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27.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fry's fried Permalink to this item

From Blair Heagerty/SFGATE

A friend in California made a few observations about Fry's closing all its stores. 36 years, 9 states, 30 stores, that's a big deal. All of a sudden. In our less than two years living in their Golden State neighborhood, I had occasion to stop in a couple of times. School projects back in '89/90, must have been the motivation. As I remember it, it was sort of a cross between warehouse shopping and Cabela's for geeks. Here's my friend's take:

"Even when Fry's was booming, many manufacturers (including HP) refused to sell directly to them due to their slow-pay and tons-of-returns mistreatment of vendors. Fry's had to source a lot of stuff from distributors—and even had dummy distributors. Reportedly more than a year behind in paying vendors.

"They eventually switched to making their slow-pay policy explicit. For the last couple of years their stock was on consignment—i.e. still owned by the manufacturer. Hence the stock was from weird third-string brands.

"Their whole game was based on leveraged financing—including slow-pay of vendors. I doubt that Fry's owns the land under most of their stores. They probably kept the ghost-town stores open to meet contractual conditions on bank loans and commercial leases.

"Note the wording of the announcement—multiple references to creditors. Obviously going to file bankruptcy.

"Weird financial structure. The three brothers and Kathy Kolder (co-founder who actually ran the place) can only sell their shares to each other. (This became public in Randy Fry's divorce.)

"They were not driven out by the Internet or Covid-19. Best Buy is booming. Reportedly, Micro Center—25 stores in East and Midwest—is doing fine (I really miss their Santa Clara store. They kept the LA store—I hope they come back here.)

"Five-store Central Computers is hanging in there. El Camino Sunnyvale store burned down. Now have a small, but much better location near Fry's Sunnyvale. They own cable and accessory factories in China—big business selling cables to corporate IT departments and VARs."

In scraping the most convenient image to illustrate the passing of the era, I was struck by how perfect the false-front pyramid seems for the occasion, before I learned that each store was one of a kind.

SFGATE just ran a jolly feature about the joy of growing up through the store's kitschy history. Early January, rumors of their demise were denied by @FrysHelp, "the Official Customer Service Team on Twitter," whose tweets are now protected. Turns out I'm not familiar, but if I had been, I'd know that

"Every Fry’s store has a theme and elaborate decorations to go along with it. In the Bay Area, the San Jose store “pays tribute to the first astronomers, the Mayans, with settings from Chichen Itza,” complete with a massive temple at the entrance, palm trees between shelves and hidden speakers that play the sounds of birds chirping through the parking lot. Fremont is the “1893 World's Fair,” where a Tesla coil at the center of the store fires off every hour. Sunnyvale is “the history of Silicon Valley” and the Palo Alto store was “Wild West.” (Sadly, the Palo Alto store rode into the sunset earlier this year.)"

So that was one down, and 30 to go. My informant reponded to my getting sucked in by that...

"puff piece based on Fry's publicity. The stores quickly deteriorated after each store opened with the initial burst of local PR. Never heard birds chirping in the San Jose parking lot and the "Mayan ruins" were soon exposed as painted foam. The Tesla coil and other live exhibits at Fremont quit working many years ago. The animated oscilloscope sign at the 3rd Sunnyvale store stopped working after a couple of years and the huge photos of Silicon Valley history (Bill and Dave; the Varian brothers, Jobs and Woz, etc.) that were mounted below the ceiling quickly started to wrinkle. At the second Sunnyvale store, the grotesque capacitors and resistors were beat up by shopping carts. In Campbell, the escalator kept breaking and was shut down after a couple of years and the under-the-building parking lot was not cleaned. It turns out that the stores did only minimum maintenance, because it would impact the store manager's incentive compensation."

It's an ill wind that blows no good. The San Jose Mercury's excited about 65 acres of real estate in prime locations!

26.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Adventure Permalink to this item

Good news: We seem to be turning the corner, on the pandemic, and we can see the "third wave" as a thing behind us.

Not so good news: We're in a maze of twisty passages that all look alike.

When there were dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of deaths, we were alarmed. Now half a million, it's too large a number to fathom. More US casualties than World War I. And World War II. And the Vietnam War. (Not quite up to the "civilian" deaths of the Vietnamese people yet.) We have smaller names for big numbers to push them out of mind.

It seems more horrific to be told "at least 3,210 people died of Covid-19 [in the US] on Wednesday alone." Maybe because we are Never Forgetting 9/11, which had that kind of death toll. What happens next depends...

"[T]he greatest ambiguity is human behavior. Can Americans desperate for normalcy keep wearing masks and distancing themselves from family and friends? How much longer can communities keep businesses, offices and schools closed?"

My guesses would be nope, and less than a week or two. The epidemiological forecast:

"Taking the first hint of a downward trend as a reason to reopen is how you get to even higher numbers."

Maybe it's helping that older and more exposed people are getting vaccinated. "But young[er] people drive the spread of the virus, and most of them have not yet been innoculated." At the grocery store today, I'm not much for conversation, but the guy behind me engaged the clerk in a status update. Had he had a shot yet? Nope. Didn't know when he would. He's working in a grocery store, sampling the general public 8 hours a day, and who knows when he'll get the vaccine? While we brace for a pandemic within a pandemic.

"The B.1.1.7 variant is thought to be more contagious and more deadly, and it is expected to become the predominant form of the virus in the United States by late March. ...

"Buoyed by the shrinking rates over all, however, governors are lifting restrictions across the United States and are under enormous pressure to reopen completely. Should that occur, B.1.1.7 and the other variants are likely to explode."

Restrictions are being lifted where we live. Central District Health snapped off its public health order for Ada County, unanimously, a week ago, with the barest of cautions. ("Two board members emphasized the need to continue practicing COVID-19 safety measures.") The word "variant" does not appear in the 2-page press release.

For its part, the City of Boise is staying the course a bit longer. Its Public Health Emergency Order No. 20-14 includes this in its Whereases:

"[T]he Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") reported that multiple SARS-CoV2 variants are circulating globally, including new variants that emerged in the fall of 2020. CDH reported that Boise area wastewater testing revealed evidence of two COVID-19 variants underscoring the importance of continuing to practice health and safety measures."

Update: See How the Vaccine Rollout Is Going in Your State. At the current pace, we'll be into August before we get to 50%. And 2022 before we clear 90% (which I don't imagine we ever will). The "who is eligible table" has a "grocery workers" column, with less than half showing "Yes."

25.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Projection. It's always projection Permalink to this item

Shamelessly stealing that headline from the first comment I see under Jennifer Bendery's thread after having "watched @DebHaalandNM's 2-day Senate confirmation hearing so you didn't have to."

"You missed a lot of condescending, faux outrage by Republicans suggesting she won't follow science as Interior secretary. She has no such record. But they do."

The oil and gas industry has showered more than a $million each upon Senators Barrasso, Daines and Cassidy. As Cassidy put it, "Republicans, by the way, are guided by science." Gotta love "by the way" in there, but he didn't say which science. I'm guessing Accounting science. Follow the money.

Ranking member John Barrasso falsely brought up a "ban" on fossil energy leases; Daines is worried about "ideology"; he's the Montana guy on the record supporting the "local school board level" decision-making about teaching "creation theory" [sic] and "intelligent-design theories" [sic]. He said he'd "like to teach my kids both sides of the equation there and let them come up with their own conclusion."

"Do you think as medical doctors, we don’t believe in science?” Sen. Barrasso asked Haaland, appearing offended by a tweet where she said GOPers don't believe science.

