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unraveling

30.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

How the tax burden has changed Permalink to this item

Modified NYT chart of tax rate time series by bracket, scaled by population share of bracket Yet another superb interactive data graphic from the New York Times. The bullet points are illustrated with sets of four decade time series for 9 income brackets, and if you mouse over one of the series, it traces the corresponding point in time for all nine simultaneously. (That last part is a very cute, very clever feature, but I'm not sure it adds all that much.) Quoting their main points:

It isn't until the last graph that the relative shares of population and income of the nine brackets are shown, so the graphically equal-size brackets distort one's view of the underlying reality. There is no hint of the mythical "47%" for example, beyond the federal income tax line going negative for the lowest, $0-25k income segment, now 29% of the population. (Folks who don't pay federal income tax make up all of that lowest bracket, and part of the next; the ones paying the HIGHEST percentage of their income in state and local taxes.)

Ooh, suppose they scaled the WIDTH of the brackets by population? The wealthy sections would get very narrow... but the share of the population is a time series too, hmm. I scaled their top graph by the 2010 share of population, and can see why they chose not to go this route. :-) That last graph of the NYT set shows time series of the brackets' income share, too. How can we layer both those series of share data into the rest of what's shown?

28.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Timothy Egan at BSU Permalink to this item

Crowd at the first annual Cecil D. Andrus Lecture, in the Jordan Ballroom at BSU The Andrus Center for Public Policy has been kicking around since 1995, but just raised its profile with the first "Cecil D. Andrus Lecture" at Boise State University tonight. They had a great inaugural speaker, too: topical, local, worldly, smart, and quite comfortable speaking about politics and his own nonfiction writing for an hour.

They only had half the ballroom opened up, and the space was nearly full 15 minutes before showtime. They opened up a couple more sections of the room to accommodate the crowd. The Center's president, Marc Johnson made the announcement and asked "Who'd have thought the New York Times would be so popular here in Boise?" to jolly hoots from the crowd.

The crowd applauds for Egan's recent opinion on decriminalizing marijuana (sparked by voters in Washington state). We're in a good mood.

Egan was in a good mood too, "blown away" by the crowd. Must not be any sports on TV tonight, he joked, before giving a shout-out to the Governor, "Cece Andrus" there in the front row, and drawing an especially warm round of applause.

Starting with the political lessons from 2012, Egan imagines that "some things have shifted, for a decade or more." What happened? First, off it was "Revenge of the Nerds": "This was the year that Nate Silver was god." And... "the decline of Karl Rove," which got a VERY hearty round of applause. By this point, he'd figured out that he was in a decidely blue pocket of the 3rd reddest state in the nation.

Peggy Noonan's "feeling," Karl Rove's meltdown over Ohio, and Dick Morris, "the king of wrong mountain," represent the "political malpractice" of a group of people who preferred their own made-up reality to real reality, such that when the polls showed they were losing, they preferred UnSkewed Polls which predicted 51% of the vote for Romney right to the end. (Now they're wondering "Did Obama/Democrats STEAL the 2012 election with vote fraud?")

One of our huge challenges is climate change, for which Egan gave props to Jon Huntsman who observed that if 9 out of 10 doctors told you you had cancer, you wouldn't insist on listening to that other guy.

"We're an Enlightenment Age people," Egan said. Science moves us forward.

When all the provisional votes get counted... they're still counting... Romney will have... wait for it... 47%. "You can't win an election if you don't even pretend to like the voters."

He doesn't think we'll "go over the cliff" because both sides have too much to lose. Then what for the next 4 years? "I think once the health exchanges are set up, people will really like them. It gives you choice." What good capitalism gives you, lots of choices. (I wondered if he realizes how limited the Idaho state insurance market is, and I'm not yet seeing the Affordable Care Act as approaching the "effectively universal healthcare" that he seems to think it is or will be.)

Don't expect any action on gun control. (Did anyone not on the far-right fringe think there would be?)

Ticket-splitting is nearly dead, except in Montana (where Democrat Jon Tester won re-election), and North Dakota elected Heidi Heikamp, with her "winning personality." In next-door Washington state, Democrats took every statewide office except Secretary of State.

Egan noted we in Idaho "did rebel on the education stuff." We exercised our franchise "to say screw you." Yes he could get an amen.

His recent column about Washington's marijuana legalization was "not so much pro-pot as anti-jail people," something that's "not right for a country founded on personal freedom." One of the reasons it passed, he said, was that "the cops got behind it."

75% of voters in Butte, Montana said "corporations are not people," and directed their Congressional delegation to introduce a constitutional amendment to that effect. "Across party lines."

But the same thing applies whether you like or don't like the election results; they're like Montana weather, just wait a minute.

Timothy Egan signing books after his talk For the second half of his hour-long talk, Egan spoke about Edward Curtis and his work, the subject of his latest book, Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.

Curtis' 20 volume masterpiece which was lost and rediscovered was the first photographic work in which this country's natives were seen as human beings. Curtis set out to photograph all the Indian tribes, at the end of their very nearly being completely wiped out. Their population had been reduced by 99%, to about a quarter million total. Curtis saw the dying out, and felt he was in a race against the end. He photographed rituals that were being outlawed, because the non-citizen Indians didn't have 1st amendment rights to protect their practice of religion.

