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31.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Follow the money Permalink to this item

Even lower res snippet from Wikipedia-contributed scan of banknotes

One of the things about getting older (and I know at least one of my regular readers can relate to that opening today) is that you lose touch with what things cost. What seems ridiculously expensive might be reasonably priced for all I know. Tasty candy bars came in 5 cent (medium) and 10 cent (large) sizes back in the day, although I guess my own size at the time made "large" larger than it would seem now, too. I worked as a teenager for the minimum wage of $1.60/hour and I was glad to have and spend all that. tells us that seemingly paltry wage is worth $9.27 in today's dollars, which is to say the minimum wage has dropped by 22% from the early 70s to today. That CPI inflation multiplier is 5.8 by the way, sort of like we used dollars when I was a kid and we're using Chinese Renminbi now, but they're disguised as greenbacks.

Anyway, way back then, Uncle Sam skimmed out 12%-ish of my $1.60 per hour for Social Security and Medicare, which has since ratcheted up to more than 15%, counting both the part on the paystub and the employer's "contribution," cleverly hidden to ease the gnashing and wailing. During the summer I may have even made enough to have some income tax withholding too, but in any event, I learned the difference between "gross" (t times 1.6) and "net" (less than that) quickly enough.

A note to the finance group I moderate, talking about IRA distributions and tax strategies between tax-deferred and taxable accounts included a statement about the capital gains/qualified dividend tax rate that sounded impossible. It was part of a sensible and well-written message and earned the benefit of my doubt, but I still looked it up to find from a seeming reliable source that yes, the 0% preferential tax rate (a very preferential rate you would have to say, "no income tax on that") for capital gains and qualified dividends in 2015 for those Married Filing Jointly filers such as we goes up to $74,900 in taxable, not gross income.

Meanwhile, so-called "ordinary" which you might make from that 9 to 5 job and an hourly wage (or monthly salary) is taxed at 10% right out of the chute, 15% over $9,225 (single) or $18,450 (mfj) and so on. (Between gross and taxable there is the standard deduction, at least, of $6,300 per capita; marginal income tax rates aren't the same as what you'll pay, and have you heard the canard about half the people aren't paying taxes?) The "preference" for capital gains and qualified dividends is big and strong right up the income ladder, to a 20% difference at the top, where there's a 39.6% marginal rate on ordinary income tax rate and cg/qd is still only 20%.

It is good to be a capitalist, which is to say, it takes money to make money, which is to say, if you don't have money, and are hanging on to a low or minimum wage job, I don't have to tell you, life is harder than it is for the swells who have a little something socked away and get investment income, which is to say, them's that got shall have.

Photo of loan store

There's a popular political plan that if we only lower taxes on the wealthy even more why prosperity will rain (or at least trickle) down upon the masses, starting right... now. Oh, and by the way, "it's not only money and better policy that are missing in these circles" of economic stress and family breakdown, "it's norms," "the habits and virtues" and "basic codes and rules woven into daily life, which people can absorb unconsciously and follow automatically," "ideals and standards to guide the way." Thus spaketh David Brooks in this month's edition of scold.

Emmett Rensin has his own opinion about Brooks' opinions on the moral failings of the poor, incisive and brutally honest. With a little post-modern deconstruction:

"I am not surprised that David Brooks believes these things. I am not surprised that he argues for them with the kind of half-hearted bluster of a crank at last call, more tired than drunk on his own posturing. Reading between his lines these last few years, all I can see is “somebody please put me out of my misery” scrawled over and over on a prison wall. I imagine Brooks is as eager as anyone to discover how long this strange self-parody can last before an editor catches on. I comfort myself by believing that this is the secret curiosity guiding David Brooks these days."

But never mind Brooks' personal problems. While we're talking about "responsibility" and "fatherhood" there is the elephant of divorce in the room, the divorce of labor productivity from median income, charted to 2011 by Andrew McAfee (and linked by Rensin). Without that separation, "the difference would be $40,000 per year, per median family, an amount that would provide more moral fiber than a month of Brooks' Sunday columns.

In the good old days when a nickel candy bar might satisfy me, we also had laws against usury... didn't we? Wikipedia's short sketch on usury laws in the U.S. says we had state laws... until they were run over by a 1978 Supreme Court decision and a 1980 Act of Congress (with Deregulation in the title, naturally) that blew up Glass-Steagall (passed in 1933, after you know what) for good measure. "It allowed institutions to charge any loan interest rates they choose," which you could hardly have a better "free market" than that! We do have some "truth" in lending regulations still, which don't have a lot to do with the larger truth of where the money goes, and where the money went.

30.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Whoops, let us clarify Permalink to this item

GOP leaders of the Indiana General Assembly want you to know they didn't mean to do what people are saying they did, and they'll fix it right up if it turns out the law enables discrimination. They intended inclusion, don't you know. How could things have been so misconstrued? And oh by the way, we disavow the governor's stumbling doo-dah yesterday. Why is everybody picking on us Hoosiers?

My regular readers already know about the many other states that have so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts; are we picking on Indiana as the unfortunate newest member of this not-so exclusive club for exclusion? In The Atlantic, Garret Epps teases out what makes Indiana's law different.

"[T]he Indiana statute has two features the federal RFRA—and most state RFRAs—do not. First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.” The federal RFRA doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the state RFRAs except South Carolina’s; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their RFRAs.

"The new Indiana statute also contains this odd language: “A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” (My italics.) Neither the federal RFRA, nor 18 of the 19 state statutes cited by the Post, says anything like this; only the Texas RFRA, passed in 1999, contains similar language. ...

"The statute shows every sign of having been carefully designed to put new obstacles in the path of equality; and it has been publicly sold with deceptive claims that it is “nothing new.”"

Just to make sure, I looked it up myself, and yes, there on page 3, section 9, it says just what Epps said it says.

Fiorina: lacks a track record of accomplishment Permalink to this item

Just a little snippet I heard on the radio yesterday, and fortunately I wasn't drinking anything at the time, because I would have seriously spewed. Carly Fiorina, who is thinking about exploring a campaign for President of these United States is marking time by being the go-to gal for attacking Hillary Clinton. Fiorina said Clinton "lacks a track record of accomplishment," which OK, you could argue if you like if you're kind of a partisan hack, but on the other hand, Clinton was FLOTUS, U.S. Senator of the great state of New York, and Secretary of State, which last I checked is fourth in line to POTUS. (Did you know Orrin Hatch is ahead of Mitch McConnell, who actually isn't in the running? I did not know that. President pro tempore of the Senate, third in line, behind VPOTUS and Mr. Speaker.)

Also, Fiorina slaps Clinton for being "not candid" about coughing up enough emails to satisfy the right's prurience over emailghazigate, too, suggestions her "character is flawed." I would so love to see those two mano a mano in a debate, wouldn't you? There's a "competence" issue, omg. Fiorina worked her way up from secretary to CEO and picked up technical competence along the way? Fiorina should know All About Email because did we mention how she used to be CEO of a technology company? That was some accomplishment on her part, rising to the very top, and so oversold on her own qualifications that she imagined there wasn't even a glass ceiling.

And then after pretty much running the company into the ground with a divisive merger with Compaq computer, and after the glorious "co-presidency" she and Mike Capellas were going to share, they co-carpetbagged the hell out of there with suitcases full of money and a slide deck about her stellar record of accomplishment. Many tens of millions of dollars disbursed from that big technology company.

Her political act 2 has not quite taken the world by storm. Not prepared to work her way up from the mailroom a second time, she figured to start close to the top with a bid for Barbara Boxer's seat in the U.S. Senate. Even though she didn't used to vote much (executives are busy people, I suppose), suffice it to say she was "all in" for that race, and did not find traction, losing by 10 points in 2010, a year Republicans got a nice anti-Obama midterm bounce.

She's still looking for traction, it seems. I couldn't find anything about her recent press cons today, just some old "here she comes" stuff from the Murky News and WaPo (which I found reposted on

Oh here we go, just search for "fiorina president" to see she's putting the odds higher than 90% she'll run, up from only 50% last month. Talk about your rising star! It seems she rose up to Fox News Sunday yesterday, adding 9 minutes 20 to her fame. Her business experience has given her "a deep understanding of how the economy really works," she says. And now that she's moved to the Beltway, she knows all about how Washington works, too. Quick study. But that name recognition for a political neophyte is a heck of a handicap out of the starting gate. She's running somewhere around 13th or 11th place by the latest polls.

I watched the latest show; she's nothing if not glib. She's also utterly inexperienced for a real executive job that matters, and requires more than mixing marketing talking points into creative new sentences.