Her tweet was referring to Trump erasing the word “science” from US govt websites. Because yes, that happened.

— Jennifer Bendery (@jbendery) February 25, 2021
At Bernhardt's confirmation hearing

In December, 2017, well after a variety of high crimes had already been committed, but before enough evidence had been accumulated to impeach him, twice, Former Guy's administration had officially pulled the terms "evidence-based" and "science-based" (among others) from the CDC lexicon.

And yes, that same administration set out to "solve" the climate crisis by having government employees remove it from their press releases.

Did any of those Republicans speak up when the "ultimate swamp creature," David Bernhardt, worked the greasy revolving door for fun and profit and graduated to Interior after Ryan Zinke was driven out of office? Barrasso, Cassidy and Daines were part of that one, too.. But the Q&A there was more about effective industry wheeling and dealing, and rubber stamping. Bernhardt's not the sort to mean tweet, or for that matter leave much of any paper trail as he worked behind the scenes.

24.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Texas SNAFU Permalink to this item

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro said “This is becoming the worst state-level policy disaster since the Flint water crisis. This is not the breakdown of the system. This is a system that has broken down by design.” Joel Nihlean, on the new-to-me "ExtraNewsfeed" says "Castro is right, but nobody said the quiet part quite as loud as Roland Burns, though."

“Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot,” Burns bragged to investors on an earnings call for his shale drilling company Comstock Resources, Inc.

Backyard photo

And that Harvard egghead, William Hogan, "often described as the architect of the Texas Energy market," "acknowledged that while many Texans have struggled [last] week without heat and electricity, the state’s energy market has functioned as it was designed."

"That design relies on basic economics: When electricity demand increases, so too does the price for power. The higher prices force consumers to reduce energy use to prevent cascading failures of power plants that could leave the entire state in the dark, while encouraging power plants to generate more electricity.

“It’s not convenient,” Professor Hogan said. “It’s not nice. It’s necessary.”

"Forc[ing] consumers to reduce energy" is an interesting why to describe large-scale power outages to millions of customers and putting lives at risk. Also, admitting that yeah, that's "functioning as designed," that's cold calculus from the dismal scientist. Nihlean's not sugar-coating it:

"The free market, walled garden of the Texas electricity market killed people. That was by design. Shareholders were the primary concern. People were left to freeze to death in their homes. It was murder. The motive was profit.

"Texas couldn’t rely on neighboring regional grids for support. The trade-off for a deregulated free market for power in Texas was a total lack of resilience for average people."

Your daily existential Permalink to this item

Richard Viguerie's screed farm, ConservativeHQ, has been in a contest with my spam filter, and after a lot of losing, he's managed to get into my inbox a bit lately. Today's missive is from the old man himself, with the most alarming headline he can imagine, EXISTENTIAL THREAT TO OUR REPUBLIC, but then turns out to be a fund-raising pitch. To save the Republic, don't you know. He does say he's "refocusing [his] website," "to make sure conservatives have the information and resources necessary to defeat the threat of HR 1 and to "pass a real election law reform bill."

You can look up the text of H. R. 1 (as the Congress styles it), aka the "For the People Act of 2021," which declares its purpose

"To expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy, and for other purposes."

So-called "conservatives," enjoying and expanding the power of minority rule are understandably alarmed at the idea of ending their long-term program of restricting access to the ballot, and suppressing voters they don't care for. Imagine what might happen if they had to actually adjust their policies and actions to accommodate the unwashed masses instead of just their wealthy benefactors! It could "make it almost impossible for conservatives/Republicans to ever again win control of the White House, the Senate, or the House." Viguerie says he's "linked to articles" from the Wall Street Journal and the FreedomWorks corporate shills, but the WSJ link is to a PDF attributed to editorial board, dated Jan. 15, 2021, no copyright shown, and a URL that's 404 on

Just how "anti-American" is this proposal? "Limiting the political speech of conservatives and Republicans" by requiring "some nonprofits to disclose publicly the names of donors who give more than $10,000, even if those groups aren’t taking part in candidate elections. The left’s pressure groups and media will then stigmatize donors."

I do not think "limiting" means what he seems to think it does. Heaven forfend we would know who's chipping in $10,000 and up to fund "free speech," eh. Imagine how you would feel if you couldn't keep your $10,000 contributions secret! Raising disclosure requirements for political ads on radio and TV, requiring the head of an organization to approve messages and list the group’s top donors by name, imposing new disclosure and reporting requirements on online platforms that run paid political advertising, restructuring the FEC to add an independent to the 3 ea. split now. All sounds good to me.

Viguerie is worried the "media" "balance of power" runs against them, even with all that money they have to throw around. And don't even get him started on DC statehood! Existential! There would go "America, freedom, liberty, conservatives, our national security, our free-market economy, and every other issue you care about."

It's like that former guy said last March, right out loud: "They had levels of voting, that if you ever agreed to it you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

23.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Self-reinforcing disinformation feedback loop Permalink to this item

The phrase jumped out at me from Greg Sargent's multifaceted twitter thread starting with a link to his column headlined Ted Cruz’s latest Cancún spin shows the rot of GOP victimization runs deep. "Republicans have hit on a new way to spin away their own screw-ups and scandals: by claiming the media focus on their political travails is driven by the press’s search for a new Republican victim," now that we don't have you-know who to kick around any more.

PP art

As if! How can we miss him if he won't go away? His farewell tour has a CPAC date this coming Sunday, and he's issued a statement under a failed president seal, The Office of Me, and referring to Me as President, as if, you know, the most beautiful mudslide in the history of mudslides. I love the use of Title Case to punch it up. And the inevitable self-disclosure in the projection.

Statement on the Continuing Political Persecution of President [sic] Former Guy

This inVesTiGatIOn is a cONtInUatIOn of the GreAtEst pOliTiCAl Witch Hunt in the history of our Country, wHetHEr it wAs the nEVEr eNDIng $32 miLLion Mueller hOAx, wHicH aLrEaDy inVesTIgaTed evEryTHiNg that could pOsSibLY be iNvEstiGatEd, "RuSSia RussIA RUssiA," where there was a finding of "No CoLLISion," or two ridonKULus "CraZY NaNCy" inspired imPEAChmEnt aTTemPts where I was fOUnd NOT GUILTY. It just never eNDs!

Bracing hisself for his accounting firm, Mazars USA turning over millions of pages (!) of documents to the grand jury. This particular Hunt for Red October is rooted in the $130,000 of campaign finance violation paid to Stephanie Clifford aka "Stormy Daniels," and which sent his former fixer Michael Cohen to prison, for realio, while ‘Individual-1’ continued his never ending $mulit-million golf spree on the taxpayer dime. Just two weeks ago, MarketWatch assured us that investigation was ‘dead,’ but maybe not so fast!

If he does get just desserts and DQ'd from going Grover Cleveland on us, all those next in line will be barking hard for attention. The sympathy for the devil plays into that, Sargent figures. It's not just "the relentless instinct to portray [Former Guy] as a victim, not just as misdirection, but also as a catchall justification."

"Essentially, the pull in this disinformation vortex is so powerful that little to no self-incrimination of any kind can survive, just as light cannot escape a black hole. The incentives pull inexorably not just toward the absolute denial of any wrongdoing, but also toward converting one’s media travails into a symbol of [Dear Leader's] victimization."

If you need another exhibit, the sorry bulk email from Idaho's incredibly shrinking Jim Risch will serve, taking the bullshit "no constitutional jurisdiction" escape route. He's no ready for some peace, love and understanding:

"It is time we stop the political hate and vitriol and move forward wiser and stronger just as America has countless times before."

