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

The longest journey Permalink to this item

The moral arc, the words of our parents and grandparents, what Jesus is supposed to have said, all that. The chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher spoke last, and assured all who could hear that "every member of this committee has changed because of this process." So that's 17 Idahoans. He exhorted the rest of us to "STOP THE CRUELTY." Starting with... well, no point in going into details here in the House State Affairs committee, after 22 hours of "this project."

Oh, just one last thing from Rep. Ken Andrus, who made the initial motion for HB 2, to "hold it in comittee." (Don't think of it as killing, but rather an act of mercy.) Something about a bigoted florist, photographer and baker, and how "this would be a giant step backwards, not forward." It's those thousands of Idahoans, "probably hundreds of thousands of people," who are concerned their relgious freedom will be "impinged" that he's representing. The best thing we could do is to be good people and just get along. Andrus assured the audience "we'll do something, don't despair."

These are not the legislators we are looking for.

Three party line votes. 13-4 against sending HB 2 to the full House with no recommendation, 13-4 against sending HB 2 to the full House with a "do pass" recommendation, and 13-4 in favor of "holding it in committee," wear it can shrivel and die, starved for any support beyond lip service from the 13 Republicans. They sat united, saving their colleagues in the House the inconvenience of having to consider the bill or go on record against civil rights for "those people."

Tom von Alten photo, ©2015

Before the committee's own deliberation, Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb spoke, powerfully, of the need that would be met by adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to Idaho's civil rights statute. She's a 5th generation Idahoan; her grandchild will be a 7th generation Idahoan. And a cross was burned in her family's front yard here in Boise.

"Let us be unified in our quest for justice. Let us be inclusive, open, understanding. Let us leave a legacy of power, passion and purpose," she said to the committee.

Were there any questions for her? No member dared ask one.

Rep. Paulette Jordan talked to her grandfather over the weekend. He's in his mid-90s and "ready to go," she said. He came back from fighting for his country in WW II, and to "protect the inheritance" of his native land to find shop windows with signs that said "No dogs, no indians allowed."

Rep. John McCrostie spoke eloquently, with compassion for his fellow committee members, recognizing that as someone who has to live with the issue every day, he knows he'll process things faster than those around him, who "only have to deal with it while I'm around." His statement was so powerful, it made me cry. No doubt he knew what outcome was moments away, as well. No one is asking for special rights, or special treatment, he said. "It's not my job to transform society. ... If I wanted everyone to like me, I would not have run for public office." He went so far as to assure his colleagues he would "not take it personally" if anyone voted no.

Rep. Barbieri said he "can't deny the compassion that is stirred in me," and proceeded to speak with no evidence of any that I could discern. Criminal behavior needs to stop, but laws haven't stopped it, have they? So what's the point in passing laws? Each side is talking past each other, he said; there's no meeting of the minds. (That's what you call an irrefutable argument. Such a clever lawyer!)

"The risk of using this amendment as a sword, which has been shown in many jurisdictions, instead of a shield as it is intended, is too great."

He also wanted to make sure he mentioned preversity, predators, and bathrooms, "that are really of no concern. Unless you're a predator."

Rep. Pete Nielsen gave a Sunday school lesson, noting that Jesus did not just say "let he who is without sin cast the first stone," he also told that adulteress to "go thy way and sin no more." Do all of thou likewise! You can't legislate this wisdom he was taught. We have to teach it to our children. (And oh by the way, even though this never came up in his campaign, and no one asked him, one of the very most right-wing legislators from one of the most right-wing districts of the most right-wing legislature in the country where he stood, his constitutents sent him messages 9 to 1 against.)

McCrostie responded to Nielsen's "folks in my district" argument. "I grew up in Mountain Home," he said. In his coming out process, "I was afraid to tell anyone (there)." "People in Mountain Home aren't going to tell you anything, because they're afraid."

So there you have it. Don't despair. The Idaho legislature will do something. Some day.

(While we wait... you can watch recordings of any and all of this week's proceedings via the Legislature's digital media archive.)

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

Please, be brave Permalink to this item

After two long days of unrestricted testimony, the crowd at the statehouse has thinned out. A(n arguably long-overdue) three minute time limit has been put in place to give more people a chance to testify on the subject of House Bill 2, "Add the Words." It changes the dynamic, to be sure. It's tough to say all you want to say in three minutes. It's tough not to lose your train of thought when the Chairman interrupts you with "thirty seconds." The previous two days included some speakers who rambled rather aimlessly, and in some cases incoherently. Betsy Russell started blogging day three with this quote from the chairman, Rep. Tom Loertscher:

“We have heard an awful lot of testimony. … We’ve been lectured, we’ve been preached to, we’ve had a number of things happen here. But please, be very concise in your testimony.”

What didn't make his short list was that we've heard some remarkable, sincere, moving, personal stories of harm and loss and why the civil rights protection for sexual orientation and gender identity is so desperately needed.

I'm not a neutral observer; I can't imagine trying to report on everyone who spoke, or even being there (or watching on Idaho PTV's Legislature Live stream). At the end of last night's session, Betsy tallied the testimony: "118 people have testified, 70 in favor of the bill and 48 against. All told, 796 people signed in for the hearing, 408 of them in favor of the bill and 301 against; 353 indicated they wanted to testify."

Maddelynn Taylor: "If we had this law, I would not have to sue this state just to bury my wife."

Not that the count of who shows up at the statehouse should or will decide the question. Not that a majority should dictate who can and can't be discriminated against. But it will be a majority of the committee's 13 Republicans and 4 Democrats who will decide (not today, we're told) whether or not to kill the legislation, or to send it on the Idaho House.