His 10,000 audio recordings included many of the last speakers of languages. He took 40,000 pictures over 30 years, carrying 14x17" glass plates all over creation, eventually creating a 20 volume work, but only 200-some sets published, each now worth as much as $2 million. (Northwestern University has digitized the whole 20 volumes of Edward S. Curtis' The North American Indian and put it on the web.)

Curtis wanted "only one thing" in what he was doing: "I want to make them live forever."

One dud Permalink to this item

There's precious little material to imagine I'm represented in the U.S. Senate in the reply I just received to my letter to Jim Risch yesterday. It's certainly not the first time I've been rewarded with unctuous palaver for taking the trouble to write to Congress, but I crazily imagined I could get through the input filter and the boilerplate response machine.

No.

"Dear," he started, and "thank you" and "I appreciate hearing from you." Then the body of the message. Then the all-purpose closing.

"I really value your effort to get in touch with me to share your thoughts, as many Idahoans do. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this or other issues.

"Very Truly Yours"

As I've often seen, the body was utterly unresponsive to the message I sent (other than its alignment with the general topic, "budget"). "Our current tax system is too complicated and our taxes are too high," Risch wrote. I'll go along with the first point, but not the second.

"It is critical government gets spending under control and reduces the economic burden on every taxpayer, who are a part of the most heavily taxed generations in history."

We'll let the run-on sentence with the weird splice between "every taxpayer" and "who are" slide, but "part of the most heavily taxed generations in history," really? It's not true about marginal tax rates. It's not true about effective corporate tax rates. it's not true for the highest income taxpayers. It is true for payroll taxes, which have increased monotonically since their inception.

It's demonstrably not true for total federal tax receipts as a percentage of GDP going back to 1945, unless he's county "generations" for the whole of his lifetime, as compared to, I don't know, our founding fathers?

It's not true when you compare other countries' total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP, which shows 62 (of 117) countries higher than the U.S.

It's not just that the Senator's rhetoric is in error; it's beside the point that I wrote to him about, which was a specific plan to deal with the current inequity in our tax system.

The two parties in Congress seem to spend their days doing this same thing: talking past each other and not getting anything done. I guess I shouldn't take it personally, but this blatant disrespect does grate on me.

BSU whoop Permalink to this item

The 'signage' image featuring the new B logo I was inspired to write that previous entry by the announcement from Boise State University that it is unifying its brand identity with a new B logo, but by the time I elaborated the ancient history of CEO snarkery, I was afraid it would be reduced to a non sequitur. We wouldn't want that.

So here, now, release the Broncos! And the brand and identity standards manual, with its comprehensive identity program promoting maximum recognition and awareness for Boise State. We're told that

"Boise State's registered trademarks, as well as other names, seals, logos, school colors and other symbols that are representative of the university, may be used solely with permission of Boise State University. Items offered for sale to the public bearing the university trademarks must be licensed."

Except of course for fair and reasonable criticism (and free advertising!), as here.

Big whoop Permalink to this item

My one and only trip to Comdex was at possibly the peak of its heyday, a few years before it was fully supplanted by the Consumer Electronics Show, and vaporized. For all I know, CES has been supplanted by something else. Twitter? In 1999, Carly Fiorina was fresh and new at HP's helm, and a keynote speaker in Las Vegas. The account of her speech, dutifully archived by her one-time employer, is a somewhat fascinating snapshot of the moment when the internet came to town.

Once the purview of elite technologists, "and, as implied by the word Cyberspace, distant, cold, alien and threatening," the future would make the internet "pervasive, intimate, warm, friendly, useful and personal." (Never mind that "pervasive" does not conjure intimacy, warmth or friendliness, even if it is part of useful. And invasive, nefarious and actually threatening, as opposed to vaguely so.)

"She went on to describe those elements that would drive the future of HP's success, including a promise of a new HP, a spirit captured in HP's new brand identity that was launched at the conclusion of her speech."

Comdex was where big, new stuff got launched every year, so to have a new logo (minimally modified by adding the word "invent" in a font sized and kerned as if it escaped from an eye chart) be her punch line, was slightly anticlimactic. Sun Microsystem's CEO Scott McNealy said as much, succinctly, when it was his turn to speak. (Before he spoke, his advance team had arranged for CDs with free copies of StarOffice 5.1 on all the chairs.) He said "new logo" and gave the raised index finger, one circle "big whoop" sign.

Hard to say how all that turned out. Sun Microsystems was absorbed by Oracle a couple years ago, and judging by their "together" page, they're working to digest it into a lifeless, buzzword stew. HP has been absorbing all sorts of things, but with occasionally serious indigestion. We're damn sure McNealy and Fiorina (and a parade of other HP execs) personally made out like bandits, but the warm, friendly and personal rank and file, not altogether so much.

27.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Letters to Congress Permalink to this item

Not the only thing on my mind today, but one of them. Fired off this letter to my two Senators and one Representative:

I'm writing concerning the current debate about taxes, tax reform, federal spending, and the so-called "fiscal cliff" the Congress is supposedly working to avoid.

