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

Rage against the machine Permalink to this item

It hasn't come to the ultimate in self-denying expression of rage, suicide bombing, but now half a century of "riots" and the way forward seems as incomprehensible as it ever was. Haven't we imprisoned all the thugs yet? Didn't getting tough on crime work? Have we not been tough enough? "Call me racist if you will," Mari Meehan begins a recent blog post, and proceeds to explain why you will. "Protesters" are criminals, and "they should be arrested, charged accordingly and jailed. Then they should be tried and if found guilty be sent off to jail once again. If local jails are over crowded open up Gitmo."

Datagraphic from The Sentencing Project

Oh yes, local jails are overcrowded, as are state and federal prisons. We are "the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind," David Simon observes. "No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are." Former police reporter and creator of the 5-season HBO drama series set in Baltimore, The Wire, Simon provided a personal report from the city of Baltimore at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2013, and The Guardian posted an "edited extract" of his impromptu speech. Starting with this:

"America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It's astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity."

The "horror show" of his title (and his TV series) is about "what is possible if you don't mitigate the authority of capitalism, if you don't embrace some other values for human endeavour," what happens when 10 or 15% of the population "is no longer necessary for the operation of the economy."

There is no excuse for self-destructive behavior. That doesn't mean there is no explanation for it. Charles Blow:

"You could easily argue that that rage was misdirected, that most of the harm done was to the social fabric and the civil and economic interests in the very neighborhoods that most lack them. You would be right.

"But misdirected rage is not necessarily illegitimate rage."

Simon calls out a date of "about 1980 exactly" for the triumph of the notion that the health of society is measureable in profit, talking about the end of the tenuous balance of power between labor and capital, if not the specific date. The graph of prison population from 1925-2013 above illustrates his thesis more directly than his text, the expression of "a retrenchment in terms of family income, ... the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You're seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor ..."

One wag on Twitter sliced the divide with a caption over a stock photo of blue-jacketed Wall Street traders (another soon-to-be redundant occupation, but it's a meme):

#BREAKING Photo: Looters steal billions of dollars, destroy businesses, leave thousands homeless. #FreddieGray

29.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Healthcare wheels and deals Permalink to this item

In spite of the Republicans enjoying majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate, for some reason we haven't repealed the Affordable Care Act. After fifty whacks from the House, they've gone quiet on the subject! It's almost enough to make you doubt their sincerity. Wouldn't it be even more of whatever it was to take it one step further and require the President to veto a "just say no no no" bill?

The truth is, everybody seems to have noticed that in spite of it being complicated and confusing, it's working, somehow. Out here in ruby red "you are not the boss of me" Idaho, per capita enrollment through the government healthcare exchange is fourth highest in the nation. Almost 400,000 people are getting help, 84% of 97,079 through premium subsidies, and more than 300,000 on Medicaid (even though our Legislature steadfastly refused to close the gap between the existing Medicaid program and the ACA, for yet another year, throwing 51,000 or so off the bus).

According to a contributor on ("you should always consult with your own health insurance agent, accountant, professional tax advisor or attorney and not rely on information you read on the Internet"), the executive director of Idaho's exchange declared the transition from the federal exchange to the state's own platform for the second open enrollment was “absolutely flawless.” The link to the AP story is not quite so flawless, having evaporated and left an empty wrapper, but Your Health Idaho is reliably tooting its own horn.

But Tom, it's almost May Day, who cares about this stuff in the vast months outside of open enrollment? you may be asking.

Due to a quirk of insurance fate, my annual policy runs out at midnight on May 1, so I care. I've been sitting on a letter from Regence that told me they'd automatically re-enroll you on your current coverage on the day. Morning of April 29, I called and talked to a company agent without a wait, and asked my one question: does my current plan comply with the Affordable Care Act? I wanted to hear "yes," but expected either that or "no" instead of the curiously hedged answer about how it "might" and "may" not meet this or that requirement, including the one for pediatric dental and vision and maternity care.

On the one hand, the (implied, at least) answer was "no," but on the other, why should I care about maternity or pediatric care on my personal health insurance policy? I'm not Peter Pan, Benjamin Buttons or Bruce Jenner. Would I like to compare with the "metallic plans," the Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum ingots of the ACA? Sure. The Bronze ("you are healthy, you want the lowest premium," etc.) premium would be... 62.371% higher than staying with the old plan (which is only! going up 10% this year).

Excerpt of cute datagraphic from

And when I fill out my taxes for 2015, will I have to pay a penalty? I would of course have to consult a tax advisor for the answer to that question. Or I could pretend what I found on the internet explains grandmothered plans, and Idaho's Krazy Kwilt orange say "you're OK." (The nice lady on the phone mentioned how neighboring Washington is green/not OK, but if they can offer me renewal, my state's insurance commissioner said it was good to go.) It seems this is an "extension of an extension" granted by the Department of Health and Human Services, allowing such plans to be renewed until October 1, 2016, and in force a year past that. In other words, I'm good for this year and next, if I want to be, so yay.

Which I imagine leaves just one more question in your mind: what's up with the "wheels" in the headline?

HealthFair image of their bus in the country

That has to do with a decidedly different mode of healthcare delivery, and a remarkable bit of direct mail that reached me this week, from HealthFair®. They propose to have me go to a grocery store parking lot a couple weeks from now and fork over $139 cash (less than half of my May insurance premium, as it happens) to get in a bus (hopefully not one that's spun out across a two-lane highway on the Palouse) and obtain a 7-test basic prevention package of ultrasound, EKG, circulation, fecal occult blood tests, and a hello Helicobactor pylori.

How can it be so cheap, you wonder? Mass production! Over 1,000,000 served since 1998, and "since we are mobile, we are able to keep overhead down. Also since we don't bill insurance, we are able to save dramatically by reducing costs associated with billing." It takes about an hour... which makes me wonder about their throughput, and how many people are on the bus at once. Six? Seven? In the front door, through the various stations and pooped out the back? It's almost fascinating enough to give it a try, just for the experience. Almost.

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

Zombie campaigns Permalink to this item

The gift of being on the e-list of "Romney for President Inc." keeps on giving, paid for by the NRSC, to "strengthen our Republican Senate," and I'm sure they would really like it if I sent some money one of these days. Still, today's invitation assures me that NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN A PRIZE. Also, no contribution or payment of any kind is necessary. Void where prohibited.

"One (1) winner will receive the following Prize: one (1) round-trip coach class plane ticket within the continental United States to Austin, Texas, on a date to be determined by Sponsor, with an approximate retail value of $750; one (1) one-night hotel stay, with an approximate retail value of $175; one (1) meal with an approximate retail value of $20; and ground transportation at the discretion of Sponsor, with an approximate retail value of $50. Approximate total retail value is $995."

The hook (as it were) is the $20 lunch, if you can believe that.

"Have you ever wanted to sit down and have a conversation with Texas Governor Rick Perry?"

I can honestly say that I have not.

Meanwhile, news is that Jeb Bush thinks he's raised more money in 100 days than any other modern Republican political operation," even as he pooh-poohed the idea that it should take a $billion to be elected president this time around. We'll see what "the right kind of campaign" looks like, but Bush III will involve a super-PAC called "Right to Rise," which will not, of course, coordinate directly with the candidate, because that would be illegal.

