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17.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What is happening, energy edition Permalink to this item

From Michael Lewis' new book, The Fifth Risk, why we can't have nice things.

John MacWilliams had enjoyed success in the free market that the employees of the Heritage Foundation might only fantasize about, but he had a far less Panglossian view of its inner workings. "Government has always played a major role in innovation," he said. "All the way back to the founding of the country. Early-stage innovation in most industries would not have been possible without government support in a variety of ways, and it's especially true in enery. So the notion that we are just going to privatixe early-stage innovation is ridiculous. Other countries are outspending us in R&D, and we are going to pay a price."

Politically, the loan program had been nothing but downside. No one paid any attention to its successes, and its one failure--Solyndra--had allowed the right-wign friends of Big Oil to bang on relentlessly about government waste and fraud and stupidity. A single bad load had turned a valuable program into a political liability. As he dug into the portfolio, MacWilliams feared it might contain other Solyndras. It didn't, but what he did find still disturbed him. The DOE had built a loan portfolio that, as MacWilliams put it, "JPMorgan would have been happy to own." The whole point was to take big risks the market would not take, and they were making money! "We weren't taking nearly enough risk," said MacWilliams. The fear of losses that might in turn be twisted into antigovernment propaganda was threatening the mission.

That's just after the part where "the world's finest forensic nuclear physicists" have enabled an accord with Iran that could have kept them from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but "the president of the United States would not understand [their] reasoning ... [and] back away foolishly from the deal.*" With the, you know, asterisk "Which is exactly what he did."

Speaking of the Heritage Foundation, the fellow who said it has "shaped my thinking on matters of the world" has been a regular presenter. In 2015, when he was Koch Industries' man from Kansas in the far right wing of the House, stalwart of the Constitution Caucus, it was "A Pathway Forward: An Alternative to the Flawed Iran Nuclear Deal. In May of this year, about the time Lewis was adding that footnote, after he'd skipped from head of the CIA to Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo's sequel touted A New Iran Strategy. It's a polished gem of ideological purity. Try this:

"[A]s we have seen from Israel’s recent remarkable intelligence operation, Iran has lied for years about having had a nuclear weapons program. Iran entered into the JCPOA in bad faith. It is worth noting that even today, the regime continues to lie."

That's the remarkable intelligence operation of a country that has lied for years about having a nuclear weapons program, eh. But we've always been happy to wink, wink, nudge, nudge that, because they're good nukes. Holy Land nukes.

The "fatal flaws" of the JCPOA were that it had a sunset provision. And "the mechanisms for inspecting and verifying Iran’s compliance with the deal were simply not strong enough."

So, having... no agreement fixes those problems, hmm?

But it does let us go back to "sanctions," and trying to control their profit from selling oil (when it suits us). The Secretary referred to that income as "Wealth created by the West," interestingly enough. We want the oil and the money.

It's politically convenient to declare that the JCPOA (and Iran) is to blame for e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g wrong in the middle east, somehow, so thank goodness we're done with that, amirite? And as if by magic now, "We will also ensure Iran has no path to a nuclear weapon – not now, not ever."

His three point plan is for "unprecedented financial pressure," to "work closely with the Department of Defense and our regional allies to deter Iranian aggression," and here's a golden oldie:

"[W]e will also advocate tirelessly for the Iranian people. The regime must improve how it treats its citizens. It must protect the human rights of every Iranian. It must cease wasting Iran’s wealth abroad."

Human rights for people in other countries! That'd be great, but I thought we were all about America First? Down to brass tacks, he's got a 12 step plan ("very basic requirements"). Sure, kind of a long list, but "the length of the list is simply a scope of the malign behavior of Iran. We didn’t create the list, they did."

Just do all that, and there will be pie in the sky, by and by.

That speech was delivered shortly after the editors of Commonweal outlined The Perils of Trump’s Belligerent Policy. What our last leader of the free world said about it:

“Every aspect of Iranian behavior that is troubling is far more dangerous if their nuclear program is unconstrained. Our ability to confront Iran’s destabilizing behavior—and to sustain a unity of purpose with our allies—is strengthened with the JCPOA, and weakened without it.”

Commonweal's conclusion:

"Having torn up the one viable diplomatic path to cooperation and possible reconciliation, Trump will be left with only one option if Iran refuses to comply with U.S. demands: military force."

That would be a hell of a lot bigger military parade than the current misbegotten bivouac on the border.

16.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Big Permalink to this item

As organizations prosper and grow beyond the initial phase when they most resemble the founders and the group of people assembled to promote their vision, they proceed to have as their primary purpose self-preservation.

Think of a culture in a petri dish, it can't help but slow down after it has populated the whole surface. Facebook has north of 2 billion users; at some point, the upside is limited by global population growth, if not by how many of us can get a good an internet connection.

As the company's leaders delay, deny and deflect their way through crises, "trust in the social network has sunk" and "its pell-mell growth has slowed." But maybe that's just market saturation.

Outside regulation might do some things, but it can't do everything. And inside regulation will always be limited by what's possible, given the scale of the thing. It's arguably already a force unto itself. Will it become self-aware next? (Joking, I think.)