"Pay for performance in our civil service" is one of her talking points. Oh, that is luscious. Chris Matthews gave her the inevitable Powerpoint slide of the record at HP that she's "going to get hammered with," exporting jobs, crashing the stock, and so on.

She's "very proud of our record." Our record? Is she slipping into the royal we so soon? And all the bad things that happened were because of the dot-com bubble busting. Please don't count a.n.y t.h.i.n.g I accomplished while you were there blowing up the company as part of "our" record, Carly.

She says "laying people off is the last resort" and "a terrible thing to do," but just like George Bush going to war, she pulled that last resort card out of the middle of the deck, starting the layoff bonanza in the year 2000, thankyouverymuch, and selling that Compaq merger on all the "synergies" that the merged companies would enjoy, where synergy is an exciting synonym for redundancy. And did we mention the worst technology recession in 25 years? And how she made the tough choices?

Point made Permalink to this item

While working through emails this morning, more sending than receiving, but keeping track of what was coming in, I saw the latest Alertbox from the Nielsen Norman Group and took a quick look to see if I should read or delete, and here I am diverted to blogging about something that wasn't on my to-do list, but is interesting. I gave it more credit than it might have deserved, signed as it was by one of the partners, and thus more seemingly worthy than if by someone named Kathryn Whitenton who I don't know.

But what was most interesting is that the subject I thought I saw was "Color Blindness: Why People Don't See What Designers" blah blah blah when in fact the subject was Change Blindness: Why People Don’t See What Designers Expect Them To See. Yup, that's happened to me.

Summary: People often overlook new visual details added to an existing image. This change blindness can affect critical information such as error messages and navigation menus, leading to user confusion and task failure. Luckily, with the right visual presentation you can dramatically reduce the likelihood of change blindness.

The good news is, now that I've blogged it, I don't need to save the email.

28.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Unrestored religious freedom Permalink to this item

The Episcopal Bishop of Indianapolis, Catherine M. Waynick pretty much covers the #1 topic in and around Indiana at the moment, in her pastoral letter to her clergy and people. "The possibilities for mischief are tremendous!" in the so-called "Religious Freedom Restoration Act," she wrote.

"It is ... an affront to faithful people across the religious landscape. Provision of a legal way for some among us to choose to treat others with disdain and contempt is the worst possible use of the rule of law.

"For Episcopalians, whose lives are ordered in the Gospel of Christ and the promises of our Baptismal Covenant, it is unthinkable. We are enjoined to love God with heart, mind, soul and strength, and to love others as Christ loves us. We promise, every time we reaffirm our baptismal vows, to "seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves." We promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

State RFRA map from the Washington Post

There is the not-small matter of the other 19 states that have "religious freedom" laws like Indiana’s; no one's been raising a fuss over those, and it might have come as quite a shock to the Indiana pols when their recent effort went viral, as it were. Sorry to say our state, Idaho, is on the map of shame.

Update: WaPo's map on the verge of needing to fill in the Arkansas hole: their Governor said he's prepared to sign their legislature's RFRA "once the House and Senate work out the technical details."

Land grabber Permalink to this item

Early this week, I used the Idaho Conservation League's handy form to blast a short email to "all" with my opinion about the latest instantiation of the Sagebrush Rebellion, H.B. 265, trying to get Idaho part of an "interstate compact" that works to take over federal lands within state borders. Three members have taken the trouble to respond so far, always with the thanks and how glad they are to hear from me. One representative said she would debate "against," and was "hoping that it will die an ugly death before the session ends," which made me chuckle. Another, D-19's Melissa Wintrow, wrote thoughtfully, and in legislator style, what I would have liked to have written if I'd taken more trouble than I did:

"The Interim Lands Committee recently issued a report indicating that Idaho does not have a constitutional or legal argument to advance a case in court to have the state take over federal lands. In addition to this, our Idaho citizens have voiced repeatedly, that they do not support any scenario where the state would take control of lands. Reports issued through the University of Idaho's Policy Analysis Group found the state could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in eight of nine different scenarios they investigated involving such a transfer.

"The citizens of Idaho value our public and federal lands. I do not believe that a state 'takeover' makes sense. I support protecting our federal and public lands for future generations to enjoy."

Of course Brent Crane, over in D-13 supports the bill; I hardly expected to hear from him. Perfunctory thanks for my "reaching out" to him, and the one bit of non-boilerplate content in his email said:

"I support the bill and I want to do all we can to get State control and management of our lands."

They are, of course, already "our lands," and my concern is that State control is a stepping stone to privatization. The vaunted "local control" is honored when it suits those claiming to be locals, and honored in the breach when that serves better.

(In other mass emailing news, a Representative from a district I couldn't point to on a map had a "Vote Not on HB 265" message go out apparently from his account, to "all" his colleagues and was indignantly brandishing and disclaiming the message on Thursday.)

Now that HB 265 has cruised through the house, ever so slightly amended, and carrying its disingenous (at least) "no anticipated cost" fiscal note ("Funding in future years would be subject to appropriation by the Legislature," so never you mind), that email blaster form needs to be updated with Senate addresses.

Handicapping the religious right Permalink to this item

Word is the nation's "Christian right," the political stepchild of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and some other questionable parentage, is casting about for who should be the Republican candidate for president next year, because God forbid we should have another establishment choice, or another Bush, which at the moment look like one in the same. It's "too early for a group of leaders to come out for a candidate" in Tony Perkins' estimation, but not too early to start a conversation. The basic problem is that Jeb Bush might be squishy on same-sex marriage, immigration and abortion. And the working theory is that the last couple of Republican candidates were "too moderate and failed to excite the party’s base," so whoops, pop goes the weasel.

Paragraph 2 mentions "secret straw polls and and exclusive meetings from Iowa to California," in which the "relative appeal and liabilities" of various contenders are sorted out. Let me help, with the four names mentioned, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and former Govs. Rick Perry of Texas and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.

Low hanging fruit first, Rick Perry. Seriously? The guy was not ready for prime time last go 'round, and his sell-by date has come and gone.

Bobby Jindal would have made a nice addition to the Romney-Ryan cabinet, I guess, and he had the capacity (and temerity) to point out that some of his fellow party members should follow that old adage about letting people just think you're stupid, rather than speaking up and removing all doubt. (But fish gotta swim, pols gotta speak.) Seems to have all the litmus political positions, including the notion that "intelligent design" might be a nice addition to public school instruction. He was for Common Core early on, but now that that subject has gone toxic both ways, he said that investments in techology will render Common Core obsolete, which is a clever escape. His no-go gaffe bombed in London, but that "Shari'ah enclave" scare tactic plays well in some colonies, as seen yesterday.

Mike Huckabee combines avuncular, Pillsbury Doughboy, southern folksy preacher goodness, executive experience, time on Fox News and the super-power (or was it a miracle?) ability to purify Ted Nugent, no mean feat. He could be The One.

Ted Cruz speaks extemporaneously, sort of, without a teleprompter, so there's that. Reportedly very bright, maybe even bright enough not to say anything face-palm stupid for 12 or 16 months, especially if he keeps saying the same stuff over and over, which mostly doesn't seem to bother his audiences. He could be The One too. He's The One Richard Viguerie was crowing about out of the starting gate and direct-mailman promises "we won’t go into this season divided six or eight different ways," in their determination to stop Bush.

Scott Walker tied Perry (seriously?) and Jindal for second in the "most viable" straw poll at the five-star resort gaggle put together by Perkins and his Family Research Center, and he's properly mum on the whole evolution business, but I wonder if he's good enough, smart enough, or if people like him. Every team needs a punter, but that's an asterisk position, not the M.V.P. unless a Hail Mary is involved, which might be what they (and he) are after. Let's let Trip Gabriel of the NYT (and Bobby Jindal) after the last word for today:

[A woman asked] if Mr. Jindal and other socially conservative contenders could decide among themselves who should be the one true standard-bearer.

Her tone was heartfelt, even desperate. “I would love to see you godly leaders pray and fast and see who God would be anointing to raise up,” she said. “We would rally behind him. We cannot be so divided. Our money, our time, our loyalty is so divided.”

To which Mr. Jindal offered a one-word response: “Amen.”

27.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mapping End Times in Idaho Permalink to this item

St. Mary's garden, 2013

Here we have Idaho, and a box lunch spectacle of our most conservative whackadoodles inviting former Muslim now Christian pastor from neighboring Washington to talk about "the true goal of Islam and threat of Shari'ah law in America," setting up "enclaves" in unlikely corners such as Kuna and St. Maries don't you know. What we might refer to as plain old refugees or more hopefully as new Americans, the good pastor euphemizes as the substance of "dumps." (Not to put too fine a point on insult, but wouldn't "invasion drop zones" serve his purpose a little better?)