It also remains to be seen which candidate the undead RfPI will throw its weight behind, but whoever ends up on top of the primaries, presumably. (Not Rick Perry.)

26.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bullied by facts Permalink to this item

Attorney Steve Taggart provides a calm, factual analysis to the question of whether the arguments of the opponents of Idaho SB 1067 are valid. You might not be shocked, shocked to find out that they are not. We're not going to lose our sovereignty, import foreign law or put personal information in federal databases at risk. And we may well suffer financial consequences if we refuse to accept uniform law; there's ample precedent for that.

"The best public policy debates occur when both sides of the issue make arguments grounded in fact. So far, the opponents of SB 1067 are struggling to meet that standard."

Taggart's week-ago piece in Idaho Politics Weekly has more detailed background on this supposed "stand for liberty" from the least capable fringe of Idaho's Legislature, and the possibility for a disaster for Idaho's children.

Spokesman for the whingenuts (and his no-see-um donors, likely to include the Koch brothers), Wayne Hoffman rails on about a "new level of federal thuggery" as he connects the dots between "the 2014 education broadband disaster" (which had to do with Butch Otter's good old boy network and an illegal contract) and "this year's child support fiasco," a 100% Idaho homegrown flustercluck. It's hard to know whether Hoffman is really as literally bent as he seems, or if the wrap-up with hints of slavery and "blackmail" are Freudian telltales.

Update: The New York Times editorial board weighs in, which seems as likely to stiffen the impulsive refusal and xenophobic fantasies of our local oppositon as persuade anyone here.

Nobody ever asked me Permalink to this item

Seen on the street, in Boise

Things I've never been asked include "do you have the receipt for that bicycle you're riding?" (I tend to keep receipts, so I probably do, but "not on me," no.) In Tampa Bay, it seems that you don't even have to be bicycling while black; walking a bike might be close enough.

Across the peninsula, where the top fundraisers for Jeb Bush gathered for a "retreat," it's a slightly different world, where the "the linens are 100 percent organic, the mattresses are filled with hemp. The brochures (and even clothing hangers) in the room are made from recycled paper" and the service for the evening turndown service is spotty. (It makes for a cute ending to the snarky story, but turndown service, really?)

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

Free market trader Permalink to this item

Michael Lewis' stock in trade is book-length storytelling (for which he has a superb talent), but he can sling a fine short piece, too. Consider today's headline (punning on his recent bestseller) for BloombergView, "Crash Boys," in which

"A guy living with his parents next to London's Heathrow Airport enters a lot of big, phony orders to sell U.S. stock market futures; the market promptly collapses on May 6, 2010; it takes five years for the army of U.S. financial regulators to work out that there might be some connection between the two events. It makes no sense."

It does provide some food for thought on the business of "free markets" and all they might provide, while the case against Navinder Singh Sarao plays out. Is it against some law or regulation to wave your hands and I say I'M THINKING ABOUT SELLING THIS FUTURES INDEX when in reality, you're looking to buy it more cheaply? Lewis also wonders who (and whose algorithms) played the fool to this particular tout.

"There’s a fabulous yet-to-be-told story here," Lewis writes, as he bangs out its one-page intro, "about a smart kid in the U.K. who somehow figures out that the machines that execute the stock market trades of others might be gamed—and so he games them. One day while he is busy trying to trick the U.S. stock market into falling, the market collapses, more sensationally than it has ever collapsed. ..."

BloombergBusiness's reporting from yesterday led with "Nav's" email from his hotmail account with his explanation to authorities that his company is "basically me, it is a one man band, which is why I'm always so busy !" And that "I am a trader who changes his mind very very quickly," "an old school point and click prop trader," "still using the mouse to trade," but he's "admittedly very very fast because I have always been good with reflexes and doing things quick."

Why's everybody picking on him, anyway? He's in the UK, on a system "miles too slow" to beat the flash boys.

"No wonder they can manipulative on top of my orders without any risk, for even when I change my mind and decide to sell into my buy order, the manipulative orders on top of my initial buy order disappear in the 4 milliseconds it takes for my buy order to be cancelled and replaced with my sell order so that I do not trade with myself !!!!!"

Followed by some helpful suggestions for banning HFT's manipulative practices.

For his part, Bill Harts, chief executive officer of HFT advocacy group Modern Markets Initiative, sneers that “It sounds like the regulators came after him and he tried to deflect attention from himself on to high-frequency traders,” so he thinks “that’s all we need to know about his credibility.” But not all we need to know about the credibility of high-frequency trading, eh.

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

Some third way Permalink to this item

Former Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick, now co-founder of Partnership for Responsible Growth, introduces the idea of a "bipartisan, free market solution" to address the problem of climate change, in an op-ed in today's Idaho Statesman. "Carbon-funded tax cuts" would

"[impose] a revenue-neutral pollution fee on major greenhouse gas emitters, using the proceeds to lower the corporate income tax rate and protect low-income consumers while suspending the EPA’s 'command and control' effort to regulate greenhouse gas. It’s a jobs-creating, free market solution with a two-way border adjustment tariff to force China and others to follow suit in their own self-interest. It’s much faster and far cheaper than current policy."

This is an interesting break in the political logjam between the "What me worry" camp (reliably exemplified by Joe Neves in every Statesman comment thread on the topic) and those who pay attention to science and accept that there is indeed need for action. The EPA's initiative under current law, as a possible antidote to the current incapacity of our political system might create an opening for something more considered, and more effective. (Plus, calling out the EPA is a great dog whistle in Idaho.)

In the comments, Matthew Shapiro's considered response could be an important second step in moving the discussion into useful territory, and takes me back to the "Growthmania" essay I wrote back in 1990-something. Borrowing generously from Shapiro's comment, and his conclusion verbatim:

To address climate change, we need to take a step back and ask, what defines a healthy economy? It requires more than just increasing consumption and production, "more" is not always "better." More California water bottled for more Nestle profits and providing more waste to collect in garbage patches within the North Pacific Gyre, for example, is not fueling a healthier economy.

Anyone who's worked in, or had to deal with a bureaucracy (whether one that's "private enterprise," non-profit or government) can relate to the aphorism to "never confuse progress with activity." Gross Domestic Product is gross in more ways than being an aggregate of everything we have some way to measure in monetary terms. It measures some forms of activity, not the usefulness, not the profitability in financial, or any other terms, for anyone.

Photo from the backyard

We might instead follow Bhutan's lead and try to measure Gross National Happiness. Or Nick Marks' Happy Planet Index. (H/t to Sami Grover on Treehugger for those, out of 5 Economic Alternatives to the Cult of GDP.)

A sustaintable economy—one that benefits the most people for the most generations to come—will quite possibly involve a reduction in consumption by many, and reduced "production." It will involve many changes to production and consumption, certainly, and to distribution. We have the human, societal and technological potential to provide what every person on this planet needs to thrive and to be gainfully occupied in creating value for society.

Definitions can determine outcomes. Some celebrate "free markets" as the only means for fair progress, in spite of failures too numerous to describe. (Yes, markets regulated in myriad ways can fail too, whether due to errant regulation or a host of other reasons. And some "free marketeers" make their pitch with funding from secret donors who benefit from tax benefits of "non-profit" status.)

We need to consider progress in terms of authentic quality of life, not simply "Gross" product. We need to invent industries and jobs based on improving the human condition, not merely jobs making and marketing whatever.