I'm really sick of the stalemate that members of both parties, but mostly the Republicans have engineered. The country needs Congress to earn some of the outsized salary we pay them.

Warren Buffet has forgotten more about economics and business than I imagine I'll ever know, and his recent Op-Ed in the New York Times lays out a succinct, understandable path to solving the situation we're in. I endorse it, and I hope you will find it helpful as well.

The one thing he didn't address is the Alternative Minimum Tax, which seems to be a problem year after year. On top of a plan to have

1) revise the top tax rates;

2) a minimum tax on the wealthy, and reform to stop the incessant gaming of the system through things like "carried interest";

3) provide for revenue of about 18.5% of GDP, and spending of 21% of GDP, to keep deficit spending within reason.

I would add that the minimum tax of #2 should replace the AMT, which is not doing what it was designed to do, as its unadjusted limits slide down and apply to middle and lower-middle class tax payers.

Thank you for your consideration.

26.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Lighting up Coeur d'Alene Permalink to this item

Black Friday evening found us in north Idaho's resort town, with a load of family there to see the holiday parade and stuff. Seemed like an odd thing to do, especially with dark coming so early up there this time of year, and rainy weather. But it was a popular draw, and after we crept into town through a traffic jam, parked a half dozen blocks from the action and made our way to the route, the view was mostly of the crowd lining the street three and four-deep. (Build taller floats, please!)

What else? After trying another side street, and finding the end of the parade gone by, we thronged across Sherman Avenue to a view of the big, dark "tree" on top of Hagadone HQ with the expectation that it would be lit up. Please don't light your candles yet came the announcement over the P.A. First we have some Christmas carols to be sung by a barbership group. Uh, ok. But do they have to sing EVERY carol they know? Apparently, they did. And then a local theater group with a couple of jazzy numbers, that was nice. And now light your candles for the "Silent Night" sing-along... Have you ever sung along to a barbershop arrangement of "Silent Night"? Me neither.

But ok, now the tree lighting? Not quite. First, some kick-ass FIREWORKS set to MUSIC with a speaker system capable of rattling your chest and molars at 100 meters, let's just say Silver Bells meets heavy metal. After the crescendo to the thrilling and final fussilade, and before the smoke cleared, the lighting! Not just the tree, but the park! The street! All the storefronts! Ahhh.

They were some great Chinese fireworks, even if it's a new thing for me to have those go with Thanksgiving. And even if topping "Silent Night" with an explosive display is, um, bizarre? It does make some sense as potlatch (to the extent that potlatch makes sense). Typically practiced more in the winter seasons, music, I danced a little to keep my feet warm, theatricality and spiritual ceremonies, our hosts demonstrating their wealth and prominence by giving away the free show (and paying the electric bill).

It wasn't really a potlatch, because that practice was outlawed more than a century ago, as "by far the most formidable of all obstacles in the way of Indians becoming Christians, or even civilized." And here we were singing Christmas carols, so all was well.

Well, I guess that's one goofy legislator Permalink to this item

We came and went by Cottonwood on our holiday travels, in the middle of the one Idaho county that spans the state from Montana to Oregon. The town is population 910 at last count, the county sixteen and a half thousand people spread out over 8,500 square miles. It takes all that and three more counties (Clearwater, Lewis, and Valley) to make up one of our 35 legislative districts.

One of District 8's state lawmakers is dense enough to make some noise though, retweeting Tea Party Nation's founder Judson Phillips' notion of how a little Republican monkey-wrenching might still win the 2012 election for Mitt Romney. Yes, that's right, never mind the voting and stuff, if enough of the states that Romney carried just don't show up for the Electoral College finale... the House could still add 1600 Pennsylvania Ave to Mitt's temporary housing collection! (The Senate would re-elect Joe Biden, but so what?) Sheryl Nuxoll doesn't actually think this will happen, but she does

"think it is very, very sad that we elected our current president, because he is definitely not following (the) Constitution. He is depriving us of our freedoms by all the agencies, and so ... what I'm thinking is the states are going to have to stand up for our individual rights and for our collective rights."

Confronted with the opinion of an actual constitutional scholar who called it "a strange and bizarre fantasy," Nuxoll replied "well, I guess that's one lawyer."

A realistic and concrete plan Permalink to this item

Warren Buffett has a succinct proposal for tax reform, simplification, and managed, deficit spending that seems to outdo the vaunted Simpson-Bowles commission, Gang of Six, Eight, or however many, with a passing dismissal of the pinheaded anti-tax ideology promoted for lo these many years by Grover Norquist, in his NYT op-ed: A Minimum Tax for the Wealthy.

"[L]et's forget about the rich and ultrarich going on strike and stuffing their ample funds under their mattresses if—gasp—capital gains rates and ordinary income rates are increased. The ultrarich, including me, will forever pursue investment opportunities.

"And, wow, do we have plenty to invest. The Forbes 400, the wealthiest individuals in America, hit a new group record for wealth this year: $1.7 trillion. That's more than five times the $300 billion total in 1992. In recent years, my gang has been leaving the middle class in the dust."