In yesterday evening's session one of the State Affairs committee members wanted to know if Ben Wilson, member of the Interfaith Alliance of Idaho's board "could guarantee that members of the LGBT community won’t sue members of the religious community if the bill passes." I'm just going by Betsy's blog and Facebook reports, but apparently there was some unease in the audience, and the chairman applied his seldom-used gavel to settle the crowd.

Committee members can find support either way from any number of those who testified. I'd love to have them surprise me and send this bill to the whole House, but it's hard to imagine it happening, certainly not with "yes" votes from Brent Crane, Vito Barbieri or Pete Nielsen.

Applying the "sticky note" meme that proponents used for several years, a fellow named Lance Wells paid to have an advertisement put on the Idaho Statesman today. ADD NO WORDS it says, in big red caps, and "Stand up to bullying!" with a link to his website. Yeah, that's right, the gays (and transgendered individuals) are bullying the straights now.

But if you heard the testimony, and listened with any part of an open mind and an open heart, you could not reach that conclusion. So much so that on the morning of day three, it seems none of the opponents are left to hear from. Well, until the fellow who exhorted us that "This is about good and evil. This is about SEX!" It'll be out of control after it leaves this building. "There are people with evil intent." (But the problem of any old religion in a nutshell is that: HOW DO WE KNOW YOU'RE NOT ONE OF THEM?)

We have to judge the arguments by their words, even as we cannot avoid judging as well by the tenor, body language and emotion with which they're made. In person, we can recognize fear, suspicion, enmity, and yes, even hatred. We can recognize caution, generosity, open-mindedness, integrity, compassion. We cannot not recognize and react to these things, in fact, which is what makes minds and hearts so hard to change.

John Fritz, a high school senior said that while he was waiting to testify, he kept hearing opponents observe that "you can't legislate kindness," true enough. But you can legislate civility, which is what this is about. #AddTheWords.

26.Jan.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

I can't speak for everybody Permalink to this item

That's one of the pull quotes from what I heard of today's testimony before Idaho's House State Affairs Committee on the "Add the Words" bill, HB2, and it seems a great place to start. I saw just 45 minutes of it via Idaho PTV, and that had some intense ups and downs. I appreciate Betsy Russell's Eye on Boise blog for a chance to read more about what went on. Unlike me, she was in place and working before 8am, posting a photo of the more than 300 hundred people still in line for the hearing in the first of more than a dozen posts through the morning. The auditorium where the hearing was held had 300+ people in it, and they added three overflow rooms for the first three hours. Three more are planned for this evening, 5 to 8 pm.

There were (and are) plenty of people to testify on both sides, but it's hard to imagine a more stark contrast than Betsy provides for the first two people to testify, both from Pocatello:

"[Julie] Zicha’s son Ryan committed suicide at the age of 19 after years of harassment for being gay. [Heather] Disselkoen said the maretkplace will take care of the issue."

We tuned in just after the testimony of Paul Thompson of Twin Falls who "appeal[ed] to you as a man of faith," in an unappealing fashion, but heard our district 16 Representative, John McCrostie's response to the specious "my faith allows me to identify the sins in others" argument.

“One of the aspects that differentiates the two of us … you’re a straight man. I have a husband and I’m gay. So my question for you, is are your religious beliefs equal to the same religious beliefs that I possess, or are your religious beliefs greater than mine?”

"Pastor Rayphe" of Kooskia (I thought I heard, but maybe he said Parson Rayphe, as he styles his blog, and YouTube channel) responded a bit later, that while he wasn't saying his religion was better than anyone else's, no one else's is better than his, by golly. (If you've got six hours to kill, you could watch his 6-part—so far—series on "Offensive Prayer," and be among a select audience of 0 to 9 viewers.)

Before that strange interlude, there was another amazingly stark contrast, between 16-year-old Oliver Simon (a.k.a. Sawyer Johnson)'s personal testimony of being "sexually assaulted within my church" for making people so uncomfortable by being different, and Tea Party stalwart Doyle Beck, who said he was "somewhat offended that this bill has been introduced and is seriously being debated." While no, it does not "[imply] that Idahoans are nasty people," Beck made a case that we have some.

Simon's testimony was as personal and moving as I can imagine; a teenager speaking bravely of his own remarkable life, and the prejudice he has experienced all-too directly.

Doyle Beck's was as impersonal and belittling as imaginable. The discrimination at issue is "minimal" in Beck's mind, and anyway, employers will find a way around the law, and hide their true intentions. His intentions were not hidden. "A few bad apples in the employee community," and after they're terminated, they'll "use this law to get even." "As you know, I'm opposed to discrimination," Doyle Beck says, but no, we don't know that. We rather suspect just the opposite. From a Facebook friend:

"One can only hope that these legislators are going to realize how many Idaho people will indeed use their religion as an excuse to discriminate after hearing these people talk."

Some might. But I suspect the majority of the committee already have their minds made up to spike this bill. It'll be interesting to see whether and how they justify doing so. (I would so love to have them prove me wrong.)

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

Is it 2016 yet? Permalink to this item

And then Bobby Jindal dropped by the American Family Association rally on the way to the White House, waving away criticism, saying "the left likes to try to divide and attack Christians." (Even all those lefties who are Christians? It's not like Jesus was a mainstream conservative, you know.)

But the AFA aren't run-of-the-mill religious right, they're the organization that inherited Idaho's village idiot, Bryan Fischer, who reliably calls for the criminalization of homosexuality, and blames you-know-who for the Holocaust to boot.