Pablo Delcan's NYT magazine cover art

Making the world "more open and connected," their mission, is clearly a lucrative business model, but it lacks the simple assurance of Google's cautionary "Don't be evil," which may prove incompatible with any run-of-the-mill corporate behemoth. (When pre-Alphabet Google bought DoubleClick, there was a disturbance in the Force, but not one that was much highlighted in the popular press. The business model inevitably based on advertising seemed perhaps a necessary evil, and on we went.)

It turns out—and with the benefit of hindsight, what could be more obvious?—that "more open and connected" isn't necessarily better, but could be just the thing for quite a bit of mischief in data mining, political monkeywrenching, fake news ("propaganda" in the old-timey vernacular), opposition research, surveillance, and exceptionally effective social engineering.

"[I]nside the company, employees were tracing more ads, pages and groups back to Russia. That June, a Times reporter provided Facebook a list of accounts with suspected ties to Russia, seeking more information on their provenance. By August 2017, Facebook executives concluded that the situation had become what one called a “five-alarm fire,” said a person familiar with the discussions."

The "Update On Information Operations On Facebook" blog post from Chief Security Officer Alex Stamos in Sept. 2017, helpfully linked in the NYT article and still there on, is a potpourri of next-dimensional corporate jargon. "Inauthentic" accounts are the lead, with their "misuse" of the platform. If the scope assessment of "approximately $100,000 in ad spending" for a few thousand ads connected to half a thousand of those "inauthentic accounts and Pages" in violation is close to accurate, consider what that tells us about the leverage that this new tool provides.

Given the company's interest in minimizing the import of what is happening, we can presume that now year-old assessment is on the low side. Indeed:

"Just one day after the company’s carefully sculpted admission, The Times published an investigation of further Russian activity on Facebook, showing how Russian intelligence had used fake accounts to promote emails stolen from the Democratic Party and prominent Washington figures."

And then "Twice in October 2017, Facebook was forced to revise its public statements, finally acknowledging that close to 126 million people had seen the Russian posts."

Then the Cambridge Analytica blow-up. (Shorter: we shut them down, and have no idea what happened to all the data they vacuumed up.)

Pity the poor rich kid? The gold mine he stumbled into seems bottomless (in more ways than one), and one of the main concerns of his communications team was that "he had come off as robotic" on his apology tour. Think of it as next-gen "thank you for waiting" musak while you're on hold.

In the NYT treatment, Sheryl Sandberg kind of saved the day with her thoughtful charm assault on capitol hill. But the jury's never dismissed, and the op-eds are less about celebrating success and more about casting out demons. Helaine Olen on WaPo goes with the moral and ethical rot angle (which led me to the NYT reporting, thanks). Michelle Goldberg says Democrats should un-friend Facebook, and spells out the darker side of what's possible. She notes P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking's estimate (from their recent book, LikeWar: The Weaponization of Social Media) that "80% of the fights that break out in Chicago schools are now instigated online," because of course they do. But wait, there's more:

"United Nations investigators concluded that Facebook played a “determining role” in fomenting genocidal attacks against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. Hate speech on Facebook incited murderous mobs in Sri Lanka; as The Times reported, “Facebook’s newsfeed played a central role in nearly every step from rumor to killing.” Social media was key to the elevation of brutal Filipino demagogue Rodrigo Duterte, and, as Bloomberg reported, his government uses Facebook as a weapon against his enemies.

"Without Facebook, Donald Trump probably wouldn’t be president, which is reason enough to curse its existence. The platform was an essential vector for Russian disinformation. It allowed the shady “psychographics” company Cambridge Analytica to harvest private user data. And Facebook helped decimate local newspapers, contributing to America’s widespread epistemological derangement."

That's before "we knew it was a socially toxic force, a globe-bestriding company whose veneer of social progressivism hides amoral corporate ruthlessness."

So, regulation. Is anything to be done? Goldberg links to Senator Mark Warner's draft white paper with an "some intriguing ideas," including "amending the Communications Decency Act to open platforms up to defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuits, mandating more transparency in the algorithms that decide what content we see, and giving consumers ownership rights over the data that platforms collect from them." More generally, since we beat "network monopolies" of the past, "like railroads, AT&T and electrical utilities," we can do this?

There's the oil network we haven't quite solved. The whole Democracy in Chains problem of hamstrung government working against regulation of any sort.

And I'm not so sure I'd put "electrical utilities" in the same league. Maybe they ran rampant before I was paying attention, but during my awareness, they've always ticked along pretty nicely at 120 V and 60 Hz, and "just worked," at least up until that whole "deregulation" debacle in California. Electricity seems easy-peasy to regulate compared to this.

15.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Hey, what happened to our deal? Permalink to this item

Same old story, everybody who deals with Lord Orange takes it in the shorts sooner or later. Here's news that upset by Trump's Iran waivers, Saudis push for deep oil output cut.

"The Saudis feel they were completely snookered by Trump. They did everything to raise supplies assuming Washington would push for very harsh Iranian sanctions. And they didn't get any heads up from the U.S. that Iran will get softer sanctions," said a second source briefed on Saudi oil thinking.

And we thought they were such shrewd businessmen! But wait, what? Softer sanctions, you say?

"Trump had wanted lower oil prices before the U.S. midterm elections earlier this month. Washington gave waivers in November to eight buyers to purchase Iranian oil for 180 days. This was more waivers than were initially expected."

Aug. 2001 image

Nothing quite like international geopolitical herky-jerky for a campaign stunt. Is that more, or less craven then the parade of some military down to the border?