That's thanks to "a huge tail wind from tax cuts" that always seems to blow a little stronger to the right. But his piece is not about the class war his side has been winning, it's about a proposal to put our government's fiscal house in order, by:

So easy even a lame duck Congress can do it? What a fabulous Christmas present that would make for us all.

The devil is in the details of the "major concessions by both Republicans and Democrats" required to correct the imbalance of revenue/spending at 15.5/22.4% of GDP in our last fiscal year. Notice his arithmetic: twice the increase of revenue over decrease in spending.

Sunday drivers Permalink to this item

Last cottonwood leaves at Skookumchuck We were among the bazillion people who traveled to see family over the long holiday weekend, spending 15 hours on the road over a good chunk of Idaho's height. Once upon a time, driving to Spokane Valley seemed too slow or too far, and we'd fly instead. At some point, going by car just turned easier, more pleasant, and more comfortable, even if it takes all day this time of year.

If the weather's sultry, it can take a lot more than all day, but for our time on the road, it ranged from fabulously gorgeous to rain showers, just a bit of graupel, and a few patches of dense fog. Only one of those, down in the 7% stretch of the Lewiston grade, was actually an anxious moment, but traffic was light and all was well. (Not everyone has the same report: we saw the aftermath of several ugly wrecks on Sunday, including two on the shady north side of Whitebird pass, people who apparently blasted over the top from the clear, wide open south side climb thinking they could go as fast as they pleased and/or the speed limit. It ain't necessarily so. Like the sign says: WATCH FOR ICE. And deer.)

Fall colors reigned, from rain-wet Ponderosa and granite along the Payette, last leaves here and there set off by evergreens and dark canyons, the inimitable black and gold and green of plowed stubble and winter wheat in mollisol on the Camas prairie, to the northbound highlight: a rainshower over the confluence of the Little Salmon with the big Salmon, making a canyon-spanning rainbow that led us through Riggins at 25mph, wall-to-wall around each and every curve.

Rain along the Payette R., Nov. 21, 2012 Ponderosa, granite, Payette River

Just a bit of slush in McCall on the way up, otherwise roads clear and wet, or clear and dry. Late November driving in Idaho doesn't get any better than that. The one deer crossing the road in front of us in Wednesday's dusk didn't try anything funny, and the Sunday morning moose kept his (or her) distance from the road.

I expected a lot of traffic coming in to Boise, but we actually saw more people headed north yesterday, back to school in Moscow, we supposed. Maybe we were ahead of the jam, getting back into town while there was still daylight.

If I'd known how smooth the sailing would be, I probably would've made a lot more than a half dozen photo stops, but if we'd stopped for every photo opportunity, we'd still be out on the road.

Lewiston overlook, inversion. Nov. 25, 2012 Inversion over the Snake/Clearwater confluence

25.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Congressional gasbags Permalink to this item

Senator John McCain, fail. Senator Lindsey Graham, fail. Senator Joe Lieberman, fail. Representative Peter King, fail. McCain says he's open to considering UN Ambassador Susan Rice's explanation, should she be nominated for Secretary of State, of something which actually requires no explanation whatsoever.

We understand that other than losing the race for the White House, and not taking over the Senate like they thought they were going to, the Republicans are looking at the bright side: they still have the House, and they still have the Senate rules that enable infinite obstruction.

But at some point we have to wonder if these guys don't have some shame. Joe Lieberman weighing whether someone is a "good or bad public servant"? Please.

Why is it that the particulars of national security, flogged mercilessly for political gain during the campaign, are still fodder for the Sunday morning talk shows after the game is over? It's not like they don't have better and more useful things to do.

I'd like to see more offense from the Obama administration. What's "assuming the proportions of any other major scandal in this town," as McCain put it, is the Congress' ongoing failure to do their jobs, while imagining the country needs them to stick their noses in other peoples' jobs.

Update: I wasn't aware that McCain, Graham and Lieberman had a three musketeers thing going—or that Lieberman is retiring at the end of the current session. Glad to hear he's done. Being wrong together doesn't make them any less wrong, but it's slightly explanatory.

24.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Unlike Permalink to this item

As Egypt devolves back to strong man rule, Syria burns, and post-Hussein Iraq searches for some sort of stability, the challenges of building and maintaining democracy are as stark as ever. I thought India kind of had things going OK, but then what do I know of India? Turns out, not so much.

One might well ask why an entire city of 12½ million population be involuntarily shuttered to mark the death of a politician. But should one ask that question on Facebook and have someone "like" it, to be "arrested and charged with engaging in speech that was offensive and hateful" seems beyond incredible. Don't these people have anything better to do?

Thanksgiving Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dead hand control Permalink to this item

J.R. Simplot's big flag is flying in front of the snowy Boise front above Betsy Russell's report for the Spokesman-Review today. The story of the folly on the hill has not moved forward much, but the suggestions coming in for what to do with it from the public provide some comic relief. Make the Governor live there? Bed and breakfast? Fitness center (have the guests park at the bottom and walk up the driveway)? Advertise it worldwide for... "Celebrities [who] love to spend money to look like they have money."