"And when we do so, we will find that we might actually start making a dent in our carbon footprint, along with every other kind of footprint we make. This, too, is a free market solution. It just expands the notion of what a 'market' is beyond the corporate definition, to encompass the full range of values and impacts and possibilities available to all of the shareholders—i.e., everyone on the planet—and well beyond the next quarter's bottom line."

21.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Labrador behind the scenes Permalink to this item

Since we can't see the now-deleted emails (the federal side, because Congress exempted itself, and state Rep. Lynn Luker's side because "I often delete emails from my private account to keep it organized. I used a private account this time because it was handy"), all we know is what Luker and Congressman Raúl Labrador feel like telling us. Last week, that was Labrador's staff saying it was just a phone call between the two of them, now they say there were some emails.

Labrador (still) says he doesn't have a position, just "always a concern," "about the due process rights that other countries have." This, too, is precious:

As far as his position on the legislation that passed Congress last year, “it passed on voice vote so I don’t remember anything about the bill,” Labrador said. “It’s something that wasn’t even debated.”

Maybe he could read the Idaho Deputy A.G.'s informal opinion outlining the hierarchy of legal application by Idaho Courts, from

  1. The U.S. Constitution
  2. The Idaho Constitution
  3. Idaho statutes
  4. Idaho case law; and
  5. if no law exists, the common law of England

so five, count 'em, five levels of protection between us and Sharia. Labrador has a few levels of protection between himself and accountability, too.

Drill baby drill Permalink to this item

Vox picked up the ISIS? image of their territory that Aaron Zelin tweeted

Once upon a time, there was this temporary balance of power maintained by can't-make-this-up covert maneuvering, shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, looking the other way when he used poison gas on the Kurds, selling 1,500 missiles to Iran and sending most of the money to Nicaraguan guerillas to stop the spread of Communism in our very own hemisphere (or quartosphere, actually), while war raged between Iran and Iraq.

Now, the undated file photo of Saddam Hussein hefting a rifle to pose for a sandbagging picture has a quaint, charming feel to it. Maybe it's the dash of a beret, or the one raised eyebrow. I couldn't imagine there would come a time when I felt nostalgia for some of the U.S. presidents past, but some of the worst don't seem so bad once you have a couple decades' perspective. (Maybe I'll be lucky to live long enough to wax nostalgic about W., even, as impossible as that seems today.)

The story about the secret plot behind the creation of ISIS sounds about right, perfectly plausible, perfectly ironic, and one of too many examples of blowback from misguided policies that don't seem right when exposed to the light of day. From the same part of the world that brought us Hosea's unforgettable verse, we reap whirlwinds.

"The war was premised in part on the assertion that Saddam's regime was linked to anti-American jihadist terrorists. This was a falsehood. But the invasion made this falsehood true — and in more terrible fashion than we ever imagined possible."

And yeah, it is still a lot about the oil.

Bound to go (inter)national Permalink to this item

Kirk Johnson sums things up succinctly in his lede for the NYT, dateline Post Falls, Idaho (away up yonder):

"It took five years for negotiators to work out the details of a multinational treaty on child support that would make it easier to track delinquent parents around the world. It took only a couple of minutes for a committee of the Idaho Legislature to endanger America’s participation."

If, as "state and federal officials said," support for the bill was crucial, and "all 50 states must approve the mechanics of the treaty," it's hard to imagine that happening. We've got 19 done, 31 to go, and it's not at all clear that a special session of our legislature could get it done. The "ornery streak" in Idaho—especially north Idaho—or to be more precise, the ignorant, conspiracy-minded, isolationist, petulant, and childish streak. UN are not the boss of us.

If not Idaho, then Utah, or Wyoming, or Texas, or Arkansas, or Mississippi would volunteer to declare to wave the flag of sovereignty in defense of... well, that's the thing. In defense of parents who won't pay their court-ordered child support. Rep. Heather Scott, (she of the "high point" newsletter fiddle-dee-dee) gets her national soundbite:

“I’m concerned about women’s rights in some of these countries,” Representative Heather Scott, a Republican member of the committee, said during a hearing on the bill. “I’m seeing a problem,” added Ms. Scott, who ultimately voted along with eight other Republicans to table the bill without sending it to the full House for a vote.

Are you now? You're seeing a problem in some foreign countries? Because... you can see one from your front porch? (Can't remmber if Canada has Sharia law yet.) How about in your district, where voters elected you to represent them? Never mind that, I don't doubt that Boundary and Bonner county voters are fine with a figurative thumb in the eye of unspecified "foreign countries," who will never feel the pain. BetterIdaho provides an analysis of "who do you trust?" for the naysayers, chasing boogeyman. Not local governments, not other states, not women, not Idaho's congressional delegation, not the Idaho Senate, and for damn sure not The Hague Conference on Private International Law. (But some guy named Shahram Hadian, they trust him.)

20.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Did not see this coming Permalink to this item

Soon after our fraud report, and provisional credit, and sending in an affadavit, Key Bank affirmed the credit and closed the incident from someone having helped themselves to $600-some out of our account, down on the Yucatán early last month. Along with adding my advice to travelers (that no one stopping at that particular gas station is likely to stumble into, but the general caveat might be useful), just for grins, I looked around Pemex's website and found a "contact us" email address and sent a note about one of their apparently dodgy retail outlets.

"Buenos Días," I opened, before apologizing that I couldn't carry on in their native language, and stating my complaint about the likely nexus of our ATM card numbers being swiped (so to speak), the date and time, address, and Google+ review I wrote with the geolocation of the place. I assumed it was unlikely to garner a response, and indeed, there was no acknowledgement of the message I sent more than six weeks ago now.

Today, I received a reply, earnestly expressing appreciation for the customer feedback, and asking for more detail, including "a copy of receipt, voucher, bill or ticket that support the purchase of the product, and describe of facts that originated the complaint, including if it is the case, the total amount claimed."

It isn't the case, thanks to the fraud protection on our account. Key Bank has a claim against somebody, who I very much doubt will ever be tracked down. The employee of that station along the Cancún-Tulum highway who handled our ATM card could be in some hot water, but how is anybody going to prove anything against him? The good story has blunted the sting of being (temporarily) robbed, and it's hardly worth my trouble to pursue his trouble at this remove.

What's interesting about the email is not the official signature and the bilingual fine print disclaimer about it being for my exclusive use, but that it has a CC list of no fewer than a DOZEN folks at Pemex being informed of their response and given a copy of the attached (printed and scanned to PDF) email message.

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

Policing, race, bias, one hour Permalink to this item

99,980 police stops in the city of Miami Gardens, population 110,000. As compared to 3,753 for the city of Miami. This American Life, from February: Cops See It Differently, Part Two, Act One, "Inconvenience Store."

A five year old. A seven year old, said to have "a slight beard." No one could say where the policy and action came from. No one could say why. "In the absence of a plan, things went bad in big ways, and in small ways."

Las Vegas (Act Two, "Comey Don't Play That") tried something different, after too many shootings in 2011, when too many of the people shot were black men. A lot different. And it has worked. The U.S. Department of Justice give them a list of 75 recommendations. #28 on the DOJ training list: "a reality-based training program."

Another item: "implicit bias training."

FBI Director James Comey is quoted in Act Two: "There's nothing more American than the conversation we need to have right now, about race."