The price of oil is confusing. If it goes up, that's good for the oil companies, right? But bad for the world economy, long fueled by cheap energy. But good for the planet we live on, because less is more. But bad for automakers, because they make soooo much money on big pickups and SUVs that people love. But bad for our sometime ally, because they want "prices at $80 or more for [MBS'] economic reforms." But good for us, because it's bad for Iran, but good for Russia (is that good, or bad for us?), and bad if it shocks the market.

A U.S. source with knowledge of the matter said: "The Saudis were going to be angry either way with the waivers, pre-briefed or even after the announcement."

Here's what I know about oil prices: gas down at the corner station has been about $3 a gallon for quite a while. That's... ok. We can afford it. In the bigger picture, still too cheap, really. $3 today is equivalent to 42 cents fifty years ago, which is to say the price of gasoline relative to everything else is just about the same as it was half a century ago, during which time human population has more than doubled, and we've created our first 1°C of global average temperature anomaly.

13.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Merci beaucoup Permalink to this item

Robbie Burns' poem came to mind when I saw the headline and teaser from France24's take on our head man's visit for commemoration. Amid unity over WWI centenary, 'nationalist' Trump stands alone. Alone and unaware, ever bereft of the power some giftie might gie 'im. The leaders of the free world gathered together, and a few others dropped in from time to time.

An iconic image of the 2018 commemoration

President Macron's speech emphasized the four long years of fighting, and the fact that the armistice did not end the fighting (or the dying).

"The tears of the dying were followed by those of the survivors. ...

"Let us remember. Let us not forget. Because the remembrance of those sacrifices urges us to be worthy of those who died for us. ...

"This vision of France as a generous nation, of France as a project, as France, the bearer of universal values, was displayed during these dark hours, as the very opposite of a selfish nation that only looks after its own interests. Because patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism, by saying 'our interests first, who cares about the others,' we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what is essential, its moral values."

Talk of values and virtues, and lessons left our president* cold, and damp. A history lesson, in French, mon Dieu! cannot reach him. The rise of nationalism and totalitarianism that followed the War to End All Wars? That is nothing to him. He was not there. It did not disturb his ascension. A long speech in front of a tomb of an unknown soldier? Please. He likes soliders who didn't die unknown, ok? It's very unfair to hold him to standards that have nothing to do with him. He didn't know these people.

There was, finally, an event for which the American did not have to share the podium, and could be the center of attention. At the Suresnes American Cemetery, he... said some things, gave a shout-out to some dignitaries and veterans and others with the prime currency of His Attention. He had a speech written for him. To which he added his inimitable fillips.

"To all of the French military leaders and dignitaries in attendance with us now: Thank you for joining us as we honor the American and French service members who shed their blood together in a horrible, horrible war, but a war known as the Great War."

So there's that.

"Thank you very much. And, General, this is a great honor. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

"Thank you all. God bless you. This has been a wonderful two days we spent in France. And this is certainly the highlight of the trip. Thank you very much. Appreciate it. (Applause.)"

Armistice Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

In Memoriam: Richard J. Naskali Permalink to this item

Found out this morning that my friend and mentor at the University of Idaho died in mid-September. The local papers, the university and Short's Funeral Chapel all have the same obituary, but the latter has the right picture of him, in the field, accompanied by a robust inflorescence. (I want to ask him what species it is, but alas, I'm on my own.)

In my undergraduate wandering in search of a major, I signed up for General Botany as one of many subjects for the core of a Water Resources Management major I never finished. That was the best course of my college career (with some able competition for good teachers and good courses; including two weeks in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, studying Wilderness Ecology with him).

His enthusiasm and wonder were contagious. He loved to pose questions as a lure to learning, and I will always remember the twinkle in his eye when he saw someone take the bait. One of the best jobs of my life was working for him as a General Botany lab teaching assistant, my last semester before finishing a degree in General Studies.

He loved the magic of the world, exploring the evidence of how things have come to be, and what they have come to be, and sharing his love of learning with others.

After teaching, his second love was the Arboretum, and there is no more perfect epitaph for him than the quote from Sir Christopher Wren, included in the obit: "If you seek his monument, look around you." Not only, but especially at that beautiful spot in the rolling hills of the Palouse.

Richard J. Naskali, 1936-1982

Locked and loaded Permalink to this item

"SRA" brings back a memory of early school days, what did that stand for? Science Research Associates, handily encapsulated by a Wikipedia entry. What I remember is "the iconic SRA Reading Laboratory Kit," "large boxes filled with color-coded cardboard sheets," comprising a reading exercise leading to multiple choice questions.

But I digress. SRA is now the "Socialist Rifle Association," described in Michelle Goldberg's op-ed, Rise of the Armed Left. If we want some meaningful gun control legislation, maybe arming both sides could get it done, like it did back in the good old days.

“The Black Panthers and other extremists of the 1960s inspired some of the strictest gun control laws in American history,” the U.C.L.A. law professor Adam Winkler wrote in his book, “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.”

Join a club! Redneck Revolt, Trigger Warning, or the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, maybe. But see here, if you're looking for the wild west, you might be disappointed.

"The members of the S.R.A. I met were more sober and responsible than I might have inferred from the group’s bullet-strewn Twitter feed. Far from being cosplay revolutionaries, they’ve adopted bylaws banning members from advocating violence, and they have strict rules about carrying weapons at protests. As their bylaws say, they don’t want to be seen as a “militia or anti-fascist action group.”

