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31.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Unpresidented Permalink to this item

Didn't see this apparently clever delaying tactic from the Democrats on the Finance Committee coming, but refusing to attend scheduled votes was apparently sufficient to still Steven Mnuchin's nomination for Treasury Secretary, and Tom Price's for HHS.

"In describing their tactic of boycotting the votes on nominees to treasury and to health and human services, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said that recent news reports suggested Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Price had given false statements in their nomination hearings."

False statements, you say? Under oath? While being considered for a nomination to the Cabinet? That's kind of big news. But as for the Democrats' tactic, at least one Senator is spluttering in indignation, according to the NYT report.

“I think this is a completely unprecedented level of obstruction,” said Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican from Pennsylvania.

Do you now. Unprecedented, you say.


Amateur hour Permalink to this item

The question on minds around the world: have we lost our minds? Maybe not quite yet, but we're on the road. The vote to confirm Senator Jefferson Beauregard "Jeff" Sessions III as U.S. Attorney General has now turned into a confirmation for the Steve Bannon anti-immigration program as well. The BBC's US & Canada coverage includes a link to the text of acting A.G. Sally Yates' swan song, concluding with:

"[A]s long as I am the Acting Attorney General, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the Executive Order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so."

And this sidelight I hadn't seen in yesterday's news:

"Hundreds of diplomats and foreign servants have been drafting a 'dissent cable' to formally criticise the move. A draft version of the cable said that immigration restrictions would not make the US safer, were un-American and would send the wrong message to the Muslim world."

Those hundreds of career diplomats are so ancien régime, creatures of the swamp that's being drained. We're now in Bizarro World, where Up is Down, Black is White, War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Sean Spicer is Press Secretary and Kellyanne Conway is TMI.

That exemplary website that used to live at It's now being remodeled as trailer trash. The front page has a hero image—literally—and a big old button with which you can WATCH THE VIDEO of the Inauguration of Donald J. Trump, just in case you can't get enough of Friday's under-attended festivities. (If you have javascript enabled, this will be after the "transitionsplash" with two-for-one-heroes and a form to give your email address to receive updates from you-know-who, in case you're not on Twitter.)

Rubber ducky battle scene

Digging into the Briefing Room, you can find the Sunday presser, DJT's statement regarding recent executive order concerning extreme vetting. Proud. Compassion. Protecting. Petulant:

"We will keep [America] free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say."

Just before "My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months," which is not actually true, to the tune of "a bit facile" and three Pinocchios on update from Glenn Kessler's fact checking. That's "significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions," and into the realm of "mostly false."

And besides, seriously? Obama did it, too?!

Over at Justice, the invitation to "Meet the Acting Attorney General" goes to a one-liner, "Dana J. Boente became the Acting Attorney General on January 30, 2017."

How do you do.

Not that it matters a whole lot. He had One Job, which was to issue a press release repudiating the previous Acting Attorney General's memorandum and to say that

"Based upon the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis, which found the Executive Order both lawful on its face and properly drafted, I hereby rescind former Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates January 30, 2017, guidance and direct the men and women of the Department of Justice to do our sworn duty and to defend the lawful orders of our President."

Yes, but defending the lawful orders of the President was always their sworn duty, and other than having an acting rubber stamp, the original question remains open. The ACLU immediately challenged the E.O., was granted a hearing in Federal District Court, and Judge Ann M. Donnelly issued a stay, blocking the policy from taking effect, while our judicial branch has a chance to decide on the constitutionality.

Update: Retweeted this amazing little snippet yesterday, from @staffernews: a video snippet from Sally Yates' confirmation hearing, when she was questioned by Sen. Sessions. "You have to watch out because people are going to be asking you do do things, you just need to say 'no' about. Do you think the Attorney General has a responsibility to say "no" to the President if he asks for something that's improper?"

Update #2, back to the original headline
CBS News reports that Gen. Talib al Kenani, recently commanding the elite, American-trained counter-terrorist forces leading the fight against ISIS for two years, doesn't know whether he can visit his family in the U.S. (where they were relocated for their safety) under the new Trumpian order. “Now my kids are now asking if I’m a terrorist?”

30.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not too soon to think about 2018 Permalink to this item

Excerpt of SwingLeft mapping of Congressional swing districts

Utah's Fourth. Nevada's Fourth. Arizona's First. Colorado's 3rd. The swing districts nearest us, as mapped by For example:

In the last election, Democrat Ruben Kihuen won this district by only 10,657 votes (4.0%). Let's support Democrat Ruben Kihuen in 2018 and make sure Democrats hold onto this critical seat.

And from Salt Lake City, down past Provo:

Republican Mia Love won this district by only 34,184 votes (12.5%). Let's defeat Republican Mia Love in 2018.

Stone cold crazy Permalink to this item

Wikipedia's entry for Steve Bannon says he was an officer in the United States Navy for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, serving on the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster as a Surface Warfare Officer in the Pacific Fleet, and then stateside as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon. It's footnoted to, which says that "[A] friend who served alongside Bannon in the Navy called him a man of solid character and intriguing ideas."

Intriguing. That friend, "who served with Bannon as a junior officer" retired as a Rear Admiral, Edward "Sonny" Masso, the former head of Navy Personnel Command. "[Bannon is] very good at multi-tasking, and he can do amazing things. He was absolutely a good sailor and naval officer," Masso said.

Snowing tracks

The Military Times piece from last summer went on to say that "The Navy could not immediately provide any details about Bannon’s military career. Officials cited undisclosed issues with the service's personnel archives." Ironically? Conspiratorially? Says there, Masso has known Bannon for the last 40 years, quite a long time, including when he had a "12-hour [a day] job at the Pentagon" and studied international affairs at Georgetown at night (before going off the Harvard Business School, going to work for Goldman Sachs, and the movies).

Bannon's inherited fake news propaganda organ Breitbart News was happy to link to a NYT piece last summer when its profile was glowing. Also, a picture of him decently groomed.

But that was a million years ago, let's get up to date. The Trump administration just reorganized the National Security Council and moved Mr. no-confirmation and sketchy personnel archives Lieutenant? (if it were Lt. Cmdr. or higher, we would have heard, I get) Steve Bannon into the top tier, ahead of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They'll be invited if there's anything they need to know.

Our NSC, with the charter of finalizing the kill-or-capture list of militants, and stuff. Head flak fabulizer Sean Spicer cited Bannon's bona fides as "a former Naval officer" with "a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now" as justification for the move.

"The president gets plenty of information from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Spicer says. And besides, he's a really smart guy. Who knows more than the Generals. Because... surprise!

Halfway into the briefing [of Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security,] someone on the call looked up at a television in his office. “The president is signing the executive order that we’re discussing,” the official said, stunned.

Our new Secretary of Defense, (former) Gen. James Mattis—a vocal critic of Trump's "Muslim ban" concept, "did not see a final version of the order until Friday morning, only hours before Mr. Trump arrived to sign it at the Pentagon," the New York Times reported.

How about the Customs and Border Protection folks?

"It was not until 3 a.m. on Saturday that customs and border officials received limited written instructions about what to do at airports and border crossings. They also struggled with how to exercise the waiver authority that was included in the executive order, which allowed the homeland security secretary to let some individuals under the ban enter the country case by case."

Former National Security Adviser and Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice blasted President Trump in his favorite medium:

This is stone cold crazy. After a week of crazy. Who needs military advice or intell to make policy on ISIL, Syria, Afghanistan, DPRK?

— Susan Rice (@AmbassadorRice) January 29, 2017

Spicer delicately huffed that Rice's comments were "clearly inappropriate language from a former ambassador," she should follow the example of... well, uh, EVERYBODY ELSE JUST BE QUIET, OK? WE CAN ONLY HAVE ONE STONE COLD CRAZY PERSON IN CHIEF.

Update: Didn't get around to reading this before posting, but an important addendum, from the chief executive and editor of FP Group, publisher of Foreign Policy magazine, and author of two histories of the NSC: The danger of Steve Bannon on the National Security Council.