Consider it Idaho's claim to celebrity then, an empty statement of how we love to look like we have money, as we drain the treasury to keep up a vacant house. Most of $200,000 for upkeep, including $80,000 for "grounds maintenance" and a $40,000 electric bill, "largely for irrigation pumps" to keep the perfectly ridiculous (a.k.a. "iconic") lawn green in our desert climate.

"...the real problem is the high cost of maintaining the grassy grounds. If the Simplot family would be agreeable to doing away with the the iconic lawn in favor of xeriscaping or another solution, [Rep. Max Black, R-Boise] said, maintenance costs would drop significantly.

"That would also remove a popular local recreation area, however: Boiseans long have sledded on the hill in winter, and slid down it atop ice blocks the rest of the year, making the site a popular draw for local kids and families."

Which yeah, that's gotta be worth 50 or 60 thouand bucks a year. Just think of it as free season passes at the local ski hill for the first 300 callers.

But I'm wondering why it is the Simplot family has to be consulted for the decision making when they've already taken their whopping tax deduction to the bank and are not (ahem) paying any of the 6-figure upkeep. We have to ask the Simplots if it's OK to take out the lawn and stop pouring money down our official state money pit?

J.R.'s ghost must be chortling at the thought.

20.11.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Mr. Deficit Permalink to this item

When we want one-way traffic, we use diodes in our electronics, and check valves in our plumbing. In politics, we've had "the Pledge," dreamed up by Grover Norquist to further his goal of shrinking government to the point where we could (he doesn't insist we have to, just that we could) drown it in the bathtub.

The choice of metaphor might have been spur of the moment, but it was certainly catchy, even if it might make you wonder about the imagination of someone who thinks in terms of drowning things in bathtubs. (Might not want to have him babysit for you.) There's also his version of a warning for what any nay-sayers would do to the Republican "brand," going back on the Pledge likened to "a Coke can with a rat head in the bottom."

We stipulate it was a clever ploy, and that it has worked exceedingly well "on the revenue side," as they say. (Even if there is a disturbing parallel between the Party, the can, Norquist, and the rat head.) With most of one party persuaded to sign on, and political systems that enable obstruction, we've been enjoying remarkably low tax rates for a decade plus, even as we didn't shrink the size of anything for the people in charge. (We're shrinking the middle class well enough.) When the budget almost balanced last, it was time to lower taxes, with even the looters' arithmetic making it clear we'd have to do it for a limited time.

The theory being that things would be so great after a decade of lower taxes... it wouldn't matter? We'd forget about raising them? No, that pledgers could then call the agreed upon schedule a tax "increase" and thus obstruct it as part of the program.

Ironically, we're hearing more about how things are so dire right about now that we don't dare "raise" taxes on anyone. Even as we also hear about how dire our deficit situation is.

That would be because no one offered, and no one took a Pledge to actually do the hard work on the expenditure side. It's politically unpopular to cut programs, whereas it's politically OK to not actually arrange to pay for stuff, and politically great to cut taxes.

Low taxes, big deficit. Free stuff!

But even some of the True Believers are feeling a little squishy this time around, as Jeremy Peters reports for the New York Times. Will the Norquist "tortured vision of tax purity" stand up, or is it time for the grown-ups to admit that a 12 year-old's idea of a principle for governance was actually not that bright?

19.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Twinkie capitalism Permalink to this item

I did not know that it was Howdy Doody that made the Twinkie famous, but the deed had been done by the time my early junk food years came along. Paul Krugman's column explains the source of the "wave of baby boomer nostalgia" for a seemingly more innocent time (and a run on Hostess products), when taxes where high, inequality a lot lower, and the post-war boom was on.

"Today, of course, the mansions, armies of servants and yachts are back, bigger than ever—and any hint of policies that might crimp plutocrats' style is met with cries of 'socialism.' Indeed, the whole Romney campaign was based on the premise that President Obama's threat to modestly raise taxes on top incomes, plus his temerity in suggesting that some bankers had behaved badly, were crippling the economy."

And he goes on about the class warfare and the limits of nostalgia. But what about the great American Hostess brand? Is this the end of tubular golden sponge cakes? Say it ain't so!

Ok, it ain't so. The flagship Twink and its cohort will certainly live on, a multi-billion dollar annual revenue stream that some enterprising capitalists will scarf up after the current crop of CEOs is off to update their vessels and portfolios, perhaps with $1.75 million in parting gifts, the creamy filling of the second bankruptcy in less than a decade.

But apparently the past is darker than Howdy Doody, overpaid executives, and the latest plutocrat-dispiriting labor dispute resulting in negative 18,000 job creations. Bloomberg celebrates the "history of battles with workers, price-fixing charges and even murder and extortion." (Back in the good old 20s.)

And in case you're vaguely wondering why you hadn't acted upon this nascent nostalgia sparked by the news, and bought any of these products for years and years, consider this tasty morsel from Steve Ettlinger, the author of Twinkie, Deconstructed:

"Twinkies' moisture comes from oil, their vitamins are fermented or created out of petroleum, and the main ingredient in the cream is probably an emulsifier called Polysorbate 60."