"Brad said they try to screen the people who are invited to their monthly range days, weeding out those who seem like “adventurers.” “We don’t want the John Wayne of the left showing up to our range,” he said.

10.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Oh say can you see? Permalink to this item

It's good to see the construction of a mind, and an argument. I applaud Stanford Magazine for taking on one of the issues of the day, even if athletes' choice of protest media pales in comparison to what all there is to protest these days. They're covering both sides, naturally.

The "con" is from Andrew Friedman, a student of economics and history, and an editor at The Stanford Review. His précis—spoiler alert—is in the headline: The Protesters' Aims Are Noble; Their Protests Are Not. It's simple. Not only the protesters, but all liberals should hark what he says:

"Liberals should be proud supporters of servicemen and women who sacrifice life and limb for the collective good; they should not condone kneeling during the national anthem."

Apparently we should also semicolon-splice our disparate thoughts together and pretend we've created a syllogism.

I am indeed a proud supporter of servicemen and women who risk sacrifice of life and limb, as well as of those who have sacrificed them for the collective good. That is why I have been so stridently critical when our leaders abuse members of the military for ilegitimate and/or ill-considered political purposes.

As for condoning a particular sort of protest (or participating in it myself), my first question is, what is the issue?

Friedman goes on to restate the very contradiction he has expressed as if it were a tautology:

"The two sides do not engage in civil dialogue because their political ideologies have been construed as contradictory..."

(In case you're not a fan or follower, the "two sides" in what follows his colon are "football players" and the president*. Seems like we should get more than those involved?) To make the foundational error more explicit, here we go:

"Large swaths of the country will simply never support a protest premised on opposition to the national anthem."

There are actually some good reasons to be opposed to the particular, quirky choice of song for our national anthem. The Star-Spangled Banner and its bombs bursting in rockets' red glare hearken to but one aspect of our nation's multifaceted existence. Martial celebration has its place; one can reasonably question whether that place should be to kick off professional (or amateur) sports contests. Song and artifact worship are rather obviously unconstitutional ideas. (See: the 1st Amendment.) We do have the oft-revised US Code describing how various categories of person should behave whilst the anthem is rendered, but we don't have any law that tells us how we must behave. Such is the genius of our republic. And Jimi Hendrix.

Image of USCGC Steadfast, 2014

By the way, there are another three or four verses; if you want to worship the thing, isn't it disrespectful to give it short shrift? We could be talking about verse three's reference to "the hireling and slave," for example. Or the fact that the war that gave a wealthy lawyer and slaveholder occasion to write the thing from a safe distance from Fort McHenry 204 years ago entailed thousands of utterly unnecessary deaths.

Is it the potential popularity that determines how appropriate a protest is? Of course it is not.

More importantly, to imagine this particular series of protests is "premised on opposition to the national anthem" is to insist upon missing the point.

Props for citing the first baseball game, and the one in the 1918 World Series that "cemented the tune in the American psyche," but my and his psyches were not available for cementation a hundred years ago, so that's not going to fly. It has indeed become "a national ritual," but that is neither hear nor there for its defense, or proposed consecration. Neither does it do a body good to cook up one's own meaning for the protest, caricaturize the "wrongheaded rhetoric" of your strawman and drive a sword through it.

Having finally come around to some notion of what this protest is actually about, Friedman proceeds to mansplain all the correct way to complain about things.

"Compromise on something so infuriating is difficult, yet athletes would achieve more than they do kneeling by targeting specific policy goals. Hit campaign trails. Write editorials. Lobby congressmen. Kneeling might fill social media feeds, but whipping votes fosters tangible progress. Fight for augmented police training, so officers will be more equipped to be disciplined with their use of deadly weapons. Or, make it a legislative priority to reform the doctrine of qualified immunity, so that Americans do not have to rely on the Department of Justice or special prosecutors to deter and remedy police malpractice but can successfully file civil suits when government officials violate their constitutional rights."

All good ideas, to be sure. On the other hand, one thing kneeling during the anthem might accomplish (no matter the large swaths of the country you might alienate) is to have some privileged young college students recognize that hey, something is seriously wrong here and get off their butts about targeting specific policy goals, hitting campaign trails, writing editorials, and so on. There's a lot of work to do, starting... right after the football game, I guess.

9.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

In his words Permalink to this item

Reading from a script on Wednesday.

"Big day yesterday. Incredible day. And last night, the Republican Party defied history to expand our senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the house, for the midtown, and midturn year."

This is an idea Permalink to this item

Seriously, this could work. From Gail Collins, in Trump Is a Really Happy Loser:

"Other presidents were moved by polls or policy papers, but for Trump it’s always about what makes the crowds yell loudest. If any multibillionaires are interested in underwriting a movement that would genuinely make America great again, they need to hire masses of people to show up every time the president gives a speech. Everyone would stand there stonily during the rants about immigration, then burst into raucous applause whenever he talked about lower prescription drug prices or accidentally muttered a phrase like “better schools.” The nation would be transformed."

Also, there's a shout-out to Idaho's own Clement Leroy "Butch" Otter on his way out of the governor's office, thanks to his nickname, and the fact that the voters finally got tired of Clem and the legislature getting nothing done, and passed an initiative to kick-start Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. How do you like them potatoes?!