22.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The hits keep coming Permalink to this item

The day before Washington's birthday, a platoon of Republicans went on the Sunday talk shows to tell lies. That Big Lie they're keeping alive to motivate the credulous and duplicitous and well-to-do fools soon to be parted from more finances for the GQP cause. The usual quislings Ron Johnson, Lindsey Graham and Randy Paul not a big surprise, but Steve Scalise, #3 in the House Minority leading the way on ABC's This Week (after meeting with +rump in the last few days), tap dancing that "there were states that did not follow their own state legislatively set laws," so who knows? But sure, ok, Joe Biden's the president, maybe we could've just stopped there.

Heather Cox Richardson samples the particular, and the general credulity that's in play in her Feb. 21 Letter. The domestic terrorism organization, Oath Keepers, represented by Jessica Watkins, whose lawyer "told the court that Watkins behaved as she did because she believed that then-President Donald Trump would use the military to overturn what he falsely insisted was the rigged election."

It's not insurrection if you really believe, in other words. "However misguided, her intentions were not in any way related to an intention to overthrow the government, but to support what she believed to be the lawful government."

"Watkins claims she was given a VIP pass to the pro-Trump rally, had met with Secret Service agents, and was charged with providing security for the leaders marching to the Capitol from Trump’s January 6, 2021, rally."

And the general program of disenfranchisement and voter suppression, crying "foul" all the while.

"The idea that Democrats cannot legitimately win an election has been part of the Republican leadership’s playbook now for a generation, and it has worked: a recent survey showed that 65% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was plagued by widespread fraud, although election officials say the election was remarkably clean."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland, finally, for his nomination to be Attorney General. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse wondered if the AG would be ok with "looking upstream" from the people who attacked the Capitol, to find the "kingpins," as the Department of Justice sometimes does.

"Fair question," Garland said. Yes, in law enforcement "we work our way up" as we pursue all leads.

Speaking of leads, our Supreme Court just rejected—again—Trump's attempt to shield his tax returns and other financial records from the Manhattan district attorney. No one is above the law, but if you've got the right shysters on your side, you can always try to run out the clock! Someday, who knows, we might find out that yes he did pay hush-money to women to keep his tawdry affairs secret. And stuff. Like "other allegations of impropriety, perhaps involving tax and insurance fraud." It's going to be a Fraud Guarantee bonanza for the grand jury.

21.Feb.21 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dancing in the dark Permalink to this item

At the pointy end of utility gamification, where Texas' "uniquely unregulated energy market" failed spectacularly in this month's deep freeze, customers are allowed "to pick their electricity providers among about 220 retailers in an entirely market-driven system." Hundreds of retailers, whaaaa? It's not like electricity comes in flavors.

"Under some of the plans, when demand increases, prices rise. The goal, architects of the system say, is to balance the market by encouraging consumers to reduce their usage and power suppliers to create more electricity."

We might laud the goal, but point out that without constraints, bad things are guaranteed to happen. Such as...

"when last week’s crisis hit and power systems faltered, the state’s Public Utilities Commission ordered that the price cap be raised to its maximum limit of $9 per kilowatt-hour, easily pushing many customers’ daily electric costs above $100. And in some cases, like Mr. Willoughby’s, bills rose by more than 50 times the normal cost."

Excerpt from

Nine dollars a kWh. Here in southern Idaho, smack in the middle of the gigantic, multinational Western Interconnection (which includes the western corner of Texas, with El Paso, btw) we're still benefitting (and stuff) from the mid-century largesse of the Bonneville Power Authority, and we don't have a lot of "market-based pricing," nor more than a few mincing incentives to modify our usage. We do need reliable, always-on electricity. Our incremental cost this time of year is EIGHT CENTS per kWh. Monthly bills around $30. Our home electricity for a decade has cost about $4,000.

If it got really, really cold, we would need a bit more than usual to keep our (natural gas) furnace going. If parts of the system were to start failing, should we be forced to choose between freezing and paying $300 or $3,000 on the month, to satisfy the profit needs of arbitragers?!

The dodgy business model of "Griddy" is so bad that they saw this coming, and "encouraged all of its customers—about 29,000 people—to switch to another provider when the storm arrived." Everybody has to play!

Texas has always been gung ho on the death penalty. Since corporations are people too, it seems like the electric chair might be a suitable final act for some of the companies in this debacle?

Of course, if Texas insists on being a grid unto itself, and having "nearly unaccountable and toothless" oversight and regulation from ERCOT and their PUC, it won't be much help when the next disaster comes along. (Making ERCOT's current leadership resign won't help much either, but that sort of thing always make people feel better for a while.)

Update: Can't have a story about Texas energy without a Bush or two. Here's Greg Palast, on that whole "deregulation" debacle: Texas Gets Lay’d: How the Bush Family turned off the lights.

20.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Icy hot Permalink to this item

The 3-term Congressman from Texas-16, Beto O'Rourke, narrowly lost the race for US Senate against Ted Cruz in 2018. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is at the start of her second term representing New York-14 in the House. O'Rourke has been running a phone bank to connect hundreds of thousands of older Texans with services in the midst of their dire weather and electricity crisis. Ocasio-Cortez launched a fundraiser, and came up with $2 million... to help Texas.

From @ChipFranklin's clapback video tweet

For his part, the current US Senator launched a fusillade of hashtags. #FledCruz #FlyingTed #CancunCruz #CruzIsADisgrace and #Snowflake, because the fleeing Cruz fam left their dog behind while they headed for the Ritz Carlton. Hold my beer, Mitt Romney!

To call it "tone deaf" beggars understatement, but see if you can top #ToneDeafTed, admitting his mistake by blaming his daughters for it. A slightly more serious take from Mehdi Hasan (with all due incredulity and indignation) points out that sure, "it was offensive, ridiculous and politically tone deaf, to say the least. But remember: it's still only the second-worst thing Ted Cruz has done this year. And it's still only February."

Anyone from the Republican Party want to step up and defend their presidential aspirant? Of course! What could a US Senator do about the power grid in his home state, anyway? D'nesh D'Souza sez Senators are all useless gasbags and fundraisers, so "in the end does everything come down to 'looks,' ie appearances?" And another, "What's he supposed to do, fly to Texas to freeze in solidarity or something?"

The inestimable fellow known as Junior with his plaid on says hold my coke and THE BEST IS YET TO COME! #CancunGate, people: "the hypocrisy of those trying to cancel Ted Cruz who have been totally silent on their Democrat Governor’s incompetence is telling."

Their Democrat [sic] Governor? So he's addressing Texans? Who might remember that Greg Abbott is actually a Republican, and earlier in the week was tilting at windmills, and the Green New Deal with remarks contradicted by his own energy department, detailing the failure to winterize their fossil fuel infrastructure, and stuff.

Maybe the former Texas Governor and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick "Oops" Perry could say something useful?

"After Fox News host Tucker Carlson inaccurately told viewers that the state’s power grid had become “totally reliant on windmills,” Perry joined Carlson in railing against the Green New Deal, which has not been enacted in Texas or nationally."

The ironically named Electric Reliability Council of Texas has a history, starting with being formed as the first independent system operator (ISO) in the US. It was formed 51 years ago to comply with North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) requirements. But most of Texas' grid has avoided federal regulation by avoiding connection with the outside world. State's rights! Fun fact: then-Governor George W. Bush deregulated Texas' power market in 1999 and allowed it go with the flow.