But maybe Jindal can duck and cover under news that Sarah Palin is "seriously interested." Seriously? More seriously than the Donald? The circus is coming to town, no doubt about it.

The privilege amplifier Permalink to this item

One of the statistics in tonight's Newshour piece about how past crimes may drive job seekers into poverty sounded familiar.

Rebecca Vallas, Center for American Progress:
"The fact is that between 70 million and 100 million Americans, and that’s nearly one in three of us, has some type of criminal record. And so it’s really an incredibly pervasive problem that impacts whole segments of our community. But it — this issue also really disproportionately impacts communities of color."

Excerpt of the IFF reported poll results

Nearly one in three. What made that sound famiiar was that it had been highlighted out of the so-called Idaho Freedom Foundation's push poll, designed to "educate" our state's legislators about how horrible it would be to expand Medicaid. (As if that were needed: the legislators have shown ample resistance without Wayne Hoffman's help.) Here's the question highlighted as "Ex-cons":

"If you knew that more than 1 in 3 people eligible for ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion have spent time in prison or been involved in the criminal justice system, would you be more or less likely to support Medicaid expansion?"

The IFF got 59% yield on that poison in the well; that much of their sample of 504 voters—three-fourths of those who identified themselves as voting Republican—produced the desired "less likely." Because really, anyone who has spent time in prison or "been involved in the criminal justice system" shouldn't be getting any help for healthcare, right?

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

Q.E.D. Permalink to this item

Nice editorial from the Twin Falls Times-News: Idaho GOP proves Obama's point with their "duck-and-cover" avoidance. (Not to mention the sniping.)

"[W]hat were Republicans so busy doing while Obama extolled BSU’s commitment to science, technology and research? Well, the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee had a hearing on a minor legal tweak. Hardly a sausage was made, and the Earth went unshattered. Even the more weighty budget presentations in the various committees could have been postponed a few hours. Their absence had nothing to do with scheduling. This was a classic refusal to engage with disparate ideas."

It's not easy to imagine any of the Republicans trying to join the event, although our Lieutenant Governor was seen out at the airport to meet Air Force One. (Favorite caption: Lt. Gov. Brad Little: "The Governor's sorry he couldn't be hear to meet you." Obama: "Don't bullshit me, Brad.")

Still there are plenty of things we could work together on, if only there were a will to do it. Idaho's rightmost Congressman, Raúl Labrador issued a faux friendly Welcome to Idaho press release (from, uh, his office in D.C.) for the president's visit. While waving the "welcome" on his house.gov site, Labrador was carping in his newsletter channel, under the heading Getting serious about solving America's problems. "Getting serious" means doing what Republicans want, tucking in his tail, and listening to the likes of Labrador about what he should learn from the mid-term "defeat."

But the President's not defeated; a combination of artful gerrymandering, voter apathy and GOP anti-government marketing brought us back to Republican control of the Congress. That's a lot, but it's not everything, as Labrador and friends can decry all they like.

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

Welcome, Mr. President Permalink to this item

Obama in Boise, Tom von Alten photo

Unlike several of our friends, we were not close enough to the stage to shake the President's hand after yesterday's speech to a crowd of 6,000 (I'm told), but it was a joy to hear one of them who's a WW II veteran tell about his experience and how much it meant to him this morning.

The WaPo "style" report distills Obama's visit to Boise down to assorted political tit-for-tat, including the utterly irrelevant snark of the GOP's state party chair (posted on Facebook), accusing the President of "us[ing] our university and our students as a prop in his permanent public relations campaign." Hey, it's better than a smug observation that we "deserve better" with no program to make it happen.

In downplaying the venue in comparison to 2008's ("14,000 screaming supporters enthralled" versus "a space that holds several thousand"), the reporter didn't bother to mention (or find out?) that more than 6,000 tickets were claimed by people who had to wait for an hour or more to get them, one at a time, and hours more to queue up, go through security and get in the building before the event. Most of us had to stand, and did not mind the discomfort.

Tom von Alten photo

The absurdly "balanced" reporting didn't mention the visit to BSU Engineering's New Product Development Lab, nicely combining themes of education, technology, innovation and domestic economic development, a large measure of how we got to our exceptional position in the world. I was thrilled to hear the emphasis on engineering, and to see and hear Camille Eddy, a smart, articulate sophomore mechanical engineering student introduce the president.

While the last six years have been largely about learning "the rites of waiting" for all of us, and not just our president, it's good news that Obama shows no signs of accepting the absurd proposition the gerrymandered Republican control of Congress should cause him to do things John Boenher's and Mitch McConnell's way. Politics is still about compromise. Obama is articulating an agenda for action that deserves more attention than the party of "no" has earned in 6 years of trying.

Update: the Idaho Statesman went all-out with their after-the-fact coverage of Obama's visit. Sorry about the paywall, but credit where due:

21.Jan.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

What was that you said? Permalink to this item

Who knew that there are people who can understand both English and Spanish? (And would pay attention to both flavors of the Republican SOTU response.) Not actually "lost in translation" as it was the party speaking with forked tongues. Can't wait to hear what Idaho's go-to bilingual Congressperson has to say about this.

Nothing yet on the subject, just the week-ago presser about how he voted to defund Obama's executive action on immigration. He's just a guy who can't say anything other than "no."

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

The unfortunate rebuttal Permalink to this item

Newbie Joni Ernst drew the short straw this year, and she'd like to talk about my priorities? Oh, right right right, based on other people having elected up a Republican Congress. So this is not actually about me, it's about you, eh. Soldier, ploughwoman, worker. One good pair of shoes in bread bags. Apparently a lot of that went around in Iowa.

