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29.April.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The mother of all bombs Permalink to this item

There's been a lot said, a lot being said, what is there for me to add? It's pretty obvious we're in a world of hurt. All of the supposed "principles" the Republicans espoused when they lacked executive power have been thrown out the window and flushed down the D.C. sewer system.

The swamp is rising with the red tide.

Executive orders tyrannical? No, Precious, they are MANLY! We have the biggest Executive Orders, and the most, and they are signed in butter. Never mind the horrible deficit, we need more tax cuts for the wealthy. As for the rest of you lot, there will be trickle down. What part of "peon" don't you get? Do we have to spell it out?

Anyway, I've got a pile of bookmarks on the subject as long as your arm and a leg and who's got time for all that? Is there just one that could encapsulate the situation? Maybe. Maybe this one, from Tara Golshan, on Vox: you-know-who on being president: “I thought it would be easier.”

It's only cold comfort that he's as incompetent as we could have imagined. The Muslim ban couldn't pass legal muster. The idiot Congress couldn't realize their fondest, years-long dream to Repeal & Replace. And nobody wants to pay for the border wall. NAFTA not-so-bad, but let's renegotiate. NATO is obsolete. NATO is no longer obsolete. We should not be focusing on Syria. We should be focusing on Syria. China is... stealing our lunch money still, and hasn't been branded a currency manipulator yet. (We're hoping they fix North Korea.) But we showed Canada who's boss, eh?

"More than five months after his victory and two days shy of the 100-day mark of his presidency, the election is still on [redacted]'s mind. Midway through a discussion about Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president paused to hand out copies of what he said were the latest figures from the 2016 electoral map.

"Here, you can take that, that's the final map of the numbers," the Republican president said from his desk in the Oval Office, handing out maps of the United States with areas he won marked in red. "It’s pretty good, right? The red is obviously us."

Imagining the reporters eyes getting wider and w i d e r as they try to keep their faces in expressionless, objective masks while they Can Not Believe This Is Happening.

So... what? In spite of the administration's argument to the SCOTUS, FLOTUS is not going to be deported back to Slovenia. You can find a roundup of 100 days coverage. Maybe with a 2-minute, whirlwind video tour of triumphs and setbacks. (Triumphs, what?) How appropriate, with the party in power having sown the wind, we reap the whirlwind.

You could pretend facts still matter (or exist), and see how the first 100 days went. (Overstated support; overstated crowd; overstated obeisance; overstated fake voting; overstated everything. The biggest.) Or you could pretend that tweets matter, and of course some hapless NY Times reporters had to catalogue every tweet by the man. (Leading themes: Making America Great Again [169 tweets], and Serving as Spin [101]. Three-way tie for third place, Discrediting the Media; Raising Alarm; and Creating Drama and Excitement.)

Peter Wehner: Mr. [redacted] goes to Washington. One member of the ruling party observed that “The dysfunction in this White House just knows no bounds.” The early days of the administration "have been marked by extraordinary ineptitude," Wehner says.

“Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy.”

“I thought it would be easier.”

You don't need to read a White House visitor log to know which way the wind blows. Just look at who's checking in at the Old Post Office. Our White House family affair looks a lot like the most corrupt nations in the world. "[F]rom their perspective, this isn’t an unusual thing. One way of ensuring favorable treatment is you take care of the business interests."

"Foreign governments, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Azerbaijan and Turkey, have held or plan to hold events at [redacted]’s D.C. hotel, which both the president and his daughter have a stake in. It is not known how many diplomats and foreign dignitaries have decided to book rooms at [redacted] hotels or properties since the president took office."

If you've made it this far, you should do pretty well on the The [redacted] 100-Day Quiz, Part 2. (I got 14 out of 17. "Stolid citizenship." Just shy of "Deranged Obsession.")

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

Live steam in Boise Permalink to this item

In case you missed Union Pacific No. 844 coming into town last Saturday (as I did), check out the bird's eye view from Dan Dunn, shared via Facebook. Love the goose escort for the drone at one point.

Props to Dan's business, as well.

I'll tell you the other thing is (unintelligible) Permalink to this item

Signed butter

Another one out of the park from Seth Meyers' "A Closer Look," helpfully framed by HuffPost.

"We have a president who can't get anyone to do anything, so he signs, you know, executive orders. And... the country wasn't supposed to be that way. ... It's a basic disaster."

Which is not quite as delicious as signed butter, or Chris Christie's ironically precious affection for E.O.s, following his opinion when that last guy used them.

"Now this president wants to act as if he's a king. As if he's a dictator... Dictatorship's not leadership, John. And he's acting like a dictator, and a petulant child."

Congress on the blower Permalink to this item

Called my Representative, Mike Simpson, at (202) 225-5531 to encourage him to do the right thing in regard to improving legislation in regard to healthcare insurance. The way forward is fraught, and complicated, and my message delivered to a cheerful staffer will probably be boiled down to a checkbox, or something. My punchline was to encourage our senior, sensible, reasonable, mature member of Congress to do the right thing. (Ah, is that a YES, or a NO?)

The particulars I mentioned (the need to address the problem of affordability of premiums, for effective insurance; to NOT put insurance out of reach for tens of millions of Americans; to NOT allow states to opt out of protection for those with pre-existing conditions; and to NOT try to do this with something that's slapped together in a week or month) did not, I'm pretty sure, get recorded, nor will they be passed along to the Congressman.

But still, I felt I had to try.

Void where prohibited Permalink to this item

Leading the parade in today's political spam, a message from no less than you-know-who with an invitation to Join me in Georgia. Says there:

"You’ve been one of my most active supporters, and I wanted to be sure you knew about this before anyone else."

From Handel's fundraising page

Most active, huh. If I contribute just $10 or more before the 5:00 PM deadline TONIGHT to enter, I could be a lucky winner! That's Eastern Time, naturally, says in the fine print, along with this:

© 2017 NO PURCHASE, PAYMENT, OR CONTRIBUTION NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Contributing will not improve your chances of winning. Void where prohibited. You may enter by contributing to Handel Victory Committee by clicking here. Alternatively, you may enter without contributing by clicking here.

Yada yada yada, there's ONE prize, approximate retail value $1,200. It's hard to get tired of winning when there's only one winner, you know? This much is Truth®: Contributing will not improve your chances of winning.

Anyway, all contributions will go "directly toward our fight against Hollywood and the big-name Democrats who have tried to STEAL this race from the American people."

And all the non-contribution entries will go... wherever. But I'm sure to be on the "most active" list a while longer.

ICYMI, "this race" is for the Georgia-6 House seat vacated by Tom Price to go be HHS Secretary. The Democrat, Jon Ossoff, came up just short of a majority in the "jungle primary," as they call it, where all candidates appear on the same ballot regardless of party. This "in a district that Mitt Romney won by 23 points in 2012, and where Republican Rep. Tom Price was re-elected with nearly 62% of the vote in 2016." The race had 19 candidates in all, and Ossoff got 48.1% of the vote.

So what's Handel got going for her?

Anti-abortion, anti-Affordable Care Act, anti-embryonic stem cell research, anti-immigration, anti-same sex marriage, anti-adoption by gay people. And Republican.

Stay tuned, and send lots of money for the special election, June 20.

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

Zombie electrical Permalink to this item

You might have heard of vampire power? That electrical load that keeps on ticking even when a device is supposedly "off" dates back to vacuum tubes, and some bright engineer responding to customers who didn't like waiting for the tube to warm up before they could start watching cathode rays hit their TV screens. It proceeded to all manner of battery chargers, printers, what-not. (If you're looking for tips on how to cut back, check out the Department of Energy before they're decommissioned.)

