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

Sealed the deal Permalink to this item

Cleaning out the spam bucket today, I noticed one of the zombie Romney for President Inc. messages was swept up with the even less savory shavings, and moved it to inbox, not because I needed yet another invitation to "chip in $35, $50, $100, OR $250," but because I like to keep the channel open to see what the mailing list is up to. Anyway, this one was on behalf of Ted Cruz, and with the subject "Rush Limbaugh."

As we baby boomers age, a note to those who send us emails: don't put a plain name in the subject, until the person in question has actually died. When we get email with that sort of subject line, the usual assumption is terminal illness or an obit.

But alas, Rush Limbaugh has not sailed on to his heavenly reward; the exciting news from the Cruz campaign's POV is that

"Nationally renowned radio host Rush Limbaugh just made a huge move of support for my campaign...even going as far as to defend me on national television!"

'Nuff said!

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

Black Friday Permalink to this item

57 is close enough to my age to arrest attention with a booking photo. Robert Lewis Dear, the latest over-armed American to make the news looks a little too much like the guy I see in the mirror every morning for comfort. My hair's not that brown, my beard's not that white, and my eyes aren't that wide open, or (I hope) that blank.

The NYT report quotes a teenager near the scene at the start of the story and this, at the end:

“He was like: Some crazy person out there is shooting people.”

Her boyfriend, Jackson Ricker, 18, placed his arms around her waist and his chin on her shoulder and noted that Ms. Schilter had witnessed a different shooting a few weeks earlier when a heavily armed man shot and killed a bicyclist and two women in the downtown. “The first time she cried,” said Mr. Ricker, looking at his dry-eyed girlfriend. “She’s a veteran now.”

Did we find out anything about the motive in that case? Maybe not. That gunman didn't make it to booking; he was one of the four dead after the shooting was over.

Along with the real-time updates flowing in on Facebook and Twitter and other channels I don't know about yesterday, rumors and conclusions had to compete with the moral pronouncements about white people, abortion, gun control, liberals and so on. Maybe it was just a bank robbery that went bad. Would that make the news easier to take?

Whether the "echoes of other violent assaults on abortion providers" were because this was a targeted attack, or just a coincidence, ample caution expressed by the president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

“We don’t yet know the full circumstances and motives behind this criminal action, and we don’t yet know if Planned Parenthood was in fact the target of this attack,” she said. “We share the concerns of many Americans that extremists are creating a poisonous environment that feeds domestic terrorism in this country. We will never back away from providing care in a safe, supportive environment that millions of people rely on and trust.”

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

Paranoia strikes deep Permalink to this item

There isn't a lot of reason for Idaho's security to be under particular discussion in regard to refugees (immigrants or terrorists); the chances of any foreign terrorists making their way to our Gem State for the purposes of carrying out some plot are pretty much nil. Perhaps it's the state's history with domestic terrorists that makes some of the state's people more sensitive. (But what follows here was all before yet another incident of domestic terrorism today, this one in Colorado Springs.) Or perhaps it's projection, the most disturbing explanation.

In any case, after the gal who's bucking to be the most right-wing nut job in our legislature called for a special session at an absurd time, for an absurd purpose, Jasmine M. El-Gamal answered the call in an open letter to Idahoans, published by the Idaho Falls Post Register. She has considerably more standing that Rep. Heather Scott on the subject in question, as a Truman National Security Fellow, a civil servant in the U.S. Department of Defense and a graduate of Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, who served as a translator with the 82nd Airborne division in Iraq in 2003. Also the daughter of Muslim immigrants. Willing to have a conversation.

"I don’t know your specific fears or experiences, and I would never presume to minimize or dismiss them. All I can say is that we’re all Americans, and we share the ability to talk to each other with an open mind and an open heart."

Nicholas Kristof—the son of a refugee—had an op-ed in a larger circulation daily last Sunday, ‘The Statue of Liberty Must Be Crying With Shame.’ It's worth reading in its entirety, but let me highlight one sentence he wrote, and what he quoted from George Takei. "When we’re fearful we make bad decisions." And from Takei's Facebook post:

“There no doubt will be those who look upon immigrants and refugees as the enemy as a result of these attacks, because they look like those who perpetrated these attacks, just as peaceful Japanese-Americans were viewed as the enemy after Pearl Harbor. But we must resist the urge to categorize and dehumanize, for it is that very impulse that fueled the insanity and violence perpetrated this evening.”

Beyond the scare Permalink to this item

You don't even have to lie with statistics, if you have large enough circulation; FiveThirtyEight will be interested in what's what. Back in September the trending wave of crime reporting got them rolling, and the result was more interesting than simple confirmation ("there has been an increase in homicides this year in big U.S. cities of about 16 percent"). They reported on their

"insight into the wide variation in crime-reporting capabilities even among the nation’s biggest cities. Some departments got back to us within a couple of hours (e.g., Phoenix and Raleigh, N.C.). Several had the data on their website, broken down by month and going back several years (Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Riverside, California). Others treated the inquiries as public-records requests and said they’d need up to 10 days to get back to us (Anaheim, California)"

among other things, including the context of the long-term downward trend, and what constitutes "significant" change in a statistic that varies dramatically from year to year (and place to place). They tabulated the 60 largest cities, but didn't graph the data in their table, for some reason. I wanted to see them, so here you go.

My view of FiveThirtyEight's homicide data

The reason this is on the radar this morning, is that 538 tweeted that obtw, the nyt editorial board agrees with them now, too: False Alarms About a National Crime Wave. "It helps to examine the actual numbers."

"A more meaningful way of looking at data is comparing it with unmistakable longer-term trends: the rate of violent crime, including murder, has been going down for a quarter century, and is at its lowest in decades. On average, it is half of what it was in 1990, and in some places even lower. ...

"Two lessons emerge from this data. One is that when crime rates are so low, even small changes can appear large. The other is that small sample sizes based on arbitrary time frames are nearly always nonrepresentative."

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

It's only words Permalink to this item

If you've been on Facebook lately, you've probably seen the really cool "word clouds" people have been whipping up out of their newsfeeds post. Did you click through and get your own? I thought about it, because (a) they're fun, (b) they're interesting, and (c) I was curious how mine would turn out. But not quite so curious as to give permission to some third party to mine my mostly "friends only" collection of contributions to see what's what.

A slightly modified cloud

But don't take it from me, check out the NYT's Personal Tech pop quiz: Should You Take It? Some South Korean company you've never heard of, Vonvon, has come up with "hundreds of quizzes," probably none quite as viral—or risky—as this one.

"[O]nline security experts are now calling this practice a privacy nightmare. ... [T]he quiz’s terms of use allow Vonvon to store that data for an unlimited amount of time, on servers throughout the world, and with third parties."

Chief executive Jonghwa Kim says nothing to see here, just move along.

“There are some false rumors that we are trying to capture people’s information so we can sell it to third parties,” Mr. Kim said. “We don’t really get any meaningful information when people use our apps. And when they share it on their walls, it really doesn’t have much information about them.”

In a follow-up with Comparitech, Mr. Kim reiterated that Vonvon did not store personal information and that “we have nothing to sell. Period.”

Rest assured. Also, even at its worst, Vonvon can't do what Facebook can already do with its "deep, deep data on its users." You will be assimilated.

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

Trump towers Permalink to this item

Frank Rich's weekly confab for NY Mag is about the Undoing of the GOP:

"Trump is exposing the heart of a virtually all-white political party’s base by speaking its most repellent convictions out loud and unambiguously rather than let them continue to be cloaked in the euphemisms of most of his ostensibly more respectable opponents.

"Trump isn’t suffering any penalty in the polls because the base believes this stuff — the base that has been bullying the GOP ever since John McCain empowered the Ur-Trump, Sarah Palin. ..."

And should the GOP find its hind legs again?

"Trump has a plan B: He is now saying that he may run as an independent after all. This is further confirmation that his faux “pledge” not to do so, signed with much fanfare at the Trump Tower, has all the standing of the Munich pact of 1938, with GOP chairman Reince Priebus reenacting the role of Neville Chamberlain."

Dana Milbank's political theater review is that the GOP is running out of time to find the anti-Trump. His Exhibit A is Chris Christie's response to Trump revising a whacked internet meme about Muslims in New Jersey cheering the WTC's destruction by insisting he saw it with his own eyes. On TV or something.

“I do not remember that, and so it’s not something that was part of my recollection,” Christie said. “I think if it had happened, I would remember it. But, you know, there could be things I forget, too.”

Presented with a malicious lie by the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Christie courageously raised doubts — about his own memory.

A robust response Permalink to this item

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, is WW3 starting? Turkey shot down a Russian plane that seems to have traversed the southernmost tip of Turky, a peninsula of territory that projects into Syria. The track reported by Turkish Armed Forces makes it look like the plane was "just passing through," and it was shot down over Syria, well past where it would have been any possible threat to Turkey. Answering the question of whether downing the warplane was an overreaction, Jonathan Marcus writes:

"Ankara has championed its tough rules of engagement, and so nobody could have been in any doubt that if combat aircraft strayed into Turkey again, they might receive a robust response."

So we see. It's "a very delicate moment" now.

One small step Permalink to this item

This is why "constitutional carry" is so creepy. Exercising the right is so close to itching to fight, and it seems that with a gun handy, the itch of feeling threatened is too close to the scratch of shooting people.

I don't remember the chapter of the Revolutionary War when whatever percent of colonists shooting open fire on unarmed protesters. (Which is not to say it didn't happen, or deny the fact of the subsequent genocidal campaign against the natives, but just that it didn't get featured in the history I was taught growing up.)

Donald Trump gives a good enough impression of a fascist to make my blood run cold in another scene over the weekend, in Alabama, encouraging attendees of his rally there to "Get 'im the hell out of here." Given some time to reconsider, he was not reconsidering.

"Maybe he should have been roughed up because it was absolutely disgusting what he was doing," Trump said on Fox News the next morning. Yet CNN's account doesn't offer much clue to what was "disgusting," other than shouting "Dump Trump" during the rally. That's impolite for a campaign event, presumably uninvited, and annoying for those nearby. And maybe, as a Birmingham Police Lieutenant suggested without giving any particular facts, the particular protestor "has been an agitator from day one." Maybe he was even itching to start a fight.

But no, that's not "disgusting."

It's political theater, and just as we saw in Boise on Saturday, it's possible to have a performance without physical violence and without anyone being shot. But that was out in the broad light of the middle of the day, in front of the state capitol, with a strong police presence patrolling between the factions.

In the dark warrens of Donald Trump's campaign, wallowing in expression of hatred and contempt for all the "others" they've heard enough from, disgusting is a lot closer to the surface, and Donald Trump is its spokesman.

Update: Seen in the comments about the shooting in Minnesota, a quote from Abraham Lincoln's Lyceum address, in 1838:

"How then shall we perform it?--At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?-- Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!--All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

"At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."