Also, El Paso, on the western tip and bodering New Mexico, is interconnected across state lines, and it did just fine through the crisis.

Rick Perry also opined, on behalf of "Texans" as a group that they'd be willing to go "without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business." As quoted on the House Minority Leader's blog, of all things. Whoever wrote the post noted that Perry's remark was made "partly rhetorically," as if that could make it sound any less stupid right now. But can we at least agree on this?

“Try not to let whatever the crisis of the day is take your eye off of having a resilient grid that keeps America safe personally, economically, and strategically.”

Texans will agree on that, I'm sure, even though it's a crisis of one hell of a lot more than "the day." Last Sunday, more than 100,000 customers were without power. By Monday night, it was up to 4.5 million customers, and it was Thursday before the outages were down to "only" half a million. The next crisis was about drinking water, which Texans can not go without for three days. The electricity is back on for most, and people will get water, and then... the number of claims due to frozen and burst pipes will be "unlike any event the state has experienced," the Insurance Council of Texas said.

But what would Kevin McCarthy know about electricity supply, anyway? It's not like his home state of California has ever had problems, is it? Twenty years ago yesterday, I posted observations from a supposed state of crisis, in California while we were down there for my temporary job assignment. That was when "Independent System Operator" first entered the general public lexicon, as California's struggled to outmaneuver "the market" seeking to exploit the misbegotten "deregulation" that opened up the system to wild gaming, launched Enron to the moon and crashing to the pit. Texans were pointing and laughing back then, celebrating their so much better homegrown solution, and supposed energy independence.

Some of the households that did not lose power might have "market-based pricing" bills in the $thousands for their good luck, so there's that.

There's some irony in the water of Perry deriding the "crisis of the day" response. McCarthy's Feb. 17 blog post claimed, falsely, that Texas depends on wind for 23% of its electricity. (Renewables deliver as much as 23% for a handful of days in summer. The winter forecast was for it to deliver 11-12%, according to the Houston Chronicle.) For his part, Gov. Abbott was first in the unhinged conservative vanguard to blame the wind. Why not? They've been sowing so much wind, they expected some whirlwind payback.

Datagraphic From NYT

17.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Untidy democracy Permalink to this item

Live-tweeted some of today's Idaho Senate State Affairs committee while standing back and standing by to testify. Supposedly I was accepted into the queue to do so, via a "Webinar" signup form that asked which of the five items on their agenda I wanted to testify about (and insisted I make an explicit choice for each). So far, my testimony for the three of the five went unheard.

Here's the short thread for the legislation (S 1112) and constitutional amendment (HJR 1) to enable the legislature to call itself into session, for which they heard no citizen testimony and sent to the floor with a "Do Pass" recommendation. (It could've been worse: the House wanted only 30% of the body to call a special session, so that wing nuts could have their days in the sun. These bills would set it at 60% of both bodies, and they'd have to agree on what the special session is to do.)

And then the main event, for S 1110, Sen. Vick's attempt to make the hurdle to an Initiative or Referendum much, much higher. There was all the testimony they could cram into the allotted hour for that, with a mix of in-person and remote. There will be more on Friday. Some of the highlights, and observations:

Vick spoke for "land" and against "urban voters." (Which, in Idaho, is not generally coded language for Those People, but might as well be.) Vick's proposed change is legitimately HEINOUS. It does not "empower" anyone. It deliberately DISEMPOWERS the people of Idaho. He downplays how heinous it is. It is an argument made in deeply bad faith. For all I know he thinks he and it are righteous.

It is not righteous. It is arrogant. Sen. Stennett challenges him to explain how this is "more equitable." "It allows or requires input from every district," he says. It doesn't ALLOW for input. It REQUIRES it. Everyone one of Idaho's 35 districts would have to come up with 6% of its voters' signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot.

Sen. Burgoyne notes that voters in ONE DISTRICT could veto an effort if they were strongly opposed. I think from the Idaho GOP's POV, that's perfect. They NEVER WANT TO HEAR FROM THE VOTERS THROUGH INITIATIVES OR REFERENDA.

Tech deck said they have 100 people signed up... maybe a limit they don't know about? Sen. Stennett said "our phones are lighting up" from people who couldn't get in. Sorry. Hollie Conde gets through by audio, representing Conservation Voters for Idaho. They are opposed to this antidemocratic bill. The League of Women Voters is "strongly opposed," with a very thoughtful and well-delivered statement from its representative.

Who's going to step up to support this bad bill? IACI? IdahoFreedomForSecretDonorsFoundation?

The Senate State Affairs Committee should insist that they hear testimony from someone in every district.

A "producer" speaks in favor, using the metaphor of sampling plant tissue from whole field. The Chair, Sen. Patty Anne Lodge, makes it clear which side she's on, "did you see this map?" she asks him. Only 18 districts have to clear the 6% hurdle with the current rules, and Idaho has some urban areas with a lot of people in them.

It's shocking to contemplate.

Several people point out that the Medicaid expansion was a SUCCESS. Which is exactly why the legislature wants to change the rules, again, to make these harder to get on the ballot. Sam Sandmire is up, and SHE GETS VIDEO, huh. My confirmation said it would be audio only. But it's fine, and who better to have it?

Zach Miller, Rigby, District 35 is in favor. He says people tell him he's "overly opinionated." Dude, you can SIGN ANY PETITIONS YOU WANT. If you want rights, that's great. DON'T TREAD ON MINE.

The virtual queue has a... 15-20 second delay. Virtual cnxns variously showed NAME, PROFILE IMAGE, and VIDEO. If I get in, I have no idea what will show. My nice flaming chalice from church? Since Religion overrules all other considerations, they will have to do what I say.

Ashley Prince's photo is her with a cute kid in her arms. WHO DOESN'T LOVE A BABY GOAT? Do what she says. She's opposed. The kid is opposed too, I bet. And he samples plant tissue from all parts of the field.

Brad Roberts, 77 years in Idaho, all over, ended up in Eagle, one of our bastions of wealth and privilege. He's got a water metaphor. Water is essential... "in the same proportions as we are valuable." That's... bizarre. Here's another water metaphor: if some mining operation up in the mountains screws up, it can poison the water in MANY LEGISLATIVE DISTRICTS.

Another farmer supports making initiatives and referenda much, much harder. The President of the Idaho Farm Bureau, which is Very Well Represented in the legislature testifies. I didn't hear him say he was speaking for the IFB, which is cool, he doesn't have to! He, and they have great privilege, and like it that way. They have the tools to work the legislature on their behalf. They like their political animals rounded up in one place where they can lobby them.

Garrett Kassel, representing himself, and a "statistical view" says the quiet part out loud: IT'S VOTER SUPPRESSION. "Using the uniform distribution," he says getting 6% from every single district is "herculean." If the legislature really wants to outlaw this, at least be honest enough to DO IT OUTRIGHT, he suggests. (But nah, they like the patronizing approach, and knifing in the back.)

When the allotted time for the day is exhausted, Chairman Lodge suggests "local" people should come into testify in person, so that... more remote people could get in? Which is not how it works, when the DEMAND to testify far exceeds the SUPPLY of time available.

(And NO, I AM NOT GOING TO GO SIT IN A ROOM FULL OF PEOPLE, HALF OF WHOM WILL NOT WEAR A MASK IN A PANDEMIC. Because, you know, dead people don't get to vote any more.)