We had a slightly different experience late last month, when our spruce tree crashed on our electrical service line. There may have been some stray electrons shooting out the end of the downed line, but none of them were coming down the pipe to the meter on the side of our house. And yet... dead as our connection may have been, Idaho Power's usage data woke up in the middle of the night and continued bouncing around through the next day.

Usage while our line was disconnected?!

One of those good old analog meters would not—could not—have done such a thing. No juice to spin the dials, no power to integrate into energy. When we were transitioned to digital meters, the company touted benefits, or maybe I just imagined the benefit of greater accuracy, more precise information of instantaneous power and so on.

That's not what was delivered.

I just got off the phone with the Idaho Power rep tasked with responding to my customer inquiry about our usage showing non-zero while our line was disconnected. I imagined him waving his hands while he tried to explain what makes no sense whatsoever. It still has hourly readings to report, that it finally sends when it can? It... anticipates the high load on reconnect, and "spreads that out" over the preceding time while the power was out?

You have got to be kidding me. At the start of our outage, the readings went down to zero, as you'd expect, for four hours running. And then...

There is NO WAY to rationally explain (or justify) TWENTY-ONE, VARIABLE, NON-ZERO READINGS when our usage was, and could only be EXACTLY ZERO. "That's the way the system is set up" does not get the job done. The FACT before our eyes is that it spreads numbers out in some random fashion with no relationship to actual usage.

He kept trying to explain the inexplicable, but didn't have any fact-based means to employ. I kept trying to find different ways to say yes, but this makes no sense whatsoever. There was nothing to do but say thanks for the call, and move on. The 2 or so kilowatt-hours at issue (the area under the hourly curve) is not worth fighting over, but man, there something wrong with the system Idaho Power is using to record its customers' usage.

It's a laffer Permalink to this item

Just because your pithy little idea fits on a napkin doesn't make it useful. But maybe you could get your napkin into the National Museum of American History. I like that it was sketched on a cloth napkin. White cloth. That conceptual parabola was such an urgent epiphany that it was worth soiling somebody else's white cloth napkin. Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld and Jude Wanniski must've been very impressed. My grandmother would have been impressed too, but not in a good way.

Stop them if you've heard this before: deep cuts in corporate taxes will pay for themselves in "an explosion" (as the Times puts it) of new business and job creation.

"The exact contours of the plan remained murky and Mr. Trump will not produce a fully realized proposal on Wednesday. But what the president has called a tax reform plan is looking more like a tax cut plan, showering taxpayers with rate reductions without offsetting the full cost by closing loopholes or raising taxes elsewhere. In the short run, such a plan would add many billions of dollars to the national deficit. Mr. Trump contends that it will be worth it in the long run."

Boiling it right down to the voodoo, our Treasury secretary and main architect of the plan, Steve Mnuchin told reporters this week that “The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth.”


And what a shocker that a man who's enriched himself with multiple bankruptcies and assorted cons and grifting would not actually care about deficit spending. Or actual details.

Laffer himself is now imagining "cascades of tax revenue" and "a flood of businesses coming back in short order." “It’s a slam dunk,” Laffer says. “It’s a no-brainer.”

Uh huh.

Coverage in The Hill emphasizes "the BIGGEST," naturally. You can just hear him saying so. “The average American should have simple taxes,” Mnuchin said, amen to that. And "adding that many people won't end up paying any taxes under the administration's plan" which is as bold-faced a lie as one could imagine. (The 15.3% payroll tax is not part of this sketchy deal.)

Carolyn Kaster / AP photo on the front page of the Idaho Statesman

Whatever the orange man and his lieutenants have up their sleeves, I will also bet you $10 to a donut that after the smoke clears and the broken mirrors are swept up, Congress will not deliver a lick of "simplification." Just a guess.

More Mnuchin:

"Again, this is a discussion we're having with the House and Senate. I do think we need to raise the debt ceiling. There's no question about that. People agree...we're not going to let this become an issue.

"By the way, we're not going to do one of these wait to the last minutes either. So we'll get the debt limit done in plenty of time."

It's Wednesday, last I checked. And the government could get shut down Friday if the Republicans and Republicans can't agree. (It's not a "debt ceiling" thing this time, just another half-assed, business-as-usual short-term spending bill set to expire, and Who Knew that would happen on April 27, after Congress took a couple of weeks off to avoid having town hall meetings during recess?)

When it was noisesome campaign fodder, the "plan" looked to be a boon for the rich, and a question mark for others, and oh, there's that "tax rate will be zero" lie for Mnuchin's stalking points.

On Monday, with the "promised big tax proposal reveal on Wednesday" in the subhead, Mick Mulvaney said the details won't be ready until June. (Watch for how "dynamic scoring" makes all your troubles disappear.) Meanwhile, Tweeter-in-Chief has some days in court to complain about. This morning:

Firstly Whiny Circuit rules against hobbitses ban & now agains on sanctuhairy villages-both WICKED rulings! See yous at Council of Elronds!

— Gollum J. Trump (@realGollumTrump) April 26, 2017

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

FORE! Permalink to this item

Since it's the weekend, something in a recreational vein? I liked this little item I saw Friday night, the Business Insider cherry-picking one of the the results of a poll this week, concerning the man who's putting Congress' appetite for "recess" to shame, and the people who support him: his voters don't believe the new president has played a lot of golf in his first 90 days. First, the fact, as reported (and nicely graphed) by the failing New York Times:

Our 45th president* has spent more than six times as many days on the golf course than the last three presidents combined in the first three months in office.

Uncaptioned half of Abe and Trump at golf, AP photo, apparently

Low score wins in golf, and Obama and Bush are tied, at zero. What Mr. T said at a Virginia campaign rally in 2016—“I’m going to be working for you. I’m not going to have time to play golf.”—turns out to not be true. Mirabile dictu. (Never mind cheating at golf; the "working for you" is the bigger lie, but we'll steer clear of the swamp today, lest we lose our balls.)

The main story was not about our pear-shaped Duffer-in-chief. PPP's headline for their survey of 648 registered voters this week was that Democrats Have Big Enthusiasm Edge for 2018. BI knows how to fish for clickbait, and PPP provided it with this:

Q14 Who do you think played more golf during their first 3 months in office: Barack Obama or Donald Trump?

For the total sample, in round fractions, more than a quarter thought Obama had. Nearly half got the right answer, and the rest were "not sure."

That's kind of a small sample, so fat margin of error in the crosstabs on top of the ±3.9% overall, but who you voted for in 2016 correlates with your disconnect from reality. (Another shocker.) More than half of Trump voters think Obama spent more time golfing. (Jill Stein voters were most likely to get the right answer, and Gary Johnson voters were not quite as smart as a coin toss.)

Let's review the numbers again. Trump, 19 days. Obama, 0 days.

What else? PPP has the full results available for persual, with their overview, the national results, the breakdown by 2018 vote excitement, 2016 vote, gender, party, race, age, and the mode of polling (phone or internet).

"One finding that may best sum it all up when it comes to how down voters are on Trump: by a 42/40 spread, they have a higher opinion of United Airlines than they do of him."

If you need help to stop laughing, consider that 41% of respondents said they thought Donald Trump was honest. And 35% think he's already "made America Great Again" (as helpfully capitalized in the original).

Better news: 62% said we should see Trump's tax returns, and 63% said White House visitor logs should be publicly available. 61% would support an independent investigation into Russia's involvement in the last election.

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

Resistance is futile Permalink to this item

Picked on Easter, and interesting by Friday

Email from LinkedIn telling me they're updating their terms of service, as of June 7. The VP of Legal [sic] has a blog post about it which seems kind of breezy/wrong, but ok. The emailed summary includes mention of two new features coming: "Productivity bots" that will "use information in your messages to suggest responses, meetings, ice breakers, or insights to help you have important conversations more easily," and some means for showing us "members nearby who have also opted-in" so we can find people to go out to lunch with. Or whatever. Just one more app I'll be denying access to my location, I imagine. And then this:

"If you’ve not already heard, we are now a part of Microsoft ..."