We have more than ten thousand of them in Idaho by now, from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, Liberia, Burundi, Congo, Somalia, Togo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Cameroon, Iraq and Iran, at least. It would be quite a thing to have them overcome the hurdles of language, culture, paying the rent, buying (and growing) enough food to feed their families, and so on to organize and become a political force for fundamentalism that could out-do the likes of Vito Barbieri and Pete Nielsen in migration, population and segregation, and change society.

There has been some change in our neighborhood, at least. Going to the grocery store is a lot more entertaining, and I get to check on the progress of the increasingly impressive community garden out behind St. Mary's Catholic Church.

Don't shoot the reporters Permalink to this item

After the weirdly secretprivate signing ceremony and an attempt to change the subject (to, ok, an important issue also worth attention), Indiana's Governor Mike Pence is blaming the press for controversy. (How do we know about the ceremony, to which none of the press were invited? The Governer bleeping tweeted an illustrated announcement with Brother Sun and Sister Moon and their friends.)
Edited from tweeted and unattributed original, linked

“I understand how some Hoosiers feel based on how the press has covered it.”

Pence spoke that sentence more than once.

Pence said the law is about government interests only and doesn’t apply to private individuals. He said the law is about government overreach and not about discrimination. However, when asked if there was any concern about businesses using the law to discriminate even though that isn’t the supposed intent, Pence replied, “That’s a question for the judiciary.”

It all started innocently enough back in the '90s, over sacred land, and the religious use of peyote, and it's been a long, slippery slope since, now at Indiana Senate Bill 101. (The "RFRA perils" site has a nicely formatted version, as well as Professor Marci A. Hamilton's history of RFRAs.) Saying that

"a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person's exercise of religion, even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability"

sounds kind of OK to me, why should it be able to? As Prof. Hamilton puts it, "It’s couched in constitutional legalese and, let’s face it, the name makes you want to salute." This is about more than who gets to put what, when on the courthouse lawn.

"The groups responding to Smith were so full of themselves in their fulmination over the Supreme Court purportedly “abandoning” religious liberty that they asked Congress to “restore” a standard the Court had never used. First, they insisted on forcing the government to prove in every single case that a law serves a “compelling interest” before it could apply to a believer. That was out there enough.

"But then they came up with the bright idea that the government should also have to prove that the law is the “least restrictive means” for this one believer. For those in need of a legal dictionary, what that means is that every believer can demand that every law be shaped to the believer’s beliefs. In other words, believers obtained an entitlement to be laws unto themselves unknown in American history. That’s right. The “restoration” in the title is a lie."

Or, more succinctly, at the top of a part 2 I tracked down on Justia from last March, and before the infamous Hobby Lobby decision, "a RFRA is an extraordinary power grab by religious entities. It gives them the capacity to challenge neutral, generally applicable laws with standards never employed under the First Amendment. Again: the “restoration” in its title is rhetoric, not reality."

So Indiana has joined the fun, with what consequences beyond a bad day in the press room TBD. Perhaps Indiana will use their new RFRA to avoid enforcing fair housing law, to allow discrimination against unwed mothers, unmarried couples, same-sex couples from a "religious" landlord who has his objections, after all. The RFRA"gives the believer business owner a club to pound the public accommodations law into submission."

25.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Life and death in the legislature Permalink to this item

Tuesday's paper had stories going both ways, 38 square inches of colored ink across the fold and a gigantic, headline above it asking Who Should Regulate Ride-Hailing Services? (a.k.a. Uber, for all practical purposes). Inside, op-ed, the president of Treasure Valley Racing writing for the Treasure Valley Racing Ownership Group, lamenting the "fact" that Legislature might kill an industry, eliminate jobs.

Yes, that's right folks, the GOP-dominated Idaho legislature is picking winners and losers, riding roughshod over local control when they feel like it, messing with livelihoods, willy-nilly.

John Sheldon and his group friends "with a combined 250-plus years of doing business in Idaho," "have never witnessed such an anti-business demeanor" as they're seeing in the marble halls this session. Never mind the possible anti-gambling motivation (semi-enshrined in our Constitution), Sheldon blames the tribes for wanting to eliminate competion. "This is not uncommon," he says, but what would be mighty uncommon is for the indians to get a leg up on the cowboys.

Live horse racing is apparently a losing proposition, and a dying business, even with a "simulcast wagering" kicker. The group "discovered the only known and proven solution to save live horse racing was adoption of historical horse racing," which is to live horse racing as I Love Lucy reruns are to live theater at Boise Contemporary Theater, say.

The question turns on technical details inside the machine with the flashing lights and funny noises: the "terminals are in fact pari-mutuel based," their proponents insist, "and not random-number-generated slot machines," whether or not the marks pumping the coins into the slots are pooling their wagers or just throwing their money away directly. But let's get back to what they want to sell us that too few people are buying to have it carry on without government support:

"If this racing [and by "racing," he means to say this rather poorly simulated, obfuscated re-enactment of racing in an electronic device] "is repealed two years after enactment, it will be a deathblow to Les Bois and Idaho's heritage-rich horse racing industry. It will truly be anti-business and send the wrong message to any industry needing legislative support to conduct business in Idaho."

At least for buggy whipping sorts of industry. For whizzy new stuff, the legislature is falling all over itself and the state's cities to roll out the red carpet. Uber's got some "model" legislation they need passed to save them having to negotiate with every Tom, Dick and Boise so they can jump the queue and employ hobby drivers for "ride sharing"? We'd love to do that, and stick a finger in Boise's eye for good measure!

HB 262 cruised through the House, and a Senate committee (yesterday), with competing testimony from Uber's rep assuring us that they'd take care of everything, and the Boise City Attorney, who's not convinced they will. I wonder if anyone brought up the fact that some Uber competitor will follow the leader and be happy to undercut self-regulation and make a little better margin, once the game is afoot?

"Local control is a hallmark of Republican ideology," Statesman reporter Sven Berg observed, "but GOP legislators have set it aside in this dispute."

Or perhaps just coughed it up to the highest bidder.

24.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

RNC calling Permalink to this item

They want me to "activate my membership" for as little as $35 $25, and of course I can always give more later. This contrasts with the typical e-campaign on the Dems side, looking for the token $5, to demonstrate a willingness to loosen the wallet to a flood of new requests. (It's hard to imagine I could start receiving even more but I'm sure it's possible, and equally sure that for only $5, or maybe $2, I could make it happen.)

What was interesting to me was how life-like my telephone agent was. Great audio quality, real human presence, and after establishing he'd reached his intended target, with only a hint of slightly-too-long pauses between my speaking and his reaction to what I said before a lengthy, clearly articulated pitch leading to the ask. The nut of the message is that yay now we've got Republican control of the Congress, all we need is a Republican President and we'll be off to the races for making our "positive" changes.

"You're looking for a contribution for an unspecified Republican candidate for President?" I asked, with palpable skepticism in my voice.

Yes, he could understand that sounds a bit dubious, and launched into the modified pitch for the smaller ask, which I answered with emphasis on "later." I don't want to put them all the way off, but I'm not about to send money before hell freezes or boils over. Mostly I want to see if and when someone on the team can use teh Google or read my blog and realize I'm not one of them, and only got on their list because of the Idaho extreme right-wing Republicans who succeeded in "closing" our primary and forcing people to register by party.

My drawing

After my steadfastly refusing his invitations, he wrapped up with the tightly scripted fine print about how donations to the Republican National Committee were not tax deductible, and not authorized by or on behalf of any particular candidate blah blah blah, but with voiceover quality that could've been on a recorded commercial. Was it live, or was it Memorex? (That's like on your iPod, for you younger readers.) Is there a "first pitch" and "second pitch" and "wrap up" button to press? It was interactive, and I felt like I could've had a real conversation if I could've figured out how to speak and bite my tongue at the same time.

If this guy does this, live, all day long, or even for a 2 or 3 hour shift, he's good. If it's patched together sound files, the technology is impressive.

After working the Obama, Keystone XL, and Obama angles, the third and final pitch was about Hillary Clinton and all the scary fundraising you know she is going to be doing, and so (not to put too fine a point on it, and definitely not articulated so plainly) We Need Lots of Money! to beat back the dreaded liberal horde.

The discussion I really wanted to have with him was about whether the RNC had considered how we might reduce the influence of so many billions of dollars in politics, but of course they're not in that business, by any stretch of the imagination.

Farewell, sweet prince! We'll meet again, anon.