Families working harder and harder with less to show for it. You're talking about income inequality, really?

Failed policies like Obamacare? Um, no, actually that's one of those failed political talking points you'd like to decry. Obamacare has not failed; the Republican attack on Obamacare is what's failing.

Hey, there's a jobs bill coming, finally. It's called the "Keystone Jobs Bill," and what a coincidence it's got the same name as that gift to the Koch brothers and the Alberta tar sands that is miraculously the Very Most Important Thing on the GOP agenda.

State of the Union Permalink to this item

Saw some of the speech, then heard some more while driving, then two hours later I heard some Beeb commentary about the highlights and stuff, and finally watched the rest of it. Others will deconstruct Obama's 2015 State of the Union speech ad nauseum, but things I noticed:

(1) Biden, Obama and Boehner lined up on screen make for one hell of a white balance problem.

(2) When the President got around to the inevitable "state of the Union is strong" line, the Republicans were sitting on their hands. Really? You think it's weak, or you don't want to acknowledge anything's good, just because Obama? Hell, the Republicans were in charge of the House last term isn't there anything they can point to for accomplishment?

(3) In the wrap-up (heard on the BBC excerpt), when Obama said "I've run my last campaign," there was some weak applause from the people who appreciate that. Stay classy, GOP! (He had a nice comeback: "because I've won both of them.")

(4) The British commentator talking to the US-knowledgeable guy says "if they're not going to do any of the stuff he suggested, what is the point of this system?!" Many of us are wondering that very thing.

The President outlined lots of good ideas, including using his veto power if any of the bad ideas that Republicans have been masticating for the last four years manage to make their way out of Congress and to his desk.

"Let’s close [tax] loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America."

Yes. Let's rebuild infrastructure. Let's be smart about using our military power, and use diplomacy where it makes sense.

"Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength. Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.

"That’s how America leads - not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve."

End the ridiculous isolation of Cuba.

Build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.

The Republicans refused to acknowledge the statement that no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change. The PENTAGON says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. How long will the GOP deny reality?

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims - the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer."

And this:

"A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

"A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives."

State underreach Permalink to this item

Just a regular day at the office for the Idaho legislature yesterday, resisting the overreach of the federal Martin Luther King Day holiday. Among the events was a meeting of the House State Affairs Committee to consider House Bill 1 to add a new section 67-4514 to Idaho Code:

STATE AMPHIBIAN DESIGNATED. The Idaho Giant Salamander is hereby designated and declared to be the state amphibian of the state of Idaho.

Seems like a cute idea cooked up by a determined Ilah Hickman, now 14 and attending Les Boise Junior High. (She started her effort five years ago, when she was in fourth grade.) The salamander would join our other hallowed state symbols, the Mountain Bluebird, the Square Dance, the Cutthroat Trout, the Syringa's flower, the Hagerman Horse fossil, the Wild Mountain Huckleberry, the Star Garnet, the Appaloosa, the Monarch Butterfly, the Peregrine Falcon, the Western White Pine, the Potato, the state flag, seal and our song, "Here We Have Idaho."

She and the bills sponsors, Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-19) and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking (D-18) did some homework too, getting an opinion from the Attorney General that there was "no way, now how" that having a state amphibian would have any impact whatsoever.

Given the Idaho legislature's historic record of impotent posturing to make themselves feel good, this would seem like the perfect thing to kick off the 2015 session, but no. Republican members Linden Bateman (Idaho Falls) and Lynn Luker (Boise) joined the four Democrats on the committee on the losing side, as the rest of the ten Republicans on the committee killed the bill.

The "winners" were led by a potpourri of paranoia. Rep. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) thinks "It’s probably more prudent to be conservative about this, and just recognize that this exercise was educational for her and the audience." In this case, "conservative" means doing nothing that a court might interpret. (You remember the landmark Do-Si-Do decision, don't you? Everyone must swing his or her right partner here in Idaho.)

Rep. Ken Andrus (R-Lava Hot Springs) "learned to despise" them "water dogs" in his swimming hole, because "they were ugly, they were slimy, and they were creepy." (Make sure to mention "all due respect" when you say that sir, lest your colleagues misinterpret who you're talking about.) Rep. Kathy Sims (R-Coeur d’Alene) said “It can become protected – there’s actually no legal impediment.” She's wary of tales like that of the spotted owl. (You remember when some state designated the spotted owl as its state bird in the late 1980s and started all that, don't you?) You just can't be too careful.

Freshman Rep. Don Cheatham (R-Post Falls) said his "whole concern is potential federal overreach. In North Idaho we have the water litigation going. I just am in fear that something could be impacted if it became an endangered species."

Indeed something could. Did somebody say "endangered"? We should call the Fish and Wildlife Service and have them look into that right away.

MLK Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Visit Idaho: famous nukes Permalink to this item

Send-up Idaho Plate

With Idaho's considerable history in nuclear research, power, and waste, a feature on the "the first city in the world to be lit by atomic power" as a tourist destination isn't too surprising, but having it written by a fellow from the Sacramento Bee seemed odd. Sam McManis works the "outsider" schtick to the hilt, from the "some stretches so devoid of humanity that you'll conjure post-apocalyptic visions" to the paucity of paved roads. Did he mention "almost devoid of humanity" already? Yes. "[A]s well as much vegetation and habitat. So, if you were to make a few Homer Simpson-type blunders with this new technology, you wouldn’t be irradiating too much."

Ha ha. And when the Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR-1) melted down, it was "hardly more than a grilled cheese sandwich or two inside the building." (It wasn't until 1961 that one of the many nuclear reactors built in SE Idaho had its "incident" and killed three operators.)