8.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The Constitutional crisis, now in process Permalink to this item

Here's an "acting Attorney General" to run interference for the #TrumpCrimeFamily, with CNN's report artfully kicking off its 2:08 lead video bite with Matthew Whitaker verbalizing the essential lies he'll be promoting in his new job.

"There is no evidence" is obviously false. The indictments (35), the guilty pleas (6) and the convictions (3), to date, comprise a ton of evidence.

"As much leaking as there has been" was sort of clever spin at first, but now it's tired. The Special Counsel's investigation has been remarkably tight-lipped about their work. Plenty of "leaks" have been manufactured by the administration to try to mask the trail, but the stink of it is too persistent for that cheap fakery. (I wonder about this, for example: "Mueller's team has begun writing its final report, multiple sources told CNN." How perfect for the administration to feed b.s. to the network it loves to demonize, and then pull the string and say "see? Fake news!")

The guilty pleas, court documents, and convictions speak well enough for the work of Mueller and his team. There's a lot more work to do, still. "Tell us more about Roger Stone," for example.

Whitaker's "no collusion" echo of the president's* denials, contrary to the evidence that's already been exposed by the proceedings, is the nut of his illegitimate ascension. His mind-made-up statements starting almost a year and a half ago show he has no business being put in charge. "What we know right now" waved the flag of willful ignorance.

More importantly, acting as a principal officer of the United States, Whitaker would be in a position to quash publication of details of the ultimate report from the Special Counsel, defund the effort, or otherwise fulfill the president's expressed desire to obstruct the Department of Justice from doing its work.

Lawyers Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III argue that Trump's appointment of the Acting A.G. is illegal. Not to put too fine a point on it:

"Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid. ...

"The Constitution’s drafters, Justice [Clarence] Thomas argued [in his 2016 concurring opinion in NLRB v. SW General], “recognized the serious risk for abuse and corruption posed by permitting one person to fill every office in the government.” Which is why, he pointed out, the framers provided for advice and consent of the Senate."

7.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The day after Permalink to this item

Jeff Sessions out


jeff sessions is the only confederate monument trump was willing to take down

— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) November 7, 2018

Update: John Harwood's report after the off-the-hook press conference.

"The [special counsel] investigation has been exploring Trump's potential collusion with Russia as a candidate, obstruction of justice as president, and financial entanglements as a business executive. Along with federal prosecutors in New York, Mueller has already obtained guilty pleas and witness cooperation from Trump's former campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, White House national security adviser, and long-time personal lawyer.

"Mueller has not completed his work. He still seeks to interview the president.

"Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer warned that attempting prematurely to shut down the investigation would trigger a constitutional crisis. An anxious president faces a legal as well as political turning point."

Given how little the president* underestands about the Constitution, and the fact that he has consistently put his own interests ahead of it, it's not at all clear that he and his lickspittles will heed warnings. Bring it on, you can imagine them saying. If the hijacked Republican Party or some key members of the administration can't find their hind legs, things could get very dark, very quickly. Even darker than that whacked press conference today.

She said, he said, she said Permalink to this item

If like me, you find that presidential* press con too awful to watch in full, help yourself to Nancy Pelosi's victory speech from the wee hours last night. I put myself in the mind of her two grandsons standing with her on the podium. GRAMMA ROCKS!

THIS JUST IN: The Montana Senate race goes to incumbent Democrat Jon Tester, but a point and a half (with 626 of 669 precincts reported). That was after four, count 'em, four taxpayer supported presidential* visits to Big Sky country to campaign against Tester, in July, September, October, and last Saturday.

The PBS Newshour lists some of the "firsts" from the 2018 midterms. I recommend taking 10 minutes to watch Boston city councilwoman, and incoming Representative Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress, speaking to a friendly crowd last night:

"We have been audacious to redefine this moment in time. We have affirmed that while this could go down as the darkest time in our history, we won't let it be. And instead, we will be defined by our hopes, not our fears. We have been bold in our vision and clear in our convictions in affirming what we are for: equity, justice, equality.

"So I didn't come here tonight to deliver a victory speech tonight. Only one of vision, and when we realize equity, justice, and equality, these rights, for everyone, then, and only then, will I deliver a victory speech."

But wait, there's more Permalink to this item

So much to keep track of this morning, not sure where to start. The "presidential" press conference is (was?) a thing. I didn't see any of it, just the reactions on twitter, and oh my god. The Palmer Report gives one of the better summaries:

Donald Trump’s day so far:

- Psychotic press conference meltdown after losing the midterms
- Mocks Republicans who lost
- Calls Jim Acosta “a rude terrible person”
- Dems going after his tax returns
- McConnell sounds defeated
- Trump is going to prison
- It’s still only 12:45pm

— Palmer Report (@PalmerReport) November 7, 2018

He told April Ryan to sit down and shut up, he didn't call on her, she tweeted this:

Breaking: The NAACP also is looking at voter irregularities in the state of Florida along with Georgia.

— AprilDRyan (@AprilDRyan) November 7, 2018

Ok, now I did just see part of what happened, a WH staffer and CNN's Jim Acosta arm wrestling for a microphone. "That's enough," the president* keeps saying. Oh no sir, it's hardly enough.

BREAKING: White House aide grabs and tries to physically remove a microphone from CNN Correspondent Jim Acosta during a contentious exchange with President Trump at a news conference.