"Tryanny is now at our doorsteps" Permalink to this item

That's from Shahram Hadian, the man who claims to be the key player behind Idaho's child support mess, during his 2012 campaign for governor in Washington, calling for armed insurrection against the government. Thanks to Better Idaho for abling blogging the background on this disturbed man, and the not insignificant fringe faction that wants to fight a new Civil or (preferably) Revolutionary war.

"Weeks before the fateful vote in the House Judiciary [and Rules] Committee that left Idaho families in peril, Hadian spoke to GOP lawmakers in a closed-door meeting. Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) invited him to speak. The title of Hadian’s presentation was “The True Face of Islam.” During the meeting, Hadian explained that Muslims are infiltrating Idaho and creating Islamic enclaves. He also provided lawmakers with a two-page summery of his concerns of S 1067, the bill the provides funding for enforcing child support. ...

"Unfortunately for Idaho families, five members of the House Judiciary Committee attended that meeting. They are Rep. Shannon McMillan (R-Silverton), Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) Rep. Kathleen Sims (R-Coeur d’Alene), Rep. Ron Nate (R-Rexburg), and Rep. Don Cheatham (R-Post Falls). All five voted against S 1067."

That's five of the nine who succeed in killing the bill through the end of the regular session, ending with the complicity of the whole Republican caucus at the end, more interested in "integrity" and "adjourning" than bringing the bill out to the commitee of the whole. Those five and Barbieri are in the top ten of the Idaho Freedom Foundation's "Freedom Index," the same secretly funded "non-profit" that hosts Wayne Hoffman's sanguine attaboys for the Tea Party monkey wrench gang.

"The media are complicit in bringing this nation down now," Hadian said to the enthusiastic cheers of the thin crowd of white people saying "that's right" and "amen" in the rhythms of him reading his call-and-response script. Never mind that fewer than one in 25 voters in Washington were interested in what he was selling, the enthusiasts are armed and dangerous and you are not the boss of them.

Hadian succeeded in finding and affecting a small, credulous audience in the Idaho House, and in "stopping tyranny" a tiny bit, for those who owe child support to the parents and children in 155,000 households in our state.

Not sure who all is at the doorsteps, but there seems to be a nest of rats in the basement.

Update: Another member of the J&R Committe, Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d'Alene, calls out the members of his own party:

"The decision to deconstruct child-support enforcement in Idaho was an erratic decision made by nine people in the Legislature. They have violated Republican principles by turning their backs on fiscal, economic and legal stability. Perhaps it was the thrill of using this bill to make a statement. Perhaps it is the example set by those who jeopardize federal programs with protest votes in Washington, D.C. Whatever the reason, we will never know for sure, because there is no official record due to the lack of debate. What we do know is this: This erratic vote was a slap in the face to Idaho's children, and was an extremely irresponsible example of governance."

17.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Picture the new baby in your family Permalink to this item

If you're a Facebook user, I'm guessing chances are very good that you are not tired of seeing pictures of your friends and family, and especially not tired of seeing the excited brand-new baby pictures from a family member or friend you haven't seen in years. But not everyone is on Facebook, right?

This just in, about one of our nieces who we haven't seen since she was a teenager, now a beautiful young woman with a handsome husband and a beautiful baby girl. News came in a twice-forwarded email, still carrying its instructions to the proud parents, to forward the message to family and friends.

Big yellow button to press, a "temporary password" and the surname for identifier, enough legitimacy feel for us to try a new social medium we'd never heard of, "mom 365". (Catchy slogan: "share the love") Looks like all your new mom could ask for and much, much more. Sections of BLOG, MOM, GETTING PREGNANT, PREGNANCY, BABY NAMES and so on.

Big yellow button comes with big GUIDs for birthId and babyId, stuff like be2dfcd7-0c6b-47a8-a1ca-87610e840-01, and for the happy relatives a 15 digit visitor password and use the mom's surname to make quadruple sure you allowed to see the baby.


Then the moment you've been waiting for... pictures! And YES, THEY ARE GLORIOUS. They are also WATERMARKED with that catchy mom365 logo and have a Copyright © 2015 Mom365 notice on the bottom. This is not your subtle-you-could-almost-overlook-it watermark either, it's a "what a nice picture, I can't live without it, and must pay to have that removed" sort of a watermarking.

The business model has the feel of, the company that could've been Facebook, but isn't. They're pitching themselves as "the largest new newborn photography service in the US," with over 1,700 professional photographers. These are not your amateur baby photographs, these are professional.

Their button image

Treasure this moment forever.. it says at the top of the "Shop Now>" landing. (Apparently if you want the whole ellipsis, you need to place an order.) "Best Value" includes "Double Trouble" if you've got twins, or "Happy Together," 18 portraits in multiple sizes. And "Customer Favorites" include "Botanical Baby Announcement" (pour notre petit chou-fleur) "Chic birth announcement in sets of 24." Pricing? Portrait packages topline ranges from $50 to $165, but consider things with "Ultimate" in the product name why don't you for north of $400. Priceless!

And speaking of priceless, the $49.95 "Welcome Baby Slideshow" requiring at least four poses provides you with some "low resolution" images, and does not include rights to print.

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

You say "incomplete," we say "fail" Permalink to this item

The Governor's much-anticipated press conference today thudded, and all we've got to show for it is this diplomatic "news release" about "historic improvements for Idaho schools" and "starting" (yes, just starting) "to address Idaho’s transportation needs." It seems "historic" in rather the same way the "historical horse racing" is like horse racing. (No mention of that "accomplishment," of course, since the legislature actually tried to accomplish its demise, and the Governor tried to veto it, and the courts are probably going to have to decide what actually happened.)

"[S]ome unanticipated challenges left it with a grade of 'Incomplete,'" the news is, and no, he isn't talking about the abject failure to address the need to expand Medicaid, with the legislature steadfastly refused to even consider, nor the House State Affairs Committee's genuinely historic three-day hearing on adding the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights act, followed by their party-line decision to tuck that notion back in the closet.

How much money are we talking about?
More than $16 million in child support enforcement money, two-thirds of the state’s child support program budget; the potential of losing $30 million in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grants, tied to Idaho’s child support compliance; and the $200 million in child support payments processed by the DHW child support office annually.
Source: Idaho Reports

The incontinent elephant in the room is the House Judiciary and Rules Committee Nine's killing of SB 1067, the child support bill, after the Senate had unanimously approved it (notwithstanding some later reservations identified by at least two of the most extreme members, Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll from Cottonwood, and Sen. Bob Nonini from Coeur d'Alene), and various members of the House committee got their backs up about the very idea of some international treaty or federal law coercing Idahoans to... well, you know, pay what they owe for their child support.

Not sure how I was added to her list, but one of the nine, Rep. Heather Scott, from as far north as you can go, District 1, sent me her "legislative update" yesterday, crowing about the "high point in the session," when "nine committee members stood firm when being bullied and bribed into accepting this bill."

No mention of how much bribing and bullying was involved, but the whole Republican caucus in the House refused to consider taking the bill from the committee and considering in the committee of the whole. Apparently the urgency of adjournment and party unity were more compelling as the session drew to a close.