"Combine all this with the president’s own shoot-from-the-lip impulses, his flair for improvisation and his well-known thin skin. You end up with a bad NSC structure being compromised by a kitchen cabinet-type superstructure and the whole thing likely being made even more dysfunctional by a president who, according to multiple reports, does not welcome advice in the first place — especially when it contradicts his own views.

"The executive order on immigration and refugees was un-American, counterproductive and possibly illegal. The restructuring of the NSC, and the way in which this White House is threatening to operate outside the formal NSC structure, all but guarantees that it will not be the last bad decision to emerge from the Trump administration."

27.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

There was this moment... Permalink to this item

Way back in 2004, not long after I'd met him in Vancouver B.C. at my first ever Unitarian Universalist Musicians Network conference (and before he went on to become Associate Minister for Music at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashville), Jason Shelton overheard something that led to inspiration, and a song, Standing on the Side of Love, at that moment when there was a billboard saying Civil Marriage is a Civil Right and Massachussetts was getting it, and who could have imagined, we'd all get it (legally, at least) in the summer of 2015.

Standing on the side of love

Along the way there were demonstrations, and banners, and t-shirts, and eventually, celebrations, and cake, and weddings galore.

But in between, before all those celebrations (and yes, lamentations by some with a different set of values), a different civil rights issue embodied in it, metaphorically entwined, came to the fore. In his comment posted below the interview video, Jason wrote:

"I wish I had had the presence of mind to address the pain that the word 'standing' has caused for some in whose physical abilities do not allow it, but I didn't, and I am sorry. It is a deep regret to know that this phrase has been a source of pain for some."

Who would have guessed? And who would have guessed that

"The words/phrases for 'standing up' (physically) and 'taking a stand' (metaphorically) are, in most other languages, completely different."

This last summer, 2016, a solution came to mind, and he's changed four words to three: We are Answering the Call of Love.

The word arrived at my place here in January, 2017, via a long and fascinating discussion in the UUMN's email list; we care so very much about doing the right thing, and being compassionate to one another, and responding when people tell us they are hurt.

This is one alternate universe removed from the cultural moment in which "political correctness" was fashioned into a political football, and run all the way down, all the way down, all the way down the field, HEY. But as one of my friends pointed out on Facebook, "if all you post about is Donald Trump (positive or negative), your life is out of balance and I'd much rather hear about your family, your life, your community or something positive." (The "unfollowing you" threat didn't amount to much, but still, food for thought, and blog.)

At any rate, it was a reminder that the young and/or ignorant and fiery are often the ones to move us forward, not knowing they're supposed to keep their mouths shut (and hands still).

In the context of religious music, I thought about the very many times I have sung theology that was not my own. I've sung in other foreign languages as well, and sometimes in our common tongue of Hallelujah. The universe of metaphor is a wide open place. It brought Bobby McFerrin's setting of the 23rd Psalm to mind, in both the hearing and singing of it, don't mind the language, it's so beautiful, you can't resist. And yet McFerrin did make it about the words, gender jujitsu to make us pay a bit more attention, and be ready to really hear the message. Dedicated to his mother.

Surely, surely goodness and kindness will follow me
All the days of my life
And I will live in her house
Forever, forever and ever

Love of my life

Knowing I could hear a replay for the minimal trouble of a web search (so much easier than finding that CD in the house), I spun it up, enjoyed another listen, and made the mistake of looking at the comments. One was simultaneously unfortunate and hilarious:

"Interesting. But really just another Anglican Chant."

Yup. Just another Psalm. Just another morning. Just another day. Just another life. The same old chant, slightly different words. Same old water to carry, same old wood to chop.

Toward the end of the long discussion of Standing on the Side moved to Answering the Call, Jason opened a new topic, more about civil rights and music, and a recent work he helped make happen. His introduction to us:

"I was privileged to work with the brilliant jazz pianist/composer (and member of First Unitarian, Portland) Darrell Grant in arranging his tribute to civil rights icon Ruby Bridges as a choral suite. Originally conceived as a work for a single vocalist with jazz ensemble, Darrell asked me to re-think and expand the piece as a choral work.

"We presented the work in 2015, but have not been able to share the work more widely because we were waiting to receive the blessing of (the notoriously reclusive) Ms Bridges-Hall. But we did recieve that blessing a few months ago, and are excited to share this important, sadly still-relevant work with you all."

The hour-long video, published this month on YouTube is free for the clicking, and a powerful, moving work of art: Step by Step: The Ruby Bridges Suite, with narration drawn from iconic civil rights-era speeches and from the children's books by and about the 6-year-old girl who walked up the steps to William Frantz Elementary in New Orleans and into history.

26.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Something there is that does not love a wall Permalink to this item

The Don might remember the pull quote from Robert Frost's poem, and think it was a celebration of tidy boundaries. Good neighbors! He spent a lot of time in New York, do you suppose he ever visited the Statue of Liberty in the harbor? Read Emma Lazarus' poem? It's possible to be so rich in material and so poor in spirit (and vice versa).

In yesterday's triumphant win for xenophobia, the 2 minute and 13 second video bite of Trump's tiny hand-jabbing pronouncement with Mike Pence bobble-heading approval and a claque at the ready behind the camera, the most incredible declaration: "I will be a president, I promise you, for everyone."

Just not feelin' it yet.

On the TV news, you might have noticed that there were a whole lot of images of walls, as if... all our new president had to do was say the word and they appeared? But that's not actually how it happened.

The series of walls and fences (including sections of "virtual fence" replete with sensors and cameras monitored by the Border Patrol) is quite well-established. So well-established in fact, that the historical facts and figures in its Wikipedia page are a bit dated. As of January 2009, it says, we had 580 miles in place. And border apprehensions in 2010 were at their lowest level since 1972, down by more than half since the booming real estate bubble in 2005.

So that leaves 1,374 miles of the least beneficial and most expensive (presuming the first 600 miles were the low hanging fruit) border-walling opportunity to go. More than twice again as much, to protect and serve miles and miles of our southern desert and the Rio Grande that Operation Gatekeeper, Operation Hold-the-Line, Operation Safeguard, and the Secure Fence Act of 2006 did not cover. That 2006 legislation had costs estimated at slightly more than the Customs and Border Protection's entire annual discretionary budget—$6 billion. Benefits? Who knows. The sky's the limit. But it turned out that crashing the economy in 2008 was better protection against illegal immigration than any of the walling, even if, ok, that was more than $6 to $9 million per mile.

That's what the estimated $8 to $12 billion the Republicans are proposing to spend works out to be, our tax dollars, thankyouverymuch, because repeated bragging about getting Mexico to pay for something that they don't want and that has no benefit to them was not brilliant negotiating by Art Dealmaster. The red meat for angry mobs was Trump-steak tasty, however, and part of what tipped the Electoral College for the biggest loser.

Nov. 2003 photo in China

You know who built a great wall? The Chinese. The people who paid untold billions in equivalent dollars and lives are all dead, and the Mongol hordes they were trying to keep out were not kept out, but the Great Wall is still a fine tourist attraction. (Fun fake fact: it was first "seen" from the moon in 1754. Actual fact: you can't hardly even see it from low earth orbit.)

In addition to Mexicans (whose long, shared history with this country is no dobut foreign territory to Fearful Leader), we're going to single out Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for special rejection. But hey, we'll “absolutely do safe zones in Syria,” because we're not monsters or anything.

Where quite a few immigrants to this country actually live, four states, 364 counties and 39 cities, Trump has threatened to withhold federal funds for whatever, and "defiant officials—from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and smaller cities, including New Haven; Syracuse; and Austin, Tex.—said they were prepared for a protracted fight." That should be interesting. California, where the whole state, a mess of big cities and all but Colusa County are signed up, the balance of payments has long been in the federal governments favor, to the tune of several border walls' worth per year. Retaliation could be expensive.

23.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Alternative facts Permalink to this item

Jay Rosen, Associate Professor at NYU, author of What Are Journalists For? and the award-winning PressThink blog has an important piece about what just happened in the White House briefing room ("we have no name for what this thing was"), with a suggestion for how media organizations should respond: Send the interns. "Put your most junior people in the White House briefing room. Recognize that the real story is elsewhere, and most likely hidden."