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

Three percent of nothing Permalink to this item

My photo of the rally, from in the rally

Assembling a two-person account of what happened at the Capitol on Saturday, and comparing our recollections with what was reported in the media provided some lessons in the limitations of both. The one crowd size report that KTVB, the Idaho Statesman and the AP reported (summarized and linked by Betsy Russell in her Eye on Boise blog) was supposedly "a Boise Police Department estimate," but whoever made it was simply in error. There were 1,000 or more people there, not a lot more, and there were fewer than 200 counter-protesters. Emily Walton took a nice photograph from the fourth floor of the Capitol in the middle of the event, and even with the columns blocking the view of the "wings" of the rally-goers, you can see that there are many times more people on the Capitol steps than across the street. (I posted that with her permission on Betsy's blog, and in an email to KTVB, which they did not answer.)

It might be a small thing, but it does provide the basis for a false equivalency; 300, 700, gee, not much difference. But the difference was quite stark. Saying that the groups tried to "shout past one another" is also false. The 3%ers repeatedly tried to drown out the rally on the steps that was planned and reserved. They tried to make the event about them, and they succeeded to some extent. They are a colorful lot, even in black leather. They also seem quite angry and hateful, and with ample evidence. There were a few lighter moments, and the whole story captures one or two.

With that for introduction, our account: Three percent of nothing.

Update: ok, our account is kind of low key and not as interesting as Doktor Zoom's, for Wonkette. Too bad I had another commitment and had to miss the holiday parade and segue. But read both. Dr Zoom does describes a couple of the speeches nicely, too.

Update #2: David Neiwert's report, for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch blog.

Taking our temperature Permalink to this item

Not exactly a news flash that GOP three times as angry at government, but there are some fascinating details in the Pew Research Center report, Beyond Distrust: How Americans View Their Government. The assessment of the subhead, "broad criticism, but positive performance ratings in many areas" is what I noticed in the data in the first page for the fraction of those who say government should play a major role in 13 broad areas. Ten of them garned a majority of yes from those Republican/leaning Republicans. ("Ensuring access to health care," and "helping people get out of poverty" were only about a third supported by Republicans, vs. 83 and 72% of Democrats.)

The results for what government is doing a good job are not so rosy, but even there more than half the categories got 50% or more from Republicans (and 11/13 did from Democrats and left leaners).

One of the poll questions was whether or not you're angry with the federal government, and the data over time sort out by who's in the White House, with some mutual antagonism for Congress' non-performance. The sort of good news is that we're more frustrated than angry, in general. Lots more good stuff to read through, on 14 long pages. Jump to the 6 key takeaways about how Americans view their government if you're pressed for time, I guess, and want more than Politico's "angry" headline.

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

The ravages of lowflation Permalink to this item

Our property tax bill just came, and it's bigger this year than last. A whopping 1.47%, which actually sounds like more than the $19.40 difference. That's less than we saved on gas in the last couple of months with the price back down near $2 a gallon. Also in the week's mail, the letter from the Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho's Board, recapping their October discussion about cost-of-living adjustment to their payouts to retirees. The Consumer Price Index for Urban Workers (CPI-U) indicates a 0.2% increase. That being less than 1%, "the Board chose to award a retroactive COAL of 0.8%," which is to say they're just now going to give an amount "available but not awarded in previous years which restores lost purchasing power" to those retirees with date of last contribution before March, 2011.

Seems like a long time coming, and not much of it. But the economic forecasts were bleak back in 2011, and no one faulted the Board for being tight-fisted.

PERSI's stated fiduciary responsibility is to "the members of the fund and their beneficiaries," and it is "required to discharge its duties for the exclusive benefit of members of the fund, consistent with the governing provisions of the plan." Yet when you read the letters they write to the state's legislators, there's a slightly different feel. The Executive Director noted the "90% funded status" at fiscal year end (June 30), and amortization period increasing from 11.6 to 18.5 years, still within the limit (25 years) that triggers required action. During the last fiscal year, the assets hit an all-time high, and were on track for a 7% rate of return, but June was a downer, and it ended its year with only 2.7% investment return, far below the long-term average of more than 8%.

Photo of our red oak

That's probably all kind of weedy if you're not a PERSI member or legislator, but we pay attention. Also, PERSI is a mighty big deal in the state's economy, with 67 thousand "active" (i.e. paying) members, and 43 thousand ("payable") retirees, and assets more than twice the state's annual budget ($14.7 billion, as compared to $6.7 billion).

It's more newsworthy that Social Security, which uses a different index, CPI-W (Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers), showing no increase from Q3 2014 to Q3 2015, will not have a COLA bump for 2016. Under the double asterisk, you can also see the maximum SS benefit will be lowered (by most of 1%), because there is no COLA, but an increase in the national average wage index. Wages are going up? "The market" always seems to deem that a bad thing, because it signals inflation, but "workers" having more money to spend seem like a better situation to me.

You may be wondering how many different CPIs there are. The Bureau of Labor Statics talks about the two mentioned above, and C-CPI-U, the "Chained Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers." Not so much "rural" anymore, and the Department Store Inventory Indexes are now a discontinued item. They talk about the geometric mean, which you probably last encountered in high school math class, and the Constant Elasticity of Substitution, which you probably never encountered. (Don't fret about that old school geometric mean; the CES formula is replacing it.)

"With the use of the geometric mean formula, consumers are assumed to consistently substitute within item classification to goods whose prices are falling relative to others. Using a fixed quantity formula, such as a Laspeyres formula, consumers are assumed to make no substitutions between goods when faced with relative price change. In reality, consumers respond to relative price changes differently than either model implies. The CES formula attempts to capture the amount of substitution occurring in the marketplace as consumers respond to changing relative prices."

Laspeyres, you ask? That would be Huguenot economist and statistician, Étienne Laspeyres, a name from the far corner of France on a child born in 1834 in Halle an der Salle. But I digress. If you can't get enough of price index formulas, get a load of these more than you can shake a stick at.

You might forgive economists and statisticians for making bad predictions, what with all that confusing mathematics at their disposal. A year ago, the harbingers of doom said their five-years ago prediction of the horrors that would result from Quantitative Easing by the Federal Reserve were not "wrong," but rather "early." It's a lovely sampling of whatever you'd call the opposite of Superforecasting. Niall Ferguson, for example, saying his thoughts haven't been disturbed by contrary evidence. There were "significant financial market distortions, just as we foresaw." Cullen Roche proposes we "be blunt – they’re not early. They’ve been wrong. And it matters. A lot."

A year ago was also when the Fed stopped its additions to QE, and Floyd Norris of the New York Times was pointing out that deflation, rather than inflation is the new risk, especially in Europe.

"A generation of economists and central bankers who lived through the 1970s learned that there is a large risk from runaway inflation and that steps must be taken to stop it before it gets out of control. In reality, the threat these days comes from inflation that is too low, or even from deflation. Many of the world’s economic problems would be reduced if we could get more inflation than we have now."

What's the forecast now? In October, 2014, using the bond market's blind eye comparing regular and inflation-protected Treasury securities, Norris noted the 10 year forecast had slid from just above to just below (nearly) everyone's favorite target, 2%, and the the one-year forecast went from +1.5% to below zero, -0.75%.

"But let joy be confined."
The Economist

The Economist paid David Parkins (I assume) for some Edgar Allan Poe-esque illustrations to accompany the pendulum swinging to the pit. "Lowflation" was ruling the day, and "lowflation overall means genuine deflation for the weakest."

We probably would've seen it in the local news if we'd actually gone to deflation, but our view is always in the rear view mirror. The BLS' CPI inflation calculator shows +0.47% 2015 over 2014 today, which is to say $100.47 this year has the same purchasing power as $100 did last year.

The dismal science muddles on, we enjoy what sinecure we have, give some of it back.

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

CROATOAN Permalink to this item

The only clue from the missing colony was carved into a fence post where the village used to be, a single word with one meaning back in the late 16th century when it was carved. Perhaps the prospective immigrants had decided to try what's now known as Hatteras, but back then was called Croatoan. Perhaps they all died, or were killed, or blended in with the natives, a survival strategy with less than salutary long-term prospects.

The eerie swamps of Virginia in the 1500s come back to mind upon reading the letter of the current Mayor of Roanoke, who wanted to let everyone know he'd rather be safe than sorry, and by the way, he was

"reminded that President Franklin D. Roosevelt felt compelled to sequester Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and it appears the threat of harm to America from [Daesh] now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then."

Perhaps Wesley Lowery said all that needed to be said, on Twitter: "I. literally. can. not." Perhaps it goes without saying that Mayor David Bowers is not at all safe, and very, very sorry. Perhaps we can leave the question posed by the editorial board of The Roanoke Times (What was he thinking?) to be rhetorical. But there are some things that will not go without saying.

David Neiwert says many of them, in his book (Strawberry Days: How Internment Destroyed a Japanese American Community) and in a blog post inspired by the Mayor's press release.

"First of all, it has to be pointed out that Bowers' remark is profoundly ignorant: Among the 110,000 or so people of Japanese descent rounded up into concentration camps by the U.S. government during World War II, some 70,000 of them were American citizens. Of the 40,000 non-citizens who were shipped off, the vast majority were (usually elderly) immigrants who had been in the United States for over 30 years, and who were only non-citizens because U.S. law at the time actually forbade Japanese immigrants from naturalizing. So these people were "Japanese nationals" only in a very technical sense. ...

"The result was a horrific episode in our history, a permanent black mark, and in the end a tremendous waste of the nation's resources and energies."

Update: George Takei responded.

Mayor Bowers, one of the reasons I am telling our story on Broadway eight times a week in Allegiance is because of people like you. You who hold a position of authority and power, but you demonstrably have failed to learn the most basic of American civics or history lessons. So Mayor Bowers, I am officially inviting you to come see our show, as my personal guest. Perhaps you, too, will come away with more compassion and understanding.

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

Unwelcome stranger Permalink to this item

What it's like to be made a scapegoat because of nothing more than where you're from.

We've been wrong before, but that's not appearing to slow us down this time.

"[W]hat's really important to understand is that in the end, by locking our doors to the victims of [Daesh], we give [Daesh] exactly what it wants. We succumb to the fear, and they win. We victimize these refugees a second time, and we create a massive cauldron of extremism that will overrun whatever walls we try to erect."

Vox provides a 40-year snapshot of the number of refugees we've let in.

And now if only a concocted acronym came make our dreams come true, the House has passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act of 2015, with a margin that could override a veto (if the Senate follows suit, after Thanksgiving). Now, at last we can be "SAFE."

I could explain it but then I'd have to shoot you Permalink to this item

Sen. Jim Risch replied to my message, short and simple. His argument (so to speak) against the refugee resettlement program is that while "the exact methods by which the government looks at these people are classified," he "lack[s] confidence in the government's ability to keep us safe."

Just, uh, trust him. Never mind the actual details of the refugee vetting process, the fact that we're doing very little to address the enormity of the problem, and that the very few who make it through the process do so only after years of trying.

The nominal plan is beautiful in its simplicity, if not its morality: really, we'd prefer that you all just live—or die—somewhere else. And don't hate us just because we live in a shining city on the hill! We are good and righteous people. And secure. We're very secure, even though you would never know it to talk to us.