23.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Two takes on Ted Permalink to this item

Andrew Ferguson, one of The Weekly Standard's senior editors provided an interesting portrait of the up-and-coming Ted Cruz, end of summer, 2013, before he'd realized his ambition of a government shutdown as a way to get Obama to give up Obamacare. He's got ample criticism for the mainstream press and its caricature machine, but the more realistic portrait (if that's what it is) is not what you what call flattering. One element that we'll be hearing more about is how he's so good at speaking without a teleprompter or notes.

"He went on in this mode for a while, until, leaning back on a couch in his office with his press secretary a few feet away tapping her BlackBerry, he began to sound as if he was giving a stump speech, and then I realized: He was giving a stump speech. Line after line I had heard him say on C-SPAN or YouTube. He told me the life story of his father, a Cuban immigrant, in precisely the same words he had used in the convention speech. He launched into a tribute to Ronald Reagan that I had first heard last year in his campaign for the Senate. The Margaret Thatcher quote sounded familiar, too.

"And it sounded even more familiar a few hours later when Cruz spoke before a meeting of the Kingwood Tea Party, north of Houston. ... I paged through my interview notes to find something he might have told me that he wasn’t saying to the Tea Partiers right then, in nearly identical language. I failed.

"I’m not complaining. Professional public speakers have no choice but to recycle material. And for the hack, hearing a politician say the same thing multiple times makes note-taking vastly easier. “Disciplined” is a term of art in politics, and generally a compliment. It describes a stubborn, admirable, and often necessary insistence on the part of a politician on talking about only what he wants to talk about, in terms of his choosing. I think Cruz senses that his fluency seems slightly artificial, a little too pat, since he takes care to alter his cadence and punctuate it with “you knows” and “let me tell yas” and those thoughtful pauses that allow him to glance reflectively off to the side and bite his lower lip, before rousing himself to deliver a sentence he has delivered several hundred times."

Just in case you're not sure where The Weekly Standard is generally coming from, their 3rd annual Broadmoor Summit advertised there in the sidebar is going to feature special guest speakers John Bolton and Carly Fiorina, about the ewwwiest of the ewwy right-wing from my point of view. Ferguson's piece seems even-handed enough to me, describing an ambitious ideologue with useful skills at persuasion and an ability to slide into wealth and power.

Considerably less restrained in his enthusiasm for Cruz, Richard Viguerie is hopping up and down beside himself about the First Top-Tier Movement Conservative Candidate Since Reagan, whose candidacy "changes everything" in that now we need to talk about what Cruz wants to talk about.

"Every Republican candidate for president will have to move to significantly to the right, starting with Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, and define their position on amnesty for illegal aliens, on fighting and winning the war radical Islam has declared on America, on spending, the deficit and the debt, and on repealing Obamacare, against the positions Ted Cruz will talk about and campaign on in the coming months."

About the size of it Permalink to this item

Sharing what Robert Reich just posted to his Facebook wall, out here in the blogosphere:

"Ted Cruz’s official entry into the Republican primary guarantees a battle during the next 16 months over exactly the wrong things: how to get even tougher on immigration, why we must repeal Obamacare, why taxes should be cut on the wealthy, why safety nets have to be shrunk further, why Medicare and Social Security have to be slashed, why abortions should be harder to get, and why the military should be expanded. Cruz and his likely opponents (Walker, Christie, Huckabee, Rubio, Paul, Jindal, Santorum, Perry, and Bush) will talk about little else.

"Meanwhile, what will we hear be hearing from the Democrats? A vigorous debate over Wall Street’s toxic influence over the economy and American democracy? Why the Trans Pacific Partnership and other trade deals are killing American workers and boosting corporate profits? Why unions are critical to the middle class? Why CEO pay must be limited and the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour? Why taxes should be hiked on the rich to pay for better schools and infrastructure for everyone else? Why Social Security should be expanded by raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax?

"At the rate we’re going, none of these. Hillary Clinton isn’t likely to bring them up on her own. Elizabeth Warren tells me she won’t run.

"Yet in this Second Gilded Age—when almost all the economy’s gains are going to the top—America needs to debate where the nation must go in the 21st century, not a Republican debate about how to get back to the 19th."

Reich didn't include Donald Trump in his list, which leaves it one clown short of a carload. The only person on that list who seems remotely presidential to me is (and I really hate to say it) Jeb Bush. It's hard to imagine Cruz or most of the rest of them actually contending for much of 16 weeks, let alone months, but we shall see.

A mid-March poll has Cruz and Rick Perry each a couple percent shy of "None/No one" and neck-in-neck with "Someone else" (and the margin of error: 4 ± 4.5% could be -0.5%). Bush, Walker, Paul, Huckabee and Carson sound like good ideas to more than 60% of the 450 Republicans answering the call.

But as Reich points out, you can make a lot of noise with -0.5% to 8.5% affinity, and with so many processes in Congress designed to obstruct and confound (while secretly and not-so-secretly empowering special interests), Ted Cruz campaign talking points (repeated ad nauseum) are as sand in the gears of the operation (let alone progress), as if shutting down the government was a good thing, because... Obamacare! Or something.

Update: Official transcript of Ted Cruz Presidential Announcement

22.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Suitable power Permalink to this item

The coming annual meeting for Idaho Power's parent holding company, Idacorp is bound to be another interesting one. The power company's marketing department is doing its best to emphasize its environmental friendliness, including three years of sustainability projects (on a nice brown-"paper" PDF) chipping around the edges, the essential "demand side management" to improve energy efficiency (reducing the need for big infrastructure projects, and sales), and even a solar power contract here and there.

From the outside looking in, or between the lines of last June's Solar Integration Study Report, their reluctance to change their business from large-scale production to a more distributed, more complex, and less controllable array of sources is clear enough. The more solar they have, the higher their integration costs, which they estimate as 40 cents per MWh for the first 100 MW solar capacity, ratcheting up to more than 10 times that for incremental build-out from 500 to 700 MW.

Zach Hagadone's editor's comment in this week's Boise Weekly, Megawhat? and the George Prentice piece about Idaho Power's PURPA Problem got me going on this subject of long interest. What Zach hinted at without quite clarifying are two key concepts that were described in the site's article What is a Megawatt?, capacity factor (the ratio of average production to a plant's rated capability) and load factor (average load divided by peak load). But they only provided "for example" numbers in the text.

Power tower

The Energy Information Administration has newer usage data, including a tabulation by state and region, from Hawai`i at 515 kWh/mo, Idaho 1,055 kWh/mo to Louisiana at 1,273 kWh/mo. Energy usage per unit time is "power," by definition. Idaho's average is just under 1.5 kW, or about 680 homes per MW, before capacity and load factors are accounted for. The old rule of thumb corresponds to lower consumption, 720 kWh/mo. (With relatively cheap natural gas for space and water heat, it doesn't seem that hard to live on less; our usage has averaged just above 300 kWh/mo for decades.)

The EIA's monthly plots of capacity factor for recent years shows how much variation there is, with some discussion of where the variation comes from, daily, seasonally, annually, and in operation and maintenance cycles. Natural gas-fired turbines used for meeting peak loads have low capacity factor (well below 10%, with summer peaks below 20%) by system and operations design. for example. Solar varies daily, seasonally and with the vagaries of weather; wind and hydro are seasonal and weather-dependent as well. You'd hardly imagine all those ups and down behind the scenes when you can tap as much (or as little) 60 Hz 120V AC as you like from your wall outlets.

With disparate sources to choose from, the utility looks to make the best deal under the circumstances, hour to hour, day to day, and month to month. A non-utility power provider wants to sell as much of its product as possible, for as high a price as it can get, and with as long a contract term as possible to cover its infrastructure cost. That used to be built into the regulated utility itself, in complicated planning and public regulation that not many people were interested in. A somewhat freer market has fractional opportunities for making electricity, and money, and thus motivation for all sorts of gaming the system, as went so spectacularly bad in California 15 years ago.

Idaho Power wants to simplify its long-term planning by reducing the current mandate of off 20-year contracts to just 2 years, which sounds like a lowball negotiating tactic, or a desire to drive a stake through the proliferation of producers that complicates their work.

Here's a view of complexity: the Idaho Public Utility Commission case summary of #IPC-E-15-01, started by Idaho Power's January, 2015 petition to modify the terms and conditions of the prospective Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 (PURPA) energy sales agreements (ESA). It starts with an 168 page, 81 MB PDF with the company's petition and attachments, followed by orders and notices, documents from the company, staff, 14 intervenors (large electricty users, water users, environmental groups) and 34 public comments from mid-February to date, more than 60 documents full of petitions, decisions, press releases, answers, comments, so far.