But hey, this is a "travel" feature, not news. Consider it an antidote to the current dust-up in the apparently unresolvable contest between federal nuclar waste management and states rights that has our current and two former governors at odds about the 1995 Settlement Agreement that's not yet settled.

If you want to dig deeper than McManis, you could stop by the Snake River Alliance which has been trying to keep track of the Idaho National Laboratory and what all it might be irradiating, since 1979. That was ten years before the Superfund site designation resulting from what all was sent for burial here, and the way it was buried. As the Alliance puts it,

"Throughout its operating history, Rocky Flats sent hundreds of thousands of barrels, cardboard boxes, and wooden crates of plutonium-contaminated waste to Idaho because Colorado had strict disposal limits for such dangerous material. Until 1970 the plutonium-contaminated waste was buried in unlined pits and trenches, and radioactive and substantial chemical pollution from the burial grounds has reached the [Snake River Plain] aquifer."

But that was the bad old days, and now... well these "research projects" to "examine fuel recycling and fuel performance" might bring $10 or $20 million in funding over the next 5 years, so our governor and ID-02 Congressman Mike Simpson are in favor of carrying on. You can't make a nuclear omelette without cracking some nuclear eggs.

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

Ossified thinking Permalink to this item

TvA 2005 photo

Down near the end of Rachel Horsting's blog post, Fight at the Museum, there's a half hour video said to be a fundamentalist Christian doing a selfie "bias audit" of the Field Museum’s Evolving Planet exhibit, and I got as far as one minute 20 seconds before deciding—as the woman says herself—"none of this makes any sense."

Ok, and whose fault is that? The secondary school that failed to explain "eukaryote" to her? The designer of the display who tried to nudge her closer to the start of rudimentary understanding? The museum people who persist in expressing well-supported scientific inferences and trying to educate visitors how they fit together?

"This is muddled thinking," Megan Fox says, with remarkable accuracy, and utter lack of self-awareness. She's angry. She's arguing with... herself? This is an angry, muddled person, offering her anger to the world, for some strange reason.

"Look how dumb this sounds." The ignorance. The indignation. The arguing with signs. "Doesn't anyone see how ridiculous this is?" The camera person seems as lost as the star of the show, waving by Mass Extinction #1 (on the way to yet another mass extinction) without a moment's pause.

Fox ridicules the idea that someone could know what color ancient algae were. Was somebody there to see them? (I wonder if she could sound out "chlorophyll." Too tricky? Ok, let's start with "pigment.")

If something interesting happens after 8 minutes or so, let me know. That's all I could take. But I guess it's good to know this kind of self-assured, angry ignorance is a thing.

A step closer to deciding Permalink to this item

The Supreme Court agreed to take up same-sex marriage cases from Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee, the states for which the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld same-sex marriage bans after the Supreme Court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. They declined to accept appeals from Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Indiana where bans were overturned. In spite of Idaho's Governor using taxpayer money to plead that our state's case was the best, out state (in the 9th Circuit) wasn't mentioned. That leaves us in the majority of states (36, with 70% of the populations) where same-sex marriage is legal, for the time being.

Ironically, the argument that has been raised to centrality in Idaho's case, "think of the children" does show up, but not in the narrow-minded fashion our governor has argued. Rather than "think of the children of future straight couples which may be harmed by same-sex marriage being legal" (it doesn't have to make sense, it's a court case), this:

"The [Supreme] court was so focused [in its earlier decision] on the tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex parents and so sensitive to the ways those children are being disadvantaged and harmed and stigmatized," said Shannon Minter, legal director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. "It's hard to see how those same considerations wouldn't end up applying equally or even more forcefully to state marriage bans."

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

The new Puritans Permalink to this item

Who knew? Reza Aslan: "There are no Koranic prohibitions against depictions of the Prophet Muhammad." But ...

"[T]hese cultural taboos have become fixed in the minds of particularly Sunni Muslims who adhere to a puritanical, ultraorthodox brand of Islam ... that arose in the end of the 18th century in Saudi Arabia, often referred to as Wahhabism, and which became the official religion of the Saudi state in 1932. Over the last 25, 30 years or so, the Saudi government has spent somewhere along the lines of about $100 billion promoting this kind of puritanical strain of Islam across the world. And this Saudi Wahhabism is unique in that it takes this notion of iconoclastic behavior to its extreme ... destroying any tomb or any sacred space in Saudi Arabia that was associated with the Prophet or his family. They even tried to destroy the Prophet's tomb itself in Medina. Now, $100 billon buys you a great deal of traction. I mean, at this point, there is really not a Muslim community anywhere in the world that has not been affected by this strain of Saudi puritanism. And it's created an enormous shift among Muslims towards this kind of Arabocentric, ultraorthodox, puritanical strain of Islam."

Amen Permalink to this item

Banner in the Bishop's board room in Kolozsvár

Pope Francis recently heralded the 1,700th anniversay of the Edict of Milan, in which the Roman Emperor Constantine (when Istanbul was Constantinople) agreed to play nice with the Christians, whether out of benevolence, or possibly a pre-Pascal's wager to go with the winning team. There have been no small number of intramural contests since then, but I came across mention of the Edict while looking for a report of what I heard on the radio news yesterday, the Pope stating

"Religious freedom is a fundamental human right."

He said essentially the same thing in Buenos Aires three weeks ago. I was struck by the connection to a much more recent Edict, in Torda, then part of Hungary, not quite 4½ centuries ago. That was more specifically about protection for preachers to speak truth as they saw it, but in the centuries since (and long since its temporary sway was swept away by the indefatigable forces of religious intolerance), we Unitarians have read it as an individual right.