16.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Take the ditch" Permalink to this item

Photo in Boise, yesterday

Scanning the weather news while writing the previous item (below), a lot of the snow "blanketed" cityscapes didn't look all that bad, but it's relative, just like the -38°F in Hibbing, Minnesota, versus "just" 8° somewhere in Texas. A NYT sub-head, First time driving in snow and ice? with "some safety tips" brought back memories. (My first time out in snow and ice was spinning donuts in a parking lot, with good old rear-wheel drive, as basic training in 1971.)

Safety Tip #1: do you really need to drive somewhere? Reconsider. And the second item on the list, my emphasis added:

If a driver sees a string of cars and trucks ahead crashing into each other like dominoes, Steve Gent, a traffic safety director in Iowa, has two recommendations. First, tap your brakes. Then, maneuver to avoid. “Take the ditch,” Mr. Gent said. “The worst thing you want to do is slow down and get in the pileup. We design those ditches so you can drive in, and you are not going to flip over.”

Never been in a big pileup. Never took the ditch on purpose, but I have been in the ditch, and Jeanette took us through the ditch and bounced off a fence one time in Montana. It's funny, I've got a photographic-feeling memory for all of the most extreme winter driving incidents I've been in, with no actual photographs of any of them.

That ditch off the interstate in the Great Plains in the middle of the night before Christmas Eve, 1976, for example. I was driving the car owned by the woman I'd connected with on a rider board for a drive "back east" in violation of Safety Tip #1. It was a dark and snowy night, and we were making tracks in drifting snow, and WHOOMPF a drift, and WHOOSH off into the pillowy ditch, no flipping. No chance we'd be able to back (or forward) out of that. Fellow behind us had 4WD, and a tow chain, was nice enough to give it a try, but nowhere near enough traction through the snow cover to undrift us. And it was the middle of the night, "no services available" from the nearest tiny burg until 6am maybe.

We accepted a ride into town to wait, can't remember inside what, but it had to be inside something. An all-night diner, it must have been. The all-night place, because there wasn't two such. Maybe I should have left the 4-way flashers on, there in the drifted ditch, but I didn't. Maybe it would have kept the next driver following our tracks from taking the same WHOOMPF and WHOOSH and T-boning the driver-side door in the dark.

As it was, our ride back to the scene in a tow truck in the dawn's early light revealed the unfortunate hit-and-whatever. It was driveable, at least, and we finished the Dakotas-to-Wisconsin leg with plastic and duct tape over the side window. My ridesharer did not make it to St. Louis for Christmas Eve, had to make-do with a strange family welcome instead.

It's all about the weather today Permalink to this item

Now that we have a functioning executive branch, we can turn our attention to basic survival. Which is a bit more challenging for many than usual, here in mid-February. The perfectly named map is showing upwards of 5 million customers without electricity this morning, 4.3 million of them in Texas, where freezing rain is now forecast to add to record snow and cold. "Up to half an inch" of it, that's not good.

From the NOAA Daily Weather Map, for Sunday

My first thought from reports of sub-freezing temperatures all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico is that we'll have to endure another generation of climate change denial. My second thought was to look to see what's going on in the Arctic. It's, ah, dark up there. No sunrise this month at the North Pole, you know. But just in the first rank of alliterative comparisons, "temperatures were lower in Austin, Texas, than in Anchorage, Alaska." The former had half a foot of snow, and a low of 8°F, 55 and 32-year records. What the hell?

"There is research suggesting that Arctic warming is weakening the jet stream, the high-level air current that circles the northern latitudes and usually holds back the frigid polar vortex. This allows the cold air to escape to the south, especially when a blast of additional warming strikes the stratosphere and deforms the vortex. The result can be episodes of plunging temperatures, even in places that rarely get nipped by frost."

Weather Underground US Jetstream map this morning

A cold polar air mass coming down over the plains is standard issue for winter. Having it keep going right down to the Gulf, not so much. We're in the balmy margins for the moment, in between big, but relatively normal waves of snow storms. The 9" of wet snow we got over last weekend is melting back, a little rain/sun mix yesterday, more in the mountains overnight, and more coming this weekend. Some trees and roofs failing, but nothing catastrophic. And we have electricity, very much appreciated this time of year.

As for the big picture view, well, almost everybody in the CONUS has some snow cover. And a frosty-freeze. It's in the 80s in Puerto Rico, how's that for an argument for statehood?

Washington's Birthday, 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A holiday, if you can keep it Permalink to this item

Rain/snow mix is a good thing this time of year, but it'll be testing roofs in the neighborhood. Saw one neighbor had raked their lower third and was a bit jealous. If I had a roof rake, I would've done that yesterday.

Local color photo

Also slightly disturbed to see the NWS calling today "Washington's Birthday"... but that's what the Uniform Monday Holiday Act hath decreed. Here in Idaho, it is officially "President's Day." [sic] And sadly, our Legislature does not take a day off from its annual circus; "they're going full-speed today," mucking with city councils, trying to amend the Constitution so they can self-start and meet more often, and interfering with public health.

TIL George's nativity was "February 11, 1731" under the British calendar. ("The British civil year began on March 25," so... March 25, 1732 followed March 24, 1731.) Catholic countries had gone Gregorian in 1582, which I vaguely remembered from Calendar History class, but this business of that and Julian's calendar ticking against each other for 170 years hadn't stuck in my mind. The British surrendered in 1752, and we've all lived happily ever after.

There's (a lot) more to the calendar story, and things could have been worse. As they were in Sweden, which decided simply skipping Leap Days for 40 years would be a clever way to get with the program. "Japan, Korea, and China started using the Gregorian calendar on 1 January 1873, 1896, and 1912, respectively." Ethiopia (with its Ethiopian calendar), Nepal (Vikram Samvat), Iran and Afghanistan (Solar Hijri calendar) still refuse to go along with the World Game.

Wikipedia has a timeline (!) of the 434-year transition to a world calendar (still in process). And this, from the first page, in my own lifetime (fun fact: in 8th grade, Miss DeSmetz introduced us to The World Game, in which I do not recall calendrical conundrums playing a part):

An early draft of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act would have renamed the holiday "Presidents' Day" to honor the birthdays of both Washington and Lincoln, which would explain why the chosen date falls between the two, but this proposal failed in committee, and the bill was voted on and signed into law on June 28, 1968, keeping the name "Washington's Birthday."

Also fun fact, celebrated on the third Monday in February, Washington's Birthday can never be on Washington's birthday.

Lincoln's Birthday, 2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dear John Permalink to this item

One last attempt to communicate with Idaho's Senator Jim Risch (and similarly to Mike Crapo) re #ImpeachmentTrial2. Call went straight to VM, which, I understand he may be able to listen to while he's down in the basement.*

I guess they have a 1 min. recording limit? Not exactly free speech, but ok.

I spoke in all caps, as one does when speaking of the most despicable high crimes of one's lifetime.











That was the end of my prepared remarks, with a prompt if I actually reached a person:


But no, just being recorded. I started extemporizing about the shock and revulsion I feel about the Senate GOP's complicity, until the machine cut me off.

I wish I could say it was satisfying to do this, but not so much. It's necessary. I want it on my permanent record, as surely as his actions will be on his, as he and his fellows prepare to sell their souls to the devil.

* The @SenateGOP is "weary."

10.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Not to put too fine a point on it Permalink to this item

Starting my day with Heather Cox Richardson's letter, as usual. At the heart of the matter, with my emphasis:

"Republican Senators willing to excuse Trump for his incitement of an insurrection that attacked our peaceful transfer of power are tying the Republican party to the former president and to an ideology that would end our democracy.