The post embeds the clip of the 5½ minute performance by Sean Spicer, which Rosen describes as a “relationship message delivery vehicle,” operating on multiple levels. A message to Trump's staffers: This is what we expect.

More snow

A message to the press: You will be turned into hate objects whenever we feel like it.

And a message to all the listeners out there, whatever their team colors. It's red meat, and marching orders to Trump supporters. We will tell you what to believe. To Trump detractors: You don't count. And to "the neither/nors, the people who are not part of the Trump constituency and not yet committed to opposing him either," the most pernicious message of all: Don't bother.

"People are fighting over what is real—and what is a lie. They dwell in different worlds—different, but neither of them yours. Any modest effort to pay attention will collapse into futility. Truth is impossible to discern without a heroic—and expensive—act of crap detection. Mostly there is confusion. The only rational choice is to pass on the whole spectacle. This space isn’t for you. This is for “them,” the people obsessed with politics. You should just live your life."

To his primary audience, journalists, Rosen summarizes the tactic he proposes:

"I am not saying that as a beat the White House is unimportant, or that its pronouncements can be ignored. I’m not saying: devote less attention to Trump. Rather: change the terms of this relationship. Make yourself more elusive. In the theater of resentment where you play such a crucial part, relinquish that part."

22.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Everything you know is wrong Permalink to this item

In the used car and real estate Marketing Department, all bets are off (save those that are proscribed by actual legal constraints, at least if you get caught). In the general course of human events, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. (Not all of what you heard Abraham Lincoln said on the internet is actually true, but he DID say that. Or so we're told.)

Our new gaslighter in chief, his press secretary, and his Kellyanne Conway are trying their hands at just making stuff up, offering "alternative facts," if you can believe that.

This is not a good sign.

Nicholas Fando provides a quick rundown of real facts in regard to feuds with intelligence agencies, the sadness of crowd size, and, if that topic wasn't incredible enough, the weather that some hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall experienced for themselves on Friday.

Donald Trump's fantasy world, where millions of people turn out to see him, God pushes away storm clouds and brings out the sun to shine upon him, and people in New Jersey cheered the attack on the World Trade Center is not the same world the rest of us inhabit.

Raindrops and sunshine are not what this is about, however. This is about dominating the discussion with nonsense when it suits to distract from actual facts that matter. Such as the breadth and depth of the new president's unresolved conflicts of interest, some of which would be more fully revealed by those tax returns he's hiding so adamantly. (There is No Way those returns will stay secret for as long as Trump wants them to. It's a testament to the integrity of a lot of people at the IRS that we haven't seen them already.)

His claim to have divested some of his business interests lacks evidence. (And no, stacks of prop manilla folders don't count.) The Office of Government Ethics struck a nerve when they fake-congratulated Trump on actions he didn't take. ProPublica reports: Trump Promised to Resign From His Companies — But There’s No Record He’s Done So.

Those tax returns could be ordered coughed up in a lawsuit to be filed on Monday, in fact.

Unpresidented territory Permalink to this item

Watching Sean Spicer's performance yesterday brought to mind that gal who does the news for North Korea. The new administration's Press Secretary is in the running for having the Worst Job in the World, along with whoever draws the short straw for White House Counsel. What a term it's going to be!

It was front page news this morning, above the fold, with a word you didn't used to see that much, especially not in headlines: With False Claims, Trump Attacks Media on Turnout and Intelligence Rift. For openers:

"President Trump used his first full day in office on Saturday to unleash a remarkably bitter attack on the news media, falsely accusing journalists of both inventing a rift between him and intelligence agencies and deliberately understating the size of his inauguration crowd."

And here, it looks like the honeymoon is over:

He also called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth,” and he said that up to 1.5 million people had attended his inauguration, a claim that photographs disproved.

Which is more remarkable, having anti-inauguration demonstrations in major and minor cities in this country and around the world, or having the president and his hapless spokesman lie about the size of the crowd on Friday and accuse others of lying, "deliberately misleading"?

Credit to the NYT journalists Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Matthew Rosenberg for not rising to that bait, at least, calling out the falsity without getting into the intentions of Dear Leader and Dear Press Secretary. You imagine the locker room pep talk in newsrooms across the country: "Pace yourselves, people. This story has long legs."

Also, with a companion interactive, showing the photographic evidence used by "crowd scientists" (who knew?), who estimated that the women's march in Washington was roughly three times the size of the audience at President Trump’s inauguration, enough said.

21.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The way we were Permalink to this item

Putting a pin in a few statistics at the end of Obama's 8 years in office, for posterity. Let's see what happens next.

US Employment, 2009-2016, from the BLS

Dark comedy, and the way forward Permalink to this item

Perhaps cold comfort, but for those around the world who look at events in this country with alarm, let it be known that many of us are alarmed as well. How can this be happening?

Everybody goes a little crazy sometimes. Culture is a mixed bag of adaptive agreements, cooperation, calculated advantage, measured truces, tit for tat, controlled violence that can slip its bounds. We rise and fall, prosperity ebbs and flows, empires conquer and are conquered, build monuments and eat their own.

Comedians contributed a love letter, call it Trump Therapy, with foreshadowing from nations who have seen some things: Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Pakistan, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey. Dr. Bassem Youssef, from Egypt:

"We're not worried about the rise of hate, misogyny, xenophobia, or racism. We come from the Middle East. Where we're from, we call that 'Monday.'"

Carlos Celdran:

"Six months ago, in the month of May, we voted for our own version of Donald Trump, the Donald Trump of Asia, President Rodrigo Duterte. So I guess we can say that the Philippines is six months ahead of you when it comes to the apocalypse game."

Not so funny, the New York Times' web headline is TRUMP RENOUNCES NATION'S POLITICAL CLASS, subhead "Tars Establishment as Faithless and Corrupt," while more than a few of those accused by our partly-reformed playboy in chief were sitting right there in the audience.

At the Women's March on Washington today

That word, "faith." Mr. Trump's wild ride was driven by hijacking what's left of an anti-government party that lost its way in the blindness of know-nothingness, no-nothingness, denying realities they find inconvenient.

The disaffected, disconnected, the righteous anti-establishment, anti-insider, anti-elite, misfortunately distributed minority that put Donald Trump in office relied first and foremost on blind faith that a truly random change to the status quo would be a shot in the arm, a shot in the dark, our last hope to restore greatness by strange contagion.

A cabinet filled with billionaires and generals, disturbingly unrepresentative of the country it will lead, marching under the slogan to "make America great again"? Great? Again? Donald Trump leveraged our country's assets for his personal gain, a con job that he's worked around the world, enlisting supporters, and fellow travelers counting the advantage they can take from this moment.

Trump's fellow travelers, at least some of them, for a moment under oath, testifying for their job interview with the U.S. Senate, are saying occasionally sensible things. Rick Perry now regrets one of the ignorant things he said, eliminating the department he forgot how to name, now that he's been nominated to lead. And what he said about Trumpism—did he come up with this tweet on his own?

.@realDonaldTrump-ism not conservatism but a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.

— Rick Perry (@GovernorPerry) July 16, 2015

If he's walked that back, I missed the news, but he did walk forward into Trump Tower and must have made obeisance for his next main chance. 18 months on, and even though the linked page on Perry for President has been flushed down the gold memory hole, whoever wrote that succinct assessment hit the nail on the head: a toxic mix of demagoguery and nonsense.

From the NYT live video feed from Washington

If there is to be a counter-insurgency in the federal government, Twitter-coverage of the counter-insurgency may be spotty. When the National Park Service('s Twitter account) retweeted the going-viral photo comparison of the 2009 and 2017 inauguration crowds, the Department of Interior brought the hammer down... but not for too; it was back up this morning, with a happy sunny winter buffalo somewhere far, far from Washington D.C. ("Don't apologize," one fan responded, "You are not lonely bison!")

"The beauty and history of our parks" most certainly includes our National Mall and Memorial Parks, which must be our most visited sites, eh? And for such good reasons.