So be it.

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

Go Pack Go Permalink to this item

Last week, I found myself in the odd position of almost rooting for the Dallas Cowboys, which would have been a first. Mostly, it was about wanting the Detroit Lions to lose, so that the Packers would win the NFC Central, and have a bye for the first round of the playoffs. And the team of Ndamukong Suh really needed to pay for his foul play (and the NFL's inability to stick to a punishment that fit the crime). So, um, "go" Cowboys, that least of all America's team in my mind. At the thrilling conclusion down in Dallas Arlington, some small justice had been served, the Lions were done, and the Cowboys came to Lambeau this past Sunday. We all know how that turned out by now, so the world is in order.

While enjoying Harvey J. Kaye's triple take on why progressives should back the Green Bay Packers, I couldn't help but think of the enduring images of "celebrating victory" that go with the current season, prompted by the mention of Chris Christie in the opening paragraph. Christie trying to get in on the man hug in the Cowboys owner's booth was strange and awkward and ripe for comedy, even as it seems quintessentialy Cowboy. If you saw the image, you don't need me to remind you. If you missed it, consider yourself lucky.

A Lambeau leap

Texas doesn't need volunteers to clear snow off the seats from time to time, any more than they have to water their "turf." Whereas in Green Bay...

"As Packer tight end Keith Jackson put it: “In Green Bay, you’re not playing for some owner you don’t like.” Such words give added meaning to the famous “Lambeau leap”; when a Packer scores a touchdown and jumps into the end-zone seats, he’s really both demonstrating his affection for the fans and sharing his excitement with the team’s owners. After the Packers’ victory in the NFC championship game, Green Bay fans didn’t pour onto the field but warmly welcomed the players into the stands."

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

Justifying means Permalink to this item

In his column for the Idaho Statesman last month (Semantics aside, US showed torture to the world), David Adler spoke out against Machiavellianism ("the antithesis of constitutionalism") and in favor of the rule of law, things that used to go without saying, but do not, these days. Rational decision-making and moral clarity are not so easy to come by in the fever of terror.

Judge Stephen Trott's rebuttal to Adler's column, didn't beat around the bush. Protecting freedom justifies the harsh means - and always has, he said, opening by deriding the aphorism that "the ends do not justify the means" as a "misleading argument." He did not say whether there should be any limits to means, and instead quotes the "framers of the Constitution" having their say in the Federalist Papers that our defensive powers are "without limitation," because we never know what exigency we might face. "Torture" can be waved away with quotation marks. We've already applied firebombing and nuclear weapons on civilian populations in our defense of freedom and democracy, after all.

"How quickly we forget the enormity of al-Qaida's attack on our homeland," Judge Trott writes, and recites the plot of 9/11 as if anyone had, in fact, forgotten it, or the de facto rewriting of the Constitution that followed.

It's disorienting to read such rhetoric from a senior federal appeals judge. The ends do justify the means? It makes me want to avoid his courtroom (where I'm guessing his ends would trump my means).

Boise attorney David Nevin (who happens to be lead counsel for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in his prosecution in the Military Commission at Guantanamo Bay) provides a rebuttal to Judge Trott: Terror no reason to just shun our anti-torture law.

"This staunch law-and-order judge knows torture is illegal. Congress made it a 20-year felony in 1994. If death results from the torture (as it did in this case), the maximum penalty is death.

"What's more, the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, signed by the United States in 1988, places torture among acts such as genocide and slavery in which civilized human beings agree not to engage under any circumstances. In ratifying the convention in 1994, we (and 155 other nations) rejected ideas such as kriegsraison, devised by Hitler's military theorists, under which 'military necessity' could justify torture and other mistreatment of prisoners. After all, if merely being on the 'right side' in a conflict justified war crimes, the law of war would soon have no meaning at all. The Senate ratified the convention on Oct. 21, 1994, making it, under Article VI of the Constitution, 'the supreme Law of the Land.'"

And Nevin has a founding father of his own to quote, Alexander Hamilton, from a warning given in 1784:

"Nothing is more common than for a free people, in times of heat and violence, to gratify momentary passions, by letting into the government principles and precedents, which afterwards prove fatal to themselves."

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

Rocket science, in process Permalink to this item

Having seen the Beeb's feed headline, "SpaceX rocket test ends in crash," I was expecting to read about disaster, but not at all. You might struggle to find it in their coverage, but the NYT's report does get to mentioning that the 2-1/2 ton payload is well on its way to the International Space Station and due to arrive Monday. It was the attempt to have the rocket's first stage fly back to earth and land on a floating ("drone") platform in the Atlantic Ocean that didn't go as planned. The stage did its lift job just fine, but on the way home, it "failed to stick the landing" as the Times' headline put it. Elon Musk said they'll try to piece the pieces together, ha ha.

Give the BBC credit for good analysis of the effort to come up with reusable hardware for rocket launches, and the optimization problem, as Rachel Villain, with the space intelligence company Euroconsult described it:

"Reusability is the problem of the supplier, not of the client. A satellite operator has basically three demands - on time, on quality and on price."

Meanwhile, over at the SpaceX site itself, you can check out the webcast of the CRS-5 launch, with a prime-time opening and explainer voice-over before it gets to the terse thrill of communication between the operator and the engineers, and the "go" for terminal countdown checklist. Then (mostly) silence, waiting while the final minutes tick down, the final minute, 30 seconds, 20... and, you know. Still mighty exciting to watch.