I don't remember hearing, actually. There's a link to "the story" from the CEO last June so this isn't exactly new news. Maybe I heard about it and forgot because I didn't care too much? $196 per share in an all-cash transaction valued at $26.2 billion, inclusive of LinkedIn’s net cash is a Very Big Deal, Microsoft's largest acquisition it says here in The Motley Fool when final regulatory approval came in early December. The VP of Legal said it happened by the end of the year. She ought to know.

20.April.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Boise River spring fling Permalink to this item

With almost all of our beloved paths along the Boise River closed just now, and parts of them being undercut and swept away in the current, everybody's got an eye on the gauges.

Couple of weeks ago, I did some trial arithmetic on numbers that Rocky Barker was reporting for the Idaho Statesman, and figured it might take three solid months of the kind of flow we've got going—8,000 cfs and more at the Glenwood Bridge in Garden City (which Boise surrounds)— to drain off our heaven-sent 2 million acre-ft of snowpack. Two weeks ago, we had 320,000 acre-ft of reservoir space; now it's down to 303,000 acre-ft according to the BuRec teacup diagram. The weather's been cool and occasionally stormy, and the natural flow in, estimated at 10,600 cfs, is almost balanced by what's being let out of the lowest of the three reservoirs, 9,300 cfs at Lucky Peak (above where 1,000 cfs is diverted into the New York Canal).

We're kind of keeping up... and not chipping away at that snowpack, apparently. Today's stories are about the river managers taking a "calculated risk" by keeping the river flows steady, as compared to the known risks of going higher than we are now.

"If weather conditions change, [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lt. Col. Damon A.] Delarosa said, he’s prepared to raise the river up to 10,000 cfs if necessary.

"That would raise the river above many bridges, including Eagle Road and U.S. 95 in Canyon County. It also could place some subdivisions on Eagle Island and downstream underwater, though houses are likely to mostly be above the water line."

They're giving odds at the moment: 1 in 10 that they'll have to dial it up to 10k cfs at some point this spring.

Looking at the water year graph of the outflow from Lucky Peak, the current year WAY ahead of average (obviously), I see that the units of flow x time (cubic ft/sec. and months) multiply to volume. The area under the curve is the total amount of water coming out of the watershed and sent downstream to the Snake, Columbia, and Pacific.

2,000 cfs times one month works out to be just under 120,000 acre-ft. To drain away 2 million minus 300,000 acre-ft, we need to put 14.3 boxes under the blue curve. Like this, maybe.

Integrating the flow of the Boise R. below Lucky Peak, 2017

The hard part is if the weather conditions demand a schedule we can't meet without dialing it up over the top of things. A big rainfall (not too likely), or a sudden hot spell (very likely, sooner or later). (Did they engineer those bridges for the river going over?! Seems unlikely. I'm still wondering what the Main Street bridge was designed to clear; at 8,500 cfs, there isn't much space.)

This colored-in "14 boxes" aren't QUITE as scary as visiting the low spots on the greenbelt just now... maybe we'll get away without catastrophe one more year.

Baby I'm amazed Permalink to this item

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is in the news for being "really amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power," and saying so out loud.

(One friend responded on Facebook, "I really am amazed that a closet Klansman from a Southern backwater where secession remains a popular idea is our attorney general." Also, the perjury during his confirmation hearing thing. How come he hasn't resigned?)

A Justice spokesperson, for some reason we can't discern, "clarified" the AG's statement by affirming that "Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific."

Thanks for that. As for the rest, the AG's (spokesperson's) opinion about whether a judicial opinion is "flawed" or the president's "exercise of authority" is lawful, is not how things work, either on the mainland or in the 50th state. As U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii points out:

Hawaii was built on the strength of diversity & immigrant experiences- including my own. Jeff Sessions’ comments are ignorant & dangerous

— Senator Mazie Hirono (@maziehirono) April 20, 2017

Maybe the SCOTUS bulked up with Neil Gorsuch by Mitch McConnell's thievery will agree with the POTUS, or maybe not. Either way, Jeff Sessions' personal incredulity isn't worth a bucket of warm spit.

The countdown clock for his apology to the entire state is now running.

Brake job Permalink to this item

Along Utah SR-12, Google Streetview image

A friend posted to FB a witty "public service/warning for drivers in the next hour" that he'd done his "first ever drum brake service on one of my pickups and will be testing it by driving it down Harrison/Front/Park Center. Stay away from a White Dodge Dakota pickup." Brought back a memory from 1981, at the top of the Escalante Canyon in Utah. I pulled the Valiant over into a pull-off to admire the view before starting down (maybe this one, as seen on Google Streetview), and I was shocked to feel WHAT HAPPENED TO THE BRAKES?!

I had no idea what might have gone wrong or how to fix it out there in the middle of the unpopulated canyons of southern Utah. No way forward but down... working 2nd and 1st gear to save our lives. Good old three on the tree got us down to the flat section and to the open road of Utah 12 headed to the next tiny town, looks like Escalante.

The relatively flat stretch between the grade and the town presented no obvious obstacles (no traffic to speak of), so I cautiously opened it up to 50 mph to move the story along. Somewhere in the middle, coming over a small rise, the meaning of "open range" was made manifest by a flock of cattle scattered on both sides of the road.

Not good.

None of them were on the road, but too close for comfort, and both sides. Slowing down, I thought I'd give notice just for good measure, and HONK HONKED the horn. Coming through, ladies!

Jeanette just about JUMPED OUT OF HER SEAT BELT to stop me from doing any more of that. I now had the attention of everyone in the neighborhood, and had broadcast the unmistakable two-tone announcement of "here I come" and "I am slowing down to dump out hay for you." The beeves had all turned toward the road and were coming to it from both sides.

A drum brake self-adjusting cable for a 1965 Valiant

Our eyes must've been like saucers as we made our way as fast and simultaneously slow as possible to get through the herd before there was hamburger all over the highway in Mystic, Connecticut. (So to speak.)

At the service station (remember those?!) in Escalante, we were ready to pay whatever was needed to get those brakes fixed, and the fix was... to find that the front brake self-adjusting cable's hook had come out of the eye, and needed to be reconnected. I think I'd just made that pulloff, and must have backed up to the other end, and when I hit the brakes, the self-adjustment mechanism must've popped the cable off, and then the next time I hit the brakes going forward was when I realized something was wrong. Glad I did that in the pull-off, rather than at the first turn down the hill.

Chaffetz may go home early Permalink to this item

Makes you wonder if The Hill is getting a bot to write stories like this. Punchline is always

[Politician's name] cited a desire to spend more time with [his|her] family in [state|country] and return to the private sector.

Now the only question is: What's the flavor of the kompromat on Chaffetz?

— Caroline O. (@RVAwonk) April 20, 2017

An American Conscience: the Reinhold Niebuhr Story Permalink to this item

An American Conscience: The Reinhold Neibuhr Story

A new film produced by the dean of Boise State’s Honors College, Andrew Finstuen, is set to air on our local public TV tomorrow night: An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story. BSU's president describes it in a message sent out yesterday:

"Many may recognize Reinhold Niebuhr for the Serenity Prayer, one of the most quoted writings in American literature. He was also a man who inspired a nation at a time of enormous change — industrialization, race relations, World War II, nuclear power and Cold War. Niebuhr was a progressive social thinker who could speak from conscience with courage. He had a great understanding of human nature as a professor, pastor, writer and political activist.