We need a way forward. An antidote to toxicity. A weapon to counter hate and violence. What ever could that be? The Women's March on Washington is a different sort of wild ride today, but among the speakers was Van Jones, claiming membership in the #LoveArmy: "When it gets harder to love, let's love harder." Let's work together. Let's acknowledge what made this country great, and keeps this country great, innoculated against demagogues and dictators. And this message, that needs no passport to cross any and every border:

Calling all artists, healers, and lovers! Let's start a movement! 💗💚💜#LOVEARMY #lovewins #DalaiLama #love

— Ketty Rugh-Selisgohn (@KreativeKetty) January 10, 2017

And this, here in Boise, at Idaho's Capitol, in snow:

Women's March in Boise, Idaho, Jan. 21, 2017

Inauguration day Permanent URL to this day's entry

American carnage Permalink to this item

On this historic day, we celebrate the resilience of our political system, 240 years in to the experiment. We just had an orderly transfer of power to the least likely, least credible, least qualified person anyone alive today could have imagined. As The Onion pithily pointed out, the countdown for the end of George W. Bush being our worst president ever, has finally come to its end.

But kidding aside, will we ever see this happen again?

Two-thirds of the nation believes we're on the wrong track, one of tonight's pundits claimed, quoting some poll results. About face, then?!

Photo from next door

In case you fell asleep for the last quarter century, here's the big picture summary: Ronald Reagan's vice president, promoted to the top job, ran afoul of his pledge not to raise taxes, and his integrity to try to do the right thing, perhaps out of remorse for his role in the sordid Iran-Contra affair, and lost to a political upstart. Said upstart had the good fortune to preside over the birth of the world wide web bringing the internet to the masses, and the dot-com bubble that ensued.

Out of a sense of fairness, or something, given eight years of prosperity and the only balanced federal budget I ever heard of, some dodgy ballots and a dodgy Supreme Court decision about the tipping point state of Florida, we elected son of Bush, who divvied up the spoils to the upper class, responded to a terrorist attack with an immoral war of choice against a toothless enemy, sowed the wind and reaped the whirlwind.

Not satisfied with all the profits from increasing productivity of American workers, the financial wizards of Wall Street cooked up another, larger, more catastrophic bubble that nearly cratered the whole global financial system.

That seemed like a great time to elect our first person of color to our highest office. But what do you know, Barack Obama turned pretty much everything around, in spite of the disloyal opposition ranging from non-cooperation to outright sabotage and sedition. The economy came back, ever so slowly. Unemployment came back down, and that leading indicator of winners winning, the stock market, doubled and then tripled, even as the middle class was squeezed into a lower standard of living, and lowered expectations.

Our new president, in his first-ever political or elected office, has done nothing but focus on the negative, and drive this country down, and now, he claims to be our savior, ready to turn everything around, again. Having made his way to what he takes to be personal greatness by unbridled selfishness, he proposes to use selfishness on a national scale to "make us great," again.

And first. Everything is about US now. It's an expanded agenda, at least; so far everything in his life has been about HIM. But now: emphasis on AMERICA FIRST, and let the devil take the hindmost. We're going to "bring back our borders," no less.

On day 1, the new leadership solved climate change, by removing all traces of what used to be on on that topic. At a quarter past 11am, the top level index for Energy, Climate Change, and Our Environment was still about an action plan to build the foundation for a clean energy economy. By the end of the day, it was 404 not found, and redirecting to a "transition splash" and an offer of updates from our new POTUS. Be still our hearts.

And thank goodness for the Wayback Machine. It's going to be a lifeline to sanity for some time to come.

19.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Oh so THAT'S what the Energy Dept. is about? Permalink to this item

It's a mistake anyone might make, thinking it was primarily about energy, and there is some of that, but mostly it's about the nuclear waste, and the biggest, and baddest nuclear arsenal the world has ever had, don't you know. Rick Perry apparently did not know.


Rachel Maddow kind of summed it up for us. "Are you disappointed? Should we be?"

It seems reasonable to assume that Rick Perry didn't know what he didn't know back when he forgot the name of the department he thought he'd eliminate, and was instead eliminated from the 2012 presidential race. Why in the world is this man still on the national (let alone world) stage?

In case you're keeping track, the current Secretary of Energy was chairman of the MIT department and directed the linear accelerator at MIT’s Laboratory for Nuclear Science, and before him we had a Nobel Prize-winning physicist.

Next up, Rick Perry.

Mimi Swartz, an executive editor at Texas Monthly provides some color commentary about Perry's political chops (along with those of another good old boy from Texas, our next Secretary of State).

"Mr. Perry’s goal wasn’t to do good, but to stay in power. So he did, longer than any other governor in Texas’ history.

"This explains why no one here was surprised when it came time to walk back his harsh remarks about Mr. Trump. Sure, Mr. Perry had called the candidacy of his onetime presidential rival “a cancer on conservatism,” deriding his style as “a toxic mix of demagoguery, meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued.” But when opportunity knocked for Mr. Perry, perdition looked just fine."

Let's just hope he and his boss don't accidentally send the whole world there.

18.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Simplest explanation most likely Permalink to this item

Repealing the Affordable Care Act is about a tax cut for millionaires. The tens of millions of people who would stand to lose their insurance are just collateral damage. Theory from Matthew Yglesias, for Vox.

"[Republicans] dislike the idea of raising taxes on wealthy households so much that back in 2011, they pushed the country to the brink of defaulting on the national debt rather than agree to rescind George W. Bush’s high-end tax cuts. In December 2012, they tried to insist that they wouldn’t let Obama extend the portion of the Bush tax cuts that everyone (including rich people) got unless he also extended the tax cuts that only rich people got."

Repealing the ACA would not provide exactly a "shower of money" that Yglesias mentions; with income over about $400,000, getting a tax cut of "an average of $25,000 a year" is nice, but not going to change your lifestyle. It's also an odd cut of the statistic. At $400k income, $25k would be a 6¼% cut, but the 3.8% tax on net investment income for high-earners is what (he says) is at issue.

And we always never mind what's gone before; the big cuts in income tax rates for long-term capital gains and qualified dividends in the last decade and a half have been bringing home a lot more than 3.8% bacon.

Looks like Vox leveraged the piece from the Urban Institute & Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center "TaxVox" blog (no relation?), with a tweet-length synopsis in its title: Repealing the Affordable Care Act Would Cut Taxes For High Income Households, Raise Taxes For Many Others. Cut to the chase with the infographic from their microsimulation model, version 0516-2:

Tax Policy Center infographic, edited tighter by me

17.Jan.17 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What the Obama opposition looked like Permalink to this item

Eric Cantor's opposition view of Obama's presidency is interesting as far as it goes, which isn't very far. The start was historic, Cantor was optimistic, there were generous gestures at the beginning, but then the president didn't respond to "the viable alternative to every major piece of legislation the Democratic majority put forward" for some reason.

"I was hopeful. But later in the meeting, when I mentioned that a stimulus package built around government spending would be too much like 'old Washington,' the president’s tone changed. He said: 'Elections have consequences, and at the end of the day, I won. So I think on that one I trump you.'

No pun intended back there in early 2009, when the world was figuring out whether the global economy was merely in the tank, or melting down, and the Republican "centerpiece" concept was "a 20 percent reduction in taxes for small businesses."

To hear Cantor tell it, the "opportunity lost" was all about the president, and nothing to do with the Republicans. But it's hard to puzzle out what he's trying to say. Is he being coy? Tactful? Tone deaf? Clueless? Probably not that, but maybe too clever by half.

His Virginia district's 2014 primary took him from House Majority Leader to done in nothing flat, because he was too accommodating, too establishment, or something for the anti-Obama right wing firebrands. Now Cantor is an investment banker, and his after-the-fact political opinion a seemingly pointless afterthought.

16.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How did we get here? Permalink to this item

Kathleen Parker asks the $64 billion question: Did we really elect Donald Trump? The Electoral College gave him the nod, we know that, based on a well-distributed minority of the votes cast. And there's little doubt that come Friday, Chief Justice John Roberts will swear him in. The question is more about how did we elect the guy? This happened: "Eleven days to go and the man who had said there’s nothing to see here suddenly says, Hey, there might be something after all!

"For the undecided (or the unpersuadable), let’s pose a hypothetical: What if Clinton had publicly asked Russia to hack Trump’s records and release his tax returns — and Russia did? And what if the FBI announced less than two weeks before Election Day that it was going to investigate fraudulent practices at Trump University? Let’s say that Trump’s number dipped dramatically and he lost.