Reasonably secure in our prejudice Permalink to this item

The Idaho Statesman editorial board came out with something reasonable-sounding, legitimate fears must not diminish refugee outreach, while accepting the premise of our Governor and congressional delegation that it's reasonable to have "a pause in the federal process of resettling refugees until authorities can assure states that Syrian refugees have been properly vetted."

Why Syrian refugees, in particular? They don't address the misdirection at the foundation of the current hue and cry, now several days after authorities in France and Belgium have sorted it out well enough.

I would assume that "authorities" (certainly not federal authorities) can never "assure states" led by such as ours, or the other 30 who've said no, no, no, we are afraid for our security, any more than everything we've done to "secure the border" could be enough to do something about the general immigration mess.

Let us know when the Bonner County Sheriff is satisified, for example, that we are no longer "giving unfettered liberty to our foreign enemies, while allowing our fellow citizens to be tyrannized." [sic]

The editorial winds up nicely to its high-minded conclusion:

"America is on its own Road to Damascus. Will we wake up along the path to realize we no longer have to persecute? Our faith paths have coexisted for centuries and can continue to do so. Our bonds as freedom fighters who abhor the evils of extremists can be our starting point.

"We have a choice: Reason with our fear and lead with our compassion, or look the other way."

Right after we are firmly assured that no one can ever hurt us.

Richard Viguerie's Conservative HQ staff, riding under that good old snake flag, deconstruct the coded, namby-pamby language to no uncertain terms, and doing their best to undermine the new Republican Speaker of the House: Speaker Ryan Schedules Show Vote: Shuts Out Conservatives On Syrian Jihadi Menace.

It's not just Syrian refugees, no relation to any of the attackers in Paris. It's the flat-out Syrian Jihadi Menace. Subtlety not deemed a virtue in their circle.

We are too frightened to help, sorry Permalink to this item

Senator Mike Crapo was the first to respond to the message I sent yesterday morning, which is slightly impressive turnaround time. It is, of course, the boilerplate response to the "Syrian refugee" issue that is going out in bulk just now. In the current "dynamic" situation, there are still known unknowns and unknown unknowns, but a few things seemed to have cleared up right away.

Fact: None of the Paris attackers were Syrian refugees.

So... why are we talking about Syrians? Crapo's argument, which I think covers the general right-wing talking point pretty well:

"Global terrorist groups like [Daesh] claim that its members have infiltrated the migrant populations in Europe. It has become evident that at least one of the terrorists who carried out this plot entered the country under the guise of being a Syrian refugee."

Photo from home

The circumlocution speaks to the weakness of the innuendo. It has become evident? Actually, it has not. Based on what terrorist groups claim? We should shut down air travel (or at least the in-flight canned drinks) in this country, because terrorists claim they blew up that Russian airliner with a bomb in a pop can.

"Many Idahoans and Americans have expressed their concerns," so that's that. "The security of the U.S. remains paramount," so forget about all those high ideals we used to like to give lip service to. We don't sing "We Are the World" at the 7th inning stretch. It's "God Bless America," and let the devil take the hindmost.

When we were attacked in 2001, so much more dramatically than this latest thing in Paris, we figured out who was behind it and went to war against the country that seemed to be their home base, and set Al Qaeda back, even as we built it to a truly global brand. Then for good measure, and with "security" paramount in our minds, we blew up Iraq. Daesh is quite literally rooted between the devestated country we left behind and the intractable civil war in Syria. This is our whirlwind.

And our response is to deny succor to those trying to escape the horror. It's not a very proud moment in the history of a great nation.

Nor is it even a self-serving strategy for the way forward. Before the events in Paris gave the "just say no" argument its cock-eyed ammunition, Josh Hampson reported for The Hill: We risk more in not accepting Syrian refugees into the US.

"[T]he location of resettlement for refugees is critical in determining whether refugees would be susceptible to to extremism. The study found that refugees placed in countries that had historic rivalries with their countries of origin were more at risk of becoming radicalized than refugees settled elsewhere. As the Middle East has long had interstate rivalry and conflict, moving refugees as far from the areas of conflict as possible must be strongly considered.

"This is not just for the benefit of the current host countries. If Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey are pulled into conflict by terrorism, for example, the U.S. will have to spend far more resources in containing the conflict from spreading even further."

That's the conclusion of a 2013 study with its précis in the title: Radicalism of the Hopeless: Refugee Flows and Transnational Terrorism.

Update: François Hollande gets it.

"Hollande promised to honor his commitment to take in tens of thousands of refugees on Wednesday. He said France would do so despite concerns raised by ultra-right nationalist leaders that refugees might pose a security threat to the country."

Mad Daesh Permalink to this item

A business with what's proved to be an unfortunate name (you would have thought an ancient goddess would be a-ok) has this on their Facebook page, under the photo of their vandalized sign:

"We humbly request that you send protective energy to us, as this is just one of the many incidents of harassment we have experienced.

"The name Isis is that of the Egyptian Goddess of women, marriage, magick, healing and more. However, with our media and politicians constantly using the word to name those in the Middle East who are the source of such horror, some people seem to get confused. Please help us to educate the media and your family and friends to call the terrorists by a more correct name - Daesh - not Islamic State, not ISIS, not ISIL. ...

"Do not legitimize them and their aspirations by calling them a STATE, as in the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, or just Islamic State. These names only support their delusions of power.

It was more than a year ago that the Boston Globe published Zeba Khan's opinion, but it has some renewed interest just now:

"The term “Daesh” is strategically a better choice because it is still accurate in that it spells out the acronym of the group’s full Arabic name, al-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wa al-Sham. Yet, at the same time, “Daesh” can also be understood as a play on words — and an insult. Depending on how it is conjugated in Arabic, it can mean anything from “to trample down and crush” to “a bigot who imposes his view on others.” Already, the group has reportedly threatened to cut out the tongues of anyone who uses the term."

Sounds like they pretty much congugated that upon themselves. Asking around a year ago, one person found out that it also implies "darkness." Daesh it is.

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

Crisis of convenience Permalink to this item

Seems like I'm harping on the same thing over and over again, five blog posts in the last couple days, three messages to Congress today, and to Idaho's Governor yesterday, and whatever transpired in the Facebook and Twitter echo chambers. But here, one more item worthy of pointing to, from veteran commentator Marc Johnson: Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor… (Always a nice touch to have something about the Packers, even if in this case it had to do with someone at Lambeau field who didn't understand what "moment of silence" means.)

The depth and breadth of right-wing fear-mongering is actually worse than I thought. Donald Trump is prepared to "strongly consider" taking out freedom of speech, religion, and assembly in one fell swoop. You can't be too careful. What Johnson wrote:

"Donald Trump also compared Syrian refuges to the Trojan Horse, which may just be about a perfect analogy for what his candidacy means to the modern Republican Party."

I did hear the sound bite of Trump proposing we have “a big and beautiful safe zone for people to live in,” somewhere outside our country, of course. Australia, maybe? Or Antarctica. Think of it as a real estate problem, and Trump is really, really good at solving those. His MAKE AMERICA GRATE program is working like crazy.

Then there's Chris Christie, afraid of orphans, but extolling what a great, compassionate country we have here. Mike Huckabee, showing what a goober he is, with a poisonous (and yes, still irrelevant) metaphor. Bobby Jindal, at the moment he accepts his irrelevance to the race for president, ordering up all lawful means to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the State of Louisiana, which even though they won't amount to much at the state level, is still a hell of a statement at odds with pretty much e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g that this country is about, not least of all the actual system of justice we have, and the bounds on said lawful means.

Of all the sad things in this sad story, there is the fact that Syrian refugees actually had nothing to do with the attack in Paris (or the bomb in the Russian airliner) that has prompted such remarkable fear-mongering in this country. The bombing in Lebanon (which would have gone with scant notice in this country had it not been for Paris) has some suspects who are Syrian, not exactly remarkable given that most of the Lebanon's land border is with Syria, embroiled in a civil war for some years, and with more than a million Syrians registered in Lebanon, part of the 8 to possibly 15 million people in the Syrian diaspora.

But enough decrying. Let us celebrate those who represent our better angels. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Governor Jack Markell of Delaware. Governor Jay Inslee of Washington. Governor Jerry Brown of California. Hawai`i Gov. David Ige says the state would welcome refugees from Syria with aloha.

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

Welcome stranger Permalink to this item

The Republicans are rallying around the banner of "security," in a knee-jerk reaction to the attack in Paris that rivals everything they've criticized in regard to our "regular" paroxysms of gun violence in this country. (Homicides by gun run about thirty a day in this country, by the way.) Juan Cole: Top 10 Reasons Governors are Wrong to Exclude Syrian Refugees. It's worth reading in its entirety, but the short version:

  1. The attackers in Paris were European nationals.
  2. The attackers were not refugees. They were born in Europe.
  3. There is no rational reason to bar Syrian refugees but accept refugees from other conflict areas....
  4. These refugees undergo at least 18 months of background checks, contrary to what Sen. Marco Rubio (whose parents were Cuban immigrants to the US) has alleged.
  5. Since 2001, the US has admitted roughly 750,000 refugees and none, zero, nada have been accused of involvement in domestic terrorism aimed at the US.
  6. The need is urgent. Of the some 22 million Syrians, a good half are homeless. About 7.5 million have been displaced within the country and some 4 million have been forced abroad.
  7. Syrian refugees are not guerrilla fighters or terrorists.
  8. The US owes these refugees.
  9. Some US politicians, such as Ted Cruz, have spoken of taking in only Christian refugees. That step would be unconstitutional.
  10. Cruz’s call for Christian refugees to be given special privileges reminds us of the the racist Chinese Exclusion Act...

Shuttered Permalink to this item

The Just Say No state count is up to 27, conveniently mapped across the south, up to Idaho, infiltrating the neo-Republican rust belt and some New England for good measure in this Vox Explainer: Governors can’t keep out refugees. But they can make their lives miserable. (Even more miserable than they already are?)

How small can we make ourselves as we race to hide in the darkness?

Our New Colossus, given voice by a daughter of immigrants, is being silenced by the cry of a frightened mob, overwhelmed by watching the news.

We can no longer accept your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Do not send your tempest-tost to us. Our lamp is being shuttered for security purposes until further notice.

Yes it will v. no it won't Permalink to this item

Before we embark upon the next project for this new American century, a quick review of current events aging into recent history is in order. What a difference a dozen years has made. Joe Conason at The National Memo provides some insight as to Why ISIS Needs The ‘Useful Idiots’ Who Demonize Muslims.

"[W]hen historians someday apportion blame, that process won’t flatter the Republicans and their neoconservative advisers, who assured us that 'regime change' in Iraq would reshape the region at very little cost to us. Few national security predictions have ever been so confident and so wrong, with such enormous and enduring consequences. Influenced by those advisers, the Bush White House failed to address the terrorist threat before 9/11, and later used it to build a fraudulent justification for invading Iraq."