To make matters worse, the judge declined to go along with the execs' plan for liquidation today, and there'll be mediation required before "liquidation" and all those jobs are uncreated.

17.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

47% less filling Permalink to this item

Steve Kornacki, on Salon: The sore losers club. Welcome to new members Mitt Romney, expressing his privately sincere feelings, again, to donors, when he really ought to be busy writing thank-you notes to them, shouldn't he? And Paul Ryan, apparently not getting how this election thing works, "well, he got turnout." And ayup, more votes where it counted.

It must be especially annoying to imagine that the "free healthcare" thing tipping the tide after Romney was for it before he was against it before he was sort of for it again, and now he's against it was outright bribery.

Three easy economic pieces Permalink to this item

On Going to the Sun Road, Aug. 2012; photo by Piper Driskell The easiest one is from George Will, standing on the side of 38 Louisiana monks who just want to turn their hurricane Katrina windfall into cypress caskets and sell them to support their way of life. The court battle between them and the State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors is swinging their way, even if the appeals court did not take the opportunity to throw out the law behind the protection racket as unconstitutional. Will notes that a previous case provided an unvarnished description of "the national pastime" and prerogative of state and local governments for "dishing out special economic benefits" to favored interests.

The second one is from my favorite calm and sensible professor, Ed Lotterman, in his "Real World Economics" column, that data on federal government show sky isn't falling. "It would be useful," he writes, if the members of the chorus of doom "would spend more time looking at the actual data and less time spinning yarns."

"Yes, the federal government is growing, as measured by its outlays of money. However, if one compares these to the size of the overall economy, the increases are less dramatic than many claim."

But how are you going to make the daily news with less drama?

"We have real problems of spending that is not sustainable, but not outside of the big entitlement programs that include Social Security and Medicare. There certainly are many inefficiencies in both FEMA and the Corps of Engineers, and perverse incentives in some of the programs they administer, especially the national flood insurance program.

"But to describe these as manifestations of government growth that has mushroomed out of control is an unwillingness to face facts about our government, whose general operations have grown slower than the overall economy for a couple of decades."

And finally, beware the Chicken Little under cover of masquerade, an "ersatz crisis" being used to promote political positions that can't stand on their own two feet: Robert Borosage on the Grand Bargain Betrayal simmering in the lame duck stew.

"Virtually every aspect of this hysteria is wrong. The United States does not have a short-term deficit problem, and the fundamental long-term problem isn't one of soaring debt; rather, it is the lack of a foundation for sustainable growth that includes working people. Without a political movement to achieve the latter, very little progress will be made on the former."

Inflation is not accelerating, interest rates remain at record lows, and US securities are the best thing going for nervous global investors.

"This election was fought over which candidate and which party would do better at producing jobs and growth. To turn to deficit reduction now would be a great betrayal."

This third piece is not-so-easy, actually, but a worthwhile read.

Retractions from Graham and McCain forthcoming? Permalink to this item

Just wanted to ask, even though it hardly seems likely that the Republican graybacks would be reconsidering their preemptive torpedoes against Susan Rice's prospects for succeeding Hillary Clinton at State. They posture because they can.

The scandal has legs, Senator McCain wants us to know. "This thing is a centipede ... another shoe is going to drop within days, I guarantee you." And then ninety-eight more to go.

"The American people deserve answers," he said, comparing the deaths of four Americans in the attack in Libya to Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair. "What did the president know? When did he know it? And what did he do about it?" Those were some of the key questions on which "the American people deserve answers," McCain said.

He was saying all these things, and calling Rice "not very bright" while he missed a classified briefing that might have provided some of those answers, due to an apparent "scheduling error," dropping a spare shoe of irony on his castigation.

Candidate Romney's attempt to politicize the attack in Benghazi seemed ridiculously ill-advised from the get-go, none of the imagined conspiracy theories had any sort of plausibility, including the latest chapters involving the unraveling of David Petraeus' affairs, now that he's testified to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and explained that whatever intelligence there was, the talking points were constructed with military purposes in mind, not political ones.

It's so hard to let a prospective scandal go.

Grossly underestimating my transparency Permalink to this item

"Everyone is reading everyone else's e-mails," says Dan Kaminsky, an internet security export, "because it's just so easy to do." That's the sidebar pull quote from Nicole Perlroth's piece for the NYT, Trying to Keep Your E-Mails Secret When the C.I.A. Chief Couldn't. Kaminsky:

"They think hacking is some difficult thing. Meanwhile, everyone is reading everyone else's e-mails—girlfriends are reading boyfriends', bosses are reading employees'—because it's just so easy to do."

Consider it a light technical update to what Scott McNealy said, back in early '99 about just getting over your old-fashioned notions. "You have zero privacy anyway," he said, prompting assorted astonishment and spluttering back then, one fellow declaring it "tantamount to a declaration of war."

Get over the idea that the Fourth Amendment offers you protection. The requirement for a warrant from a judge to search physical property does precious little for your electronic communications:

"Under the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a warrant is not required for e-mails six months old or older. Even if e-mails are more recent, the federal government needs a search warrant only for 'unopened' e-mail, according to the Department of Justice's manual for electronic searches. The rest requires only a subpoena."