"Do you reckon Republicans would be a tad upset?"

Never mind Republicans, imagine what the two months of tirades on Twitter would have been. Sad!

But Trump should be very, very happy, happy. After three decades of chasing deals in Russia, it looks like his ship has come in, bigly. And not like Congress would blow the whistle on anything, but Rep. Jason Chaffetz says he's "just not going to go on these fishing expeditions" anymore. This isn't like Benghazi or something. And gosh, he "didn't investigate Hillary Clinton before she was in office." Just threatened to. And ok, he is willing to investigate the Office of Government Ethics a little.

14.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

All things immoderation Permalink to this item

Peter Wehner is one of the more sensible voices from the right I've come across in recent times. Caught up with his December 18th op-ed today, under the print headline "Moderation is Not a Dirty Word." Illustrating the virtue, after making his point, he generously says that "Mr. Trump deserves the chance to prove his critics wrong." Now four weeks later, it's safe to say that Mr. Trump continues to outpace his critics' forbearance, starting with the unpredictability Wehner correctly forecast. And this:

"Moderation, an ancient virtue, will be viewed with contempt. After all, the most temperamentally immoderate major party nominee in American history ran for president and won because of it. Victory spawns imitation, and the Trump template is likely to influence our politics for some time to come.

"Moderation, then, is out of step with the times, which are characterized by populist anger and widespread anxiety, by cross-partisan animosity and dogmatic certainty. Those with whom we have political disagreements are not only wrong; they are often judged to be evil and irredeemable. ...

"Moderation does not mean truth is always found equidistant between two extreme positions, nor does it mean that bold and at times even radical steps are not necessary to advance moral ends."

Also out of style just now are those "general characteristics we associate with moderation," prudence, humility, aversion to fanaticism, acceptance of complexity. "Its antithesis is not conviction, but intemperance." No one can accuse our incoming president of having any undue habits of restraint. "[I]f he governs as he campaigned, [Trump] will summon forth and amplify the darkest impulses in our nation."

“If you must be indiscrete, be discrete in your indiscretion.” ― Mark Twain

When our good old Secretary of Education, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and tobacco addict Bill Bennett cobbled together his Book of Virtues from the pantheon of Western males' writings 20 years ago, Moderation did not rise to Table of Contents material. It seems too plain perhaps, the vanilla of virtues, not visible for the taller trees of self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty and faith. (Neither did it make an appearance in the index.)

Mr. Trump is not much for book reading, and it's safe to say that Bennett's book did not find its way to his dinner table, bedtime, or anytime family reading. Not even the Children's version.

With the benefit of a month's history, we can compare today's piece by Wehner, even before we fetch it from the driveway. Eight Was Enough, he says, not longing for a third Obama term, for various reasons, even though "it would be silly to lay all the blame for this at the feet of Mr. Obama." Yes, yes, he "turned out to be great at poetry and bad at prose," and his opposition was quick to read "arrogance" in Obama's every move. And his failure, if that's what it was, "in a manner and on a scale that damaged his party, undermined faith in the institutions of government and left the nation more riven than he found it," all on him?

Let's get back to that talk of moderation, shall we?

For most of Wehner's Republican fellow-travellers, two years of Obama as president was more than they could bear. Given the power, Mitch McConnell was willing to sacrifice the capacity of the U.S. Senate to accomplish anything in order to sabotage Obama's re-election. Speaking of epic failures. By the end of the 2nd term, McConnell was willing to throw in the legitimacy of the Supreme Court as well, obstructing a well-qualified (and arguably moderate) nominee by violating the spirit of the Constitution in favor of the crapshoot of the 2016 presidential race.

The "listlessness" of the economy is a symptom of the intentional manipulation of systems for winners to take all. It reaches back to the 1990s, when technology and globalization were spreading prosperity to the far corners of the world in unpredictable ways, and we shipped jobs overseas faster than we manufactured them at home. From EPI Issue Brief, 2012

It reaches back to the Reagan years, when the steadily increasing productivity of the middle class stopped steadily increasing wages.

It crashed and burned first in the excesses of the dot com bubble, the war-mongering response to the 9/11 attack, and finally the all-American bubble of real estate financial engineering.

And no, Obama did not quite fix all that, nor race relations to boot. He did not eliminate "the conditions that allowed a cynical demagogue to rise up and succeed him," but to imagine that it's Obama's fault that the Republican Party was hijacked by anti-government extremists—not in 2015 or 2016, but starting with Newt Gingrich leading the revolution against Bill Clinton—is a tale of scapegoating that reeks of fanaticism and denial of complexity.

To absolve the people who brought us to this point based on the perception of Obama's "arrogance" is to deny the source of the problem before us. Obama was so arrogant, we... elected Donald J. Trump? That's too easy and too absurd. As Wehner told us just a month ago, "victory spawns imitation," and if we don't figure out this puzzle better than blaming Obama, it's going to be a long way down.

My four week reading backlog juxtaposes Wehner's thoughts on moderation with the holiday weekend and Martin Luther King's letter from Birmingham jail, with its criticism of white moderates "more devoted to 'order' than to justice." I took the time to read the whole thing and consider the context from more than half a century ago. We've moved beyond "Colored" and "Whites Only" drinking fountains, at least. We outlawed poll taxes with the 24th Amendment. The Voting Rights Act was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson in 1965, and extended by Congress and Richard Nixon in 1970, Gerald Ford in 1975, Ronald Reagan in 1982, and George W. Bush in 2006.

As Obama prepared to run for his second term, and Congress turned itself into a useless swamp of partisan obstruction, Republican-controlled state legislatures went to work, passing a record number of restrictions to voting: photo ID requirements, cuts to early voting, hurdles to registration. By the 2016 election, there were sweeping court victories in four states (North Carolina, Kansas, North Dakota and Texas) to offset them, but 13 other states kept theirs in place. The ACLU has lawsuits going in fifteen states.

Four white "moderates" and the incomparable Clarence Thomas in the Supreme Court ruled in Shelby Co. v. Holder that things are just way better than they were in 1965 (or at least not matching the old coverage formula), discrimination not nearly as pervasive, flagrant, widespread, or rampant as it used to be. Mirabile dictu, Congress did not answer the president's call "to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls." (Legislation was drawn up and duly buried in committees.)

Those conditions favoring a cynical (and race-baiting) demagogue's rise make a better scapegoat than Obama's uppitiness, as a matter of fact.

14.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Weather report Permalink to this item

10 days National Weather Service data for Boise

And now we're back to inversion, no one's favorite winter weather in Boise, but it never collapsed a roof or flooded a basement, at least. Dull gray sky, almost as if it would snow, but just random bits of fog and hoarfrost letting go. "Haze," the Weather Service calls it this morning, forecasting "areas fog," "patchy dense fog" tonight, more fog, mostly clear, maybe even "sunny" after a fashion.

It's better up higher, is the deal.

Tamara Shapiro's Open Range Radio is mixing it up, the Steep Canyon Rangers' "More Bad Weather On the Way," some good banjo picking. Neil Young, "Like a Hurricane." I thought of "Nights in White Flannel" after we put on the cozy winter sheets last night.

Lows in the teens, highs in the 20s through the holiday weekend. There are worse things. Chances of rain and snow middle of next week. Now is the January of our discontent, and a chance for the Ada County Highway District to catch up on road clearing, maybe. Maybe not. Sidewalk scofflaws aren't about to repent for their sins: what didn't get cleared when the sun shown and we were up above freezing for short afternoons has now compacted to hard ice.

Update: Segue to Carl Scheider's Private Idaho, the brief bit of morning sun slipping back to the "Hazy Shade Of Winter (Purple Haze Mix)," The Bangles' incomparable cover of Simon and Garfunkel. Then Hendrix, then Little Feat, Bob Weir on deck. Play it!

13.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The revolution will be twittervised Permalink to this item

This would be funny if we weren't in such a dangerous situation. Pouter in Chief and World's Sorest (sort of) Winner Donald J. Trump is now back to "guilty as hell" on the subject of Hillary Clinton. (In a series of tweets, of course, the medium best-tailored to the man's attention span. This is a notch more presidential though: some of his thoughts are extending past 140 characters.)