To put things in a slightly longer perspective: what Americans thought of Jewish refugees on the eve of World War II. Two-thirds agreed with the proposition that "we should try to keep them out."

A young friend dug up this gem from The Onion yesterday, March 26, 2003 Point/Counterpoint of "This War Will Destabilize The Entire Mideast Region And Set Off A Global Shockwave Of Anti-Americanism" vs. "No It Won’t." You may remember the latter argument won the day, back in 2003. (It also sent me back to my archives, thinking "didn't I say all that back then?" Pretty much, albeit not with quite the same panache, or prescience. (I see the Viking Pundit survived to blog on to the mid-20-teens too, back on his "regular screeds," as he put it. Brace yourself if you take that jump; or just go with the shorter, "Obama weak, close the borders, bomb like crazy.")

It fits into this general discussion somewhere, I'm not sure where: Lydia Wilsoni's report of what she discovered from interviewing imprisoned ISIS fighters. (Answer in the subtitle: "They’re drawn to the movement for reasons that have little to do with belief in extremist Islam.") The adolescent boys who managed to survive the the last 12 years and become young men, and who haven't escaped the nightmare provide the barest glimpse from inside it.

Circling the wagons Permalink to this item

Did you know that ISIS has an official magazine? Me niether. According to Max Blumenthal, the February 2015 issue of Dabiq had an essay spelling out their strategy, "The Extinction of the Grayzone."

“The Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize and adopt the kufri [infidel] religion propagated by Bush, Obama, Blair, Cameron, Sarkozy, and Hollande in the name of Islam so as to live amongst the kuffar [infidels] without hardship, or they perform hijrah [emigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the crusader governments and citizens.”

Shorter: "the West’s descent into full-blown fascism would force Muslim immigrants to flee for the sanctuary provided by the Islamic State." Their program is pretty much a clash of civilizations, and the "entirely predictable" response to any successful execution of a terror plot has the perfect symmetry of a grade school playground confrontation. You want a clash of civilizations?! We'll GIVE you a class of civilizations, alright.

First, seal the borders, batten the hatches, arm the torpedoes, scramble the neocons.

The parade of Governors loudly banging their state doors shut against Syrian refugees is quite the scene. The leaders of ISIS must be quite pleased with the impact of the bombed Russian airliner, the attacks in Beirut and Paris. They're at least as anti-refugee as we are, and a conveniently located Syrian passport would be a brilliant touch to further their agenda, and drum up support from the nations of Europe and the U.S. By all means, send all those people back home!

Idaho's governor has lost enough "sovereignty" lawsuits by now (0 for 20 and $2.1M down the drain; he wants another $million in suing around money) to actually acknowledge that there's federal law concerning immigration and refugee resettlement in his press release, while vowing to "use any legal means available." Perhaps calling out the Sheriffs.

Idaho map excerpt

Our Rep. Heather Scott from the far north doesn't mention Sheriffs in her "legislative update" email, but she'll be waving her confederate battle flag and guns over this issue, you can be sure. She wants us all to call the Governor and

a.Urge him to call a special session to draft emergency legislation to address the refugee crises.

b.Instruct him to fulfill his duty under Article IV, Section 4, to insure the safety of Idaho citizens should terrorist activity occur.

c.Instruct him to draft another letter to President Obama with stronger language similar to other states who have exercised their state sovereignty.

d.Instruct him to request a detailed report of anyone claiming refugee status in the State, to be approved by the State of Idaho before an individual is admitted.

And of course, to "remain eternally vigilant."

Because, ISIS might some day find Idaho's District 1 on a map, and start trouble. Paul Krugman reminds us of what might be obvious by now: "the biggest danger terrorism poses to our society comes not from the direct harm inflicted, but from the wrong-headed responses it can inspire," whether from the north woods, or the campaign trail. (Jeb! Bush, suggested—"idiotically," as the NYT editorial board put it—we might admit only Christians.) Alternately, our actual President's statement included this:

“Many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves, that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

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

Xenophobia HQ Permalink to this item

The latest barrage from Richard Viguerie's "Conservative Headquarters," with CHQ's editor George Rasley leading the charge is, as he himself would surely put it, "entirely predictable." Yet even with the subject line warning about the "graphic image" from Paris, the determination in the xenophobia takes your breath away. They call upon GOP leaders to Stop Bringing Jihad To America Or Be Complicit In Its Bloodshed. Not to put too fine a point on it.

In the tens and hundreds of thousands and now millions of people displaced by war in the middle east, there are some bad actors. That leaves the rest of them to be "alleged" and "so-called" refugees, and the Obama administration with a "policy importing vast numbers of Muslims to America." The rhetoric is predictably incendiary.

"Nothing captures the reasons for the white-hot fury of America’s country class voters quite so well as this spineless failure of the Republican Party’s leadership to exercise their constitutional responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution and the American homeland from such an obvious threat."

Perhaps one of the terrorists came out of Syria in the guise of a refugee. Certainly, one of them has been identified as a French citizen born and raised in a town just south of Paris. Everyone is home-grown somewhere. And there is enough complicity to circle the globe.

Not quite half the Governors of U.S. states (as of 5:36 pm EST, I'm sure we'll get over the hump) have now called on the federal government to block its meager program for resettling Syrian refugees. The Governor of Texas, Greg Abbott (one of the CHQ's superstars) sent a letter to the president, saying "Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria," as if he were actually empowered to take such an action.

The Democratic governors of Colorado and Pennsylvania, John Hickenlooper and Tom Wolf, said they would continue to accept refugees. (FiveThirtyEight is keeping score.)

Maybe another showdown in Congress and threatening to shut down the federal government could help sort things out. Or, what about Happy Holidays?

if only we had a seasonally appropriate story about middle eastern people seeking refuge being turned away by the heartless

— Oliver Willis (@owillis) November 16, 2015

Update: Andrea Grimes has a Texas-themed postscript, from the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the cowards.

15.Nov.15 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Reigning error Permalink to this item

Sunday morning brings a new paper, and the obligation to make a more serious attempt at reading last week's, which brought me to Mark Leibovich's "First Words" column in the NYT Magazine, The Weaponization of 'Truther.' Given the recent coinage and original intent, it's a bit naive to talk about weaponization (a term that seems doubly out of place a mere week after publication, and the events in Paris). It was meant to be derisive, dismissive, of poorly founded theories of a conspiracy that did not admit disproof. Likewise, "Birther," and double the "recent object lesson" prompted by Donald Trump's employing his signature style of wavy, orange innuendo to belittle opponents and inflate himself.

“When you talk about George Bush,” the then—maybe—front-runner said of the 43rd president during an interview on Bloomberg TV, “I mean, say what you want, the World Trade Center came down during his time.”

“Hold on,” the Bloomberg anchorwoman Stephanie Ruhle said. “You can’t blame George Bush for that.”

And why not? “He was president, O.K.?” Trump countered. “Blame him or don’t blame him, but he was president. The World Trade Center came down during his reign.”

Leibovich noted he was struck by the "curiously authoritarian" word choice there. You don't need to study Freud to imagine it's an inadvertent window into the mind of Trump. In any case, he accomplished what he intended, to cast vague aspersions on the house of Bush. Jeb!'s tweeted retort, calling Trump "pathetic" only reinforced the next Bush's ineffectiveness. "We were attacked & my brother kept us safe," he ended, full stop and half right.

We were attacked, and events of that day played out independently of both President and Vice-President. Most of four presidential terms later, the global political situation was fairly summarized by Martin O'Malley in last night's Democratic debate: “Libya is now a mess. Syria is a mess. Iraq is a mess. Afghanistan is a mess.”

Trump couldn't help himself from taking a gratuitous swipe at O'Malley during the debate, perhaps attempting a witty comback to O'Malley calling him "that immigrant-bashing carnival barker":

The very question (and assessment) so many of us have when we see you on stage, @realDonaldTrump. O wad some gif' the Giftie gi' ya.

— Tom von Alten (@fortboise) November 15, 2015

Leibovich's column had another wonderfully apt metaphor in it, emphasized out of his penultimate paragraph:

"You can’t help wondering how many sectors of trutherism begin similarly—goofs that spin out of control, to a point at which they are taken quasi­seriously. The Internet is a supercollider of alternative interpretations—if not realities—and the people who embrace them. People then marginalize those views by calling perpetrators truthers. Things can get very pitched in short order. Every topic—Benghazi, droughts and Mars—becomes a potential battlefield between information and misinformation, truth and truthers."

Donald Trump is a candidate for this moment, when our previous experiments in nation building have generated more anti-matter than light. As new particles and anti-particles collide, magical thinking turns to energy, and is catalyzed to improvised explosive devices in lizard brains.

Contrast that with the Democratic candidates' debate last night, the adult's table after the food fights the Republicans have been hosting lately. As the team from the The Atlantic put it, the candidates

"emphasized that the struggle is against violent radicals, and not with Islam. They stressed the need to enlist regional allies, and insisted that the United States cannot go it alone. And, notably, there were no direct calls for more vigorous action."

"If viewers may have hoped to hear clear answers on America’s role in the world, what they received instead were responses that stressed complexity, contingency, and the limits of American influence."

Or, we could just bomb the hell out of them.

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

WAGES TOO HIGH Permalink to this item

That's what The Donald said, (in)complete with the "direct" and illiterate form of expression. He thinks you all should work harder so you can get into the "upper stratum" like he did, scraping by with a small loan of a million dollars from his dad.

Donald Trump is the "populist" candidate for billionaires. If you are not in that club, and you think Trump is your guy, you are not paying attention. He's not channeling your deepest, unfiltered feelings. He's playing off your lizard brain and your mirror neurons, separating you from your own self-interest by diddling your basest emotions.

Trump is a candidate for losers.

Into the vast deep Permalink to this item

Tidying up old email, I found one message I'd send in April of last year, with what must've been a good teaser with an obvious context, but that now time-mistified. Subject was "well illustrated depth," and a Washingtion Post "apps" URL which turns out to work just fine a year and a half later. I'd marked it "blog fodder," so here we are.

Sourced from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Hydro International magazine, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries,, and, it's a datagraphic by Richard Johnson and Ben Chartoff, titled The depth of the problem. After the Australian vessel Ocean Shield detected deep=sea signals consistent with those from an airplane's black box, Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the lead official of the multination search for Malaysian airliner MH370 said "I believe we’re searching in the right area," and hoped that they might find the plane "within a matter of days." The plane has been missing since March 8, 2014, now more than 600 days ago. (The BBC has a page with what we know about MH370, last updated 3.Sept.2015, after wing debris was found on the island of Réunion, more than 2,300 miles from the main search site.