— NBC News (@NBCNews) November 7, 2018

It's worth highlighting that women played a key part in this cold, blue wave splashing over Twitler's fever dreams.

There is a record number of women who will enter Congress. There's a good chance the House will be led by a woman.

So far, no female reporter has been called on to ask a question at this press conference.

— Matt Viser (@mviser) November 7, 2018

But then this happened, with PBS Newshour reporter Yamiche Alcindo (where Judy Woodruff capably anchors).

President Trump to @Yamiche: "That's a racist question."

— CSPAN (@cspan) November 7, 2018

"It's a very terrible thing that you said," the president* said, after accusing her of asking "a racist question." Three times. It's not (just) projection, it is a simple-minded, reflexive response to quite a number of legitmate questions about his failing presidency. Accuse the opposition of what he is accused of. I know you are, but what am I? EXCUSE ME. I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I. THANK YOU. EXCUSE ME. NEXT QUESTION.

Just vote for the [your party affiliation] Permalink to this item

We've got some good news, and some not so good news. The triumph of Trump's will is going to be considerably interrupted by the little lady who's going to be Speaker of the House again, but Ted Cruz will still be a Senator, and Mitch McConnell will still be doing his foul magic as Majority Leader, without Claire McCaskill or Heidi Heitkamp to kick around. Montana's senate race is still too close to call, 86% reporting, and Jon Tester trailing by 0.3%, a libertarian also-ran hijacking ten times the current margin. Rick Scott has not yet Peter-principled out; he's advanced (?) from Florida governor to the US Senate.

We'll still have Devin Nunes in the House, but he won't be the chairman of the Intelligence committee. Adam Schiff will be writing the subpoenae going forward. Suspicions are that Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein will be looking for work shortly, with not enough check and balance in a Trumpier Senate to keep POTWEETOH from mooting Mueller.

Scott Walker's reign of error in Wisconsin has foundered on his $4.5 billion Fox-con, and Nevada's going to have a new Democratic governor. Steve Sisolak was helped along by the also-rans and "None of these candidates," which garnered 1.9% of almost a million votes tallied so far (92% reporting as I write). "None of the above" is outpolling sagebrush rebel Ryan Bundy by about 5,000 votes, 1.9% vs. 1.4. Brian Kemp in Georgia has pulled off his voter suppression special over Stacey Abrams by most of 2 points, and when that state's citizen's ask the Secretary of State if he's sure about who won the governor's race, he'll say "yes I am."

In Idaho, the pen-jerk reaction to vote the party is as strong as ever, the same 60-40(ish) split for cowboy vs. indian in the top job as between a right-wing loon vs. another qualified candidate for second fiddle.

NYT maps as of this AM for Idaho county-wise voting

In our state senate, every incumbent running kept his (or her) job, except for one, or maybe two. Republican Dan Foreman in district 5, which comprises one of four blue pockets in the state, Latah Co., looks to have gone from bottom of the barrel to "former." In our next-door district 15, incumbent Sen. Fred Martin is hanging on by his fingernails against first-time contestant, and a former soccer teammate (and coworker) of mine, Jim Bratnober, the latest count (with all 16 precincts reporting, and a whopping 77.4% midterm turnout) showing a 6 vote margin, out of almost 18,000 cast.

Ada County's blue redoubt, districts 16, 17, 18, and 19, stays the course, welcome to newcomer Rob Mason succeeding retiring Hy Kloc, with the help of the fellow he bested in the primary, Colin Nash. (We spent most of election evening in the d16 hospitality suite with our district's delegation.)

The Dems did, finally, flip the state house in d15: Steve Berch, on his fifth? try, has ousted Lynn Luker in 15A, by a comfortable 9 points, and Democrat Jake Ellis has an almost 2 point lead over his opponent. That was half of what passes for a "blue wave" in Idaho, in which four Republican incumbents look to have lost. One Democrat, Margaret Gannon in d5, lost her seat. (Races for thirty of the 70 seats in the House were uncontested; 28-2 Rep/Dem.) We might not notice the House supermajority being trimmed to a bare 56-14. (It's going 28-7 in the Senate unless Bratnober can find 7 votes in a recount.)

In our initiative business, the people's Medicaid expansion YES (just over 60%) and the horse-flavored gambling industry's slot machines for "historical horse racing" NO (not quite 54%).

Update: Almost forgot about the Ada Co. Commission races! Sharon "she's baaack" Ullman will not be back, thanks to Democrat Kendra Kenyon winning by a 5% margin. And Diana Lachiondo has bested Jim Tibbs.

Election Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Geographically challenged Permalink to this item

Looking through the way-more-complicated than I would've imagined NYT interactive, What Time Will the Polls Close?, their focus is on the "what to watch," while I have questions about the inexplicable combination of weird timezones and poll hours. (Here in good old "8 to 8 local" Idaho, I voted a week and a half ago, so I can contemplate timeless topics today to take my mind off the end of the world.)

First to close, all but two corners of Indiana, and eastern Kentucky, both on the western edge of the Eastern timezone. 6 p.m. What the hell? Western Kentucky and the NW and SW corners of Indiana, in Central Time close at their local 6 p.m., which is 7 ET.

One of the NYT interactive poll closing maps

Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire, S. Carolina, Georgia and Florida (minus the western panhandle in CT) close at 7 p.m. local. Ohio, West Virginia and N. Carolina mix it up on the half hour. The rest of ET phones home at 8:00, all the way out to most of the Yoo-Pee (aka Michigan's Upper Peninsula), except for New York, which gives people until 9:00 ET to vote.