Scott is blaming the media for "turn[ing] this vote into a spectacle," and complaining (or is it bragging?) about having to spend "over 7 hours to compile over 560 pages of documentation" to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests. But she and her fellow hold-outs are the spectacle, going into extra innings in "updates" and op-ed pages. Rep. Ron Nate says Idaho Needn't Bow to Feds (cheerfully hosted on Idaho Freedom Foundation's blog, for their "Board of Scholars" member, after it ran in the Idaho Statesman), Rep. Lynn Luker from west Boise blamed the federal government for the committee's failure, said they're using children as collateral [sic].

You know things have gone downhill when the guy from Caldwell is the voice of reason; but Rep. Jim Rice is attorney who specializes in child custody; such a shame his fellow committee members didn't pay more attention to him.

The Governor is prepared to take some action, even if he can't to 22 Republicans to join 14 Democrats and pass the bill yet. He's going to have the director of Health & Welfare Director send a letter out to all 155,000 Idaho households who receive child support payments. And maybe some will write or call their legislators and help Speaker Scott Bedke whip up enthusiasm for a special session? Or maybe it'll just be another kick on parents and kids who can ill afford the trouble, and $100,000 or so down a rathole.

“I’m not prepared to stand up here today and tell you I’m going to call a special session, because I think there’s a lot of homework to do, in that if we were to have a special session, that we have a successful one,” Otter said. He said that will include “engaging the legislative leadership, the legislative committees, Health & Welfare on the issue, so that as we do go forward, it’s not another issue that we short-stroke. That was one of the complaints that we had. … It’s going to be a very deliberative … process through the stakeholders.”

Very deliberative. And yes, there is spectacle here, made in Idaho. Don't blame the media for reporting, or even offering their opinions. Lord knows, the legislators are offering theirs! Let's wrap it up with Charles Pierce, in Esquire: "In which we learn that extremism in defense of idiocy is no vice."

Tax.Day.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

And a funny little hat tip to Doug Adams Permalink to this item

42 In the morning news roundup: In honor of Jackie Robinson's 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, all baseball players are wearing his number at games today.

Stuff and nonsense Permalink to this item

While as yet only a "hopeful," Chris Christie is making noise on the pre-campaign trail (in New Hampshire, of all places), picked up by MLive Media Group. He wants to overhaul Social Security in his spare time. The risible headline is Work until you're 69 which I may well do, but as an imperative for everyone seems a bit crazed. Phasing out benefits from income of $80,000 to $200,000 isn't insane, anyway. Give an exemption from payroll for "seniors after age 62," would be a nice raise for older workers, but not a bridge to more solid funding.

So a mixed bag, which would get even more mixed were it to tumble towards actual legislation, which it might do, but what's the hurry? Social Security is not actually a budget problem. It's well funded, and as Christie's particular set of proposals demonstrates, there are many knobs to tweak as it needs adjustments. But we're not talking about actual legislation, any more than we're talking about Social Security, are we? It's campaigning. Like so, at the New Hampshire Institue of Politics at Saint Anselm College:

"Through its unwillingness to address our biggest challenges in an honest way, the Obama administration has put us on a perilous course for both our short-term and our long-term futures. See, I think it's time to tell the truth about what we need to do in order to solve our problems and put our country back on the path to greater prosperity."

See? That was the lede out of "nearly 40-minute speech [that] delved into policy specifics," which actually sounds kind of fascinating. Maybe they eat this stuff in the Granite state. He might have been trying to sneak that "raise the retirement age" blockbuster in more quietly, what with the "gradual increases" starting in 2022... when he imagines he'll be a 2nd term lame duck? Also, gradual increasing Medicare eligibility to 67 over more than two decades, a curiously tepid approach to the program with more immediate budget problems.

14.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Left behind Permalink to this item

While we wait to hear whether the Governor will call a special session to address the shortcomings of the recent legislature, the finger-pointing circus is in full swing. Rep. Lynn Luker of next-door district 15 made a go at mansplaining, that "we wanted to go home" (which didn't go over real well) and then that foreign court orders—remember, we're talking about child support court orders—might coerce Idahoans ... to pay their child support.

“Courts in Idaho are required to accept foreign orders with only a few exceptions,” Luker wrote. “Those exceptions include minimal requirements for notice and hearing; however, those rights are undefined and vary drastically from country to country. Our courts would be curtailed from looking behind those orders. One provision even bypasses court review and allows agency enforcement without court review.”

And, uh, privacy concerns. Luker said foreign countries would have access to federal databases with information on parents. No, no, it's not about Sharia law, it's the flaws in the bill and the 2007 treaty behind it. And the federal extortion.

“It is not our choice to interrupt current child support enforcement,” Luker wrote. “Rather, it is the federal government that is using children as collateral to force its policies upon Idaho and its sister states.”

Cindy Agidius (taking time off from stalking Paulette Jordan), the Communications Director, House Majority Caucus sent out Luker's "editorial" for some reason, prompting other Republicans to make it clear that Luker wasn't speaking for them, and eventually an all-caps "clarification" from Agidius that Luker's piece was just "HIS PERSONAL OPINION AND DOES NOT REPRESENT THE OPINION OF THE ENTIRE HOUSE GOP CAUCUS," which could have sufficed, but she went on. Rep. Luke Malek (R-Coeur d’Alene) made it clear that

“Representative Luker does not speak for Idaho or me. Scuttling 1067 without debate was heavy-handed opportunistic theatrics at the expense of single-parents and children…the most vulnerable in our society. I do not support the erratic behavior that will lead to the dismantling of our child support system, nor the implication that this mockery of a legal analysis in any way represents our Republican caucus.”

Unfortunately, Malek subsequently weighed in to a lively blog comment thread with a completely different and slightly bizarre 2nd take, saying that all the Republicans in the House voted not to consider the bill over the bare majority of the committee's objection, to "uphold the integrity of the process," which is to say committees' "tremendously important role in protecting Idahoans from a plethora of terrible ideas."

And more than a few good ones.

"As badly as many of us wanted to pull that bill out of the committee and undo the damage of the nine, the damage to the integrity of the committee process would have been exponentially more detrimental to Idahoans."

It's a perfectly ridiculous argument and a poor excuse. It might well be an explanation for the otherwise incomprehensible unanimity of the Republican caucus in refusing to act. Let's call it half an explanation. The other half is "we wanted to go home."

It might have been an errant April Fools prank, but the hints and whiffs of Sharia law that were at least part of what queered the deal in the House Judiciary and Rules Committee (after the Senate unanimously approved the bill, remember) came strangely upon the heels of the wingnut luncheon hosted by Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) with his guest speaker warning about Muslims infiltrating the West.

If Vito and his fellow extremists were looking for an informative brown-bagger, they might invite Sholeh Patrick, who offered some helpful instruction on what "sharia" is, and isn't. Not holding our breath for that, given the affection our legislature's right-wing has for its bogeymen.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's new blog is handy, from Frequently Asked Questions, to a map of the 20 states that have adopted child support legislation, to the start of the clock ticking for the money to run out.

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

Monumental notions from the chief Permalink to this item

Our Governor also made national news this week, with a letter to Oregon's Governor Kate Brown, clumsily attempting diplomatic preemption of that state's recommendation to have a statue of Nimíipuu Chief Hinmatówyalahtqit (Nez Perce Chief Joseph) represent them in Statuary Hall in Washington D.C.

It's not as if the topic of Idaho's statuesque forefathers have been a topic of conversation lately. Senator William Borah has been standing in D.C. since 1947, and Idaho's first Governor, George Laird Shoup, has been there more than a century.