I did read far enough into the petition to find the company's statement that "the [PUC] has changed the authorized maximum term of a required PURPA purchase several times throughout is implementation of PURPA in the state of ldaho The Commission has authorized maximum contract terms varying from an initial 35-year contract, to 20 years, then five years, then back to 20 years," in 2002, the most recent change. term has been in place (2002), resulting in, as they put it, "waves of rapid, large-scale additions of wind, and now solar, QF generation," but with the definition of "rapid," and "large-scale" perhaps arguable.

Our story to date concludes with the March 19 Idaho PUC press release announcing that "state regulators will conduct both technical and public hearings in late June to consider requests by three electric utilities to reduce the duration of sales agreements they must enter into with large renewable energy developers," and noting that the commission did respond to the "two year contracts" tactic by approving five-year contracts, "while it further examines the case."

Among the many stakeholders are Clearwater Paper (formerly Potlatch, well known by nose to anyone passing near Lewiston, Idaho) and Simplot who cogenerate substantial power in their processing operations and think they should keep the 20-year deal, because they're not so intermittent as wind and solar.

If that's too much to wade through (it is for me), but I've whetted your appetite for something substantial, consider the 3rd edition of the Snake River Alliance's activist’s guide to a sustainable energy future (August 2014). If just want to cut to the chase, the SRA's update on Friday provides that, as Idaho's also-ran electric utilities Avista and Rocky Mountain Power have joined the battle over solar power at the PUC. The Alliance notes that

"solar power developers claim [this] is nothing short of an attempt to stop utility-scale solar power projects. In a case that may rival a controversial 2013 docket in which Idaho Power lost a bid to clamp down on residential and commercial rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) installations, the three electric utilities are asking the PUC to change existing regulations requiring utilities to purchase power from small wind and solar energy developers."

My opinions are unfunded and my own, but I've been a member of the Snake River Alliance for 30+ years, and I think they're doing exceptional work. We're Idaho Power customers (obviously), and also have a modest investment in IdaCorp (and thus "free" admission to shareholder meetings).

19.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fair and balanced for a day Permalink to this item

Google Earth snippet of Svalbard and northern Greenland

As they say, axial tilt is the reason for the season, and the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department is our go-to reference for where and when you're tilted, and in and out. It's time to check in, of course, and I was surprised to scan down the list of our planet's seasons for a quarter century and see that spring is starting on March 20 almost all the time. Only 2 out of 26 years were/are/will be on March 21. Meanwhile, summers are running out to September 22 or 23; almost half the time to September 23!

I suppose it all evens out in the long run, but doesn't that seem rather northern-centric?

While we're at it, don't forget the new moon tomorrow morning, 9:36 am Universal (a.k.a. Greenwich Mean) Time; it'll be blotting out the sun across... well a lot of northern seas and almost no land. What is that stuff up between the Greenland Sea and Berents Sea, anyway? Svalbard? I didn't know you could go that far north of Norway and Finland. Would've been a heck of a spot to get up earlier this week, for the aurora, too.

Update: The Beeb got a CRACKER of a video of the eclipse.

Three-dee interest rates Permalink to this item

Opening view of the interactive chart

Apologies if this is behind their paywall for you, but the interactive graphic team at the New York Times has another impressive piece of work, showing 25 years of short, mid and long-term costs of borrowing, as A 3-D View of a Chart That Predicts The Economic Future.

The "price of money today, tomorrow, and many years from now" is the best forecast we have for inflation, growth, what-not. At the moment, short and long-term rates are "lower than they have been for most of history," and relatively flat, signalling that "investors expect mediocre growth" going forward. Short and mid-term yield in Germany has gone negative, a mind-boggling inversion just in time for the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland.

As low as rates are here in the U.S., they're still "among the highest in the highly industrialized world." The bottom line: "The bond market expects slow growth and very low inflation for years to come."

And yes, the dots between this historic low-growth, low-inflation forecast and Republican budget priorities are connected: no amount of sloppy kisses to the haves will magically turn them into "job creators" if the middle class is foundering and unable to participate in economic growth.

Republican budget priorities Permalink to this item

Sen. Bernie Sanders on the draft budget from the Republican majority:

"The rich get much richer and the Republicans think they need more help. The middle class and working families of this country become poorer and the Republicans think we need to cut programs they desperately need. I do not believe that these are the priorities of the American people."

Indeed they are not, but then the American people don't get all that much say as to what goes on in Washington D.C., do they? The pols can probably squeeze working families, children and seniors for another two or three terms, throw millions of Americans off health insurance (we have millions to spare!) and keep sucking up to banks as student debt piles up. But wait, there's less!

"It doesn’t create any jobs. It doesn’t address the 11 percent real unemployment rate in the United States. It doesn’t fix crumbling roads and bridges. It doesn’t make college more affordable. It doesn’t raise the minimum wage. It does nothing, despite Republicans’ professed worries about deficits, to close tax loopholes that help the rich and profitable corporations avoid paying their fair share of taxes and make deficits worse."

Here's six minutes of Bernie talking to Diane Rehm, and his full statement on the proposed Republican budget.

"[T]he Republicans apparently believe that the richest people in America need to be made even richer. It is apparently not good enough that 99 percent of all new income today is going to the top 1 percent. That’s apparently not enough. It is not good enough that the top one-tenth of one percent today own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Clearly, in Republican eyes, the wealthy and the powerful need more help. Not only should they not be asked to pay more in taxes, the Republicans believe that we should cut tax rates for millionaires and billionaires."

18.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nexus of ineffectuality Permalink to this item

For St. Paddy's day, more party-line embarrassment from the House State Affairs Committee, from our useless body to that other one, a non-binding memorial citing one Luther Martin (Martin Luther's evil twin?) as anti-judge authority in the penultimate whereas, and the Sixth Circuit's opinion (not that we're venue-shopping or anything, out here in the bottom of the Ninth),

"we call upon the United States Congress to bring clarity to the principle that the role of the United States judiciary is to interpret as close to original intent as possible and rule on compliance with the original intent of the Constitution by the executive and legislative branches and the principle that judges of the United States judiciary should keep their oath of office to uphold the law and not make or change the law."

Oh, and furthermore, "a judge of the United States judiciary who disregards his oath of office to uphold the Constitution should be impeached by Congress."

It was same sex-marriage that was a bridge too far. (Hey, speaking of bridges, have we seen any bill for fixing our transportation infrastructure and its backlog of funding for maintenance?) Paul Shepherd of Riggins, friend of Salmon River suction dredge miners, thinks that all is "very immoral," and he "can't lay down," he's "gotta stand up and take it serious."

That's stand up on his hind legs, of course, tossing in a defense of slave owners for good measure. If only I were making this up. Better Idaho illustrates the point, with The Men of Yesteryear.

"To put the comments from these men in perspective, their combined age is 223 years old. We’re not mathematicians, but that’s an aggregate attitude somewhere around 1791. Remember that date when reading their comments. No offense to people from 1791."

16.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fifty shades of paranoia Permalink to this item

Taking a walk up the bottom of my inbox full of "this is a little too interesting to just delete right now" messages, there was this link to a YouTube video from June, 2011, "minivanjack" talking about Smart Meters a little too smart for our own good. Makes you want to go put a tinfoil hat over your electric meter.

The new "smart meters" are watching you. They know when you are sleeping. They know when you're awake. They know when you've been bad or good, so... omg, if you don't have one yet, JUST SAY NO. But of course, by now, you probably do have one, so there goes that illusion of privacy. Your power company is now

"keep[ing] record of your consumption volume and patterns, every minute of every day, and store that data, forever, on computers that you'll never get to see." It's "a vivid profile of your personal living patterns and whether or not you were at home on the night of the murder."

Perhaps there's a market in electronic countermeasures, a little home automation that makes it look like you were at home on the night of the murder. That's when alternate means kick in, such as the US Marshals Service flying specially equipped aircraft to "capture and examine the identity of thousands of cellphones in a single sweep while searching for signals that match a supposed target," currently on John Sununu's radar.

Perhaps it's what's flying under the radar that's coming after you, however. When even the nondisclosure agreement is nondisclosed, that feeling that someone is watching you is probably more than a feeling. The good news is the police should be able to track your cellphone really, really well. The bad news is, they're probably not going to use their superpowers to get it back to you when you leave it somewhere.

In the bad old days fresh after 9/11 and before all the automated surveillance kicked in, there was the spies coming around on foot to read your meter, and stuff.

The embarrassment of James E. Risch Permalink to this item

The message from just added a little insult to the injury of having both Idaho's senators add their names to the letter to Iran last week. I didn't expect a response to my phone call to his office, but the remarkably tone deaf missive explaining what did not need explanation was a bit of a surprise all the same. If further evidence of incompetence were needed, there it was.