Here's a grab from the video, T+ 00:12:15, with the solar array deploying from Dragon at left, and the sunrise limb of our home planet on the right.

Courtesy of SpaceX

The 39 hour work week Permalink to this item

If you've ever had a "part time" job, you may have had practical instructions in expanding fractions. One-quarter time is nominally 10 hours a week, half-time is 20 hours, and depending on the circumstances and job, it might be possible to put in just that amount of time. Above half-time, it can get sketchy, and the rule of thumb is that the only thing for sure "three-quarters" about a three-quarter time job is the pay. Right now, and maybe reflecting that reality (but who knows how the sausage was assembled), the Affordable Care Act sets 30 hours a week as "full time" for purposes of determining whether businesses with 50 or more employees will be required to offer health insurance (or pay a penalty).

One of the many complaints voiced about the ACA is that that requirement will drive employers to have more "less than 3/4 time" part-time jobs. If you have the need for 50 full-time workers, but meet it with 100 half-time employees (or 69 employees working 29 hr/wk), you dodge having to pay for health insurance.

Enter the newly rambunctious House of Representatives to save the... well, they're not actually trying to save anything, in spite of the Orwellian title for their Save American Workers Act, it's yet another thinly disguised measure of sabotage for Obamacare. It passed the House last session, and was left for dead.

By changing the definition of "full-time worker" right up to 40 hours, now that 50-job employer can get by with 57 workers putting in 35 or so hours per week, and go buy your own healthcare insurance, sorry about that! Jonathan Weisman does a nice job of generously describing the "argument" in favor, for the New York Times:

"[Republicans] said that they would re-establish the traditional 40-hour workweek and prevent businesses cutting costs from radically trimming worker hours to avoid mandatory insurance coverage. They contend that the most vulnerable workers are low-skilled and underpaid, working 30 to 35 hours a week, and now facing cuts to 29 hours so their employers do not have to insure them.

"With passage of the law, those workers would not have to get employer-sponsored health care, and their workweek would remain intact."

Gee, "those workers would not have to get employer-sponsored health care" sounds like they can lay their burden down, doesn't it? What me meant to say was that those workers' employers would not have to provide healthcare insurance which doesn't sound quite so jolly. Keep reading to find the apolitical assessment:

"But many economists, including Congress’s official scorekeeper, see it differently. This week, the Congressional Budget Office said the legislation would prompt 1 million people to be dropped from employer coverage, pushing from 500,000 to 1 million people onto government insurance and increasing the number with no insurance by hundreds of thousands. That would raise federal spending by $53.2 billion over the next decade."

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

Self-indictment Permalink to this item

A couple of three nut-jobs going on a killing spree for perceived insults to a religion is horrible, but people have gone crazy like that for all sorts of reasons, and in spite of the faults of any particular sect, it's absurd to blame the religion for acts of the insane.

But this, a thousand lashes, imposed by a bloody government brings despicable to a new level. Undermining the regime and officials? Inciting public opinion? Insulting the judiciary?

If those are crimes, the Saudi judges would be liable for the punishment.

Maybe with all our new oil production and the low, low price of gasoline the U.S. can show a little backbone in responding to our ally, at least as far as an official statement from the State Department. Yes.

"The United States Government calls on Saudi authorities to cancel this brutal punishment and to review Badawi’s case and sentence. The United States strongly opposes laws, including apostasy laws, that restrict the exercise of these freedoms and urges all countries to uphold these rights in practice."

Yes he did Permalink to this item

Mitch McConnell didn't take credit for making the sun rise—yet—but he did opine that our glimmering uptick appears to coincide with the dawn of Republican control of Congress. As if.

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

Season of shenanigans Permalink to this item

Congress #114 just spun up yesterday, and the GOP is applying its control of both houses to games right out of the chute. Tucked into yesterday's H. Res. 5 adoption of "Rules," is a manufactured "point of order against legislation" that would provide for shifting funds from Social Security's retirement program to its disability insurance, "something Congress has done 11 times since the 1950s" according to the HuffPo report. To whit, complete with an editorial chip shot at the end:

"Social Security Solvency. Subsection (q) creates a point of order against legislation that would reduce the actuarial balance of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, but provides an exemption to the point of order if a measure improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds. This subsection would protect the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund from diversion of its funds to finance a broken Disability Insurance system."

They also slipped in "dynamic scoring" magic without calling it by that name. It's just a rule about "macroeconomic scoring," and "impact analysis of revenue legislation." (Don't call it voodoo!) Who could argue with that?

Life as we know it Permalink to this item

NASA photo

It's a big universe out there, and what passes as just another news bite in astronomy these days needs some highlighting, I think. From Dennis Overbye's piece, So Many Earth-Like Planets, So Few Telescopes:

"Astronomers announced on Tuesday that they had found eight new planets orbiting their stars at distances compatible with liquid water, bringing the total number of potentially habitable planets in the just-right “Goldilocks” zone to a dozen or two, depending on how the habitable zone of a star is defined."

That's as compared to the Kepler telescope's hit list, 4,175 potential planets, almost a quarter of which have been "confirmed as real." Most of them are "hundreds of light-years away," an inconceivable distance. Pluto orbits our sun at a distance of 5-1/2 light hours, and the nearest star to our good old Sol, Proxima Centauri, is four and a quarter light-years distant, seven thousand times or so the distance to Pluto.

I'm no astrophysicist, but it seems plain enough where the arithmetic is headed. It looks certain there is more life out there in our galaxy (never mind the other 100 or 200 billion galaxies we'll never know), and likely in profusion. What looks like the recipe (as far as we know, from our sample of one smashing success) doesn't sound that hard to whip up.