Nor is it a matter of Idaho having troubled itself to set up the equivalent of Oregon's Statuary Hall Study Commission, or for C.L. "Butch" Otter to have brushed up on his history, but he wants the Oregon Governor and leaders of the legislature to know that he thinks Chief Joseph has "a more significant historical tie to Idaho than any other state in our region," and thinks Oregon should hold off, until whenever.

"While Idaho may or may not exercise its right to rotate its contributions to Statutory [sic] Hall for some time," Otter wrote, "your kind deferral would be appreciated."

From cover image of 'Nez Perce Country,' by Alvin M. Josephy Jr.

The chief was born in the Wallowa valley in northeast Oregon, and there's a monument to his father ("Old Chief Joseph") there. That was the land Joseph and his band occupied before white settlers moved in on them, and from which they were eventually driven off. "Young" Chief Joseph is buried in Nespelem, on the Colville Indian Reservation in northeast Washington, where he ended his days (denied from returning to his home in the Wallowa valley). The Nez perce National Historical Park has 38 sites in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana, the geography over which the people used to range before the United States of America moved in and took over, employing force of arms when mere deceit did not get the job done.

And now Butch Otter thinks Idaho might—might, someday—decide to have the Chief represent us in Washington, does he? If it were a notion motivated by humility and respect (and some real estate reparations), it could be quite the noble gesture. I am at least grateful that Otter gave me reason to review some of the well-documented history of the Nez Perce, and I would definitely encourage him to do likewise. (If a whole book is too much, he could start with Randy Stapilus' synopsis. The "treaty" group in Idaho made a deal with the U.S. that included selling the "non-treaty" group's land out from under them. The government did figure out the error—to put it in the most charitable light—but eventually just wanted the land of the Wallowa valley—the land of Chief Joseph's band—for its own white people.)

I would then expect our Governor to congratulate Oregon's commission on their bold and appropriate choice, and to encourage our neighor's legislature to follow through on the idea, acknowledging in all honesty that there was never a chance in hell that Idaho could have come up with this idea, let alone seen it to fruition.

House of shame Permalink to this item

We're getting accustomed to "going national" as they say. This week, a House committee killed legislation because some legislators think France and Belgium (for example) might impose Sharia Law to collect child support from Idaho parents. It doesn't have to make a lot of sense, apparently, let alone have a connection with reality. The bill (SB 1067) was intended to enact the 2008 amendments to the federal Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, incorporate the provisions of the 2007 Hague Convention on International Recovery of Child Support and thus put us in compliance with federal child-support collection rules. The obligatory and typically inadequate "fiscal note" said there'd be no impact if it passes, and "a potential loss of IV-D funding under the Social Security Act."

It didn't say how much, but reports are from $46 million in federal child-support funding to perhaps as much as $200 million.

The Senate passed it unanimously. The House Judiciary and Rules Committee caught wind of... an Islamo-UN conspiracy for jihad on deadbeat parents, with the arguably nuttiest Senator, Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood (she of the infamous "false faith, false gods"), somehow entering into the discussion, regretting her failure to stop it in the Senate. The committee killed it on a 9-8 vote, and the last-ditch, end-of-session (as it turned out) attempt to pull it out of committee and have the whole House vote on it failed on a party line vote, 49-12.

That's it, the House is done, 1:30 in the morning and they can all clear out of Boise.

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

Death spiral pricing Permalink to this item

After a long time doing without, we signed up for an "introductory" deal for the Idaho Statesman back in 2007, only $31.85/13 weeks. Pennies a day, as they say. (Thirty-five of them.) Later that year, the "regular" rate of $48.43 kicked in, just over half a buck a day. There was a small increase in early '09, and we cruised along for a few years. In November, 2011 they announced a 10% increase, but just $5 a quarter, no big deal. Then 15% a little over a year later, and another 11% less than a year after that, and most recently 14%, last July. They're apparently on a 9 month cycle of increasing their price.

I've seen the letter often enough, I know what's inside before I open it. (I know it's not a statement of our account, or an invoice; their "EasyPay" billing process never generates statements or invoices. Can I at least check it online? I can see my "balance," paid through April 25. They're not much into customer recordkeeping, and have outsourced some of the digital account management to Press+, which is equally uninformative.) Oh, a letter from the Statesman, another price increase.

One giant leap for mankind, but not us

The "Audience Development & Production Director" starts with the obligatory "thank you" sentence and then straight to the punchline before the first paragraph break. The new number is expressed as a "weekly rate," that's different. (It's always been per 13 weeks.) And "before tax," to shave off that +6%. Then let's move on quickly to all the great stuff they're doing! We did like the most recent redesign, and I do like being able to point to stories in my blog (but that's about sharing, not our consumption). The mobile site (huh?) smart phone apps, iPad apps (meh), the e-Edition, "a digital version of the paper, page by page." I kind of hate those. They're like woodgrained plastic.

Not as easy to graph, there was also the interesting change they made in May, 2013, "discontinued extending subscriptions for the first two weeks of a vacation," which is to say, "we'll keep billing you for papers even if you don't want delivery." When I pushed back about that, they said

"This is a growing practice within our industry, some papers have been doing it for over two years. Regretfully, our economic situation required us to make this change."

And they're "a 24-7 newsroom," so they need the cash flow, even when we're out of town. You can still use the web stuff.

It boils down to just one question: are we ready and willing to accept a whopping 17% price increase, less than a year after the price went up 14%?

No, we are not.

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

Possibly more fun than an actual horse race Permalink to this item

Frank Lamb said "it's just wagering on races that have already been run," blinking in the sun outside the club because they wouldn't let KTVB take the cameras inside, last July. He talks about users assessing information about the horses and jockeys and "making your decision" on your parimutuel hysterical betting terminal there, but SRSLY?

All in good fun, down at the historical race 'track'

That was before now former Idaho State Racing Commission director regulator Lamb was lead to the slaughter "early retirement" after it turned out he kind of had a thumb on the scale.

"Of every dollar that is bet in these machines, the state gets one-and-a-half percent and more than 90 percent goes back to players," KTVB said, so we'll be resurrecting the ponies one dime at a time, if the Governor's veto of the repeal can stand, which we're not sure it can because it's a bit wobbly, and assessments range from "questionable legal validity" to "not in compliance with the Constitution" to "invalid." University of Idaho law professor Shaakirrah Sanders thinks "it’s quite possible that any citizen could possibly bring a lawsuit," for which a line may form at the Courthouse.

The state Senate is still in favor of repealing the 2013 deal, although the super-majority there got talked down over the Easter weekend to below the 2/3rds it would have taken to override an actual veto. If there had been one.

Deconstructing sitcom morality Permalink to this item

A friend tossed off a remark about each of the characters of Gilligan's Island representing one of the seven deadly sins, and I struggled to imagine which one the wholesome girl-next-door Mary Ann would be. I pushed back, he said he never actually watched the show and it was hearsay... but well-founded all the same. The secret's been out for more than 7 years, as seen on NPR's blogs:

"Years after the show ended, its creator, Sherwood Schwartz, admitted that each of the characters represented one of the seven deadly sins — Pride (the Professor), Anger (Skipper), Lust (Ginger), and the rest. Gilligan was supposed to be Sloth."