Anyway, the brilliant datagraphic illustrates, to scale, the dimensions of a Boeing 777-200, the Ocean Shield and its 22' draft, some respresented buildings (inverted, since we're headed to depth), the maximum known depth at which giant squids swim, the towing depth of the pinger locator (4,600'), and down, and down, and down, past "the maximum known depth of the deepest diving mammal, the Cuvier’s beaked whale" (9,816', where the water pressure approaches 300 atmospheres), and down, and down, past the Titanic, finally to "just shy of three miles," and just past "the maximum dive depth of Alvin, the first deep-sea submersible capable of carrying passengers." (Alvin, you can find out at NOAA's Ocean Explorer page, has been going deep for more than 5 decades now, and has an upgrade (or should we call it a "downgrade"?) planned to increase its maximum operating depth to more than 21,000 ft.

That's one of those emails taken care of. 4,057 to go.

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

The Entertainer Permalink to this item

No, not a jolly Scott Joplin rag, it's in a campaign vein. The headline (Donald Trump asks Iowans: "How stupid" are they to believe Ben Carson?) made me think of a word match game. So, how

greedy credulous ignorant idealisitic sleep-deprived
self-loathing random ebullient hopeful pathological
charitable tuned-out turned-on selfish medicated

would Iowans (or New Hampshirians, whatever) have to be in order to believe

Ben Carson Bernie Sanders Bobby Jindal
Carly Fiorina Chris Christie Donald Trump
George Pataki Hillary Clinton Jeb! Bush
John Kasich Lindsey Graham Marco Rubio
Martin O'Malley Mike Huckabee Rand Paul
Rick Santorum Ted Cruz

hmm? I'm not a student of Freud, but it seems like The Donald is all that, a super ego, and super id, an open channel to the expressions we all learn to supress to get along with our fellow grade school classmates. No single utterance encapsulates the man better than this lead-in for his stream of insults for Carson:

"Aaand, I don't want to say what I said, but I'll tell you anyway."

But maybe there's more to the story? Reading Jenna Johnson's report for the Washington Post makes it sound like he's off his meds, or just getting tired of how ridiculous it is for him to run for President, and now he's just having fun seeing how much he can get away with before we start heating up the tar and gathering feathers. He "appeared to unravel on stage" in Fort Dodge.

"The usually punctual executive was nearly 40 minutes late. His voice was hoarse, his hair mussed, his tone defensive. He promised to take questions from the audience but instead launched into a 95-minute-long rant that at times sounded like the monologue of a man grappling with why he is running for president — and if it's really worth it or not. Even for a candidate full of surprises, the speech was surprising. ...

"At first, the audience was quick to laugh at Trump's sharp insults and applaud his calls to better care for veterans, replace the Affordable Care Act and construct a wall along the Mexican border. But as the speech dragged on, the applause came less often and grew softer. As Trump attacked Carson using deeply personal language, the audience grew quiet, a few shaking their heads. A man sitting in the back of the auditorium loudly gasped."

Update: Part of Michael Gerson's response on tonight's Newshour:

"I think that people have a democratic duty to watch what took place in those 95 minutes, as much of it as you can stomach. You know, Trump was vile and vulgar and vicious and morally deformed.

"This was an unbelievable performance. And, you know, I think conservatives just have to have a tough time defending this. If this isn’t the line, there is no line. This was really the worst type of politics. And, you know, we will see what the effect is. He has jumped the shark so many times and avoided the consequences, but this really struck me as something different."

12.Nov.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

#Obvious Permalink to this item

The New York Times tweeted a teaser and nice pyramidal pic for the story that there may be an undiscovered tomb at the Great Pyramid of Giza and I thought... well, of course I did, and so did everyone else. We'll give the win to @Outside_85 (aka "Eternal"), even with the biff on pharaoh, which is not easy to spell:

@nytimes Tomb of the guy who suggest to the pharoe that his monument could be used as a grain deposit.

— Eternal (@Outside_85) November 12, 2015

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

Funny thing happened on the way to the Green Room Permalink to this item

Not quite sure I'd call the normal collection of inaccurate blather "outrageous lies" as the Raw Story did, but judge for yourself. First on their list, and the only one for which they provided the video bite, there was Carly Fiorina trying to get a little dig in on Mr. Negotiator, saying she'd met Putin too, "although not in a green room for a show, but, in a private meeting," which funnily enough actually was in a green room. But for a conference, not a show.

Even better than talking to Putin, apparently, is not talking to him, which she recently promised not to do.

ICYMI, the fateful meeting between Fiorina and Putin was back when she was still a rising star as HP CEO, at the 2001 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference, where Fiorina was a warm-up act before Putin's address. Thanks to Bustle for keeping track and providing more links, including to an archived copy of Fiorina's speech on Her take on history at that point sounds a bit sycophantic in retrospect, celebrating how "President Putin was elected president in the first democratic transition in Russia in 1,000 years."

Talk about giving new meaning to the word "invent," indeed!

Frost on the fence this morning

She had lots of nice things to say about China, too, in her long and detailed text, rich with historical details, urging us all to work together to a brighter future, pivoting off the fresh mourning and hope for international solidarity just 5 weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

With the benefit of 14 years' hindsight, I'm not seeing anything in her speech that was a measureable forecast, actionable proposal, or durable initiative since come to even partial fruition. It's as true now as it was then, and agreeable to both Communists and Capitalists that: "everyone has something to give, everyone has something they can stand to gain and everyone does better as part of the whole."

Putin's presence was chronicled by his people, even if they didn't save a translation of his prepared text. His Q&A with the participants of the APEC Business meeting are available. What went on in the green room chat with Fiorina? Neither or are offering highlights, but perhaps the Justice Department probe that led to Hewlett-Packard Russia agreeing to plead guilty to bribery violations could be parsed for details. I guess there wasn't time on Fox Business last night to get into all that. Not to put too fine a point on it:

"Hewlett-Packard subsidiaries, co-conspirators or intermediaries created a slush fund for bribe payments, set up an intricate web of shell companies and bank accounts to launder money, employed two sets of books to track bribe recipients, and used anonymous email accounts and prepaid mobile telephones to arrange covert meetings to hand over bags of cash."

The wheels of justice ground slowly, and Fiorina had long departed HP with her own bags of cash by the time that 2014 DOJ presser came out, but the SEC documentation of unlawful payments to Russia, allegations 9-24 of the 52 reported last year, "between approximately 2000 and 2007," were solidly on Fiorina's watch. She and Vladimir would definitely have had some things to talk about in October, 2001.

You might imagine that a candidates' forum on Fox Business was the perfect venue to clear the air about some of that, but nothing could be further from the truth. Frank Rich deconstructed the boring—rigged event, and many of the things it did not do, include lift Jeb!'s sinking ship, or hold anyone's feet to any sort of fire.

"Dealing with questions about national security and financial regulation, Carson spoke in generalities and non sequiturs that suggest he has no intention of learning the most rudimentary information he needs to execute the job he seeks. ...

"It was embarrassing to watch the editor of The Wall Street Journal, who served as one of the moderators, sit idly by as Carson espoused a faith-based tax policy that wouldn’t pass muster with a debate club at one of America’s better high schools."

After Cruz gave his can't-count-to-five kill list, "He was also given a pass by the moderators, who didn’t call him on it. (Somewhere Rick Perry is sobbing.)" And no love for raisins in cookies from Rich: "John Kasich, whose knowledge of policy is deep but whose alternately angry and boorish effusions almost make Carly Fiorina seem personable by comparison."

Viscous lies Permalink to this item

Word is, Ben Carson's doing a bang-up job fundraising off the media "attacking" him, a powerful testament to (a) the longing people have to believe in a candidate, and (b) cognitive dissonance. Thanks to my signing up as a member of Mitt Romney's online community on 7/14/2012, Carson America is able to tell me that the media is in full attack mode!

"Funny, because this was the same media that time and again declared it off-limits to dig into then-candidate Barack Obama's background. The media's double standard is incredible, but even worse is their viciousness and blatant disregard for the truth."

What version of Bizarro world do you have to inhabit to imagine "this same media" did not go nuts digging into Obama's background? And then talk about blatant disregard for the truth in the next breath?

The same one where "the media" are singular, monolitic, viscious, personally biased against Ben Carson and so on. (But certainly not including those outlets that provide him airtime to propound whatever it is he's propounding.)

There are lies flying at us every which way, flowing into a murky pool that impedes forward progress of any sort. Carson's confabulation from back when his biography was just a heart-warming tale don't amount to much of import for the presidential race. But then neither do his qualifications, or policy ideas.

Messaging sidebar Permalink to this item

Even if we had watched the debate, any of the advertising that Fox sold to go along with would have had to have been something special to not be zipped over by the fast forward. Apparently there was something making Senator Elizabeth Warren out to be a Communist Dictator, which I'll give you is a funny concept.

Mother Jones (who better?!) captured her tweetstorm response showing how you deal with the 140 character payload limit. No, not cheating with bitmapped text, you keep firing for effect.

Thousands of dollars on a TV ad is nothing compared to the money the big banks save if their GOP buddies go after the @CFPB. #GOPDebate

— Elizabeth Warren (@elizabethforma) November 11, 2015

Bread winning Permalink to this item

The interview (web-extended) of Dan Price, founder and CEO of Gravity Payments, by Trevor Noah on The Daily Show last night was more compelling viewing in our household than the debate. Imagine a CEO scraping by on a barely 7-figure annual income realizing that the $200 that's rounding error to him could be the difference between one of his employees making or missing a rent payment. Which is, yeah, kind of a distraction while you're trying to get something done at work.

The minimum wage is 24% below what it was in 1968 (adjusted for inflation) and corporate profits are setting records. This is not rocket science. While $70,000—or roughly $35 an hour—may or may not be the right level to share the wealth, it seems like a great experiment for Price to run with his money and his business. He said "if you're making $40 or $50,000 a year, an extra $20,000 is life-changing.

Spinning the dial on the BLS' inflation calculator, I see that my starting salary as a newly-degreed engineer 3+ decades back was a good bit below 70,000 2015 dollars. Did I work harder trying to work my "up"? Hard to say. By contrast, I understand last night's debate began with the three leading Republican candidates telling us how much they oppose increasing the minimum wage.

Donald Trump: “There is nothing that we do now to win. We don’t win anymore. … Taxes too high. Wages too high. I hate to say it, but we have to leave [the minimum wage] the way it is.”

Robert Reich reponds:

"Too high? Germany is more competitive now than the United States, with a higher tax rate than in the United States, a higher median wage, and even its lowest-wage workers better paid. How can Germany do it? Because its average worker is better educated than the typical American worker (Germany invests like mad in education, including world-class technical education), its infrastructure is more up-to-date, and its workers have more of a direct say in their companies.

Ben Carson offered common nonsense about the minimum wage and unemployment. Reich responded:

"A higher minimum wage puts more money in the pockets of people who will spend it, thereby creating more jobs. The last time the U.S. raised the minimum wage, more jobs were created than were lost. After I led the successful fight to raise the minimum wage in 1996, a record-shattering 22 million net new jobs were added to the U.S. economy."

And Rubio offered the argument that if labor costs more, people will be replaced by machines. Reich:

"Machines have already supplanted most good-paying manufacturing jobs -- pushing millions of Americans into the personal service sector (retail, restaurant, hotel, hospital, childcare, eldercare, physical therapy, etc) where human attention and touch are are so critical that machines can’t replace human beings. But most of these jobs pay very little. Which is why the minimum wage must be raised."