"What led the rioters on January 6, 2021, to try to hurt our elected officials and overturn the legal results of the 2020 election was Trump’s long-time assertion that he won in a landslide and the presidency had been stolen from him. This big lie, as observers are calling it, is not one of Trump’s many and random lies, it is the rallying cry for a movement to destroy American democracy. He is building a movement based on the idea that his supporters are the only ones truly defending the nation, because they—not the people who certified the 2020 election—are the ones who know the true outcome of the election. He is creating a narrative in which he is the only legitimate leader of the nation and anyone who disagrees is a traitor to the Constitution."

Day #1 of Impeachment trial #2 changed the boundary ever so slightly, with one more Republican Senator joining the vote to proceed with the trial, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana making it 56 to 44. (Pressed by reporters about why he thought the defense was poor, he said: “Did you listen to it? It was disorganized, random—they talked about many things, but they didn’t talk about the issue at hand.”)

That leaves a long, long walk to two-thirds. Are there another eleven Republicans with the temerity to actually fulfill their oaths to the Constitution? Don't hold your breath for Rafael Edward "Ted" Cruz; Newsweek's headline for him wasn't quite verbatim, but close. Ted accused the prosecution of mere "political theater" (you know, replaying scenes from the timeline of January 6), as he gave this pithy assessment for Fox News/Sean Hannity theater-goers:

"We have the First Amendment. We have robust political speech. People are entitled to be idiots and, you know what, in the United States Congress we get a lot of people doing that."


Apart from the brilliant, and the less than brilliant theatrics in yesterday's proceedings, there were two notable admissions from the defense:

  1. Trump lost the 2020 election, and is no longer in office, and
  2. His "defense" team, at least, fully repudiates the attempted insurrection of January 6, and all who participated in the mob violence.

As Bruce Castor put it:

"You will not hear any member of the team representing the former president Trump say anything but in the strongest possible way denounce the violence of the rioters and those that breached the Capitol, the very citadel of our democracy. ... to have it attacked is repugnant in every sense of the word."

Sadly, the defendant won't be testifying himself to repudiation. (It's a perjury trap to have Trump under oath, don't you know.) And apart from that, most observers watched the Castor and Schoen show with slack-jawed incredulity. (The defendant is reportedly lucid enough to be livid about it, too.) But leave it to one of the most reliable Team Trump toadies, Idaho's Jim Risch to splutter some approval. Appealing to what they teach you in 6th grade, even, and who doesn't love baseball? "I thought the president's [sic] lawyer hit the ball out of the park," was his opening shot. "The president," you say? He's a funny little guy.

He's arguing that "the jurisdiction just isn't there," in spite of the Senate having just decided, 56-44 that yes, it is there. Risch doesn't know how to concede a losing position either. "Time to move on," he said. He's fiddle-dee-dee about minority rule. "Ah, I suspect that's going to be the vote on Saturday [sic] when we vote on impeachment [sic] and that's not two-thirds, by my calculation."

Risch must have slept through the trial rules business, specifying they're taking Saturday off, for religious reasons. And of course the House already voted for the second impeachment of Donald John Trump. When the Senate votes, it will be for or against his conviction. And, if a miracle happens and they do come around to conviction, then they'll vote on disqualification from future office, and the future of the Republican party.

They wouldn't have got to all that in his 6th grade; we'd only had one presidential impeachment in all of history back then. But fractions? They definitely get to fractions by 6th grade. The KBOI guy with the mellifluous voice asked about the two-thirds thing. "Is that 66, or is that 60?" Ay yi yi.

"Everyone's supposed to stay open-minded and vote at the end, et cetera, et cetera, [sic] and that's all legit, but how can somebody like myself who doesn't believe we have jurisdiction to try a private citizen, how can you then vote to convict?"

The answer is as obvious as Risch's perfidy, of course. Acknowledging that the Senate is the final arbiter of the question and that it decided, based on history, precedent, and the Constitution, the trial legitimately will proceed. You swore to "do impartial justice," Jim. If you're befuddled, just imagine the defendant is a Democrat, and I'm sure your sense of duty will come into sharp focus.

Thomas Nast 1876 political cartoon

9.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bottom of the barrel Permalink to this item

While we wait for the proceedings to begin, this morning, there's the so-called full response to House Democrats’ arguments for impeachment, which starts with the concession we were all waiting for. The 45th President is no longer “President.” Never mind the deliberate misreading of the Constitution to evade the still-salient penalty it describes for a criminal executive: "Disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit."

That's what we're here for.

A defense based on yet another big lie is not a surprise.

While looking to copy the names of the sad sack lawyers at the bottom of the PDF, Bruce L. Castor, Jr. and David Schoen, Castor's signature was in my way, and... editable? What? Freaky.

Update: My run-of-spectation tweets for the opening arguments ran out of gas when Schoen was hammering the table (figuratively) in indignation that THIS TRIAL WILL TEAR OUR COUNTRY APART because, ~ahem~ those people behind the REPUGNANT ACTS that co-counsel repudiated will be upset at losing?

He does know that losing an election is not the same as disenfranchisement, right? He's a lawyer, isn't he? At any rate, Tom Nichols' tweet seems to capture the Zeitgeist:

You know, we can laugh at Schoen, and we should, because he is ridiculous. But the part that is a lot less funny is that the outcome of this trial is already predetermined and a group of Republicans have already decided to betray the constitution yet again.

— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) February 9, 2021

8.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Take my oath as a juror in this trial seriously Permalink to this item

As a life-long Democrat in Idaho, I'm used to being on the short end of most decisions. In the larger context of our republic, our state is an aberration most of the time. Not all of the people who rise to statewide or national office from Idaho are worthy. I've got my list; you probably have yours. But many do rise to the occasion, at least at times. I've thought Senator Mike Crapo among them at times. His work on the Owhyee Initiative was important, and a positive legacy for him and our state.

Lately, he has seemed more of a reliable partisan foot soldier than anything else. The deficit has been his Big Thing over the years; his website has long featured a National Debt counter, spnning right through his support for the GOP's budget-busting 2017 tax cut. Damn the irony, full speed ahead!

His answer to my lastest email about the coming impeachment trial arrived today. Quicker than expected, but as perfunctory as usual. He started with a deliberate (I can only assume), partisan misstatement of fact:

"In the wake of the riots at the Capitol on January 6, House Democrats voted to impeach now-former President Donald Trump for Incitement of Insurrection on January 13, 2021."

It's true that House Democrats voted to impeach; it's also true that 1110 Republicans voted to impeach as well, including the House Republican Conference Chair, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, with a memorable statement, quoted here in the blog on Jan. 13. "There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution."

The Wyoming GOP voted overwhelmingly to censure her for telling that truth. The last fellow to lose to her in a primary sounds ready to have another go at her. “We need to honor President Trump. All President Trump did was call for a peaceful assembly and protest for a fair and audited election,” Darin Smith said. That's some remarkable blind obeisance, and breathtaking perfidy. Don't sell the guy short, that is not "all" he did by a long shot!

But given the cover of a secret ballot, the House Caucus voted 145-61 to keep Cheney as their conference chair. It's tempting to read that as a genuine plebiscite on how the party feels about its would-be hijacker, but as Matthew Green's analysis notes, there are other factors in play. The $hundreds of thousands of vigorish for other members, the bad optics of cancelling the lone woman in their party leadership (especially after McCarthy's embarrassing pilgrimage to Mal-a-Lardo). It is always and ever about money, it seems.