"And the rest?" That's a cute allusion to the short version of the theme song, but c'mon, you could've listed all seven. Gluttony, greed and envy are unassigned. Mary Ann envious? Ok, maybe, it's been a while since I watched. Toss-up for gluttony and greed between Mr. and Mrs. Thurston Howell III. The Skipper cut a somewhat gluttonous figure, however, but then Lovey Howell for wrath? No. Trust the Freepers on this, Thurston Greed, Lovey Gluttony, Skipper Wrath.

The angle about Gilligan being Satan, and the giveaway about him "always wearing red" was lost on me; he always wore gray on our TV set. And their only escape was to kill the title character? There is certainly a "No Exit" flavor to the conceit; even the film sequels' "rescues" were existentially dark.

Deconstructing Rand Paul Permalink to this item

The inevitable day-after-announcement occupation, not that it's the most important thing to do, but it's on our minds all of a sudden. Terrance Heath has five things you should know about the guy on Campaign for America's Future, including a certain squishiness on positions that evokes the old (or is it ageless?) "flip-flop" meme, and downhill through conspiracy theories, race and women problems.

"Problems" are a dime a dozen of course, but Glenn Kessler inspects some of Paul's trouble with factual claims (or as the teaser put it, "Rand Paul's speech was full of lies." Of course. The most arresting meta-fact however is that it doesn't matter. We apparently have no standard for truth anymore; truthiness suffices, and haters gonna hate your claims whether they're true or not.

WSJ graphic, from Dept. of Labor data, tidied smaller by me

Paul is running an anti-government campaign, while he's sitting in the U.S. Senate, which is not a huge surprise, but still. He knows how big government is because he's sitting inside it! Except that his "facts" about size are dodgy. This one that Kessler mentions in passing, with a cite to a Wall Street Journal article is kind of amazing: "the federal government under Obama employs the fewest people since 1966." The federal government's share of total employment has been on a long slope down since the early 1950s, when it peaked over 5%, to 2% now. Government growth in employment has been at the state and (especially) local level. (As a share of total employment, the combined federal, state and local employment has been gradually declining for 40 years.)

Meanwhile, from the dark money side, TV ads on day 1, from the Foundation for a Secure and Prosperous America, firing for effect and déjà vu simultaneously, "wrong and dangerous" and here comes a mushroom cloud. The FSPA, a non-profit under chapter 501(c)(4) of the tax code, doesn't have to disclose its donors, much less take an interview with NPR, which did report that "FSPA said it's spending $1 million to air the ad in the first four states on the Republican primary calendar." Might be a toss-up which is more wrong and dangerous, Paul or this FPSA. The dark money machine as a whole certainly takes the W&D lead.

Update: YouTube took down Paul's presidential announcement after Warner Music Group asserted its copyright on the music. Stuff Barry Goldwater didn't have to worry about.

7.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Going nuts for Rand Paul Permalink to this item

"Twitter's going nuts" with the Rand Paul announcement, one friend noted. (How can you tell? I wondered.) Robert Reich posted his succinct take to his Facebook wall:

"Senator Rand Paul announced today he’s running for president. He’s probably the most interesting of the group of Republican aspirants because he’s dared to speak where most other Republicans don’t. (I met Paul a few months ago when he was speaking to students at Berkeley.)

"But what, exactly, does he stand for? He’s not a libertarian. To the contrary, he’s anti-gay marriage, anti-abortion rights, and opposed to marijuana legalization. He’s not against military interventionism. Although once pledging to sharply cut the Pentagon’s budget, late last month he proposed increasing it by $190 billion over the next two years. He’s not for separation of church and state. “The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn’t say keep religion out of government,” he told a group of pastors at a private breakfast on Capitol Hill on March 26.

"Rand Paul stands for only one thing. Rand Paul."

Jeet Heer figures Rand Paul will break libertarian hearts, just like Reagan did, and like his Pa never did, standing on principle, no matter how crazy, and tilting at windmills only he and his followers could see clearly. (That's my take, not Heer's, who goes on to talk about Murray Rothbard, the "towering intellectual and political activist in libertarian circles" you've never heard of before, and those wild and crazy Koch brothers maybe you have:

"In the mid-1970s, Charles Koch made a bid to buy The Nation magazine, hoping to use it as a wedge for an opening to left-of-center opinion. When that attempt failed, Koch financed Inquiry, a libertarian journal that published many left-wing radicals like Noam Chomsky."

The Libertarian Party was born out of disgust with Nixon's authoritarianism and after 40 years of Paul père wandering in the wilderness, his son will take back the Republicans from the inside? That's not what Heer is saying, Rand Paul "not necessarily one of those people" who see the Republican Party as a necessary evil and means to an end.

"He has always been a Republican, albeit one that spoke with a libertarian lilt, so his current move to the party’s center is entirely predictable."

Too centrist for the Koch bros. maybe, still bent on defeating the corpse of Nixonian wage and price controls through union busting. Scott Walker seems more like their guy.

Demon almonds Permalink to this item

Shrunken version of LA Times datagraphic, link to the original

While we all fret and bother about how much water agriculture uses in California and how much water they don't have, the L.A. Times throws a lifeline of sorts to almond growers, in the form of a datagraphic showing gallons of water required per ounce of food. They cite their own reporter for the "gallon for one almond" estimate, but they don't, ahem, have almonds in their chart. (How much does an almond weigh? I checked some of ours, and they seem to run 40 or 50 to the ounce.)

Beef is king, over 100 gallons of water for an ounce of meat! Chickpeas are the highest non-meat entry, 76 gallons, and so on down to the low end of lettuce, tomatoes (I wouldn't have guessed), carrots, onions, strawberries, squash, beer. Almonds are apparently in the neighborhood of peas, goat and pork.

The clash of affirmation Permalink to this item

Photo from Sleepy Hollow

While strolling down the Facebook feed today, I was struck by the irreconcileable differences (on the one hand) and the fascinating variations of good and nice ideas. (My gaggle tends to run positive more often than negative, or at least that's how I filter it in my mind.) There are daily prayers, beautiful photographs from around the planet, someone traveling on business under a skyscraper in Taiwan, another someone on his way to Mt. Everest, a 2009 piece from Jimmy Carter, losing his religion for equality (and Facebook's automated "related" retort, someone's opinion about Carter's "moral disintegration"), the St. Alphonsus daily prayer, talking about Easter and that empty tomb, switching from John 11:25-26 with the close quote missing (rather perfectly), to:

Divine Mother of all Beings
Great Goddess of Compassion and Mercy
May we feel your presence guiding us.
May the strength and balance of your grace-filled body be ours when we need them,
And may we walk in your way with trust and gladness,
Beyond time, beyond the end, beyond the beginning. Amen.

There's a cartoon with a boat and four passengers, unattributed (other than "Viral Thread" sharing it), and an unfortunately mistaken notion of bouyancy, but the point is clear: the two guys at the stern with their feet in the water are bailing like mad, while the other two are high and dry in the bow, and one says Sure glad the hole isn't at our end.

And why not something named "ShortList" that assembles lovely book cover and portrait images with pithy quotes, say 30 Famous Writers on Death, and pick your favorite. It might be... oh, I can't choose one. Any one. All. Orwell.

In other news, I finished our 2014 tax returns yesterday.

6.April.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Gone native Permalink to this item

This apparently actually happened: Jeb Bush "listed himself as Hispanic on a 2009 voter-registration application in Miami-Dade County."