"For decades, Niebuhr was on the FBI watch list, but others were watching and listening too — from all sides. The film features his influence on Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer and includes diverse contemporary voices like New York Times columnist David Brooks and public intellectual Cornel West. People across political lines were drawn to Niebuhr’s integrity and humility for his realistic views. He said, “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” He was viewed as a man with hope for a better part of human nature and for the future. Dr. Finstuen noted that the divided political climate of recent decades underscores the need for voices of conscience such as the film highlights."

The quote from Niebuhr's 1944 book, The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness: A Vindication of Democracy and a Critique of Its Traditional Defense.

Finstuen's guest opinion ran in the Idaho Statesman in late February, ahead of an early screening of the film here, and James McGrath has a longer response to a March screening at Butler University, on his "Religion Prof" blog on Patheos. Niebuhr had a role in "helping the United States figure out how to become the leader of the free world," middle of last century, and it seems we might be ready for a refresher course in that. (Who better to make that case than Ann Coulter?)

Too hot to handle Permalink to this item

After the month-long plan of alt-right provocateurs came to fruition over the weekend, UC Berkeley administrators decided that there was no "safe and suitable venue" for Ann Coulter to come and do her law and ordure thing next week. Undaunted, organizers are looking for an alt-venue.

NPR says one of the event's organizers said "students have half-joked that Coulter may end up speaking on steps at the university's Sproul Plaza." Ha h-.

The planned Ann Coulter speech was a collaboration between YAF, the Berkeley College Republicans and BridgeUSA, formerly known as BridgeCal. BridgeUSA is a nonpartisan organization that aims to "create a dialogue" and challenge people with "opinions you disagree with," says Jandhyala, the founder and president.

Coulter has enough disagreeable opinions, she could do the dialogue as a monologue.

Her 2002-2011 “PATRIOT Act, fantastic, Gitmo, fantastic, waterboarding, not bad, though torture [sic] would’ve been better” self could mix it up with the latest edition that says "war is like crack for presidents" and Syrian president "Assad is one of the least bad leaders in the entire Middle East."

What was so great about war in Iraq? It "has natural resources," duh. People were pro-western, who knew, "a fantastic country for regime change." Haven't we, uh, made more enemies? "No, no, no that's a crazy ACLU argument." "It took 10 years, but we now know that the waterboarding helped lead us to Osama bin Laden." Do we now?

Coulter: Ten years! Maybe if they'd tried torture [sic] we could have found him in under ten years.

Stossel: And yet I hear from many people in the national security business that that torture does not work...

Coulter: It's a, this is such a lie, torture works beautifully.

Her tweets this week are—literally—"instructing Berkeley student group to spare no expense in renting my speaking venue" and indignantly declaring that "no school accepting public funds can ban free speech." That's free speech, not free beer, sheeple.

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

Step right up, boys and gulls Permalink to this item

Found myself looking to see whether "grifter" was the right word for what I was thinking about this morning. Yup. From Wikipedia's useful entry for Confidence trick:

"A confidence trick is also known as a con game, a con, a scam, a grift, a hustle, a bunko (or bunco), a swindle, a flimflam, a gaffle or a bamboozle. The intended victims are known as "marks", "suckers", or "gulls" (i.e., gullible). When accomplices are employed, they are known as shills."

Considering the stages of the con, it's hard to say whether we're at The Hurrah or The In-and-In at this point. But this we know:

Richard Nixon released his tax returns while under the standard audit all presidents get. @realDonaldTrump has something massive to hide

— Tom von Alten (@fortboise) April 19, 2017

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

Makers and takers Permalink to this item

With a headline ending in "see if you know the answers" (from a reputable source, not your run of the mill clickbait shop), I was prepared to junp to a jolly quiz to start my day-before-tax-day. But no. NPR is all about We Asked People What They Know About Taxes and then just telling us the answers.

There was the expected part about how few people pay federal income tax these days (those with too little income are now 45% of taxpayers, below what it was when the infamous "47%" sunk the good ship Romney), and mention of payroll taxes, without all the tricky numbers (or really any numbers at all). The 7.65% you see in your pay statement, and the 7.65% your employer pays that you don't see, is a 14.2% haircut on your total salary, from the first dollar up to almost $120,000 of wages. (After that, only two times 1.45% for Medicare.)

But here's something new to me. When asked whether they agree with the statement:

"The tax rate on income from work should be lower than the tax rate on income from wealth."

three quarters of the sample of a thousand adults said yes (77% of Democrats, 71% of Republicans, and 84% of independents). The way a super-majority of respondents think it should be is not the way it is, by a long shot. There is no simple description of capital gains tax rates (let alone our whole complicated tax system), but Wikipedia's current tabulation of the law as of 2016 suffices to draw a picture showing the weird complexity, and the huge disparity that exists now. For single filers, this:

US federal tax rates by income type, single filer, 2016

In round numbers, the payroll tax starts on the first dollar of income, and it's 15%. Ordinary income tax of 10% kicks in for amounts over $10,350 (the standard deduction and one personal exemption) for a single taxpayer. Then the brackets, stepping up to 15, 25, 28% and so on, topping out at 39.6%. Most of FICA drops off in the low 6 digits, but thanks to the higher brackets, and again in round numbers, the tax rate on earned "ordinary income" is double what it is on capital gains.

Graph of federal tax due, detail

The crazy hop-scotch of the various rates obfuscates the bottom-line that commands our attention this time of year. How much do I have to pay?

Graph #2 compares the total tax burden, by income, for our hypothetical single filer with all income in one or the other category, and no adjustments beyond the standard deduction and one exemption. Considering the end where most people live, below $125,000 income, the difference is stark. The first half a hundred thousand dollars of capital gains are essentially tax free. Joe the Plumber would be paying eleven grand in federal taxes on that same income earned as wages.

At $75,000 income, the single wage-earner will have a tax bill four times bigger than someone enjoying return on investments without breaking a sweat.

Thumbnail of the interactive chart by Alvin Chang of Vox Update: If the complexity of bracketology fascinates you, you'll enjoy one of "Alvin's cartoonxplainers" on Vox: 100 years of tax brackets, in a brilliant, interactive chart. Back at the end of the Reagan years, 1988-1990, we'd boiled the ordinary income brackets down to just TWO, 15 and 28%, with the breakpoint in the mid-$40,000s (equivalent to almost $90,000 in today's dollars). That breakpoint was right at the Social Security maximum taxable earnings limit too; the "extra" 13% marginal taxation was more than offset by the lack of FICA, which had just reached the rate it is today.

H/t to the Idaho Public Employees Association for the link.

15.April.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Political science Permalink to this item

Since we have until Tuesday to finish up the returns, this:

GOP says nobody cares about Trump's tax returns. There are over 135 marches planned to prove them wrong. #TaxMarch

— Kaivan Shroff (@KaivanShroff) April 14, 2017

Boise's there on the map, noon at the Capitol, March for Transparency in Government. Apparently North Dakota, Kansas, Mississippi and West Virginia are cool with the Grifter in Chief keeping his secrets secret.

Just remember to give some respect to the IRS employees who to a man and to a woman have yet to pull a Snowden on the database and deliver a massive Dump of Truth.

My prediction: some will leak the lot of them before he discloses anything voluntarily.

As for the post headline, that's courtesy of Carl Scheider's Private Idaho playlist, and Randy Newman's timeless classic, which I heard him perform in Madison, Wisconsin, slightly more than 40 years ago. Which connects the dots to this recaptioned retweet:

"Really enjoying this time-travel thriller, where a man stuck in 2013 tweets desperate warnings to his 2017 self, who has become President."