The part of the UP that borders Wisconsin is on the Central TZ. What? Just for fun, the Central/Mountain TZs' border splits 5 states: both Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, NOT Oklahoma, and Texas. A bunch of those Central timezone states (and portions) close their polls at 7 pm CT, Arkansas goes another half hour, and the rest go till 8. Or 9. (Iowa, and Central Time North Dakota).

What is up with that bit of western Kansas pretending to be Mountain?

A lot of Mountain Time quits at 7 pm local. Utah, Montana, southern Idaho (the MT part) and the MT slab of Oregon stop at 8:00 local, 10 eastern. Along with Nevada, all in Pacific time, so 7:00 their local.

At 11 p.m. eastern time, Hawai`i (where it will be 6 p.m. in the Hawaii-Aleutian time zone) joins the west coast, and northern Idaho, and, hello! the SW corner of North Dakota in calling it a day.

Finally, Alaska wraps it up at midnight (mostly), and 1 a.m. tomorrow, ET, which is their local 9 p.m. That seems comparatively normal for a state that is nearly a world onto itself. More fun facts, from Wikipedia:

"The territory of the state of Alaska spans almost as much longitude as the contiguous United States (57.5° vs. 57.6°)... Alaska would "naturally" fall into four time zones," from UTC-9 to the antipodal UTC-12, on the other side of the 180° meridian.

Forecast: sunny today, dark tonight. Tomorrow uncertain Permalink to this item

It's not the End Times, but it's got some of that feeling, doesn't it? Regardless of the outcome, the never-ending campaign will merely genuflect and light up for 2020, come the dawn. Ezra Klein forecasts with confidence that the next Republican Congress will be Trumpier. His lead informant is South Carolina's involuntarily outgoing Rep. Mark Sanford, Republican, late of the "Appalachian Trail" before his comeback, and who had never lost an election until this year's primary:

Sanford recalls one town hall in particular. It was a big crowd of about 1,000 people. But there was this one guy who was just “chewing my head off.” So Sanford went up afterward to talk to him.

“I’m from South Carolina,” Sanford told him. “You are, too. Your vocabulary just doesn’t fit with who I know you to be by reputation.”

As Sanford recalls it, the guy looked back at him and said, “Here’s the deal. If the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time on any subject, why can’t I?”

That, Sanford told me, “is the demon that either Trump has unleashed or exposed.”

It's not like you need a team of veteran NY Times reporters to tell you that the president's* campaign was built on "dark themes of fear, nationalism and racial animosity." By comparison, his inauguration speech was a ray of sunshine, "this American carnage" not withstanding. "There should be no fear."

Now the message is to be very, very afraid. Be afraid of the radical, corrupt, Democrat mob coming to raise your taxes, take over the American health care system, and deliver a socialist nightmare. Be afraid of the caravan. Also, be afraid of protestors:

After the third protester of the event, Mr. Trump blamed the disruptions on his host state. “I don’t know what it is about Indiana, but I’m not surprised,” he said. “That’s Indiana for you, going back home to mama.”

Here in Idaho, where we hope for surprises, but can generally count on the worst coming to pass, our junior senator has always been a reliable sycophant to whomever is running the party. It still seems shocking to me how easily Mike Crapo went over to the no-resistance dark side, though.

Our two members of the House cover the range from stalwart pol (Mike Simpson) to TEA Party flamethrower (Raúl Labrador), the latter's four terms aligning almost exactly with the decline of the legislative branch, as documented by the Washington Post and ProPublica. Congress' "debate is strictly curtailed, party leaders dictate the agenda, most elected representatives rarely get a say, and government shutdowns are a regular threat because of chronic failures to agree on budgets." It has lost most of the capacity for building anything. It can only break things.

Washington Post/ProPublica datagraphic of Congressional committee hearings

For Labrador, his job commuting to the east coast did not turn out to change everything. He became an ironic cog in a broken machine, and his expected stepping stone to the governor's chair turned out to be slippery. Foiled again by a good old boy coalition, our ever-so-slightly moderate group enough to stymie a local ideologue, even as it does nothing about the nationalist one.

5.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I have people Permalink to this item

Doing business at a local credit union today, I had way too much time to watch the stock ticker and featured story-blurbs on the bank of large display screens behind the row of tellers. One was a message about something the president* had to say today about big companies (that he didn't like; no mention of ExxonMobil, for example).

It wasn't a verbatim tweet... and I'm not finding the "news" as I saw it for a quick websearch, but the part that struck me was it saying "I have people looking at" the problem. It sounded so perfectly gangsta.

In the old days, we used to talk about the Department of Justice. Now, as WaPo has it:

“I am in charge,” he said in an interview with Axios that aired Sunday on HBO. “I am definitely in charge, and we are certainly looking at it.”

I'm old enough to remember Microsoft and Netscape at loggerheads, and now no one even knows what Netscape was. As for who's in charge, probably Google, Facebook and Amazon, with a little shout-out to Microsoft and Apple still. Moreso than our short-term POTWEETOH.

Also, ExxonMobil is still pretty much in charge.