What are Hillary Clinton's people complaining about with respect to the F.B.I. Based on the information they had she should never.....

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

have been allowed to run - guilty as hell. They were VERY nice to her. She lost because she campaigned in the wrong states - no enthusiasm!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 13, 2017

There were 3 minutes of ellipsis there... on tweets posted at 4:22 and 4:25 am EST today. Can LOCK HER UP be far behind? The rally-goers for the victory tour certainly weren't ready to let that go. More trumpery reading from the Beeb:

Trump's theatre of the absurd

10 things we learnt from Trump press event

Full transcript of press conference

Meanwhile, Jason "Benghazi" Chaffetz has awoken from his long winter's nap, with a new target in his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee crosshairs. I predict his committee will get around to the issues of conflict of interest in the Trump adminstration approximately never, but there's a "stern letter, including a veiled threat of an investigation" whistling over to the Office of Government Ethics for its director having "blurr[ed] the line between public relations and official ethics guidance." With Twitter!

"[Chaffetz] cited a bizarre series of Twitter posts that the office made in late November congratulating Mr. Trump for divesting from his business — even though Mr. Trump had made no such commitment. Mr. Chaffetz also said that the office had failed to adequately investigate Hillary Clinton, based on allegations that she had not properly disclosed fees paid for speeches she gave after leaving her post as secretary of state."

And ok, the series of tweets were a bit bizarre, effusively congratulating @realDonaldTrump for his non-existent plan for divestiture. They read as if somebody left the official account logged in and an office wag found it and decided to have a little fun.

That should be worth a million dollar HOGR Comm investigation, at least, and a useful distraction from the swamp waters rising in lower Manhattan and Foggy Bottom. In said "veiled threat," Chaffetz included some scare quotes for good measure:

The Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is the principal oversight committee of the House of Representatives and may at "any time" investigate "any matter" as set forth in House Rule X.

I suppose that's rule #10, but when you're whetting the knife so much better to put it in Roman Numerals. X marks the spot.

12.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The embarrassment Permalink to this item

Ezra Klein: America will miss Barack Obama's decency. Beggars understatement.

I was in the car today when the long-awaited Trump press conference came on the air, and I found it pretty horrible even before it went off the rails. There was the kickoff from Sean Spicer, adamant denial of those unsubstantiated dossiers (btw "unsubstantiated" does not imply false), ok, sure. He introduced the VP-elect who said vacuous campaign-sounding things on the way to introducing the P-elect.

There were smatterings of applause. At a press conference? It was in the lobby of Trump Tower and he brought his own family claque. There were no microphones on the reporters to feed the radio broadcast. It was just Trump talking, and the occasional sotto voce from the NPR guy trying to summarize what was being asked by the reporters in the room, because Trump's voice was all that was making it out of the room.

He was by turns ingratiating and bullying, bouncing from good cop to bad cop without missing a beat. He's not presidential; he's a showman. A promoter. A real estate salesman. A man capable of talking about himself in the third person. But mostly, a narcissistic sociopath. It's not about us; it's about him. You don't need to hear the reporters questions; all that matters is what he says.

There will be so much more to say about this in the coming weeks and months and years. We will all know what gaslighting feels like, because we are going to be gaslit to the moon.

But since I turned off the radio, I missed the part about how he could have made a $2 billion deal in Dubai if he felt like it, but he didn't. He totally could have done it, and he's like the only guy who could do that, he said. The Boston Globe reports, and I need to say, I'm not making this up, he said he turned it down because “I don’t want to take advantage of anything.”

Sounds legit.

I missed his lawyer assuring us that his businesses in a not-blind trust run by his sons would somehow not be a legal or ethical problem.

Since I was driving on a wet snow floor that required my full attention, it was just as well I missed him saying that only reporters care about his tax returns. Because he won.

But I'm not a reporter, and I absolutely care. I care because there must really be some bad stuff in there. Stuff that even the great and powerful Donald Trump is ashamed of, and great balls of fire that man is not easily embarrassed.

11.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Farewell Permalink to this item

More to say about the speech later (we watched, and and were moved, it was a good one), but "this just in," automagically sent from the NRCC's bulk automaton at 8:01pm MST to follow on the heels. This one was signed "NRCC HQ" and sounds like the same corporate persona as the previous one (supposedly from Paul Ryan), tooting the same vuvuzela:

"Thomas -- you just heard Obama’s last major address EVER as president.

"And to the surprise of exactly no one, he delivered a speech filled with partisan rhetoric to stoke his base’s worst fears. This is President Obama’s legacy -- petty partisan games.

"Even in retirement, he plans to train liberal activists to sabotage President-elect Trump’s agenda and destroy your movement, Thomas."

So I should send the NRCC some money to keep "my movement" alive? Riiight. But anyway, if you listened to, watched, or read Obama's speech (this one or most any other), you would know that it did not remotely resemble the NRCC caricature.

The accusations are more about self-disclosure from the NRCC than anything else. Also... Trump's agenda? They make it sound like some one knows what that is. If there is one beyond self-aggrandizement, I don't think even Trump knows what it is. In rough terms, let's guess "fling stuff at the tweetwall and see what makes the mob cheer, so we can rob them blind while they think tweeting back will slow us down."

10.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Big storm number... four? Permalink to this item

Photo this morning

Starting to lose track. Got the driveway free and clear yesterday in a lovely respite through the afternoon, mid-30s now feeling balmy, and making the ice more choppable. Street gutters trenched along the six lots leading to our nearest storm drain (we're #5 from it), and the forecast called for maybe an inch of new snow overnight before rain and more warm (i.e. above freezing!) weather today.

What we woke up to was instead five full inches of wet, heavy snow by 8am. It is getting up above freezing at least. Supposed to be near 40 today, so the flood advisory reruns. Rain tonight. ("Chance of precipitation is 100%," as they say.) More tomorrow, then maybe rain and snow, as we snap out of the 30s and back to highs in twenties and lows in tens.

Another snow day for local schools. Widespread grumpiness correlated with age.

Friday, "mostly sunny, with a high near 26" now sounds like perfect weather.

Scraping bottom Permalink to this item

Paul Ryan represents my native state in the House of Representatives, is the Speaker of the House, obviously very smart, capable, and determined. He presents himself as more reasonable than so many of the others in his party. (Too reasonable for a lot of them.) And like all national politicians these days, his main job seems to be fundraising.

The latest email from the National Republican Congressional Committee is under his well-recognized name, even though there's no way to know if he wrote it, or even personally approved it. But it uses that "personal" touch that's supposed to motivate its readers to Pitch in $25, $50 or $100 IMMEDIATELY >>>.

Today's "personal" touch is about as execrable as they come. "Thankfully," Ryan says, "you’ll hear President Obama speak for the last time tonight." That's mean-spirited nonsense, but we know it implies the last time as President, sure. The farewell address. After two terms, 8 years, the country climbing out of a financial crisis that threatened global depression, 20 million more people with health insurance, choose or deny whatever you like from a long list of accomplishments. Say what you will, I say he'll go down in history as one of our great presidents.

It's not a perfect record, by any means. But it's a record to stand behind, which is more than Paul Ryan can yet claim. He's on the verge of his shining moment; leading the House, and with the Senate and the Presidency in Republican control, if his party can accomplish great things, this would be when that happens. We're waiting to see.

In the meantime, I'm taking note of this fundraising letter of his, as an example of bad faith, lack of integrity, and all around lack of dignity.

"Even at the bitter end of his presidency, he still believes bigger government is the solution to our country's problems.

"What makes America great is its people and the freedom they have to live their own lives."

Yes, we have differences in opinion about the role and capacity of government in our lives. But what makes American great is its people, working together. Without this petty animosity:

"But as you’ll hear in his farewell address, President Obama will not stop fighting once he’s out of office. He has made it painfully clear that he’ll continue to try to divide our nation with partisan ploys well into his retirement."

Ah, so it isn't the last time we'll hear Obama speak, and good for that. (Democratic Presidents have stayed pretty active after their terms, of late.) As for dividing the nation with partisan ploys, who would know better than Paul Ryan and the NRCC?