Since talking to a staffer didn't achieve the communication I was after, I followed up with a missive of my own, and share it here.

Dear Senator Risch:

I received your email reply to my calling your office last week, in response to seeing that you had scribbled your name under the execrably ill-advised letter from freshman Senator Tom Cotton.

It would seem that the staffer who took my call was not able to adequately communicate my disgust with this arrogant and counterproductive political stunt. Let me take this opportunity to clarify my response to your action.

Phoenix light rail, February, 2015

Your description of what just happened, and hearkening back to the days of Presidents Carter and Reagan was superfluous, as was the gratuitous description of the Senate's role defined by the Constitution.

I doubt anyone in Iran needed tutelage from the U.S. Senate, either.

No doubt our current and future presidents will "face scrutiny" from the Senate for what diplomatic agreements they make with other countries. In the case of treaties, the Senate does have a roll to play. And yes, Senators could create legislation in this and other regards, although the kind of brinksmanship you've been playing at lately has led to almost nothing that can pass the Congress and be signed into law.

The quite frankly idiotic letter you signed only further weakened the Senate's capacity, embarrassed the signers, and offered this country and the international community no improvement whatsoever in matters with Iran.

It is an unfortunate indictment of our current system that the same people who could produce such a sophomoric piece of work could also brag that they may be around "for decades." If only counteracting gerrymandering and the role of excess money in politics could be moved higher on the agenda, perhaps that could be corrected.

You speak of the need for the president to have "effective engagement with Congress," and yet you demonstrate such incapacity for engagement, it makes me wonder. Perhaps you might consider some lame excuse for your action such as Senator McCain provided: tell me you were worried about a snowstorm and getting out of town, and didn't give this your actual attention. Or maybe like Rand Paul, you'd like to claim that this expression from a remarkably ineffective group of Senators "strengthened the president's hand."

Your unctuous expression of gratitude over "hearing from me" would be more meaningful if you showed any sign whatsoever of actually listening to what I had to say. As it is, I find it only the more striking that you have no shame to express for your shameful performance.

Ides.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Unfortunately, the outcome was predictable Permalink to this item

Our local fishwrap gave ID-01 Congressman Raúl Labrador space for his latest grandstanding lament. The damnable Republican leadership and a weak-kneed Senate wouldn't hold the line and defund the Department of Homeland Security beginning of this month. Never mind the Labrador sits either in the far back seat, or perhaps the trailer, he sees no reason why he shouldn't be steering, ultra-conservative that he is. "Congress ceded its constitutional authority when it gave up the fight to ensure the president faithfully executes the laws of the United States," he wrote.

Given how little Congress is doing these days, you'd think Mr. Labrador could spend some of his free time studying the text of our Constitution. It is in fact the President's duty to "take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed." The Congress is supposed to take care to write the laws, and to fund the operation of the government.

Starting from his self-aggrandizing misreading of our fundamental document, he goes downhill, dripping derision toward those who disagree with the tactics of his extreme right wing rump as "so-called 'adults'" who "ignored my warnings" that the Congress should come up with yet another slap-dash, half-assed maneuver for a couple months to give them time to "come up with a winning strategy" for immigration. Given the apparent determination of Congress not to agree on much of anything related to immigration, and the fact that years have not been enough, there is no reason whatsoever to imagine two months would make a difference.

Mr. Labrador might have made a difference at some point; indeed he was expected to be in the vanguard of Congress doing something. The closest he came to actual exercise of his leadership ended with him quitting the effort—nearly two years ago. Back in June, 2013, "it [was] unclear exactly how Labrador will proceed"; it remains equally unclear to this day. Blaming the President? Republican leadership of the House? The weak-kneed Senate? The Democrats who came through to keep the Department of Homeland Security funded rather than test the President's resolve in a game of Congressional chicken?

It's always someone else's fault, as Raúl Labrador "fights" for attention by making a loud noise, signifying nothing.

13.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The anti-Clinton Permalink to this item

Not quite sure what qualifies Carly Fiorina to be in the conversation about possible presidential candidates, other than her outsized ego insisting that she's good enough, she's smart enough... but doggone it, people don't really like her. Shaping herself as "the Republican foil" to Hillary Clinton might work for someone, but it's hard to imagine it working for Fiorina. She couldn't convince California to take her as a serious contender for the U.S. Senate. How can we imagine her in the Oval Office?

As someone with a nearby seat for her coming out in corporate leadership, this fellow Carey from San Diego in the comments covers what I'm thinking pretty well:

"As a former HP employee, I find it incredibly ironic that Carly is trying to sell herself as an accomplished business leader. She hoodwinked the HP board into selecting her because she's very glib and because Lucent was doing well at the time (though its problems became apparent shortly after Carly got the HP job). She then went on to destroy the 'HP Way' that Bill Hewlett and David Packard had created. HP had been an egalitarian company where all employees were valued, but it became an autocracy in which Carly bought herself a plane, starred in commercials, and fired executives who dared to disagree with her. By the time she herself was fired, HP had lost its way. Where on earth does Carly now get the hubris to think that she has something of value to add to our national conversation?"

Hubris is exactly the size of it. Fiorina is larger than life, if only in her own preposterous imagination. Not that politics is much of a meritocracy, but we can hope and imagine that people pay attention to results, and that results matter. Fiorina has exactly zero political results, given that she has yet to be elected to anything. She does have business results, and those aren't reason to want more from her.

11.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Heads will roll Permalink to this item

The Ferguson, Missouri city manager and the police chief seem like a good pair of resignations to start the ball rolling. There is a ton of housecleaning to do.

I had a hard time getting all the way to the bottom of Conor Friedersdorf's "selection of horrors" from the Department of Justice report about Ferguson's conspiracy against its black citizens, never mind the whole DOJ report.

"Ferguson officials repeatedly behaved as if their priority is not improving public safety or protecting the rights of residents, but maximizing the revenue that flows into city coffers, sometimes going so far as to anticipate decreasing sales tax revenues and urging the police force to make up for the shortfall by ticketing more people. Often, those tickets for minor offenses then turned into arrest warrants."

A judge, making a list of "what he has done to help in the areas of court efficiency and revenue"; and a City Council debating whether a change of judges "could lead to loss of revenue."

The City Manager acknowledged mixed reviews of Judge Brockmeyer’s work but urged that the Judge be reappointed, noting that “ goes without saying the City cannot afford to lose any efficiency in our Courts, nor experience any decrease in our Fines and Forfeitures.”

Brockmeyer's gone.

Spinning wheels Permalink to this item

Also in the realm of strange excursions for our state legislature, the drama of our continuing reassessment of whether "historical" (a.k.a. "instant") horse racing slot machinesparimutuel betting terminals shall be allowed to continue, in contradiction to our legislative abhorrence of (some kinds of) gambling, because horses. House State Affairs committee chair seemed to tip where his affection stands, bringing his trumpet to work to start today's hearing with a literal flourish.

The questions and answers between Rep. Lynn Luker (R-Boise) and the General Manager of Coeur d’Alene Racing, Doug Okunewicz, don't leave a lot of mystery as to whether what walks and quacks like a slot machine is really something about horse racing. A "user" captured in a video shown to the committee "was not operating [the device] correctly, and could not get to the part where you can manually select your horses."

[Okunewicz] said the “default setting” on the machines is not to show any of that information, and simply to allow speedy betting with a view of spinning reels. “They all have the capability of watching the race,” Okunewicz said, “and the default is set to not do that first. That’s how those games work.” When Luker asked how many people go through the information rather than just instantly betting and winning or losing, Okunewicz said he has no data. “My impression is that most of them don’t rely on the handicapping,” he said. “They allow the machine to help them with that. Most of them prefer the small screen race and the spinning reel output. It’s sort of supply and demand – that’s why they exist.”

While the CdA Racing GM may not have the means or motivation to dig into the slot machine software, the designers certainly do, and their "default" settings are doubtless set to facilitate maximum spin and maximum monetary suck, with the very faintest of tips of the hat to "horse racing" to wash away the tawdriness and turn this into a wholesome activity, as if by magic.

As support for Senate Bill 1011 prepares to stick a fork in this business with its tenuous connection to horse racing, the trumpet-playing head of the House State Affairs committee has another idea: H.B. 244, to redirect half a million dollars from the state's primary legalized gambling enterprise (the lottery) for "live Idaho horse race meet purse enhancement."

Because... would Idaho really be Idaho if the state didn't support horse racing?