Be prepared, there is a small chance that our horrendous leadership could unknowingly lead us into World War III.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 31, 2013

Death and taxes Permalink to this item

Don't call it Tax Day this year; that's pushed over the weekend to Tuesday, thanks to British factory owners and workers from the 19th century, God's creation of the earth in only six days, and Washington D.C.'s observance of Emancipation Day this coming Monday. (Even though, ahem, says here the festivities were last Saturday.)

The burden has been wound up more intimately with death, thanks to the so-called Affordable Care Act. Contrary to the tireless campaign stumping, that did not get Repealed and Replaced right out of the chute this year. Not even what I thought would happen happened, repeal for sure and replaced for maybe, maybe not. So we stumble along.

Some of the tens of millions of taxpayers waiting until the very last minute or beyond may thus find Weekend Edition's explainer about Tax Day and Health Insurance checkboxes a useful read.

"For the majority of tax filers, who had health insurance through an employer for 2016 or through a government program, all they have to do is check the box on the 1040 form that says they were covered for a full year. That's it."

That'd be line 61, ICYMI:

f1040 for 2016, p.2

AFAIK, that majority includes the likes of me, having bought health insurance on my own, a grandfathered policy (suitably enough). I liked my policy and I kept it, as Obama promised I could.

Remember those halcyon days when Politifact deemed it Lie of the Year for 2013? And it brought another wave of anti-Obamacare Republicans into Congress in 2014 to hold more votes to Repeal The Tyranny?

My god, we used to argue over some stupid stuff. Oh wait, we're still arguing about all that.

PolitiFact had already half-damned the claim as Half True in 2009 and 2012, but Obama got re-elected all the same. Never mind that maybe less than 2% of those insured were actually affected, "there was no shortage of powerful anecdotes." (Millions, if not as many millions as haven't filed their tax returns yet.)

We need an antidote to anecdotes. Sorry, your policy doesn't cover that.

If you dodged your responsibility and are filing a return and don't check that box on line 61, you're supposed to pay some Other Taxes (don't call it a Fine; the Supreme Court said not to). It's an "individual responsibility" payment. See instructions. Unless you're one of the 13 million or so who can rightfully claim exemption, for income so low, or for living abroad most of the year (where you probably got way cheaper coverage eh), or if you really couldn't afford it (the cheapest available insurance was more than 8% of your household income).

As NPR explains, the fineother tax for 2016 is the greater of $695 per adult or 2.5% of household income. Children half price. FinesOther taxes are pro-rated by the number of months each person was uninsured. The maximum fineother tax is $2,676.

Then there are possible tax credits, a self-employed health insurance deduction (thanks), a reduction in the taxable part of Social Security benefits for Medicare Part B, and if you itemize deductions, multiply Schedule A Line 2 (which is Form 1040, line 38) by 10% unless you or your spouse was born before January 2, 1952, by 7.5% (0.075) instead, and deduct what cleared that bar.

Of course, if you're in the broad lower-middle tranche of income and were able to enjoy tax credits to help pay for your insurance, there's Form 8962 to reconcile your subsidy based on income you had to estimate and maybe you'll need to pay more, or maybe you'll get some money back.

Stay tuned next Tuesday.

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

Saboteur in Chief Permalink to this item

The email from Organizing for Action inviting me to "Speak up" was under the subject Blatant Sabotage. (The click-through went to a form asking for my email address, but they already have it, and too many people are asking me to "send money" for that to work well, even though I didn't click through that far.)

Partisan though it may be, the subject and brief content were spot on.

"Yesterday, this administration bragged that they could withhold important payments and subsidies to health insurers—just to gain negotiating leverage in their failing quest to repeal Obamacare.

"What they are proposing is sabotage, plain and simple. ...

"Just a few months ago, leaders in Congress cobbled together an inadequate, unacceptable, and unpopular replacement for Obamacare. They couldn't pass that bill thanks to folks like you -- people who stood up, got organized, and spoke out, letting Speaker Ryan and other Washington Obamacare opponents know that ripping health coverage away from 24 million Americans is a bad idea. When they realized they lost, they sat back and started calling for Obamacare to fail.

"But Obamacare isn't in a death spiral, so now the same opponents have to explicitly work against it at every turn."

Eric Levitz put it only slightly less directly for the "Daily Intelligencer" on New York magazine: Trump Says He May Freeze Subsidies to the Poor Until Democrats Repeal Obamacare:

"On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he plans to use the powers of his office to jeopardize health-care access for millions of low-income people, while destabilizing America’s insurance markets — because he believes that voters will blame the ensuing chaos on the Democratic Party, leaving Chuck Schumer desperate to negotiate with the White House over Obamacare repeal."

The Great Negotiator is too full of himself to keep his stupid mouth shut, basically. This all came out in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, for god's sake. Given a choice between the GOP sabotaging the ACA directly, or some sort of capitulation by the Democrats to save a tattered remnant, which will, in either case cut off the health-insurance subsidies for millions of people, gee, should we play along with this guy?

"The president doesn’t want to shoot this hostage, but Democrats should be calling him up and begging him not to shoot the hostage. They should be grateful for the chance to negotiate a deal in which he merely cuts off all the hostage’s fingers. After all, who is the public gonna blame for the hostage’s murder: the people who loved it, or the guy with the gun shouting all of this through a bullhorn?"

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

Possibly the most dangerous man in the administration Permalink to this item

When Mick Mulvaney pops up in the news, I keep wondering why this guy? He's the new Director of the Office of Management and Budget, not typically a nexus of glamor or power, and by virtue of executive proclamation to "reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies," he is now the go-to guy for a complete reorganization of the Executive branch of the federal government.

This is the pointy end of Steve Bannon's spear, we might surmise, in his third-bucket initiative to deconstruct the administrative state, on a fast track. Within 360 days of the Executive Order, Mulvaney is slated to deliver "a proposed plan to reorganize the executive branch in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of agencies."

In Jason Miller's April 11 report for Federal News Radio shines a light on what Mulvaney himself says "is probably the biggest story no one is talking about." The potential scope is huge: he listed health care, taxes, infrastructure, but the sky's the limit.

It starts with "reducing the size of the federal workforce through attrition," solving a "problem" that doesn't actually exist: The federal workforce is as small as it has been for the last 40 years. Mulvaney said "this is a big part of draining the swamp."

“We are not going into this with some ideological preconception about what this will look like. This is a really blank sheet of paper. We are not just asking conservative right-wing think tanks to give us ideas on how to fix this. We are asking the general public, intellectuals, academia and the private sector to give us ideas. It may well be that they come in and make a very good case for the exact opposite of what might be the pre-conceived notion of a former right-wing member of Congress.”

That's right. Not just conservative right-wing think tanks. You John Q. Public can let Mick know which agencies you'd like to eliminate, too.

Maybe pigs are getting ready to fly, but maybe a guy who made a name for himself with an ultrasound bill for South Carolina, dodgy real estate deals (how he caught Trump's eye? even though he backed Rand Paul in the primaries), trying to shut down the government to make a statement about debt, and pretending that a nanny wasn't a household employee so that he could avoid paying payroll taxes, darling of the Club for Growth, Tea Party and Freedom Caucus will turn out to be The Guy to Effectively Reorganize the Federal Government.

Or maybe "deconstructing the administrative state" is as easy as throwing a monkey wrench in the gears, and like magic, prosperity will rain upon us.

The working hypothesis has to be that this is the vanguard of the incompetency crisis David Brooks wrote about last week. Fewer than 1 in 25 positions requiring Senate confirmation filled, but an army of "hundreds of officials to serve as his eyes and ears at every major federal agency, from the Pentagon to the Department of Interior" as ProPublica reported a month ago, along with a list of more than 400 people the administration hired while a hiring freeze was supposedly in place.

Incompetence starts at the top. Our president was just instructed by the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a phone call that the situation in Korea is complicated. Who knew? But hey, we're sending an armada.