9.Jan.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

To the victor belong the spoils Permalink to this item

Greg Palast: Here's Why the GOP Fought So Hard to Stop Rust Belt State Vote Recount.

"[I]f you're black, the chance your vote will spoil for a technical reason is 900 percent higher than if you're white. And we saw that happen in Michigan, in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida."

Not sure if that's a data-backed technical assessment, but the round number makes it feel slightly hyperbolic. Many times higher, to be sure. And enough to tip an absurdly close election.

Ethically challenged Permalink to this item

Meryl Streep made a bang-up personal statement at the Golden Globes last night extolling the virtue of empathy, but as Ezra Klein pointed out this morning, the Donald Trump vs. "dishonest" media (and Hollywood) is just the circus act the PEOTUS wants while the unpresidented swampiness creeps into foggy bottom. Not exactly old news from just Saturday: the race to confirm nominees is outpacing the Office of Government Ethics. From the OGE's director, Walter Schaub:

"More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings. I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process."

Ready for slush work

And this just in, shared by a friend on Facebook, the February 12, 2009 (Happy Lincoln's Birthday!) "Dear Harry" letter from Mitch McConnell, Republican Leader of the Senate's minority back then, starting with this precious pronouncement:

"The Senate has the Constitutional duty to provide its Advice and Consent on Presidential nominations, a duty which we take seriously."

(Except, of course, when it serves partisan purposes to ignore it completely.) When he was in the little chair, he said "reaffirm our commitment to conduct the appropriate review," "consisten wiht the long standing and best practices of committees, regardless of which political party is in the majority," and "we will insist on their fair and consistent application." (Except when we don't.)

But let's take Mr. McConnell at his word from three weeks after Barack Obama's first inauguration, and affirm the following 8 standards should be met:

  1. The FBI background check is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a hearing being noticed.
  2. The Office of Government Ethics letter is complete and submitted to the committee in time for review and prior to a committee hearing.
  3. Financial disclosure statements (and tax returns for applicable committees) are complete and submited to the committee for review prior to a hearing being noticed.
  4. All committee questionnaires are complete and have been returned to the committee. A reasonable opportunity for follow-up questions has been afforded committee members, and nominees have answered, with sufficient time for review prior to a committee vote.
  5. The nominee is willing to have committee staff interviews, where that has been the practice.
  6. The nominee has had a hearing.
  7. The nominee agrees to courtesy visits with members when requested.
  8. The nominee has committed to cooperate with the Ranking Member on requests for information and transparency.

Sounds like very serious due dilligence. Hear, hear. And, oh, "There will be additional requirements, honoring the traditions of the Senate, for judicial nominees." Common sense and long standing practices. Utter nonpartisanship. Fair and informed decision-making.

8.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Social Insecurity Permalink to this item

While waiting for today’s paper delivery, plenty of unread previous weeks to catch up on. An editorial headline from Dec. 18 caught my eye: Will Mr. Trump Cave on Social Security? The verb refers to a supposed campaign "promise," synonymized as his "hands-off pledge" by the end of the opening paragraph. I’m thinking, promise? Pledge? Did Trump make any such thing, or did he just trot out notions to see what would get the biggest rise out of his rallies? He never hesitates to contradict himself, one day (or tweet) to the next). After admitting that "drain the swamp" was a slogan someone handed him, but gosh, he liked the reaction it got, so yeah, totally in favor of that, and everybody listening to the inside look at the con imagined they were in on the joke. (Then there was Newt Gingrich trying to jive along, and getting spanked. Sad!)

But Social Security. Back in the day, perhaps a while after I became convinced we were going to run out of oil before my midlife crisis, it seemed impossibly far away, and not something that it made sense to count on. With Jeanette’s head start, we’ve been beneficiaries for a while, and this year, I’m planning to turn 62 and become, as we say, "eligible." The goalposts of Full Retirement Age have been moved for me and my fellow center-of-Baby Boomers: 66y 2mo. (And all the older-than-center Boomers too; the posts moved for everyone born 1938 and later, and FRA is 66 years for everyone born from 1943 to 1954.) That makes for a bigger discount if you want to start early—just over 25% in my case. If I want to pretend 65 is still retirement age, Social Security will send me 92.2% of my benefits.

On the other hand, with the system as it is today, if I can wait even longer, "delayed retirement credits" are an attractive option. For each month, the credit amounts to two-thirds of 1%, or a whopping 8% per year. That’s an "investment" option backed by the full faith and credit of the United States of America unlike anything else in the world. Between that magic month later this year and 2025, when I turn 70 and it's delayed retirement game over, the difference between the delayed credits and the discount for starting early is a whopping seventy-five percent. For anyone who’s willing and able to delay gratification, it’s as no-brainery as you get.

Except... with great opportunity comes great incentive for foxes guarding henhouses, and the Republicans in charge of Congress are making bold noises about slash and burn.

"By law, the secretaries of labor, the Treasury and health and human services are trustees of Social Security. Mr. Trump’s nominees to head two of these departments, Labor and Treasury — Andrew Puzder, a fast-food executive, and Steve Mnuchin, a Wall Street trader and hedge fund manager turned Hollywood producer — have no government experience and no known expertise on Social Security.

"His nominee to run the Department of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, a Republican congressman from Georgia, has been a champion of cuts to all three of the nation’s large social programs—Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. When discussing reforms to Social Security, he has ignored ways to bring new revenue into the system while emphasizing possible benefit cuts through means-testing, private accounts and raising the retirement age."

Whether I go early, FRA or late, the carrot of Medicare—as it is—dangles in the near-distance: single-payer government health insurance at age 65. (Sort of single-payer; along with the lucrative support for pharmaceuticals, we’ve arranged for insurance companies to play too, selling "Medicare Advantage" deals that require lots of marketing, and market competition; whose advantage those are about is an open question.)

Letters responding to the editorial pointed out a few obvious facts: relatively small changes made now can address the actuarial problem of what happens in 2034. Why should there be a $118,500 (or even $250,000) cap on earned income subject to taxation? And for the working men and women who will need the insurance the most, raising the retirement age to 69 would be extraordinarily cruel, something that could only make sense to a privileged elite enjoying an all-expenses paid sinecure in Washington D.C. and jetting home on weekends.

(And in case you were wondering: the overnight snowmaggedon didn't materialize enough to slow delivery, and the paper was cozy under the van, next to the back tire. Really should put on the glasses when going out in twilight.)

7.Jan.2016 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Snow load Permalink to this item

Storm #2

The twelve days of Christmas have come and gone, but the White lingers on. We're having a winter like none we can remember here in Boise, and with deep cold at sunrise, contemplating what's next. 0°F in Boise, -11°F in Caldwell. A "wintry mix" coming, we appreciate that snowplow finally finding our lowly side street, one swipe down the middle made a big difference. Also, the Davey Tree guys have been working all week to cut branches near power lines. They did our juniper a day after the last storm, in brilliant, cold sunshine, and they're rolling this—Saturday—morning, 8:30 am, with more work to do. A third big storm with a precip potpourri on its way, heralded with old-school all caps WINTER STORM WARNING behind red letter links:



3 to 6 inches today, and another 3 to 5 tomorrow; it's a perfect forecast for a ski area (away from avalanche zones), not so perfect for a big city that gets legitimate snow emergencies once every three decades or so. (1985 was a big deal, remember? Yeah, me neither.)

Morning walk, winter's tale

The Hydrologic Outlook follows the wind chill and winter storm warnings, far enough away that it's not all caps yet. But "Warmer temperatures and low-elevation rain Sunday night and Monday may lead to nuisance flooding in lower valleys next week" has us wondering what the boundaries of "nuisance" are. Not so much capital letters because "Forecast uncertainty remains, and confidence in when, and the extent of flooding that may occur is not high at this time."

The Snake River near Weiser and the lower Weiser River could be more than a nuisance if the ice jams the wrong way.

A friend with better anticipation than me drove to Baker City this week to track down a roof rake, and I'm in line to borrow it later today, maybe jolly doing it while new flakes are falling. (Definitely jollier when it's snow rather than sleet, freezing rain or "plain rain.")