Betsy Russell's blog post about the testimony from the main proponent for these betting machines, Louis Cella of Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, and Race Tech LLC, provides what case there is to be made, with a variety of dodgy facts and attacks on the opposition. It boils down to this, in his mind: somehow, his machines are "the last opportunity to save horse racing in the United States."

That leaves it a mystery why this is a matter pressing upon our state government.

Just don't call me a cab Permalink to this item

Our legislature proposes to be the regulator for a new class of services, provided by a "Transportation Network Company," otherwise known as Uber, and add a new chapter to Idaho Code with House Bill 201. (So much for the conceit of local government control being best.) "A TNC is not deemed to own, control, operate or manage the vehicles used by TNC drivers, and is not a taxicab association or a for-hire vehicle owner," it would say.

It's a new, new thing. And a TNC driver is not a taxicab driver, because we'll say so. The driver provides "transportation network company services," which is to say "transportation of a passenger between points chosen by the passenger," sort of the way taxicabs work, just by coincidence. Let us repeat ourselves: "TNC service is not a taxicab, for-hire vehicle or street hail service." TNCs and TNC drivers are not common carriers, and so of course drivers "shall not be required to register the vehicle such driver uses for TNC services as a commercial or for-hire vehicle or to obtain a commercial driver's license."

There are some requirements on the TNC, and limitations, but overall, it looks like it could easily be "model legislation" written by Uber, right down to the declaration of "an emergency existing therefor" justifying its immediate implementation upon passage.

10.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Lone Stars Permalink to this item

A former Texas land commissioner thought the letters demanding he vacate his office were merely "amusing," coming from a "harmless, clueless and interesting group of generally nice older guys with too much time on their hands." A Kerrville judge receiving a demand for “proof of his authority for executing his claimed powers involving a foreign entity” was not similarly amused. At the Valentine's Day meeting at the VFW, "several local, state and federal law enforcement officials burst through the door," and then... detained some of the group, took fingerprints, cellphones and briefcases.

Never mind secession, these guys say Texas never joined the union. At any rate, sounds like they won't be meeting at the VFW anymore. But, more letters.

Paul Robert Andrus, who was among those detained, filed documents accusing the sheriff’s lead investigator of “trespass upon liberty.” He demanded $3 million in gold, money order “or any combination necessary thereof.”

9.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Nuclear enrichment Permalink to this item

"Presumption" doesn't even begin to cover the act of 40-some Republican Senators in scribbling their names under this "open letter to the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran." Just a little civics lesson for folks who might not be familiar with our politics? You see, over here, we have a congress of babboons who can't really accomplish the basic parts of their job description, but have an inexplicable job security in spite of their incompetence. "Most of us will remain in office well beyond [2017]—perhaps decades," they chirp. As Paul Waldman puts it in the WaPo Plum Line:

"It’s one thing to criticize the administration’s actions, or try to impede them through the legislative process. But to directly communicate with a foreign power in order to undermine ongoing negotiations? That is appalling. And just imagine what those same Republicans would have said if Democratic senators had tried such a thing when George W. Bush was president."

They hope this letter "enriches your knowledge of our constitutional system."

Update: Vice President Joe Biden's answer to the GOP 47, on behalf of the institution he served for thirty-six years:

"The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere."

And the inevitable Borowitz Report:

Stating that “their continuing hostilities are a threat to world peace,” Iran has offered to mediate talks between congressional Republicans and President Obama. ...

8.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Contempt and aggression are not the same thing Permalink to this item

Officially, Saudia Arabia is "surprised and dismayed" that it's being criticized for the medieval punishment of blogger Raif Badawi for the supposed crime of "insulting Islam." (There is no similar punishment meted out for self-indicting irony, even if they were able to detect the insult they give to the ideals of human religion.) The BBC reports that the foreign ministry "rejected any interference in its internal affairs," "it could not accept any impingement on the country's sovereignty, or on the impartiality of its judiciary system," and added that "The kingdom unequivocally rejects any aggression under the pretext of human rights."

Pretext? Aggression? It hasn't come to that just yet, but the matter certainly is ripe for international condemnation and contempt, out beyond the boundaries where the kingdom "does not tolerate political dissent."

Or perhaps a more discreet royal tête à tête that might have helped, for the moment, put off the remaining 950 lashes, thanks to Prince Charles' "way of raising human rights issues that did not make the Saudis bristle." Perhaps the term nobless oblige came up. Or perhaps Badawi needs more time to recover from the first round of public flogging to keep the next one from turning out to be the death sentence he avoided by being cleared of "apostasy."

He might even get a plea bargain pardon; all he'd have to give up is his right to free expression.

excerpt of IHEU map in Freedom of Thought 2014

Looking at the map of the International Humanist and Ethical Union's report, Freedom of Thought 2014, might make you wonder if there's something in the latitude, the black equatorial swath where wrong thoughts can get you put to death by the state. And get this: it's part of the global war on terrorism:

In January [2014], Saudi Arabia enacted a new law equating “atheism” with “terrorism”. Though the law sought to criminalise numerous things, some already illegal, the very first article of the kingdom’s new “terror” regulations banned “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion.”

Nothing calls into question the fundamentals of your religion quite like insisting unbelievers should be put to death.

5.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Our ATM card on vacation Permalink to this item

Our Mexican adventure enters phase 2: attempting to retrieve some grocery money at our local ATM, Jeanette was disconcerted to have it tell here there was a HOLD on our account. She went inside and talked with a couple bank employees, mentioning our trip to Mexico, and they waived it away, gave her cash. When she came home and told me this story, I logged into our web view of the account, to find that while we didn't go all the way over to Mérida, our Key Bank ATM card number just did, on March 2, one week after we came back home. Somebody found something nice at the "Home Store" on the other side of the Yucatán for just over 9,000 pesos.

Key's fraud line handled my call with aplomb; I suppose they do a lot of this kind of work. We used that ATM/debit card for exactly two things: gas on day 1 at a Pemex station out in the country on the way from Cancún to Tulum, and at an ATM inside the Super San Francisco de Asis grocery store at the crossroads in Tulum on day 2. The early gas stop (and before we'd retrieved any pesos) was thanks to the local practice of providing cars with a quarter tank of gas, leaving you plenty of room to bring back "extra" for them.

Can't say for sure which one of those transactions led to the number being stolen, but the ATM would require a skimmer or some other sort of inside wiring or malfeasance, while the Pemex stop was susceptible to a no-tech copy the numbers off the card when no one's looking. I wondered why the attendant walked over to the next bank of pumps to use the card processing station on it, turned to see that yeah, there was one right next to the pump we were at. The one he used was conveniently out of our (and anyone else's) sight, facing away from us.

remix from Google Street View

It took some searching with Google Earth, because this station out in the country (20.4764°N, 87.2634°W to be more precise) is not marked with the big red Pemex symbol responding to my search. (It did eventually show a smaller gas station marker, and "Estacion de servicio Pemex.") The 2-year-old street view shows the two banks of pumps, but it looks like they hadn't installed the next-to-pump card processing stations. I just posted the 5th of 5 one-star reviews, every one of them about credit card scammery. Here's part of one:

"The original charge was ok on my account. However, they swiped the card a second time because they said it didn't go through the first time. This was untrue, they just charged me 10 times more than I bought in gas. To top it off, 3 days later an unauthorized charge was tried on my account for over $1000! This PEMEX was the only place I used my credit card the whole time in Mexico."

Another reviewer (a month ago) who used a credit card said the "card company called today and said they tried charging over $1000 on it after we left the country," and from a year ago:

"[T]hey scanned our card on a handheld machine that printed a receipt which supposedly said the card was not authorized. The attendant tried two more times, each time the same result. We ended up paying cash - big mistake! Our card was charged and the attendant made off with the cash!"

To which another person said "SAME exact thing happened to me Aug 2014. EXACTLY THE SAME." Caveat emptor on this place. If you have to buy gas here, you'll want to have pesos ready. Oh, I forgot to mention: there was an ATM in a kiosk there... but it was out of order. Not sure I could recommend an ATM in the middle of nowhere either, even if they get it fixed.

4.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Does anybody really know what time it is? Permalink to this item

Seems like everybody grumbles about daylight savings time, at least when it starts (2 o'clock antemeridian, this coming second Sunday in March). Losing an hour of sleep is no fun. In the fall, when we get the hour back, sure, that's nice, but it's another disruption, and an unwelcome harbinger of winter to have darkness come an extra hour earlier in the evening.

Idaho's esteemed House Majority Leader, Mike Moyle, was prepared to put a stop to it with a new law that would "exempt" all areas of our fair state "from the daylight savings time provisions of U.S.C. section 260a, starting July 1, 2015 (because that's the start of our state's fiscal year, I guess). We would be on daylight savings time there in the summertime, and so would be snapping back to standard time?