Reality distortion field Permalink to this item

With confidence that the best and brightest moments would be available from various lamestream media outlets, I did not tune into the Fox Business last night to see the dwindling Republican fields shrink before my very eyes. Turns out, it was worthwhile to avoid spoilers last night (other than Cruz' Commerce two-fer) to have fresh eyes for Ana Marie Cox's rollicking grading for The Daily Beast: Surreal GOP Debate Gets Surrealist Grades.

Graded for style, substance, and overall, the candidates face some blunt assessments, with one hopeful bit. (Kasich's overall was "raisins in cookies," which I happen to like.) Not sure how the Jebster! can keep prompting "not dead yet" assessments if he can inspire this sort of thing:

Jeb Bush

Style: F+

He so obviously didn’t want to be there, I suspect he somehow wasn’t. Could barely even protest getting interrupted. I’m giving him a F+ rather an F because pity.

Substance: F

At one point, started an anecdote, then stopped it, then tried to start it again and wound up saying, “Uh, anyway.” This is the epitaph of the Bush campaign.

Overall: Off-brand diet cola.

And this one sentence pronounced on Fiorina's substance:

"Said that 'the secret sauce of America is entrepreneurship,' which it may be, but rampant inequality is the gray-pink meat by-product poor people are forced to eat."

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

Free electricity Permalink to this item

It seems that Texas has a lot of wind, and more wind power generation than any other state. 10% of their generation is a big deal, even if it's only one-tenth, and a lot of it comes in the night, so... TXU Energy is offering free juice, from 9pm to 6am. My first thought is "free power for an electric car." My second or third thought was "pumped storage." Or a flywheel or batteries. If power is free for 9 hours a day, a little bit of infrastructure could allow you to store what you need for the other 15, right?

More of a thought experiment than a business proposition, because home utility bills aren't generally very high stakes. Says in the story that "consumers estimated that the plans were saving them as much as $40 or $50 a month during the peak summer season," without saying how much they were spending. I guess electricity costs more in Texas than it does here, because that kind of savings would drive our monthly bill into negative territory for at least 10 or 11 months of the year.

Other than gaming the system, what would we do differently if electricity were free instead of 8 or 9 cents a kWh? I suppose more air conditioning on hot summer nights, but we only have a few of those in a season. So far.

Texas is a state experiment more like to be interesting than useful. "Texas runs its own electricity grid that barely connects to the rest of the country, so the abundance of nightly wind power generated here must be consumed [there]." But if we were in Texas...

TXU Energy's rate info wanted to know where I lived (or was moving to), so I looked up some real estate listings and gave it something for sale in Fort Worth, and was offered no fewer than 12 plans at my possibly new address. Never thought of a "term" for an electricity deal, but they have them: month to month, 12 months, 16 months, 24 months. Price per kWh ranged from 7.9¢ to 12.9¢, with the plan they "featured" for me having that highest rate. There are customer reviews for most of the plans, hundreds of them. Some offer "Texas-sized savings and cash back." Some have trademarked Free Nights®. One has Free Mornings & Evenings. if it's all too confusing, there's a "Simple Rate" that "stays put. Even when your usage doesn't." I can go green with 100% wind energy, and I can get automatic savings when natural gas prices fall. (If they fall.) I can get a lower deposit, or avoid a deposit. It's quite the rodeo.

Expanding the details on one plan, the TXU Energy Green Select 12SM, I see that the price per kWh shown in the overview is one of those "as low as" deals. If I were to use 500 kWh in a month, the average price would be 14.2¢; 1,000 kWh, 12.7¢ and a whopping 2,000 kWh, down to the 9.7¢ shown in the big print. I might choose this plan to "help the environment and [my] budget" by getting an automatic $15 bill credit each month I use over 1,200 kWh. That is, if we were to use 3 or 4 times more electricity than we do now, we could "help the environment."

One recent review for the "TXU Energy Free Nights® 24" plan panned it, "shocked to see my bills go up significantly." She was "seriously considering" paying the $295 early cancellation fee to change plans. Some night owls liked it though. "Robb" said "Buyer Beware" on his 1-star review and noted "who's magnicient idea and command decision was it to make even nicknames at least 4 letters long.... that is really hilarious..." [sic]. Others said Great promotion!!! and The price is good. and this plan is awesome!!! Reviews still being collected on the TXU Energy Saver's Edge 12SM which offers a $30 bill credit when you top 1,200 kWh, and tiered rates of 12.9/11.4/7.9¢ per kWh. (Why pay more?)

PGE baseline map excerpt

I don't remember the details, but I do remember that Texas was kind of smug when California had its energy regulation cock-up crisis (which I wrote about from the inside) back at the height of the bubble (coincidentally). I do see that the California Independent System Operator status page is not only still available, it's beautifully updated with real-time graphics showing current demand (25.184 GW), forecast, and so on. Renewables are kicking in 8 GW as the sun comes back online mid morning, the wind blows, geothermal heat drives turbines and a little bit of biomass and small hydro ticks along.

California has more government control over rates, via its Public Utilities Commission, and its residents do not help the environment and their budget by using more electricity. Tiered rates go up steeply compared to measured "baseline" usage in your area. 12 or 13¢ per kWh up to the baseline, 14 or 15¢ at 130% of it, and then boom, double the rate or more as you go up to and beyond twice the baseline.

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

No, and no Permalink to this item

It's hard to know how many of the extreme conservatives actually listen to or take guidance from Richard Viguerie, and how much he's a banty rooster celebrating the sunrise. His question of the day elicits my headline answer: Can These Three Texans Save America and the GOP?

Ted Cruz is one of the three, of course. And... Rep. Louie Gohmert, oh my. The third is the Texas Governor whose probably not on your radar yet, Greg Abbott. Among Cruz' recent accomplishments being highlighted: sending a letter (strongly worded, one would imagine) to "Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting that the Department of Justice preserve all Internal Revenue Service documents and information for investigation under the next administration. Sen. Cruz’s letter comes after the DOJ recently closed its investigation into improper targeting of conservative groups by the IRS."

In other words, of course we don't believe you, and we'll want to continue the windmill tilt under the next President. Maybe President Cruz, even!

You may remember Gohmert for no legislative accomplishment whatsoever, beyond introducing a variety of bills with no chance of becoming law. Also, he really didn't like John Boehner as Speaker of the House, and he didn't go for Paul Ryan or the "backroom deals" leading to his election, either.

"But Gohmert’s real contribution to the future of America isn’t introducing bills; it is shining the light of day on government abuse and establishment Republican perfidy."

Shine on, you crazy diamond.

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

When I'm calling you-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo-oo Permalink to this item

The National Radio Quiet Zone is a thing. Its residents are keeping radio quiet for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Green Bank, West Virginia and whatever they do (or did?) at the NSA's Sugar Grove Station. It's HUGE. 13,000 square miles. That's larger than 9 of the United States. Nevermind Rhode Island; Massachusetts, Hawai`i, Maryland. Some of the people inside the zone rather like it.

Some fun facts to know and tell from the 2014 film by the Swedish Educational Broadcasting, Den mobila revolutionen ("The Mobile Revolution"), which we just fished out of the DVR from its couple of months' ago showing on Idaho Public TV. You can watch all 58 minutes there on Sveriges Utbildningsradio ("UR"), but the voiceover and the closed captioning is in Swedish. (Everyone talking on camera is speaking in English, and we heard an english version of the v.o.) It's an amazing document of the technological milieu the culture has reached, so far without much in the way of our participation. (I just yesterday figured out how to communicate with someone who's moved beyond email: email-to-SMS. His "text back" goes to my email, and we're both happy.)

It's too late for us to start mobile-proximity-dating, I'm afraid. But we'll get a smarter, more mobile iPod-phone-internet device eventually, and somebody with a drone or some non-flying surveillance device will vacuum up some of our stray traffic and steal some interesting personal information and maybe some useful account numbers and passwords. Can hardly wait.

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

We can picture combative, and getting conned Permalink to this item

In addition to the update of yesterday's piece (next one down), here's a more direct report of Ben Carson's press conference yesterday evening, with a little video excerpt of him saying he did too remember the West Point deal as "an offer."

Given how many times he's reiterated it at this point, he probably does remember it that way, never mind all the facts in evidence that make it not possibly true. At best, he misunderstood what others told him, or maybe they really did tell him things that weren't possibly true. Either way, he and his team could have—should have—had this conversation by now, and decided how to move forward and leave the past behind. "Scholarships" don't get offered to West Point, and given that, no one could have actually made such an offer to him. He might just say, "that's how I understood it at the time, and as we all know now, it wasn't exactly the way it was." Instead he says it was such a long time ago, and that's "a silly argument," as he's liking to say. Mistakes were made, let's move on. If he keeps insisting that mistakes weren't made, we all have to wonder, what the hell?

In any case, the event sounds quite entertaining, and reveals a new dimension of this often puzzling man.

"The performance, at a news conference in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., was mesmerizing at times, in part because of the serious personal questions that have been raised: whether he embellished or even made up crucial episodes in his life story, like the attempted stabbing of a childhood friend and his claim that West Point had offered him a 'full scholarship.'

"He lurched forward and backward, at one point recoiling from the microphone for effect. But he remained unflustered throughout.

"On stage at presidential debates, Mr. Carson borders on soporific. On Friday night, he was animated and combative."

Jonathan Chait took a look at a relevant, larger question for NYMag, is Ben Carson running for president? That is, is he really running for that office, or did he accidentally take the Wall Street Journal's joke headline after the National Prayer Breakfast in Feb., 2013 as an invitation? (Chait's piece is datelined Tuesday; he didn't have the benefit of the latest installment.)

"Conservative politics are so closely intermingled with a lucrative entertainment complex that it is frequently impossible to distinguish between a political project (that is, something designed to result in policy change) and a money-making venture. Declaring yourself a presidential candidate gives you access to millions of dollars' worth of free media attention that can build a valuable brand. So the mere fact that Carson calls himself a presidential candidate does not prove he is actually running for president rather than taking advantage of the opportunity to build his brand."

You can freely substitute "Trump" for "Carson" in that report, which is not to say the current Republican front-runners are interchangeable.

"[T]he notion that Carson could be president is preposterous. The problem is not only that he has never run for elected office. He has never managed a large organization; he has not worked in and around public policy, and he lacks a competent grasp of issues. His stance on health care, the closest thing to an issue with which his professional experience has brought him into contact, is gibberish. He mostly thrills audiences by scoffing at evolution and insisting Muslims be barred from the presidency, stances he cannot even defend coherently."

Pause here to consider that you can "thrill" audiences by scoffing at evolution in 2015. And then proceed to read the rest of Chait's speculation that this is about money, pure and simple. On the question of Carson's ten year involvement with Mannatech, and denying "any kind of relationship" even as he admitted giving paid speeches, a link to video of the performance in the CNBC-hosted debate, and the conclusion:

"If you have the facts in mind — Carson maintained an extensive relationship with the company — when you watch this answer, his unflinching dishonesty has a chilling quality. He is a perfect con artist."