Update: The weather forecast backed off to less dire here in Boise, less snow, still the freezing rain, but maybe not so much of it? It's warming up, but not everywhere at the same time. 10pm Saturday night, it's 12°F in Caldwell, and 20° in Boise, light wind out of the west; 24° and blowing 23 ESE in Mountain Home. Into next week, temperatures hanging around freezing, rain/snow mix a while.

4.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Welcoming our new galactic overlords Permalink to this item

Stumbling out of the gate, and curiously cooking up a swampy plan the day before the new Congress got sworn in, the House Republicans wanted to start off the session by neutering the House's independent ethics office, because accusations can be so irksome. Word is, the leadership was opposed to something with astoundingly bad optics. But... House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was in favor. It was the timing that didn't seem quite right. Maybe do it on a Friday afternoon? Or some other time when not so many people are watching? Oh, what the heck, maybe we should involve the Democrats a little, too.

Both of Idaho's Congressmen say they were opposed. Rep. Mike Simpson, believably, said he voted against it in the caucus' secret ballot. Rep. Raúl Labrador said the dog ate his homework so he was late for the party, but by golly, now that he's seen the answer in the back of the book, he for sure would've been opposed. Good timing.

What else you got? Paul Ryan, accepting his re-election as Speaker wanted to speak to the American people, and say "We hear you. We will do right by you."

What we hear out in the cheap seats is yada yada yada confirmation bias, and let's see if we lose our healthcare insurance.'s poll tracking shows the country about as evenly divided on the question of the Affordable Care Act as we were in the election. 50-50 for those who expressed an opinion, in spite of the tireless anti-marketing from the Republicans.

But yes, now that your party controls everything this "repeal and replace" trope will go forward, starting first and foremost with a "repeal" that's a muddle of cherry-picking and delayed action, and a "replace" that we expect to be a pig in a poke.

If you had something to replace the ACA, you could just roll that out, eh? Just "replace," and we're done.

3.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Happy sesquicentennial, Parks Canada! Permalink to this item

2012 photo with a dodgy camera

In honor of the the 150th anniversary of Confederation (who knew?), Canada is giving away F.R.E.E. 2017 Discovery Passes to all of Parks Canada, coast-to-coast to coast. (Three coasts, eh.)

Free as in beer, not even the cost of the stamp to mail it you. Just ordered ours, and now have the happy obligation to figure out how (and where) to use it! Fun! Free! (Camping fees not included. Terms of Use. TL;DR but said I did. Don't hate me.)

Oh the places we might go... There are 47 National Parks, to start with. We (or I) have been to Waterton Lakes, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho. Five down, 42 to go, even before we get to the Marine Conservation Areas, Historic Sites and Canals. (Free lockage in the last of those, along withe free admission in all the others.) Prince Albert? Prince Edward? Pacific Rim? Thousand-year-old cedars in Revelstoke? The Bay of Fundy? Nááts'ihch'oh? Riding Mountain in Manitoba? Ukkusiksalik? Tuktuk? Vuntut? Wapusk, up where the polar bears live? The Gulf Islands and Salish Sea?

They're even giving away ten pro tips for making the most of it. Plus one: 11. Join the Celebration! You might say there's never been a better time to go to Canada.

2.Jan.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The year of living dangerously Permalink to this item

While the winners proceed, drunk with power, the losers huddle, hung-over in a broad but disorganized coalition. Here's calling-it-quits (for personal reasons, he says) conservative talk show host Charles J. Sykes, on Where the Right Went Wrong. Tribal loyalty trumps what used to pass for principle.

“...I was under the impression that conservatives actually believed things about free trade, balanced budgets, character and respect for constitutional rights. Then along came this campaign... right to the end, relatively few of my listeners bought into the crude nativism Mr. Trump was selling at his rallies. What they did buy into was the argument that this was a “binary choice.” No matter how bad Mr. Trump was, my listeners argued, he could not possibly be as bad as Mrs. Clinton. You simply cannot overstate this as a factor in the final outcome. As our politics have become more polarized, the essential loyalties shift from ideas, to parties, to tribes, to individuals. Nothing else ultimately matters.”

More snow today

On the left, quite a few people were still looking on the page of the menu that had been torn out, unhappy that the "limited edition" (!) of Bernie's Yearning was no longer being served. Did they think sitting it out was a bold statement? That the alternative was not possible? That it might not be so bad?

Harvard professors of government Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt posed the question Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy? It was in print three weeks ago under the headline “Is Our Democracy in Danger?” (Spoiler alert: yes, and yes.)

“The clearest warning sign is the ascent of anti-democratic politicians into mainstream politics. Drawing on a close study of democracy’s demise in 1930s Europe, the eminent political scientist Juan J. Linz designed a 'litmus test' to identify anti-democratic politicians. His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments.

“Mr. Trump tests positive. In the campaign, he encouraged violence among supporters; pledged to prosecute Hillary Clinton; threatened legal action against unfriendly media; and suggested that he might not accept the election results. ... Democratic institutions must be reinforced by strong informal norms. ... Norms serve as the soft guardrails of democracy, preventing political competition from spiraling into a chaotic, no-holds-barred conflict.

“Among the unwritten rules that have sustained American democracy are partisan self-restraint and fair play. For much of our history, leaders of both parties resisted the temptation to use their temporary control of institutions to maximum partisan advantage, effectively underutilizing the power conferred by those institutions. There existed a shared understanding, for example, that anti-majoritarian practices like the Senate filibuster would be used sparingly, that the Senate would defer (within reason) to the president in nominating Supreme Court justices, and that votes of extraordinary importance—like impeachment—required a bipartisan consensus. Such practices helped to avoid a descent into the kind of partisan fight to the death that destroyed many European democracies in the 1930s.”

The Republicans have been blowing up norms since Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House. During Obama’s terms, Mitch McConnell hijacked the Senate to further the tribal interests of his party, culminating in the outright theft of a Supreme Court seat, a truly outrageous affront on legitimate governance. The conclusions we’re drawn to are alarming. The conclusion of the op-ed is hedged only slightly:

“American democracy is not in imminent danger of collapse. If ordinary circumstances prevail, our institutions will most likely muddle through a Trump presidency. It is less clear, however, how democracy would fare in a crisis. In the event of a war, a major terrorist attack or large-scale riots or protests — all of which are entirely possible — a president with authoritarian tendencies and institutions that have come unmoored could pose a serious threat to American democracy. We must be vigilant. The warning signs are real.”

If ordinary circumstances prevail... The only thing missing from the Wikipedia entry for Demagogue is a 21st century section, but someone will get to that shortly. Consider the first paragraph's extended dictionary entry:

"A demagogue or rabble-rouser is a leader in a democracy who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the common people, whipping up the passions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned deliberation. Demagogues have usually advocated immediate, violent action to address a national crisis while accusing moderate and thoughtful opponents of weakness or disloyalty. Demagogues overturn established customs of political conduct, or promise or threaten to do so. Most who were elected to high office changed their democracy into some form of dictatorship."

More particularly, consider this guide to leading crowds:

1. Keep the dogma simple. Make only 1 or 2 points.

2. Be forthright and powerfully direct. Speak only in the telling or ordering mode.

3. Reduce concepts to stereotypes which are black and white.

4. Speak to people’s emotions and stir them constantly.

5. Use lots of repetition; repeat your points over and over again.

And a few more choice nuggets from the wit and wisdom of Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Demagoguery is best suited to rallies; a polarized (and polarizing) campaign is ideal. Keep it going with a "victory tour." We can hardly wait for the inauguration.

A recent NPR feature on speeches (and speech-writers) for such an occasion included the impossibly forgettable opening sentence from our first President and proceeded to the greatest hits of the 20th century: FDR's "the only thing we have to fear," and the first call I could hear with my own ears, JFK's "ask not."

From that brilliant exhortation devolve to Ronald Reagan's greatest acting role, and the rallying cry for all those who deprecate the very idea of government:

"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

It looked good there when it popped out of a head and down to the page, witty, catchy, memorable, and the Gipper could sure deliver a line. The crowd ate it up. Just cut out the cancer and happy days will be here again.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007