2001 photo of US 95 bridge over the time zone boundary

That's apparently not what Moyle had in mind: his statement of purpose said exemption from DST changes, so we could just stay on DST forever. Except no, "exemption" is a one-way ticket in U.S.C., to Standard Time, or Times, in Idaho's case. The MT/PT boundary follows the Salmon River across Idaho, as per our own bit of U.S.C. for that divide. (It's a curiosity that the Salmon River does not run all the way to the Montana border. It flows up from the south through the town of Salmon, along US 93 before turning west to cut the state in sort-of two and make a well-defined time zone. Thanks to Time Zone Report for pointing to e-CFR 71.9 and the answer, it proceeds along the Idaho/Lemhi county line.)

TZR is also responsible for instructing the Majority Leader of the error of his ways, and cheerfully offers advice for how to proceed with 2016 legislation should Moyle still thinks it's timely.

But I digress. This year's bill is dead, Jim. And see there, last year, Moyle proposed putting us on standard time year-round; you might have imagined he would have figured this out by now. But no.

3.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Couldn't happen to a nicer slumlord Permalink to this item

Back when I lived in Arny's Trailer Court (35 years ago now), the septic system was on its last legs, and the well water wasn't that great, but I seem to recall I drank it without getting sick. Then there was the problem of the space next door being vacated, and sewerage trying to take a shortcut across my space, to the drainfield on the other side.

The landlord had the memorable name of "Magar E. Magar," which I remembered from my own correspondence in disputes with him. If I ever met him face to face, it was only one or two times. He wasn't in the habit of personally visiting the property. Imagine my surprise to see his name pop up in Boise's newspaper this past Sunday, in a blurb-sized "story to catch up on" about, what else, drinking water and sewage. It seems the residents of Syringa Mobile Home Park were sufficiently fed up after 90 days (three months!) without drinking water that they filed a class action lawsuit, and the news is, they've prevailed.

If I'd been keeping up with Radio Free Moscow, I would have found Magar has been a popular tag for quite a while, what with the complaints, the U of I Law School helping file a lawsuit, his attempt to buy off tenants with a month's rent and $75, then threatening to close the park, the feds coming after him for discharging sewage in the South Fork of the Palouse River near Syringa, and him falling behind in his contempt of court payments, which at one point were running $350 per day.

That contempt was north of $10,000 a month for who knows how many months, and now the winners in the lawsuit each look to get $1,000 in direct payments and $1,000 in "free rent," while the feds are due a civil penalty of $100,000. After a while, that starts to add up.

May, 2013 photo

The sticking points Permalink to this item

Uber managed to round up 1,906 e-signees for its petition to the Boise Mayor and City Council, but those weren't enough. Just found the (print) story from the day before Uber called it quits here, listing the things the city wanted that Uber's G.M. found "onerous":

All that is certainly more inconvenient than NOT having licenses, background checks, etc., the way taxis do. Regardless of Uber's snit, the City Council is going ahead with drafting some law, and good for them, and us.

In the meantime, maybe we all need to expand our circles of friends if we want to "share" rides instead of buying them from strangers?

2.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Driving south Permalink to this item

We had some trepidation about traveling south of the border, but had various reassurances about our specific destination (flying to Cancún, and staying down the coast, at Tulum), and strength in family numbers, as we headed for our nephew's beach wedding. All that stuff you read about in the news is elsewhere, and somebody during the course of the trip assured us that if we didn't have anything to do with drugs, we didn't have anything to worry about. Alright then.

There were adventures, mostly all in the first day, having traversed the crazy tout scene at the airport, the Budget car rental office running the basic insurance fleecing operation and then handing us off to a timeshare salesman before producing our car, and then whatever they call the pièce de résistance in spanish, the guard at our hotel refusing to let us through the driveway, telling us the place was "closed." Did he say "ocupado" or "no ocupado"? I didn't know that word meant "busy" at any rate. And was it really about me greasing his palm a little? We hadn't retrieved any pesos, and besides, it wouldn't have occurred to me to bribe my way into the hotel we'd already 20% paid for.

Late afternoon, after the daily beach-goers had gone and before the lights came on (or maybe the generator was taking a break?), the place we'd never seen before had a sandy look of something that might well have been abandoned, and the guard and we did not have enough language in common to sort things out. As day faded into night, we wandered the coast road asking directions (the nice, young policeman, was helpful, but clueless, in retrospect), and finally getting someone to make a local call for us and get a better answer. It was well past dark when we got back to the right place, right where I expected it to be, and were let in and to our room (after we paid for the rest of the 5-night stay, up front, gracias).

rental checkout photo

Driving was ok, even though there are some unfamilar signs, a general lack of adherence to the speed limit, and the substitute control of various forms of "topes," a.k.a. Giant Mexican Speedbumps. We were at least advised about those and only hit one or two over the maximum preferable speed, which for the nastiest is about 0-2 kmh. Once a country gives over its speed limit enforcement to these very effective sleeping policeman, the posted number is pretty much arbitrary. Fast as you like (within reason) until the next topes, when you'd better slow down, Or Else. They've got one brand of gas station, the nationalized Pemex, so that was easy, and early: the local rental outlets like to send off their cars with a quarter tank of gas, the more space for you to bring back "extra" when you return. But in retrospect, no big deal, and all reasonably priced (if not as crazy-cheap as it seemed from shopping Kayak and seeing $2/day choices, before going with the name brand and the not quite too good to be true $7/day. (After insurance and all the tax add-ons, it came to a bit over $30/day, plus gas.)

Anyhow, our minor driving travails came to mind when reading Edwin Lyngar's interesting piece on Salon about something more adventurous, just a bit further south: My libertarian vacation nightmare: How Ayn Rand, Ron Paul & their groupies were all debunked. This, in particular:

"The greatest examples of libertarianism in action are the hundreds of men, women and children standing alongside the roads all over Honduras. The government won’t fix the roads, so these desperate entrepreneurs fill in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris. They then stand next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists."

The quintessential topes are the inverse of potholes, and I had a thought that an enterprising civil servant might combine the two ideas to automate speed control. If you're observing the 40 (or 70, or 100) km/hr speed limit, the bumps would be retracted flush with the pavement. If you're speeding, they could project out of the pavement a suitable amount. (Maybe not quite this much though.)

As for Honduras, if Lyngar had any really bad stories to tell, he didn't tell them. Just lots of guards with guns, and some high walls with concertina wire giving a sense of foreboding (which, ok, if you stuck around long enough, might turn out to be more than that). In the end, he turns it to a rather bizarre pitch, something you would not sign up for from an airport tout or timeshare salesman:

"Honduras has problems but people should go visit anyway and soon. The dangers are fleeting, and there are coffee plantations to tour, ruins to see, cigars to smoke and fish to catch. The people need your tourism dollars. As a bonus, it’s important for Americans to see the outcome when the bad ideas of teenage boys and a bad Russian writer are put into practice."

1.March.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Thank you, Governor Permalink to this item

The new Sunday paper on the driveway provided a nagging reminder that last Sunday's was still in the "vacation pack" pile on the table, part of the "catching up process" that will doubtless wane to a not-quite-completed task. Part of the pleasure of catch-up was finding former Idaho Governor Phil Batt's remarks to the Canyon County Lincoln Day Banquet in Nampa a week ago Wednesday. I imagine the crowd leaping to their feet and giving him a standing ovation, but of course I wasn't there, and Betsy didn't say, beyond that he "made waves." More likely some butts remained glued to chairs and some of the applause was obligatory, awkward, and tepid, with a decided lack of shouted "hear, hear!"

Would that his party could produce some leaders of his caliber and clear vision for our state.

"When I took my good friend and business partner, Kay Inouye and his wife Mary, to my Caldwell Elks Club, they were refused admission because they were not white. I dropped my membership. Their policy changed. I applied for readmission and was greeted by 14 black balls. Now that’s all changed, a relic of the past. There used to be signs in the windows of Wilder bars: 'No Mexicans.' They’re gone, a relic of the past. There used to be Nazis in North Idaho. I helped chase those scumbags out.

"Most overt discrimination is gone, but some remains. Gays are still regarded as weird freaks of nature by some, and it is certainly the critic’s right to do so, but to party-line vote against equal protection is not in the history or tradition of our wonderful organization.

"Call me a RINO if you want, I’m still proud to be a Republican and a good one. But for those of you who still favor discrimination for no good reason—think about it. Could you be the RINOs?"

The current legislature has no plans to honor his 88th birthday this month through action in keeping with his principles, but who knows, maybe they'll find their way by his 89th. Or 90th.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007