For those of us in the pack-rat club, who knew that it was open season for anything older than 6 months? Before the ubiquity of the cloud keeping all your stuff (which 1999 certainly was) that might have seemed a moot point (especially if you didn't have any idea how much was being helpfully archived by servers), but now it sounds like All Your Base Are Belong to Us.

15.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

House clownery Permalink to this item

Our junior member of Congress is still not quite House-broken, more intent on putting on a show in small venues ("Conversations with Conservatives"? How does that even warrant time on C-Span?) than actually doing whatever it is we're paying him $174,000 a year (and his staff several times that) to do.

Calling for adminstration officials to resign for no particular reason, trying to jump on the Petraeus scandal bandwagon, and name-calling, seriously? He must be feeling pretty full of himself with a two-year extension on his job, and still a member of the majority. Dan Popkey reports:

Labrador also sharp words for Obama, saying the president "poisoned the well" on immigration reform with his June executive order halting deportation of some young illegal immigrants who entered the United States as children.

To get reform, Labrador said, "We have to look past the idiocy of the other side and find a rational solution to immigration."

Idiocy. We have to look past the idiocy of the other side. You are not making this easy, Congressman.

Update: Not sure whether this tops a Con Con with the press on C-Span, but the Senate has some clownery of its own: John McCain and Rand Paul trying to squeeze a scandal out of the Benghazi attack while missing a classified briefing for the Senate Homeland Security Committee they're part of. The ranking member of their party, Susan Collins of Maine, was not a happy camper.

McCain's spokesperson said whoops it was "a scheduling error." Paul's spokesperson said her man already knows everything, and is demanding answers.

14.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

There are useful lessons for those who will listen Permalink to this item

Not so Onion-y, but we did just stick the black guy with the worst job in the world again. He asked for it after all. That thought occurred to me after enjoying most of Brett Stephens' excellent post-election instruction, Earth to GOP: Get a Grip, when it came to the conclusion:

"[T]hough I have my anxieties about the president's next term, I also have a hunch the GOP dodged a bullet with Mr. Romney's loss. It dodged a bullet because a Romney victory would have obscured deeper trends in American politics the GOP must take into account. A Romney administration would also have been politically cautious and ideologically defensive in a way that rarely serves the party well.

"Finally, the GOP dodged ownership of the second great recession, which will inevitably hit when the Federal Reserve can no longer float the economy in pools of free money. When that happens, Barack Obama won't have George W. Bush to kick around."

The thing about being a two-term President is that you don't have to care. Just look at GWB's non-participation this season. (Which is not to say you don't have a unique opportunity to do some good in the world: just look at Bill Clinton.)

Short-term history, as in, what the GOP will campaign on in 2014 and 2016, I'm super sure that any and all economic problems will be stuck on Democrats and Obama, just as super sure I am that we took a crazy turn toward financial ruin when the Republicans rubbed their hands, licked their lips and implemented a gigantic, budget-busting "temporary" tax cut to loot the Treasury under cover of a two-step plan to reduce taxes and reduce the size of government which never actually finds that second step.

The common sense mantra at the individual level is "you get what you pay for." The practical rule at the level of large government is "you can get other people to pay for things that you get credit for." Or just take out the long-term, low-interest loan that kicks the bill down the road for another generation. The longer-term history is a larger picture than just head man hero versus anti-hero.

No means No Permalink to this item

Neighbor's sumac, at its 2012 fall moment The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked up John Miller's AP story about Idaho's post-election education kerfuffle, where the top story seems to be the incredible density of our Superintendent of Public Instruction. Give him credit for recognizing that "union thugs" wasn't the best angle. That must have come as a surprise, given how durable an element of politics it's been in the state, and was definitely the drum co-loser Frank VanderSloot was thumping in his full-page advertorials before the election.

Wondering what went wrong (and not accepting "everything" for an answer), Tom Luna says he should have cut his meat into smaller portions. Had his comprehensive corporatization of public education comprised "a couple dozen bills" they would have been harder to shoot down.

"With the referendum, it's very easy to find one or two things in a very complex bill."

"The referendum" would be the long and burdensome process that was enshrined in the Idaho Constitution 100 years ago (albeit not implemented by the Legislature until 1933) and which had qualified for a ballot only 4 times before this year. The voters rejected a law just ONCE in our history before this year (rejecting a 2% sales tax in 1936; 76 years on, our sales tax is 6%). (The voters' route to write law themselves, the Initiative, has had more use, and more success: it's batting .500 in 28 tries.)

So that's how easy it is to find "one or two things in a very complex bill" and throw out legislation with the referendum over this state's checkered political history. Idaho voters gave Mr. Luna and the Legislature an unprecedented rebuke trifecta, and his takeaway is that if only there had been dozens of bills, he might have got some of his program through.

What could possibly go wrong? Permalink to this item

You wouldn't think this is a particularly lucrative market, but it apparently makes up in volume for what it lacks per capita. The New York Times reports that major retailers are moving into financial products, creating a "shadow banking industry" for the unbanked and underbanked.