The "strong ties to British and other European royalty" are looking a little dodgy by this point.

Honest, mercy, purity and self-restraint Permalink to this item

Before it slips into the recycling bin along with the current legislative session, we should put in a highlight for the letter to the editor from Cathy Nuxoll Brown, standing up for her surname, and religious tolerance. She was inspired by the misplaced piety of Senator Sheryl Nuxoll, and a boycott of what the Senator imagined an inappropriate opening prayer, from someone she said believes in "a false faith with false gods." That put her crosswise with her own Bishop and quite a few other religious leaders in the community.

The Senator's sticking to her guns (for which, as an elected official in Idaho, she need not have a concealed carry permit) and not offering any apology. But from one Nuxoll to another:

"As someone whose responsibility is to represent their constituents, not narrow-minded, fear-based beliefs, Nuxoll’s actions were abhorrent. Had she stayed for the prayer she might have learned that Hinduism is a way of life that advocates honesty, mercy, purity and self-restraint. She would benefit from those ideals."


It's a Western, sort of Permalink to this item

Governor Clement Leroy "Butch" Otter came through for his friends in the horsey set with a Saturday veto of SB 1011 and thus unrepealing a sort of machine-based gambling that has nothing to do with horse racing now, except that some of the money might be used to pay for shoveling out the stables. Or something. Funny thing happened on the way, though: on the way to artful Easter weekend timing of the veto and holding us all in suspense until Monday, maybe it wasn't quite legal.

Bill Roden, attorney, lobbyist for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe [which does not care for the competition in the gambling business], and former state senator, said, “If it’s not returned in time, the veto isn’t effective.” [Senate President Pro-Tem Brent] Hill, when asked if Otter presented the vetoed bill to him, to the clerk, or to any member of the Senate on Saturday, said, “Not that I know of.”

3 full page ads last week

I don't suppose the LesBoisPark folks, their long list of signators and ("Ready to Deliver Fall 2015") will be buying more full page ads right away to thank the Governor for doing what they asked (and besides, they kind of sent their thanks in advance). It is nice to see that somebody can get what they want out of Idaho's system of government once in a while, isn't it?

Update: The Governor's office says the veto happened on Good Friday, during the hours of the crucifixion, which is a bit odd, but OK. And says that the Senate Pro Tem "was shown it"... Is this bad memory, or a bent for fiction?!

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

Power to the USB people Permalink to this item

This wire-free USB outlet cover will be taking the world by storm, because why didn't I think of this? I don't have to care about their fundraising for such an obviously brilliant idea. It sounds like they don't either, having overshot their goal by 10x12.5x, and counting; "aiming higher" and spinning up manufacturing to meet demand might be their more immediate concern. They tout "mentioned by" logos from some big press (NBC News, Popular Mechanics) and some not-so-big (The Daily Dot?).

Their product photo

SnapPower apparently started with an outlet cover-integrated LED night light, which is a clever idea if you like night lights, which I almost never do. "What else can we integrate with an outlet cover?" led to the Chargers product line which appears to be singular (different colors, maybe?), and "Now available for pre order on Kickstarter" which, ahem, has a lot more product details than the company website does, including an animation of a USB cable being plugged in and pulled out of the device. In case it wasn't clear halfway down the page what we're talking about.

Ah, here we are, the product line is duplex, and decor, in white, light almond and ivory (but only right-handed). That's after the early-on curiosity-satisfying view of how they made it "wireless" (really), the "Power Prong Technology" making contact with the screws of standard (not GFI!) outlets. Hmm. Eventually, I did see the FAQ and answer for the first question that came to my mind, is it UL certified? (or the way they put it, will it be listed?) As of March 31, their answer is:

"Yes, like all SnapPower products, the SnapPower Charger will ship UL listed and certified for both the United States and Canada."

They hope that will happen in "Aug 2015." The Kickstarter pre-ordering arrangement allows them to set the price by demand; the toe-dipping one-for-$12 offers are all gone. The $14 singles may be gone by the time you read this. Two for $20, three for $30, five for $50 gone. $16 singles and five for $65 available. Ten for $117 ($7 for US shipping) seems the best price you could get this morning.

More power to us, every one, I say, and watch for a much wider product line (left-handed! Two-way! Brown? Quad-pack!) and competitors coming to a hardware store near you. Or join the fun on Kickstarter, with 42 days left, and get your Christmas shopping done early.

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

No joke Permalink to this item

Remember when eight U.S. attorneys got fired and Congress was demanding that the White House cough up some emails for the investigation and whoops, five million emails or so, over a two-year period were lost? And how they'd been routed through the RNC's accounts, used by 22 White House staffers, including then-Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, who reportedly used his RNC email for 95 percent of his communications? Media Matters:

"In 2007, the story was about millions of missing White House emails that were sought in connection to a Congressional investigation. Yet somehow the archiving of Clinton's emails today requires exponentially more coverage, and exceedingly more critical coverage.

"Of course, back in 2007 Fox News seemed utterly uninterested in the Bush email story days after the news broke. A search of Fox archives locates only one panel discussion about the story and it featured two guests accusing Democrats of engineering a "fishing expedition."

"From then-Fox co-host, Fred Barnes: "I mean, deleted e-mails, who cares?"

The supreme death panel Permalink to this item

One of the things that makes the United States of America exceptional is state-sanctioned killing. We're in the "top" ten of the less than half of countries that still have capital punishment, sandwiched between Saudi Arabia and Somalia for 2013, by Wikipedia's count. Linda Greenhouse's column on our Supreme Court's death trap is a rather gloomy read in spite of her lede that "capital punishment in the United States is becoming vestigial." The term "botched execution" comes to mind. In spite of some decisions that limit the application, "the court appears to be floundering, ever more tightly enmeshed in what Justice Harry A. Blackmun called the machinery of death. Recent episodes have been both mystifying to the public and embarrassing to the court."

It takes four of the nine justices to agree to hear a case, but five to grant a stay, and "the distance between four and five can be a lethal chasm," given the current membership of the court, five of whom are pretty much ok with killing, especially from the genteel resolve of their D.C. H.Q.

"The pointless and needless extinction of life with only marginal contributions to any discernible social or public purposes," as Justice Byron White put it in 1972, "with such negligible returns to the State [is] patently excessive and cruel and unusual punishment violative of the Eighth Amendment." But that was just his (and Justice John Paul Stevens') opinion.

Business as unusual Permalink to this item

Once you have the state's license to express your religiosity by refusing to serve x, y or z (and of course lgbt), there's still room to be creative. Study your holy books, and consider the many situations where Christian bakers should just say "No." Cake.

Make your presents known Permalink to this item

Cliven Bundy! The great Nevada land grab is ON, people, and he's bringing his Ammo(n) to Carson City.

These things actually happened Permalink to this item

You might just assume there'd be some good stuff about the Idaho legislature on this special day, but credit where due. The Senate—or rather more particularly, Senate State Affairs Committee Chairman Curt McKenzie—put the kibosh on the memorial calling on Congress to impeach all those federal judges allowing gay marriage.

And the last minute tax shuffle passed by a wide majority in the House? It's dead, Jim. By unanimous consent, no less. The session's already into overtime; hard to imagine they'd keep at it in April, but either way what's cooked up will be cooked up by the secret Republican caucus.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007