Epiphany.2015 Permanent URL to this day's entry

TvA photo

I just have to say: Kirby Delauter Permalink to this item

Of course you've never heard of him before, but now. Well. He's a member of the Frederick County (Maryland) council, and has the quite bizarre notion that his name can only be published with his permission. He was in a snit over a reporter's "hit piece during the election where she embellished, twisted and downright lied about what we discussed," and wants her to know "you need to know who you're dealing with."

Hell's bells, let's let THE WHOLE WORLD know, shall we? And let's see what kind of lawyering he can summon up to make good on this threat:

"Use my name again unauthorized and you'll be paying for an Attorney. Your rights stop where mine start"

Not too surprisingly, the Frederick News-Post had a field day at his expense, under the headline Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter.

"Reasonable men (and women) are required to move Frederick County forward. All Kirby Delauter is doing yet again is displaying his inability to control his temper, embarrassing himself, his district, the county and those who voted him into office. If he wants to govern like a taxpayer, he needs to respect the taxpayers whose money provides his paycheck, stop this silly, inflammatory nonsense, and get to work."

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

It's a laffer Permalink to this item

Edward Kleinbard's op-ed gets it done in the headline: A Republican Ruse to Make Tax Cuts Look Good. Are we really talking about Supply Side Economics again, in 2015? Rebranded as it may be, "dynamic scoring" is another dose of smoke and mirrors.

"Conventional projections are skewed against tax cuts," you say? Because tax cuts are the magic elixir, ever and always leading to higher economic output, and thus making up the lost revenue. We've seen the movie so many times, it's in syndication.

"To make these models work, scorekeepers must arbitrarily assume either that we tax more and spend less today than is really the case — which is what they did for the Camp bill — or assume that a tax cut today will be followed by a spending cut or tax increase tomorrow. Economists describe such a move as 'making counterfactual assumptions'; the rest of us call it 'making stuff up.'"

If the ruse works, then what happens?

"When revenues do in fact decline and deficits rise, those same proponents will push for steep cuts in government insurance or investment programs, because they will claim that the models demand it. That is what lies inside the Trojan horse of dynamic scoring."

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

Idaho's gambling problem Permalink to this item

Life used to be simpler, after the West was won, and settled down to respectability. Gambling was bad, except for Nevada, where it was just their thing, and Montana, where the wild west lived on in Poker, and OK, some horse racing tracks, because what would horse racing be without being able to bet on the ponies? Then Atlantic City, state lotteries, riverboat, Indian casinos. Now everybody wants a piece of the action.

It's a long off-season for horses, and besides, attendance is down even when they are racing. With the sad story that racing has been on a steady decline for decades, the industry sold the 2013 legislature on legalizing "historical" horse racing, which is... a lot like slot machines with the spinning dials and flashing lights, and no off-season.

As featured in today's Idaho Statesman, some of those legislators felt they were "hoodwinked," as Republican state Rep. Steve Harris of Meridian put it. "After talking to my colleagues after the bill passed, I think they thought it was sold as a historical race being shown on one big screen. Not on one small, electronic screen." Not on one small, electronic screen tacked onto a slot machine, a skirt for a one-armed bandit, patterned to match the custom-made statute.

There aren't a lot of moral arguments being advanced these days, because how could we, really? (Credit to Stop Predatory Gambling for continuing to rail against "cannibalizing our local economies, destroying families and communities and corrupting good government.") The state got into the lottery business 25 years ago, and just yesterday, the paper was celebrating the latest big winners. $2 million!

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is "concerned" about the competition to their casino business, and also because the horsey set found a loophole to set up operations "off site" and the state denied the tribe that same courtesy.

We're on the slippery slope, no doubt about it; the only question is how far we'll be sliding.

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

Godwinned on day two Permalink to this item

Turns out blogger Lamar White Jr.'s story about something that happened a dozen years ago has considerable legs and you can pick up the repercussions in any channel you choose. Just before New Year's Eve, Steve Scalise admitted that yes he did speak to that gathering hosted by white-supremacists down in Louisiana back in 2002, but gosh, he had no idea that David Duke's European-American Unity and Rights Organization was full of neo-Nazis, and he only had one staff person back then.

Fast forward to 2014 and Scalise has ascended from chairman of the Republican Study Committee ("the caucus of the most conservative GOP members," WaPo says), to House Majority Whip. What he did and didn't know, and when he did and didn't know it is of quite a bit of interest in political circles.

ConservativeHQ's editor George Rasley fired for effect on New Year's Eve ("...Scalise Must Go..." because he's "either too dumb ... or he is just plain lying") and now again today, and not too put too fine a point on it, Steve Scalise and Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

"The venality and outright lies about House Republican Whip Steve Scalise’s association with David Duke’s racist organization, EURO, keep getting more obvious as Speaker of the House John Boehner, House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy struggle to contain the damage keeping Scalise on the House leadership team is doing to the Republican Party.

"None of what Scalise has said to try to explain away his association with David Duke, and Duke’s principle Louisiana political operative Kenneth Knight, has passed the smell test, and the more Scalise tries to explain it away, the deeper the lies get."

CHQ's not too big on Mr. Speaker either, "FIRE JOHN BOEHNER!" is #2 on their petition list, and "IMPEACH Obama" has slid to fourth place. If the dump Boehner campaign gets traction (is having a dumpboehner keyword on Free Republic any indication?), look for Idaho's Rep. Raúl "I'll say no to everything" Labrador pop into the limelight yet again.

raveling

Tom von Alten
ISSN 1534-0007