friendlier": "more walkable, rideable for the cyclists, and maybe a little less auto-centric."

But that's just me. KBOI says they talked to "people" in downtown Boise, "and they didn't like the idea." Then they quoted one "person" with the usual cycle-cross:

"When someone's driving downtown and can't find any parking and they almost hit three bikers, I'm sure their opinion will change," Jacob Knutson said.

2014 legislative agenda coming at you Permalink to this item

If you're focused on U.S. politics at the federal level, you might be persuaded that the Republican agenda is first, foremost, aftmost and last about do-nothing politics, obstruct, delay, and blame. But in fact, there is a quite detailed and specific agenda that will be coming to your (and my) state legislature shortly. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has plans. A lot of plans.

You can count the number of days both houses of Congress will be working this month on one hand, but from today through Friday, ALEC has a full agenda from plenary breakfasts through late night parties, afternoon workshops, and opportunities to schmooze up your favorite hard-right pols. Thursday's workshops include "Expanding Medicaid: Compassionate or Corrosive?" and "Marketing Pension Reform: Tell Stories to Move Policy Forward."

There are task forces for the "Justice Performance Project," Health and Human Services, Tax and Fiscal Policy, International Relations, Communications and Technology, and more. There are anti-ESA and anti-EPA workshops. There is an exhibition hall full of corporate and astroturf lobbying organizations, offering games and handing out swag (I have to assume, at least as good as at CPAC this year).

There will be gratuitous references to whatever holiday and patriotic theme and firearms you like, such as Will Freeland's blog post, 5 States That Can Be Thankful For Rejecting Bad Policy, which spells out the ALEC program more directly than perhaps intended:

"Despite federal gridlock, the states continue to lead the way towards fostering more competitive economies that ensure shared prosperity and the opportunity for individual citizens to seek and achieve prosperity—the American dream."

Not that Freeland is being coy about this: he references his post on America's Future Foundation (that 501(c)(3) charity "founded in 1995 by a group of liberty-minded leaders in Washington DC") from a month ago, Ideological Factions Should Fight In The States, Not D.C.

"Federal politics are perpetually gridlocked," he says to set the scene, dismissing responsibility just as casually. "Though many are quick to levy blame, few advance constructive solutions..." Excepting, of course, ALEC, and the credulous and less evenly split state legislatures.

"What is overlooked is that our national political strife is contrasted with an underlying state culture of politics that allows many states to pass bold laws and reforms, rather than gridlock perpetuating the status quo, and allowing people, firms, and capital to sort into a state with a political and policy climate suitable to their individual disposition."

Freeland wraps up by noting that "this sorting allows economic results to transcend ideology," with a transcendent factual reference... to ALEC, natch. The 6th edition of Rich States, Poor States, from Arthur Laffer (yes, that Laffer), Stephen Moore and Jonathan Williams provides not so much the facts about liberal bad, conservative good as the "forward-looking" talking points along the lines of Field of Dreams. "Rigorous data analysis," don't you know, shows

"that low tax, low regulation, limited government states are leading the way in job creation and positive net migration, but citizens need not take our word for it—they can set sail for the state that best serves their individual interests."

Of course I wanted to see where my state ranks in the download found below. Performance rank of 6 and economic outlook of 7, holy Toledo, Idaho is super dooper.

This is grading on some imaginary curves. "Absolute domestic migration," which I gather is voting with one's feet, was high, went flat, then negative in 2010 and is just above nil in 2011, the last year shown. This is ranked "13," somehow. By their particular backward-looking measures—state GDP growth, migration, and non-farm payroll employment—Idaho was doing well versus the U.S as a whole, but has gone worse, still ranks high? It's because we're right-thinking. Our minimum wage is set at the federal minimum. Ranks #1! We'll do great.

In a more objective measure such as... I don't know, what about average weekly wage, reported by the BLS, Idaho is ranked #50. $692 in Idaho, compared to $984 for the U.S. average (in March 2012). Come to Idaho, and work for 30% lower wages!

That should make prosperity just right around the corner, eh?

Reigniting the "Ignite" meme Permalink to this item

Putting in with for the 10th Boise River Sweep

The 5-minute slide-whipping free-for-all provides an opportunity for weird serendipity and discovery of previously undiscovered talent, but even at "free," I found my curiosity blunted by the unevenness. It doesn't need to be The Gong Show—practicing politeness is always worthwhile—but some sort of feedback mechanism seems needed. More audition and discernment by the organizers? Maybe they had that, but we didn't agree on the selections.

Tightening up to a particular (and a useful) theme strikes my fancy, and this Thursday night's 10 Big Ideas to Make Boise Greener presented by the Conservation Voters for Idaho seems like it could be just the thing.

"This Ignite style event will be full of spectacular and innovative ideas on how to make Boise one of the greenest cities in the nation! Featuring short and entertaining talks from Conservation Voters for Idaho, Boise Bike Share, Boise Urban Garden School, Idaho Conservation League, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Sierra Club, Idaho Smart Growth, Trout Architects/Chartered, US Green Building Council, and the Treasure Valley Family YMCA."

And Payette Brewing in the house. Good ideas. Go.

One of the presenters will be my friend Liz Paul of Idaho Rivers United. I like this, from Kristin Fitz in the Facebook event promo comments:

"Once upon a time Liz was a surfer girl in the Santa Monica Bay, a banana slug at UC Santa Cruz and a nordic ski bum in Ketchum, but now Liz and her family live in the 100-year floodplain in Garden City and enjoy the Boise River year round."


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007