There are whispers that Crapo might be ready to retire, after what seems like forever in Washington. Maybe he will finally do the right thing? Not holding my breath. One of my tweeps answered my correspondence report to say they'd "called to remind him of his first impeachment vote in 1999, when he didn't consider impeachment a divisive action and voted to convict on far more trivial matters."

Those were the good old days, the tail end of Newt Gingrich's lamentable ascendancy, when Clinton survived his sex scandal and Gingrich and three other of the leading attackers did not. Oh, and we had a budget surplus.

After that opening smokescreen, Crapo's letter had a couple sentences of gratuitous process description, and this:

"As with previous impeachment trials, I will take my oath as a juror in this trial seriously, and will consider all evidence and arguments before making a decision on the vote."

It would be stronger without that opening clause; I saw no evidence he took it seriously last time, when all but one maverick in the Republican herd stampeded to ensure +rump would have one final year of corruption, and a go at subverting our most fundamental constitutional process. Perhaps if the Senate were to hold a secret ballot, Crapo could do the right thing, and we could take the result more seriously.

7.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

"Filmed on location just last Sunday." Permalink to this item

The Boss has a hella more iconic brand than any product I can think of, and I haven't paid close enough attention to appreciate what a big deal is that Bruce Springsteen Agreed To Do a Super Bowl Commercial for Jeep, but (a) he did, and (b) it's a beautiful couple of minutes, including his scoring. Variety's piece on how it came to be includes the video, so you don't have to wait for the game.

I've been to Kansas twice. Taken for a ride as a young teenager, it was in the way between St Louis and Colorado. Along for another ride with a friend wanting to visit "home," we went for a look-see of the sprawl of Missouri's western big city into the eastern edge of the state. Meh.

Oh, and the Wizard of Oz. We used to fly into and out of (and back into) Kansas once a year.

Old print, mounted on cardboard

Jeep was an iconic brand back in my day, when "1980" was still science fiction and Idaho had a great Senator. It spoke of the wild west, freedom from the bonds of cities. (We thought Coors beer was special too, go figure.) My best buddies in my first year of Idaho college both had Toyota Land Cruisers, so life got more exotic for me. One of those two Land Cruisers got totaled on I-80 near Elk Mountain in that first winter, a hard welcome to the reality of the Rocky Mountain west.

The other one took us up above the St. Joe for a weekend adventure, living the life. It was a means to an end, not an end in itself (at least for me, as a passenger).

My preference has leaned toward nonmotorized recreation most of my life though, so the brand affiliation never got very personal. And this "middle" idea, I don't know. Prayers and brands don't really mesh that well, but never mind that for a moment. You don't have to buy anything. (And since the Packers aren't in it, there's no point in watching a football game today, either.)

I checked in with the biggest Bruce Springsteen fan I know, and he said "I like it, it's very Bruce."

Update: David Roberts' take in a Twitter thread raised issues that whooshed right by me. Worth consideration. "It's all so white." And, "a lie, an illusion." (It's advertising, so of course it is, but still.)

6.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How we survived the 2020 election Permalink to this item

Responding to Molly Ball's feature in Time, this moment's required read: The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election My biggest takeaway is not that different from what we saw out in the open: upholding the result of the election depended on some people on the losing side doing the right thing, respecting the rule of law and doing their jobs without favor.

5-needle pine, cone

How do we encourage that? It doesn't seem like incentives are it; if you're set on winning at all costs, only the certainty of disincentives—as in, being punished for actual crimes—seem as if they'd provide deterrence. (There is a lot of prosecution that needs to happen, if you ask me, starting at the top.)

Ball's account doesn't give it a lot of space, but she makes Facebook's actions seem like a significant element in the result. Zuck has a tiger by the tail, and hardly seems the hero type, but he might have come through? The heroes on the Twitter side were the top management that did the right thing while Jack was on the other side of the world contemplating his navel.

Coalitions of decent people are essential. Cooperation. Diligence. Honesty. All the stuff we hope kindergarten and grade school can inculcate. I thought Ball's choice of lumping those things as "conspiracy" was unfortunate, and bringing Wile E. Coyote in the end as bizarre. Like she was getting close to the word limit and needed a quick way out?! But on the whole, a hopeful story.

Given the razor thin margins in so many places, the next challenge is to avoid complacency as we bask in normalcy for a year or two (knock on wood), while the old demons of voter suppression and antidemocratic systems (gerrymandering, the US Senate) are driven by skilled and amoral operatives, eager to have another round of smash and grab +rumpism.

5.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Idaho's Medicaid expansion is working Permalink to this item

It's good news that Governor Little has reconsidered the proposal to cut the Medicaid budget, and good news that continuing federal support will help provide healthcare to those who need it.

One year into a pandemic, with the state's budget in record surplus in large measure due to federal help, Idaho's Medicaid expansion is providing benefits to those least capable of affording medical care. Tens of thousands of Idahoans are benefiting, even as we work to understand the actual and projected costs.

Which is not to say everyone is on board. Oscar Wilde said it about a cynic, but it applies to our economist-legislator, Dr. Ron Nate: he seems to know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. Rep. Nate finds "These costs [sic] are outrageous, and I wonder if the voters who voted for Medicaid expansion really knew what it was going to cost us and all the trouble it’s causing with budgeting, (if they) would have voted for it."

Trouble budgeting, you say? That's the main job legislators have to do every year, even as they find time to grandstand with symbolic resolutions, and stand firm against renaming parks. The legislature "discussed" Medicaid expansion for SIX YEARS and did nothing. Finally, thanks to the effort of Reclaim Idaho to give us a direct say, the voters made themselves clear, by a wide margin. What Director Dave Jeppesen said about the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare: it "exists to serve the people of Idaho and specifically to promote their health safety and independence."

The Idaho Legislature likewise exists to serve the people of Idaho.

Yes, Rep. Nate, knowing what I know now, I would have voted for it. Affordable healthcare for everyone is a value worthy of our effort.

4.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Monumental arrogance Permalink to this item

Good for the ACLU's Lauren Bramwell for the common decency and professionalism in not giving the response to Rep. Furniss and Chairman (!!) Crane that came to my mind when I read Betsy Russell's report of the House State Affairs committee approving a bill that would require the legislature to sign off on any Idaho city, school district or other governmental entity's renaming of a school, street or park now named for a historical figure or event. I would have said:

"With all due respect Representative Furniss, and Mr. Chairman, that's a clown question, bro."

Furniss, of Rigby, wanted to know “Do you condone the acts of Black Lives Matter when they’re illegal acts of pulling down those monuments in South Carolina?” and the Chairman of the Idaho House State Affairs Committee insisted Bramwell answer. “Do you support the actions of Black Lives Matter in tearing down statues?”

Do the supporters of this bill in the Idaho legislature imagine they're striking a blow in favor of confederate monuments? Is that what this is about? To make sure that only our vaunted legislators can rename anything in the state? Because we all know what, ah, wild radicals inhabit our city governments and school boards.

Also quoted in the Idaho Press story, Rep. Mathias' generous confidence that members of the GOP who thought Black Lives Matter "tearing down statues" was relevant to this discussion had "no racial animus at all." I'm not feeling it myself.

Question for our good representatives: do you think it's appropriate for us to still have monuments to the people who started a war of insurrection to defend the practice of slavery?

Do you think this is a good use of your time while we're in the midst of the pandemic, and the legislature is putting public health at risk in and around Boise, and back in their home districts?