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

Messing around in boats Permalink to this item

Coming up on the anniversary of the great Owyhee River adventure, and considering another one of those (this time, not in a canoe, and other mitigating factors), we got to talking about boats. Without endorsement, or any other knowledge other than this website, and one FOAF's comment that "you can stow gear in the tubes": the latest Alpacka Raft lineup. Cool boats, eye candy serving suggestions and a charming "Our Story." Handmade in Colorado. "Alpacka Rafts are artisan craft, from stem to stern. Each one has a little personality of its own." And this tantalizing brand promise: "An Alpacka Raft can take you anywhere." Like that guy downstream from a glacier, with a bicycle loaded on the front end.

We're not looking at packing rafts just now... especially given the big snowpack this year. Midway through it, when the weather warmed up in mid-February, the Owyhee hit an exciting peak of 22,000 cfs at the Rome, Oregon gauge. (This most recent week, it came down below 4,000 and then 3,000 cfs.)

My boating buddy noted that there's an inevitable tradeoff between "light" and "durable," and with recent experience, durable is the order of the day. "My #1 priority for a boat is that it float, so I'll take the extra weight," he said. He mentioned Alpaka's 5 lb. vs. his 30 lb. boat... and I see The Scout is only 2.5 lb. How do they do that?! The Gnarwhal offers "next generation performance" with an optional(ly removeable) whitewater deck, in a 9 lb. 10 oz. package.

Chris Lee photo, 2014

The comment about floating reminded me of one of the things I liked about windsurfing right away: there's no tension about whether or not you're going to fall in the water. You will be in the water, sooner or later, so dress accordingly. That was after progressing from the Hoofers on Lake Mendota, where capsizing (and recovering) was part of the pedagogy, to cruising the San Juan Islands in boats that slept six. In your floating home, capsizing was truly unthinkable (and oh, that very first trip included a flying jibe-boom hung up on the backstay-broach as close as I'd ever want to get that still gives me a thrill to think about).

Anyway, after he shared someone else's story about repairing an impaled raft on the Middle Fork of the Salmon, in the rain, and the Aire rafts two-layer system that's "nearly impenetrable" (and getting lighter too, I see), tens of pounds rather than under ten, I noticed that the word "survivability" wasn't in my browser's dictionary, but it offered alternatives: suitability, livability and variability.

All good things to plan for when embarking on a river.

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

Walk this way Permalink to this item

Still from Audra D. Bridges video on UA Flight 3411

If we needed another reason to be happy about not flying much anymore, there's this scene of a former United Airlines customer being forcibly removed from a plane by three guys "who appear to be wearing the uniforms of Chicago aviation police."

Dammie! You can't buy this kind of publicity! I'm old enough to remember when it was all "fly the friendly skies," Rhapsody in Blue and a little snack box to while away the hours. Now they don't get volunteers to solve their overbooking problems, they will PULL. YOU. OUT. OF. YOUR. SEAT. AND. DRAG. YOU. DOWN. THE. AISLE.

Eyewitnesses recorded and shared some of the scenes, and social media, bless its giant crowd-sourced heart, Blew. Up. Another videographer and eyewitness said the guy "told the police and the united employees he had to be at the hospital in the morning to see patients." But wait, there's more! A third eyewitness, Jayse Anspach, tweeted:

"It looked like he was knocked out, because he went limp and quiet and they dragged him out of the plane like a rag doll. 10mins later, the doctor runs back into the plane with a bloody face, clings to a post in the back, chanting, 'I need to go home.'"

Company, anything you'd like to add to the story? UA CEO says "our team is moving with a sense of urgency" to review what happened, "and resolve this situation." Good luck with that.

Update: WARNING: Not safe for work, or commercial air travel. One more tweeted eyewitness video, from after the guy got back on the plane. (Not to question the competence of the aviation police or anything, but how did this guy get back on the plane?!)

Today's instructional video Permalink to this item

Carlos Maza's explainer for Vox: "Satire is powerful because it trains your brain to be skeptical." Political satire is the antidote to Trumpism. Sort of. It cuts through the bullshit, anyway, even if it can't innoculate you from the effects of having an ignorant, narcissistic con man launching missiles and sending congressional committees down ratholes. (Which, it seems, they are happy to do, with nothing better going than Easter break and the prospect of town hall meetings with constituents.)

Just one good (bad) story about insurance Permalink to this item

We have brains that are well-tuned to telling and listening to stories, mostly. The harder work of science swims against that tide, and we need reminding that the plural of "anecdote" is not "data." But sometimes, one good story, about a half-million dollar pile of bills, can serve as a proxy for the half-trillion dollar problem embedded in our kludged-together semi-regulated healthcare system in this country. Elisabeth Rosenthal's piece for the March 29 New York Times Magazine is a must-read for anyone wanting to be a "good medical consumer," or a member of an informed electorate needing to make decisions about (representatives making decisions about) what happens next. Précis in the title: Those Indecipherable Medical Bills? They’re One Reason Health Care Costs So Much.

As an occasional "consumer" of healthcare myself, my first rule of thumb (arguably not necessarily the best practice, your mileage may vary) is to stay out of the system. Whether you've gone without insurance (as I did, briefly, more than a decade ago, after leaving corporate employment) or tried to decipher one of your own bills, you're probably aware that no one with insurance pays "list price" for goods and service.

If you don't have insurance, you might not be able to afford even a negotiated offer. There are some jaw-dropping stats in the run of this article, not emphasized in the original.

"Studies have shown that hospitals charge patients who are uninsured or self-pay 2.5 times more than they charge those covered by health insurance (who are billed negotiated rates) and three times more than the amount allowed by Medicare."

The uninsured patient in question had bills amounting to nearly $500,000 (that wasn't hyperbole in the first paragraph above), including the hospital's claim for $356,884.42. Her ad hoc team of experts (assembled with the help of her story posted to the Facebook group Paying Till It Hurts) "laid out their logic for what might constitute reasonable payment in a detailed report based on what they could discover about [her] care: ... between $65,000 and $80,000, which they calculated should provide the hospital a profit on the services rendered..."

From the Commonwealth Fund summary of their report

"The stealth battle between hospitals and insurers over bills for each hospitalization, office visit, test, piece of equipment and procedure is costly for us all. Twenty-five percent of United States hospital spending—the single most expensive sector in our health care system—is related to administrative costs, “including salaries for staff who handle coding and billing,” according to a study by the Commonwealth Fund. That compares with 16 percent in England and 12 percent in Canada.

"That discrepancy comes, in part, from the prolonged negotiations over payment and the huge number of coders, billers and collectors who have to be compensated: Their salaries and loans from those years of training in obscure languages are folded into those high charges and rising premiums. In addition, as is often the case in warfare, the big conventional army can be at a disadvantage: The insurance companies and government seem to be always one step behind the latest guerrilla tactics of providers’ coders."

Looking up my notes from my most recent foray in this realm, I see that it was the end of July, 2014 when some services rendered 5 months earlier (for which I'd received an authorization letter from Regence, only two months after the fact) were settled by my insurer for 40 cents on the dollar (and paid by me, under my deductible).

That's better for the provider than the next visit, though: I scheduled a physical therapy appointment without bothering to go through my doctor (because p/t works, while I wasn't getting even a placebo effect from talking to the doctor), and Regence flat-out disallowed that claim, as "unauthorized." Maybe the St. Lukes system added that unpaid bill to their "free care" statistics.

Update: Terry Gross interviewed Rosenthal on Fresh Air in Aug. 2013, and they're on again today: How U.S. Health Care Became Big Business. Add Rosenthal's fresh-off-the-press book, An American Sickness to the reading list.