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

It's always been a hammer Permalink to this item

NYMag led off the day's campaign news, with a great, perplexing, accurate headline: Ben Carson Defends Himself Against Allegations That He Never Attempted to Murder a Child. I just had to take the jump, to answer the question, "whaa?" Whatever else is going on, I think we can agree that this Ben Carson is one of the most bizarre personalities to stumble into the national spotlight in quite some time. So many of the Republican hopefuls have qualified for the general category, but I can't think of any with the potpourri of a biography that Carson brings. What @realDonaldTrump tweeted: "The Carson story is either a total fabrication or, if true, even worse-trying to hit mother over the head with a hammer or stabbing friend!" (Or as another wag on Facebook put it, "oh we're at the 'I DID TOO STAB A PERSON!' portion of the GOP primary race?")

Serephin Idaho's work, used with permission

Not long after, news on Politico that Carson admits fabricating West Point scholarship. As told in his book, when Carson was 17 years old, in 1969, he was introduced to Gen. William Westmoreland, fresh off the command of U.S. forces in Vietnam, and they had dinner together, after which there was supposedly a "full scholarship" to the military academy, which (a) such things don't exist, and (b) he never applied at West Point.

There are plenty of things sketchy in my mind from when I was 17, and 1969 (a bit longer ago), but if I had been "the top ROTC student in the City of Detroit," the particulars of me meeting a four-star General back then would be pretty firmly etched in memory, I'm certain. But here's Carson's campaign manager clarifying that Carson

"was invited to meet General Westmoreland. He believes it was at a banquet. He can’t remember with specificity their brief conversation but it centered around Dr. Carson’s performance as ROTC City Executive Officer."

The account published in Carson's book is fabricated, and/or poorly fact-checked. There was a banquet back in the day (if not the day Carson said), and 1,500 people "had dinner with" the General, and the Mayor of Detroit, and the Governor of Michigan. Maybe Carson was there.

"Cecil Murphey, who ghostwrote “Gifted Hands,” told POLITICO that his memory of Carson’s exchange with Westmoreland was hazy."

What Carson asked the people of America, talking to Fox News' Megyn Kelly (video link in the NYMag piece): "Do you think I'm a pathological liar like CNN does, or do you think I'm an honest person?"

The best we can say right now is, it's an open question. I certainly think Ben Carson is an odd person, with a strange belief system, who has provided scant evidence in favor of (and more than a little against) the idea that he could possibly be qualified to be President of the United States of America.

For Kelly's part, she came up with a nice softball follow-up for Carson, didn't he think this could be the beginning of "the media" (which doesn't include Fox News then) trying to end his campaign?

"Yeah, it's a smear campaign," he batted back, "but I'm not going to play that game with them." This is all just "garbage" and "silly," distracting from all the important issues we should be talking about. Carson and we can at least agree with him that "my candidacy is different."

I'm sorry, but SHUT UP about the "recklessness" of the media. Answer the questions, tell the truth, and tell us—if you can—why we should seriously consider your candidacy.

UPDATE: Carson's campaign was indignant about the candidate never having admitted to fabrication, and an Editor's note has been inserted at the top of their story. I'll let them explain:

"POLITICO stands by its reporting on this story, which has been updated to reflect Ben Carson’s on the record response. The original story and headline said that Carson’s campaign had admitted he 'fabricated' a 'full scholarship' from West Point, but now Carson denies that his campaign’s statement constituted such an admission, and the story and headline were changed to reflect that. POLITICO’s reporting established that Carson said he received a 'full scholarship' from West Point, in writing and in public appearances over the years — but in fact he did not and there is actually no such thing as a 'full scholarship' to the taxpayer-funded academy. And today in response to POLITICO he acknowledged for the first time that was not the case. Carson never explicitly wrote that he had applied for admission to West Point, although that was the clear implication of his claim to have received an offer of a 'full scholarship,' a point that POLITICO’s initial report should have made clear."

Ben Carson supporters see this as more evidence (which they hardly needed) of how horrible journalists are. To really hammer home the point (sorry), Mollie Hemingway tries her hand at a hit piece under a false headline about what "Politico admits," before getting around to admitting herself that the Politico author did no such thing:

"Now, as for Kyle Cheney’s concession that he fabricated his piece on Carson. He didn’t. That’s how I’m interpreting his decision to stealthily edit his piece to remove much of the error."

Funny, that leading Editor's note doesn't seem any more "stealthy" than Carson's complaints about being unfairly criticized seem genuine.

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

The ugly side of Idaho visits Boise Permalink to this item

Jeanette and I weren't at the Capitol last Sunday for the counter-protest of the anti-refugee "III% of Idaho's" gathering, but many of our friends were. Thanks to David Neiwert and the Southern Poverty Law Center for documenting both sides of the street, including the verbatim video of a good portion of it.

Having been on the Capitol's steps, and across the street on various occasions, I would take exception the verb in the lede that the III%-ers were "crowded" there. The steps have ample room for 3 or 4 times more people than they had shouting and waving flags. I'd say they looked more "huddled" than crowded, when they weren't spread out in take-over formation.

It's safe to say the group on the steps did not really need the bullhorn-powered exhortations of Chris McIntire to confirm their biases, and the claim and shout-backs of "We're not racists" were as unconvincing as the notion that they had "all colors, races, creeds, and religions" represented in their small group.

Equally unpersuasive are the claims of compassion for all the other people who need help, and who were here first: "our homeless, our veterans, our students" who have a first claim on "the dwindling resources we already have for the state of Idaho." Let's take care of everyone else first, and then we'll think about inviting refugees in, right about ... never.

Update: One friend who was there said there were definitely more counter-protesters than III%-ers. And that some woman he did not know was going around telling people "ok, you've been counted, you don't need to stay," and "we don't want to listen to them." Maybe it was someone who doesn't understand counter-protest, and maybe it was chutzpah from someone working to thin the counter-protest. Plot thickens.

Local election news Permalink to this item

Boise's three-term Mayor Dave Bieter cruised to a fourth, leaving his disgruntled challenger and her explicitly Republican/TEA Party pitch looking mighty blighted with less than 30% of the vote. Your basic 2.6 to 1 margin, with a small fraction given up to a BSU student padding his résumé. The $10 million, two-year conservation levy to invest in open space and water quality passed by almost 3 to 1.

Turnout was predictably execrable for an odd-year election, but way better than the last two: 27.1% vs. 20.7 and 19.2% countywide and "topped 30%" per Betsy Russell's report on her Spokesman-Review blog linked above, in Boise. Full Ada County results show 33,421 ballots cast, out of 111,071 voters registered in Boise.

I can't understand missing an opportunity to vote, personally; and I'm ok with my vote having 4x the weight it would if everyone turned out.

The Judy Peavey-Derr for Boise Facebook page seems to have been sanitized of the most risible of its campaign messaging. The cover photo is an attractive image of her against a background of fall colors at least, and who could say no to protecting families, business and FREEDOM? The one about clinging to her guns and religion is no longer in evidence, but I'm confident my graphic satirist saved originals for reference.

Stop burdensome regulations for childcare providers, what? Reagan had it right, Obama had it wrong? No more taxes, no more Bieter? The voters said no more, Judy.

The voters also answered the question Chuck Malloy posted on Sunday, is an upset brewing in Boise? Not in the least, and where in the world did you get that idea? He quotes Ms. Peavey-Derr without mentioning how false her bravado seemed at the time, "conservatively" estimating her chances as "nine" on a scale of 1 to 10. It seems Mike Tracy, "longtime press secretary to Sen. Larry Craig" was instrumental in driving the fictional narrative. From "nothing is working," Tracy said things suddenly popped to "My phone is ringing off the hook and people I haven’t seen before are coming by to see me." Russ Fulcher was even campaigning for Peavey-Derr, apparently in the same invisible dog whistle frequencies where refugees and their strange "dialects" are "blighting" her part of town.

Peavey-Derr and Tracy and who knows who else were banking on low turnout, "supporters thinking that the election is in the bag, and staying away from the polls." Gee, maybe they talked too good a game, and their supporters stayed away from the polls? Either way, there weren't nearly enough of them, and thanks for that.

A lot more coal being burned Permalink to this item

Turns out, China's burning more coal than the government was saying, 17% more according to Chris Buckley's report in the New York Times. That kicker alone would be "greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels."

"The new data, which appeared recently in an energy statistics yearbook published without fanfare by China’s statistical agency, show that coal consumption has been underestimated since 2000, and particularly in recent years. The revisions were based on a census of the economy in 2013 that exposed gaps in data collection, especially from small companies and factories."

The sidebar graphic with a scale of billions of tons shows a steep slope either way, but now steeper. Twelve years ago this month when we visited, they were just passing 2 billion tons a year. Now, as revised, the usage in 2013 was twice that. More than 4 billion tons. 12 years ago, when it wasn't raining, and before the last three days after a Mongolian cold front momentarily swept Beijing clean, it was the worst air pollution I'd seen anywhere in the world other than perhaps the worst days of fire season here in the Rocky Mountains.

The Times story includes an interesting video, with some disparate views from locals, one of whom provided the quote of the day (in the translated subtitle):

"There's no need to worry. We have a nice environment."

Nov. 2003 photo

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

So long, Joe Permalink to this item

Joe Nocera's hanging up his Op-Ed beat, in favor of the Sports page. Did not see that coming. He's got some good ideas for his farewell column. Michael Bloomberg should buy a gun company. We should build new schools to show we value education. Supreme Court Justices should serve one 18-year term, with terms staggered to have one end every two years. We should vote on the weekend, not Tuesday. The Metropolitan Opera should do "Porgy and Bess" again. And e-cigarettes are better than toxic, tar-filled tobacco.

While I read his columns frequently, there are plenty I missed and I guess I can enjoy them retrospectively. Some from this month: Aaron Sorkin's 'Steve Jobs' Con, saving me the trouble of watching that movie. (Darn it, I'd hoped to learn more about Jobs' life, but who wants to see a movie about fake Steve Jobs?)

The Patent Troll Smokescreen, about yet another economic distortion in patent law and practice: “efficient infringing,” as attorney Robert Taylor called it. Nocera:

"...the relatively new practice of using a technology that infringes on someone’s patent, while ignoring the patent holder entirely. And when the patent holder discovers the infringement and seeks recompense, the infringer responds by challenging the patent’s validity."

It used to be that willful infringement, which that description certainly sounds like, ran you the risk of having to pay treble damages. Wonder what happened to that penalty?

On incoherence Permalink to this item

In the little Twitter snit that ensued when I responded to the Idaho Freedom Foundation's touting Peter Crabb "deliver[ing] the truth about the minimum wage," my observation that Crabb's writing has been incoherent for some time was derided as a "personal attack," and for not debating the issue at hand. That was while I was composing yesterday's blog post, and just before I provided the link to it. Responding to that, there were... crickets. I'd already been dismissed:

@fortboise Ah. You definitely know a lot about incoherence. Have a great day.