Tell us, which statue teardown outraged you the most? And why do you think Black Lives Matter, in particular, is germane to this discussion about statues and names in Idaho? Could you point to one or more of these 68 mail-order statues, say that particularly epitomizes what the super-majority of the Idaho legislature would like to make sure we honor in a suitable way, nay-sayers be damned?

Since you'd like to be the arbiters of our history, let's do have a conversation about private groups colonizing public space and legislatures acting to freeze private decisions in place.

Jeanette Ross mashup, undated

3.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

A second chance Permalink to this item

Still wondering what, if anything, I might say that could convince either of our US Senators to do the right thing this time around. It's a puzzle. Experience provides no reason to hope, but given that two men are all we have for this job, I gave it another shot, today's to Senator Mike Crapo. If you're in Idaho, please write or call him.

Subject: Donald Trump must be held accountable for high crimes

I want to believe you are a man of integrity, and honor. I want to believe you will represent the best interests of Idaho, and our country.

The depth of corruption we've seen in these past 4 years has been truly shocking, culminating in the desecration of the Capitol on January 6, in an attempt to overturn a free and legitimate election.

Do you remember what Rep. Adam Schiff said a year ago?

"[Donald Trump] has betrayed our national security, and he will do so again. He has compromised our elections and he will do so again. You will not change him. You cannot constrain him. He is who he is. Truth matters little to him. What’s right matters even less, and decency not at all."

The truth of that statement has now been demonstrated, horrifically.

Every indication I see is that Republicans in the Senate are prepared to set aside the rule of law and justice, and give him a free pass, AGAIN.

I beseech you to prove me wrong about that, to represent Idaho, the United States of America, and to uphold your oath to defend the Constitution. It has never seen an enemy like Donald Trump. There MUST be accountability for what he did.

When I searched for Schiff's memorable statement (skipping past the suggested completion in my search widget, which was "adam schiff arrested indicted"!), top of the results was Robin Abcarian's column in the LA Times, dated 5 days after the failed insurrection: Adam Schiff has finally been vindicated. But it brings him no pleasure.

"As the insurrectionists began pounding on the House’s barricaded doors, lawmakers were instructed to duck for cover and put on gas masks. Schiff helped members open their masks, which look like plastic hoods. Small fans in each mask began whirring; it sounded like a swarm of wasps in the chamber. “That just added to the surreal nature of what was happening,” said Schiff. ...

"Schiff, who was one of the last members in the room, said some of his Republican colleagues told him to keep out of sight, as his high profile as the House manager of Trump’s first impeachment has made him a target among Trump loyalists.

“It was touching they were worried about my safety,” he said. “On the other hand, the lies they’d been telling about the election, they’d been telling about me too. Making me a villain was one reason this was happening.”

Groundhog Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Talking to the Senate Permalink to this item

One of the windmills of my life, writing letters to Congress. It's easier than ever. Seems more pointless than ever, here in Idaho. After I don't know how many post-election phone calls and emails, a letter back from Senator Jim Risch, focusing on Jan. 6, dated Jan. 14, to "Mr. Tom Van Olten." Arrived yesterday. 18 days later.

Checking my phone, I see I called both of Idaho's US Senators on January 5, the day before hell broke loose. For what it's worth, they did both vote to accept the state-certified electoral votes after Congress got back together in the Capitol, as did the bulk of the Republican caucus. [Edit: I meant the Republicans in the Senate; majorities of the House GOP caucus, 121 and 138 of 209, voted to object to state-certified results at 11pm on the 6th and 3am on the 7th.]

Events "were unpatriotic and un-American in the extreme," Risch's letter notes. Seems rather tepid, considering what just happened, but ok.

"The business we conducted on January 6th showed there is deep distrust in the integrity and veracity of our elections. We need to restore American's [sic] faith in our voting process. I am committed to pursue that so all of America has the benefit of what we enjoy in Idaho - solid confidence in the outcome of our elections."

Still thumping that Party drum, then. I responded, in detail. Too much detail! 1912 characters, the webform only accepts 1500. 250 words-ish. Better than Twitter, but... ok, I'll get to the point. No reason to say "thank you" or "dear" or much about what "he" "wrote." Got it down to under 900 (and only one small word-out typo, corrected below).

Second impeachment: a chance to do it right

Direct media and public reports of the January 6 attempted coup showed it to be the culmination of a months-long plot by Donald Trump, starting false claims of "fraud" BEFORE the election, and lying that "frankly, we *did* win this election" hours after polls closed.

You wrote: "The business we conducted on January 6th showed there is a deep distrust in the integrity and veracity of our elections."

Indeed, from distrust deliberately sown by Trump and his sycophants.

Trump attempted to subvert the State Dept, the DOD, the DOJ, the USPS... every element of the Executive Branch to his lies and ambition.

You must know facts of this matter better than I do. You must know how imperative it is that they be made public in an impeachment trial, and Trump held accountable for his actions.

We cannot have a system of justice without accountability.

And, because this is 2021, and nobody's got time for 1500 characters or a 7-tweet thread trying to explain it, too, I boiled it down to one tweet, 205 characters.

Second #impeachment: a chance to do it right.@SenatorRisch and @MikeCrapo, you know that we cannot have a system of justice without accountability.

Put your oath ahead of your party this time.

— Tom von Alten (@fortboise) February 2, 2021

1.Feb.2021 Permanent URL to this day's entry

(Im)patient patients Permalink to this item

Michael Hiltzik column for the LA Times: I just got my COVID vaccine. Here’s why that’s a problem .

"America’s vaccine rollout underscores the many shortcomings of the nation’s healthcare system, which segregates people into two broad categories — those with easy access to care and those without.

"Providers and public health agencies tend to be reactive — waiting for patients to reach out or for a crisis to develop.

"COVID-19, however, requires what [Dr. Tom] Frieden[, former head of the CDC] calls an “unprecedented vaccination campaign,” with trusted “ambassadors” circulating through hard-to-reach communities, or those generally mistrustful of government initiatives, to sign people up for vaccines and provide them access to mobile clinicians or convenient inoculation centers.

Not easy to track what's going on, but much harder to make something happen, with a reactive system that needs to be proactive, at population scale. The PR gal for St. Lukes, one of the two regional giants reiterated the "check often" message. I noted that their myChart system was down for more than an hour this morning (the error/outage/Site Maintenance splash said "Please check back in a bit," not sure if that's more often than "often." Not quite 2h after I first checked, I was able to login, after finding the text-based 2-factor authent didn't work, but the email-based one did. Stepped through the process,

aaaaand, "No times found." Stepping through that process N times a day (or week) seems a bit absurd even before you multiply by tens of thousands of patients, no matter how patient they might be. The myChart system has date of birth as an essential parameter, naturally. So they know how many of their clients are 80+, 65+, etc. They know to reach us, when they feel like it. They could ask a few questions: Do you want to get vaccinated? Do you have any availability constraints? (If so, what are they? is more complicated than yes/no, but we do handle this kind of thing at small scale, at least.)

I know they're all super, super busy, but an organized queue seems like it would make life better for everyone than "check back often."

On a lighter note, I thought about something in a botanical pun for this post's headline, but I don't believe I've got any of my own photos of any species in the genus Impatiens. When checking Wikipedia, I see that "the zygomorphic flowers of Impatiens are protandric (male becoming female with age)," which is interesting enough. But then this:

"The scientific name Impatiens (Latin for "impatient") and the common name "touch-me-not" refer to the explosive dehiscence of the seed capsules. The mature capsules burst, sending seeds up to several meters away."

Who wouldn't enjoy a little explosive dehiscence? If not, you might still enjoy browsing the more than 1,000 species in the genus.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007