Respect Elections Permalink to this item

Today's headline comes from the found poetry on the Heights Elementary reader board, mashing up the "character trait of the month" with a schedule reminder: ELECTIONS Nov. 6, 8-8, as seen in the Idaho Statesman story about the Middleton costume kerfuffle. Their headline emphasized the "thousands sign petition to reinstate" angle, even though waaaay down at the bottom of Nicole Blanchard's report, she noted that "a separate petition, titled 'No Racism in Middleton School District'" was outpolling 'reinstate'.

For my part, still leaning toward the "maybe this isn't a firing offense" point of view, I got spanked in someone else's Facebook thread by a woman I don't know:

"Quit excusing behavior that was adults who chose to make their students feel unsafe in their own school. Please stop with your petty excuses on this."

I hadn't made excuses, petty or otherwise for anyone, I just raised the question of whether the people involved should be FIRED FROM THEIR JOBS for whatever it was they did, which we don't yet know, exactly, other than they put on some costumes that were in really poor taste (at least), and let themselves be photographed, and had their photographs posted on the school's Facebook page, time enough for the images to go viral.

With respect to virality, it's worth mentioning what Melissa Davlin said: the superintendent had already announced the investigation and apologized by the time the first IdahoPTV reports had come out.

If the issue is properly framed as NO RACISM, I don't think firing a dozen staff gets that done. It's not going to help explain to the 4 out of 5 (or however many need it) Trump supporters in the Middleton school district, What? What was wrong with those costumes? I would expect them to triple down on "political correctness run amok" and polishing their MAGA hats. (Or perhaps equally likely, as a Disqus account owner going by "dave frasier" put it, "they should be given bonuses, and promoted.")

It's not going to move the needle on the racism trickling down the GOP right now, that's for damn sure. The Trump rallies aren't going to be over on Tuesday; they might pause a day or two, but then it'll be full-on 2020 campaigning, and I would expect this to be the setup line for the next BUILD THAT WALL chant. (It's getting so nobody can say "Happy Halloween" anymore.)

Boise Public Radio's Idaho Matters was talking about the dust-up on Friday, and again today. (The Friday stream is online, Monday's is not, yet.) They updated the MoveOn "No Racism" count to 11,000 something (online, I see it's over 10,000, at least). And tracking down the "get over it" petition, I see it's in the lead, 12,781 as of mid-afternoon.

Those two numbers combined are more than three times the population of Middleton.

3.Nov.2018 Permanent URL to this day's entry

De colores Permalink to this item

Story out of Idaho went national again, our Halloween edition, the opening round rolled up in the Washington Post headline: A group of schoolteachers dressed up as ‘Mexicans’ and a MAGA wall for Halloween. It didn’t go well.

Oak leaves, in fall

The one thing I know that isn't in that headline is the intermediate step of pictures made their way to social media. They satisfy many of the basic stereotypes, as you'd expect from Halloween costumes: sombreros, maracas, curly bandito moustaches, and the rainbow sarapes. (Props to the dude in back who went with tartan as his best equivalent.)

And on the US side, a six-person MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN wall, with Statue of Liberty, flag, and eagle adjuncts. Bringing current events to life, you might say, in a small town in southwestern Idaho.

After the initial round of OMG THEY DIDN'T, and calls for various sorts of punishments up to and including dismissal from their employment, I started to have second thoughts about what to make of this. Expressing the opinion that given how much awfulness there is in the world right now, this was a relatively minor transgression, I quickly got pushback that it was actually a "profound" transgression. (That after I said I had no idea what students might have actually experienced.)

Let's just say there may be some disagreement on what constitutes "profound," too. Another friend on Facebook passed along hearsay from a FOAF, "what I've been told":

"The teachers were at a staff meeting AFTER school. There was a fun team building exercise. The goal of this exercise was to create a outfit that represented a certain country. There were outfits to represent France, Japan, Germany, Etc. The reason the Mexico group and the USA group was pictured is because they won the contest. The teachers chose to dress as the stereotypes associated with that country and everyone guessed the right country. They chose to portray the wall for USA because that is a huge controversial issue right now and that is how most of the world knows us - Trump, the wall, an Eagle, the US Flag, and the Statue of Liberty. This was all done after school hours and AFTER the kids have left."

That's ever so slightly "just so," but it sounds plausible, anyway. Does it matter that the good folks in and around Middleton, Idaho voted for (and I imagine continue to support) Donald Trump by a four to one margin? If stereotyped Mexican Halloween costumes and a cardboard border wall are the most traumatic cultural violations school kids have experienced in and around where they live, it would be astounding. Unbelievable good fortune, even.

The news keeps delivering more profound transgressions, unfortunately. Millions of people are starving in Yemen. There are millions of refugees from the seemingly endless wars in the middle east. Saudi Arabia apparently executed a journalist they didn't like in cold blood. Some whacked Trump supporter started mailing bombs to all the opponents the president* has been villifying. Another deranged right-wing radical massacred 13 people at synagogue in Pittsburgh. The president* is whipping up anti-immigrant furor and sending troops to the border for a goddamned campaign stunt, never mind the campaign-promise wall he keeps insisting we need to build, even as Congress keeps telling him no.

This country's incarceration rate is the highest in the world (despite the modest good news that the rate has fallen to its lowest level in 20 years). El Salvador runs a close second. Turkmenistan. The Maldives. Cuba. And it's impossible to deny racism when you look at the rates by race and ethnicity.

That is a profound transgression.


Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007