— Idaho Freedom (@idahofreedom) November 3, 2015

After 30 or 40 years of shooting my mouth and keyboard off, advanced education and a career in engineering, I do, in fact, know quite a bit about coherence and its absence. I'm not obsessed about it, but I was following Crabb's published opinions when we were getting the Idaho Statesman and its Business Insider periodical which long gave space to Crabb and the laissez faire, free market, anti-government messages that are the IFF's stock in trade.

For the current topic, my February, 2013 blog post on Idaho's low wages is perhaps most relevant, although Crabb was only mentioned in passing in the report from Bill Roberts. The datagraphic from the Idaho Department of Labor shows what the anti-union "Right to Work" legislation and the "free market" have done for this state's workers, as compared to the rest of the country. In 1970, Idaho was 82% of the national average, peaked at 87% through the late 1970s, and has since slid to 76%. Crabb's contribution was to observe that wages aren't as low as they seem because the 3.4% increase over inflation in the last three decades "doesn't reflect factors such as the cost of health insurance premiums paid by companies, which are effectively an increase in pay that doesn't show up in wages." That might be relevant if very many of Idaho's low wage jobs actually included employer-paid health insurance. But it isn't relevant to the state-to-state comparison, with no reason to believe Idaho's workers have better benefits.

In September, 2013, I remarked upon Crabb's assessment of his own dismal "science" and his vague explanation of why going back to the gold standard would be a good idea, and then another response to his tireless criticism of the Federal Reserve for their sins of omission and comission alike.

Most recently, December of last year, I responded to his extolling the virtues of "incentives" to solve the problems of access to health care, and making excuses for denying Idaho's refusal to expand Medicaid. (People would just consume more health services without getting healthier.) We all can free market our way to better health.

Crabb is a firm and unwavering ideologue, making no useful predictions that I have seen, and spending his effort justifying his (and the Idaho Freedom Foundation's) ideology, with arguments that are simply not very good, and not very well delivered. Seeing him deliver one in person affirmed what I'd already observed from his published work.

Tough questions, tough job Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein considers whether CNBC's questions were more hostile, less hostile, or about the same as the other three networks that have hosted debates so far. You might not be shocked, shocked to see that when compared side-by-side, the opening half-dozen questions from the moderators at Fox, CNN (one debate for each party so far), and CNBC were more alike than different, generally in the form of "[perfectly reasonable question] + [weirdly ungenerous kicker]." The one notable disparity that the Fox and CNN questions were

"implicitly framed as if they came from a concerned member of the sponsoring party; CNBC asked questions about policies and records that were framed as if they came from a critic of the sponsoring party."

If you can't deal with criticism, POTUS probably isn't the right job for you. Were CNBC's questions uniquely hostile? No. There were none as pointed as Megyn Kelly's challenge to Donald Trump, the "attack ad wrapped in a question" that caused a Trump v. Fox News feud.

"But as hostile as [that] question was, it didn’t elicit any anger from the Republican Party more broadly, nor any pushback from the other candidates on stage. Elite Republicans didn’t mind the question, I think, because elite Republicans loathe Donald Trump and wanted to see his campaign ended. Fox was hostile here, but it was acting as an agent of the Republican Party, not an enemy of it."

In other words, if Donald Trump is mad, the network has provided a service to the Party, while if RNC Chair Reince Priebus is hopping mad, the network has provided a public service, even if it cost them some future business. With my emphasis:

"The controversy ... reflects a tension buried deep inside presidential debates: They are organized by political parties, not news organizations. ... And the parties want the debates to help their best candidates. The result is that debate moderators try to walk a line of being tough questioners without overly offending the organizing party ...

"CNBC, in focusing on policy concerns, picked a more journalistically important line of questioning, but one that the organizing party found much more offensive. The resulting backlash is the organizing party's effort to remind CNBC and all other networks that, ultimately, it controls these debates, and media organizations that want to host a debate and benefit from the accompanying ratings and the prestige need to remember that they are meant to act as the party's partner in these debates, not as its critic."

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

Down with the minimum wage Permalink to this item

Voters in the Idaho resort town of McCall will decide on whether to raise their local minimum wage to $8.75 on January 1, and $10.25 the year after ($6.56 and $7.68 for tipped workers, whose minimum is $3.35/hour now). KBOI reports that the City Council had the power to pass the initiative on its own, but decided to put it to the voters, while it stayed neutral. The anti-government Idaho Freedom Foundation dispatched its man, Professor Peter Crabb to argue against, and hosted a video of the voters' forum on its "news" website.

Crabb—speaking for himself, and not Northwest Nazarene University where he's a professor of Finance and Economics—took a three-pronged approach, based on economic theory, political economy and "correct moral reasoning," as he put it. First of all, research cited by proponents that talks about no significant loss of jobs from raising the minimum wage is "far from conclusive," which he demonstrated by quoting a caveat from one paper, and three-years after publication criticism of its methodology.

Assuming that economics is always a zero-sum game, he argued that employers will subsitute capital for more expensive labor, or reduce benefits, or hours to avoid having their costs go up. He cited a statistic from the hospitality industry about average hours per week worked going down from 1965 to today, "all the time the minimum wage has been going up."

That's true if you don't adjust for inflation, but as you can see in CNN's interactive chart, after the increase from $1.25 to $1.60 an hour in 1968, it's been mostly a sawtooth ride downhill. In real terms, the wage is where it was in the mid-1980s, or mid-1950s, take your pick. Crabb knows better, I'm sure. He was either sloppily hand-waving, or deliberately misleading. But he had the temerity to accuse others of "dubious reading" of research.

His political argument is that tradeoffs are always required in politics, so if we're going to raise the minimum wage, we should also have to lower taxes on employers, or increase the eligibility threshold for government programs. The implication is that since we're not doing those things, we have no business raising the minimum wage.

Finally the "correct" moral arguments, such as they are. Raising the minimum wage decreases opportunity for younger workers, and thus constitutes a transfer from younger workers to older ones. Immoral! And the government has "questionable moral authority" to regulate anything.

"So it begs the question. [sic] Do we have a moral right to burden this segment of the labor force when we have already done so with other unfunded liabilities in government social programs?"

That's the very nut of the argument of Crabb's (and the IFF's) indefatigable arguments for libertarianism and the free market as a solution to all problems. The ideology is clear and perfect; if the arguments have to be elliptical, obfuscated or specious, so be it.

Turn that fork upside down! Permalink to this item


Marc Johnson forecasts the rebound of Jeb! Stranger things have happened I guess. One piece of the puzzle just yesterday was that leaked PowerPoint slide deck, and here's Simon Maloy figuring the campaign leaked its own strategy for what it hoped would be a better attack on Rubio than the pathetically foiled try at the last debate, and to provide we're-not-coordinating coordination with the Right to Rise SuperPAC in case it wasn't sure how, when, and where to best spend the $100 million it's raised on Jeb!'s behalf. (Maloy's not in the Comeback Kid camp.)

Anyway, Johnson's conclusion:

"In the enormously fractured modern Republican Party anything is now possible. The favored son of the dynasty may not have what father and brother possessed, including the instinct to Swift Boat opponents, but a guy with a $100 million Super PAC and 100 percent name ID may yet have the staying power to outlast this completely crazy cast of contenders.

"Jeb Bush has been a perfectly awful candidate so far, but even the Mets, dead at mid-season, made it to the World Series. When everything is crazy anything is possible."

Signage Permalink to this item

Image from the NY Train Project site

What's not to like about a graphic designer taking on the task (obsession?) to "document every subway station sign in New York, whether embedded in mosaic or painted on steel girders"? Featured in New York Today this morning, and of course, turned into a luscious website, whose hit counter must be squealing like a steel wheel on a tight curve right now: NY Train Project.

On the N train, the sign for Atlantic Avenue says "PACIFIC STREET," that could be a little confusing. On the B train, Newkirk Plaza says "ATLANTIC AVE."

"Project" details tallies up a mere 43 hours riding and waiting, 19 subway swipes and 276 stops covered. Doesn't say how much time he spent editing the images into pixel-perfect orthogonality, as tilework demands, and designing the photogallery to feel like you're riding a subway (albeit one filled with white light around the signs at each station).

I didn't ride the whole thing, but of what I saw, I would recommend the 3 train for the best variety and most interesting stuff, until it gets above ground (?) at the far end.

1.Nov.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Inside baseball Permalink to this item

No, not the World Series (although here it is November and that's still going on), it's the 112 slide deck from the JEB! campaign that somebody leaked to U.S. News & World Report and now everybody can be briefed. The 5 things you need to know right now:

  1. Press obsession with process will not determine primary outcome
  2. Race will remain fluid for some time because… voters have A.D.D.
  3. Fundamentals matter
  4. Cash matters
  5. Discipline matters
Excerpt of the Jeb! briefing

I like that little hitch in the gitalong in item #2 about Attention Deficit Disorder. Are we not paying enough attention? Can't remember what happened last week? The average number of candidates being considered has been six all summer, according to TargetPoint Consulting's 829 autodialed phone phone interviews with "likely GOP primary voters" a month ago, and up from 5 in February. (Going by the graphic, 5 candidates to 6 is a like a 3x increase?)

As for "Discipline matters," someone needs to explain that slide to me, because they pre-empted the original text (about how JEB! is the most grown-up person and going to be fine, and how the "proactive measure" of cutting expenses is "real good budgeting and leadership") with a quote from the Washington Post on Oct. 23:

But one Bush fundraiser who requested anonymity to speak freely said: “It feels very much like a death spiral, and it breaks my heart. I don’t know anyone who wants to reinvest now.” The campaign, this person added, has been “head-­‐scratchingly bad in every element. I wouldn’t be shocked in 60 days from now if he wasn’t in the race.”

The lead for the news is that Marco Is A Risky Bet (slide 19) and 7 bullet points why. The briefing says that "Marco is a GOP Obama," how's that for an attack? Rubio and Obama "have strikingly similar profiles," not to put too fine a point on it.

And not to coordinate expenditures too much, but the bar charts detailing "Advanced Placed Media" show how much the "Right to Rise PAC (Pro-Bush)" will be "future spending." $33M in the coming 4 months, more than half of that in New Hampshire.

The embedded campaign videos weren't included in the downloadable document, but there's plenty of interesting viewing, especially when it gets to the wonky Data & Analytics section, describing their database with 260 million individuals in it, 3,000 data points per individual. That's 780 billion points of light if you do the math.

"This data is being used to provide detailed MicroTargeting [sic] profiles of voters in key primary states," and "We know exactly which Republicans are the most likely to vote and what issues matter to them."

There is a strategic dashboard from Ackbar (is that... Admiral Ackbar?!), details of the microtargeting in New Hampshire, state of the art poll sampling, Sybill campaign simulations, advanced TV tracking, conquest (!) advertising, targeted media buying efficiencies, social media monitoring, and all things digital (tracking, more analytics, advertising, and of course, fundraising).


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007