9.April.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Incredibly dangerous Permalink to this item

To hear Senator Tom Cotton tell it, five dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at a Syrian airfield is about the greatest thing since sliced bread. Restores Our Credibility in the World, no less. The action was "swift" enough, but "decisive," really?

Cotton and the current president are both fixated with criticizing the past. Obama's failure to blow up enough stuff "lowered our standing" in the eyes of the world. Cotton says he was "one of the few Republican members of Congress who supported strikes against Syria" back in the day, so there's that.

Wikipedia's history of late summer 2013 shows that decision as less simply R-D than most of what Congress does these days. The "undecideds" might have been able to tip the balance in the Senate, but it didn't look likely to pass the Republican-led House. What happened instead:

"On 10 September 2013, military intervention was averted when the Syrian government accepted a US—Russian negotiated deal to turn over 'every single bit' of its chemical weapons stockpiles for destruction and declared its intention to join the Chemical Weapons Convention."

Seemed like a good idea to me. Was it iron-clad? Honest? Useful? A mere "fig leaf," as Cotton derides? (He throws in a chip shot on the Iran nuclear deal for good measure.) We don't have good answers out here in the cheap seats. How about the deals to clean up weapons grade plutonium, and stuff? (Which ICYMI, Russia suspended last fall, in a tiff over sanctions imposed after they started chipping away at Ukraine.)

Who knew foreign relations could be complicated? Who could imagine that this latest fusillade could solve any problem, let alone every problem? Cotton is over the moon.

Our credibility is restored, and yay, "the United States can get back on offense around the world."

"In Syria, Mr. Assad knows that we have many more Tomahawk missiles than he has airfields. So do his supporters in Moscow and Tehran."

The arithmetic is a bit more complicated than that, though. We sent in 59 missiles, and it isn't clear we actually took out that one airfield. Never mind that, "the ayatollahs in Iran have to wonder if they may be next." Chinese president Xi Jinping "finally takes seriously American concerns."

"Finally, Russia’s geopolitical standing has taken a severe blow. Mr. Putin was powerless to protect his client in Damascus. Moscow now faces a Hobson’s choice of empty words of condemnation or escalation on behalf of a global pariah, which risks further American action. After years of Russian aggression being met by empty American words, the roles are reversed: Russia is wrong-footed and Mr. Putin finds his credibility at stake."

It's more than a little hallucinatory.

Is there another view from the Senate? How about Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), on Cruise Missile Hypocrisy, perhaps? First of all, why in the HELL would Assad have used chemical weapons, thinking he could get away without consequences?

"The answer likely lies in the green light that the Trump administration gave Assad just a few days before the chemical weapons attack was launched."

And with Russia engaged by that 2013 deal, why would they be OK with Assad cutting loose from one of the strongest international norms there is? Some "newfound impunity with which Russia now operates globally," it seems. To say that Trump "seems not to have thought through any of this, or have any kind of broader strategy" beggars understatement. He launched a military strike on an emotional whim.

What will he do next? Nobody knows, least of all him. It depends on what he hears next on Fox News, or whispered by Steve Bannon, or the General du jour. This is not new-found "credibility," it's tinpot dictatorship, with that difference of distinction: our largest-in-the-world military at his disposal.

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

The contact mining business model Permalink to this item

Could've sworn I'd marked one of these "spam" AND unsubscribed, but here's another email from PhotoKeeper, some kind of cloud-based image service out of California, with a cheery offer that I "just got photos!"

Looking a little closer at the text, I see they "just launched for iOS and Android so please let us know if you have question or comments." And they anticipated the one that pretty much everyone will have: Why did I get this email? With this answer:

"A PhotoKeeper member backed up a photo album. Based on their settings, this album can be accessed by contacts including [ my email address ]."

In other words, when users sign up for the app, and say "yes," it can have access to their contacts, they MINE THE EMAIL LIST and send spam to everyone the user knows. Exceptionally abusive, and stupid.

A powerful surprise ending Permalink to this item

Did a bit of editing on yesterday's account of our spruce fall, adding weather data fetched from the Boise airport station's archive, and a look at our usage data from Idaho Power. No spoilers here, cut to the chase added after yesterday's story.

7.April.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Things that go THUMP, thump in the afternoon Permalink to this item

2017 photo

A week ago, it was a dark and stormy afternoon, March on its way out like a lion, both of us typing away in the office when there came a great THUMP, and a medium thump behind us, and then our screens went dark. What the...? The view out the east windows was all spruce, as in, the formerly 50 foot tall spruce, now 50 feet north-and-south, with its stout-enough upper end over the top of our downed powerline.

It wasn't a complete surprise, storms have caused outages before, even though the more usual way is a squirrel across a transformer, POP goes the rodent, and power for a couple dozen houses. But this was personal. Just our tree, our house, no dead squirrels.

The good news was, it clean missed the house. Were it not for that pesky electrical service line, it would have just been the exciting end to a tree that we kind of wanted to remove anyway, overgrown for the spot it was in. Since it wasn't the dead of winter, being without power for the gas furnace for a while was not a big deal.

With 30 to 40 mph wind, gusts to 50, through the afternoon and into the evening, it was a busy day for Idaho Power... (read the rest, and more pictures)

While rooting around for the best javascript/css to provide for a slideshow on that jump, I sifted through my 2014 end-of-year family photos, and found this gem, from Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio in Oak Park, Illinois: one of the historical architectural details that caught my eye well before this latest episode put electrical service entrance on my mind. Gave a good laugh out loud:

Nov. 2014 photo

6.April.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Just crude guy talk Permalink to this item

From Seth Myers' Late Night video

It's about State TV as Seth Myers knocks another one of the park on Late Night with "A Closer Look": Fox News, O'Reilly and Trump. The blowing of Steve Doocy's mind, unable to absorb the whole compliment of the president singing his show's praises. We were rolling in the aisles. And then there was the clip of Bill O'Reilly on a CBS sunshine show, harassing yet another woman with the temerity to challenge him, saying

"I'm not interested in making my network look bad. At all. That doesn't interest me. One. Bit."

Well, why not just clean out your desk and get the hell out? If you need another reason, here are eighteen: the companies pulling their ads from your crappy show. Oh wait, there are twenty-two advertisers pulling out. Or make that at least twenty seven. Or, THIRTY-FIVE fleeing or getting hinky: BMW; Mercedes-Benz; Lexus; Hyundai; Mitsubishi; GlaxoSmithKline; Bayer; Sanofi Consumer Care; Allstate; Esurance; T. Rowe Price; Credit Karma; Pacific Life; Jenny Craig; Advil; H&R Block; Orkin; Untuckit;; Constant Contact; Ainsworth Pet Nutrition; The Society for Human Resource Management; Coldwell Banker; Amica; Touchnote; Invisalign; TrueCar; ODFL; LegalZoom; Subaru USA; WeatherTech; Wayfair; The Wonderful Company; Voya.

ORKIN there on the list, kind of interesting. Their business is residential and commercial pest control services.

So much winning Permalink to this item

House Intelligence Committee leader and deer in the headlights Devin Nunes is going to step aside from the Russia investigation. First, the Attorney General, now this. His announcement this morning came alongside the House Committee on Ethics announcing that Nunes is under investigation because of public reports that he “may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information.”


For his part, Nunes blamed “several leftwing activist groups” filing accusations that were “entirely false and politically motivated.”

Why the long trunk, boys? Permalink to this item

As the Senate prepares to go nuclear on the beloved and hated filibuster, there's a cold side dish of graybacks lamenting what the Democrats are "making" them do in order to twist the Supreme Court to their liking. Susan Collins (R-Maine) reportedly worked "very hard" to negotiate a "compromise," whatever that could be. Let's start with taking up the consideration of Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated last year. But of course, we're not going to do that in Mitch McConnell's tainted organization.

Obtained from the intertubes, couldn't read the source logo

John McCain said "none of us want to do it," which might as well be what he also said last year when McConnell buried Garland's nomination on a cocked-up excuse of it being the last year of Obama's term. And The Weekly Standard piece notes that Democrat Harry Reid started it, back in 2013, after 5 years of determined Republican obstruction of nominees to the federal bench and other executive appointees. Lindsey Graham had the drawling chutzpah to talk about how denying Gorsuch would be "telling me that they don't accept the election results," as if... oh, and "Hamilton is rolling over in his grave."

Just now? Gosh, does Mitch McConnell have anything he'd like to add?

Talking about Obama #SCOTUS nominees, Senator McConnell just said "We treated them fairly."

Without a hint of irony.

— Matt House (@mattwhouse) April 6, 2017

This is the legacy both parties' leadership has wrought:

"There’s so little trust between the two parties that it was very difficult to put together an agreement that would avert changing the rules," Collins told reporters.

The lead Democrat, Christopher Coons of Delaware "said the talks fell apart because of pressure from Senate leaders, who weren’t interested in a deal, and from the conservative and liberal bases of the party, who view the Supreme Court’s composition as a top priority."

And then what? Why not have legislation rammed through the formerly august body on party-line votes too, and then we can revive that load of elephant dung tax cut for the wealthy masquerading as a freedom from healthcare insurance premiums bill.

We're getting the government we deserve now, baby.

Update: With a straight party-line vote, 52-48, and a lack of surprise, the GOP said "no mas" to the filbuster to stop a SCOTUS nomination. (What good is a super-majority rule that can be overturned by a simple majority? In a body that no longer adheres to norms of any sort?) And one more hang-dog Senator, Orrin Hatch, deeply unhappy about changing the rules, while voting to do so.

5.April.2017 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Ins and outs Permalink to this item

Rick Perry is in! Let us pause to celebrate the deliciously ironic contempt that the current administration has for government to put Perry in charge of the Department of Energy, first of all, that nexus of nullity in his mind at the moment of "Oops." And nice of Philip Jankowski on the Austin American-Statesman staff to remember his stint on Dancing with the Stars. The guy responsible for the department in charge of the National Nuclear Security Administration seems like he should be among the National Security Council principals, yeah? (Unless he doesn't know what he's doing.)

Steve Bannon is out! Kudos to National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster for orchestrating musical chairs to give Bannon the boot, and restore the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of National Intelligence to the list. CIA director Mike Pompeo and the ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley are in, too. more credit to McMaster.

Roll this around in the snifter to get the full bouquet, too:

"The New York Times quoted an unnamed senior White House official who said that the move did not indicate that Bannon had fallen out of favor. The official said Bannon was only ever on the NSC to oversee the council’s transition from the Obama administration to Trump’s and to monitor then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn."

I like that "only ever" qualifier. Here's the way the NYT put it:

"A senior White House official presented the move as a logical evolution, not a setback for Mr. Bannon. He had originally been put on the principals committee to keep an eye on Mr. Flynn and to “de-operationalize” the National Security Council after the Obama administration, this official said on condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics. This official said that process had been completed."

Russian dolls, chatting


But Bannon is still in with Fox News, who just rolled out an Exclusive on his "making" last week. They're over the moon about his career in the Navy, "in charge of engineering" on a destroyer, then navigator, and oo, "calculating precise coordinates." "It was here, he says he learned how to think." He didn't get as far as combat, but "he was at the helm of the Foster as it accompanied the USS Nimitz into the Persian Gulf in the spring of 1980," when it was on its way to the failed rescue of our hostages in Iran. The whole thing almost makes you want to fall in love with the guy. The junior Lieutenant, anyway. The Trump whisperer, not so much.

Susan Rice is simultaneously out with the old administration, and in the news, thanks to the guy who stumbled into the Oval Office and is now talking about how libel laws—that won't apply to him, naturally—should make it easier for him to get back at people who say things about him, even when they're true. (He's filed seven in his lifetime, says there, and has lost or settled 6 of them. One win? Batting .143? Quite the smoke screen the Commander in Tweet is spreading around.

Still, the parade of Russians continues, along with the FBI's investigation. Something is rotten in the state of Mar-a-Lago.

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

You cannot be serious Permalink to this item

Apparently, there's talk of raising the Republican "healthcare bill" from the dead. Just in time for Easter! Paul Ryan says "we're throwing around concepts," which is "not to say we're ready to go." I also heard something to the effect that lowering premiums is the most important thing. Really? With the "freedom" not to have insurance, your premium goes right to $0, but funnily enough, that does not actually solve your healthcare insurance problems.

He and the president trying to butter up the Freedom Caucus? Bringing "the bill" close to the Gang of No is not going to improve anything, either. Nor will it produce a bill with any chance of getting through the Senate.

Under the slightly weird headline, Mixed reax to resurrecting health bill, this:

"A White House offensive to resurrect the moribund House Republican health care bill got an uneven reception Tuesday from GOP moderates and conservatives, leaving prospects shaky for the party to salvage one of its leading priorities."

Resurrect. Moribund. Uneven reception. Shaky prospects for salvage. And was that "leading priority" again? Not much about healthcare, other than gutting the existing system. The most important aspect was the show me the money deal where the poor and middle class were set to deliver a huge tax cut to the wealthy, because... well, the powers that be (think they) can do that, and they want to.

Don't look for a vote before yet another Congressional recess; who wants to face angry constituents at town hall meetings? And instead of a full-on repeal and replace (which is clearly too heavy a lift), maybe we could just chip away at it a while longer.

April Fools Permanent URL to this day's entry

Peter Principle, meet Dunning-Kruger Permalink to this item

Thomas Edsall considers When the President Is Ignorant of His Own Ignorance.

“President Trump seems to have no awareness whatsoever of what he does and does not know,” Steven Nadler, a professor of philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote me. “He is ignorant of his own ignorance.”


The president has plumped up more than 300 false or misleading claims in his first 63 days; clipping along at more than 5 a day. You have to get up pretty early in the morning. This job has security: the Washington Post is keeping track. Does he know they're false or misleading? Does he care? Or is it a barrage of trial balloons and obfuscation, the whooshing jets of flame and smoke coming out of the enlarged head of the Great and Powerful Oz?

Also, doesn't Sean Spicer now remind you of the Guardian of the Gates in Oz?

Factually speaking, never mind the date, the president was promoted to his first-ever political office in spite of losing the popular vote by the widest margin ever, 2.87 million votes. His budget is marginally insane for all but the most rabid of the anti-government wing of the GOP, slashing the EPA, State department, Agriculture, Labor, Justice, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Education, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Interior for a 10% increase for the largest-in-the-world-by-far Defense budget. In a world increasingly dangerous from a smorgasbord of problems from hell, all we need are more bombs? Call it the Kim Jong Un solution.

What Andrew Bacevich said: our current leader is “utterly unqualified, both intellectually and by temperament, for the office he holds.” “Because Trump is manifestly unprincipled, there are very few things he actually believes in.” Beyond his own self-interest, that is.

Not coincidentally, the brewing list of crises could be led by North Korea. Edsall quotes email from Toby Dalton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment:

"Between an impulsive president who seems uninterested in details, an advisory system that does not (yet, at least) produce good advice, a general lack of respect for expertise, and a distrust of intelligence, a crisis with North Korea could go very poorly."

Roger Cohen's op-ed gets to the point more directly:

"Audacious ignorance is hard at work in the White House. The only solace is that, with Trump, it’s accompanied by paralyzing incompetence."

There will come a day when competence actually matters, however. Probably sooner than later.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007