"The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimates that roughly 10 million households in the United States do not use a bank, up from nine million three years ago. And the agency says 24 million more households have a bank account but still use nonbank financial services, like prepaid cards."

Walmart's CFO estimates that as much as a quarter of his shoppers are unbanked, and is happy to offer them things like prepaid debit cards that charge $3 every time you need to load money in. And how about a life insurance policy while you're at it? And if you're at Sam's Club, how about a business loan (backed by the federal Small Business Administration), too?

Paco Underhill, who researches shopper behavior as founder and chief executive of Envirosell, said retailers offering financial products was only the beginning.

"The banks are going to scream bloody murder when retailers try to obtain banking charters," he said. "But it's not hard for a retail organization to look across the landscape and say, 'Who are my customers, and what else could I be selling them?'"

13.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Bit of riveting inside baseball Permalink to this item

From Joe Trippi, What I saw with Karl Rove on election night.

Who calls what, when, matters a lot to these folks, but beyond the ratings, not so much to us. The election was called Tuesday night, long before Florida had finished counting votes, and without the trauma that some elections have had. Still, rather interesting to read this first-person account of what was going on in the heads and scratch pads in the runup to the on-air meltdown. H/t to Greg Hahn at Idaho Reports for the link.

12.Nov.12 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The unveiling, wrap-up edition Permalink to this item

Nathaniel Hoffman, on The Blue Review: Who Were the Two Dozen Secret EVI Donors Anyway? More about the folks who chipped in to the astroturf "Education Voters of Idaho" in the failing effort to have our state's voters endorse the Luna Laws for the reforming of education in a non-union and more corporate-friendly way.

Even though the voters said no to this round, judging by the Idaho Statesman's editorial board's conclusion, the goal posts have been moved, and content-free rhetoric such as

"What is 'reform,' really, other than a response to ever-changing realities?"

passes for... what, I don't know. "Let's at least agree that education reform is not something to fear or vilify"? How about if we just agree that attention toward continual improvement of education is worthwhile, and then let's at least agree that saying

"Business leaders are the back-end education stakeholders"

is wrong, and deeply offensive. The purpose of education is not to produce widgets that "business leaders" can plug into a machine.

Thank you.

The stink of failure Permalink to this item

I'm not that big on online petitions, but occasionally I find one that gets my clicker twitching. This isn't one of those, but who knows, YMMV: Urge Macy's To Dump Donald Trump.

The chances of me going into a Macy's aren't good, even if I knew where to find one. The chance of me actually buying something from a department store... what is this, the 1960s or something?

But finding out that there's "a fragrance" with Trump's brand on it. That's funny.

Serpents and stalkers Permalink to this item

Trash failure The most interesting tidbit in Business Insider's "Politics" feature about a brutal civil war in the GOP, likely to take Karl Rove as its first casualty is "powerful evangelical kingmaker and conservative operative" David Lane's take on the man "as shrewd as a serpent" (not to get all Biblical on us or anything). Rove was reportedly instrumental in torpedoing John McCain in the 2000 campaign (and leaving McCain unelectable 8 years later), and this time around, Lane sees Rove as having artfully played one weak primary candidate off another to advance the Mitt Romney campaign, supporting Santorum as a "stalking horse" while dispatching Perry and Gingrich. He doesn't mind that Fox News and the Wall Street Journal (which is to say Rupert Murdoch) paid Rove well.

"But giving Karl Rove the perch as a neutral analyst and an unbiased observer—honest broker—when in reality Karl is driven by his desire to enhance his clients and/or personal interests—corrupts the process."

I'm trying to fathom an imagination that can see Rove as having been "a neutral analyst and an unbiased observer." Must be the folks who think that the "fair and balanced" slogan is pretty much on the mark.

Because we wanted a hero Permalink to this item

That's the explanation for a lot of crazy things that have happened over the years, and perhaps an oversimplification of Spencer Ackerman's nuanced account of how we was drawn into the cult of David Petraeus. The job of being President is too complicated to be heroic while it's happening, but being a General? Maybe. It helps to have "controlled access" and controlled messaging.

Armistice Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

The melting pot thickens Permalink to this item

I wonder if Bill O'Reilly's performance for Fox News on election day looks as strange and pathetic to him after few days' aging as it does to me. He seems like he wanted a good cry, maybe, lamenting the passing of the era in which guys like him—white guys like him—were on top of the world, and that was the way God intended it to be. Oddly enough, he was giving the same "47%" speech as Romney had in that secretly recorded meeting with donors last March (with the percentage adjusted for the confrontation with reality that was just sinking in):

"It's not a traditional America anymore. There are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And, who is going to give them things? President Obama. He knows it, and he ran on it. And, whereby, 20 years ago, President Obama would have been roundly defeated, by an establishment candidate like Mitt Romney." (He takes a big sniff. Snooty? Verklempt? Rhinovirus?)

Yeessss, like the way the establishment candidate George H.W. Bush defeated the upstart Bill Clinton 20 years ago, say.

"The white establishment is now the minority. The voters, many of them, feel the economic system is stacked against them, and they want stuff. You're going to see a tremendous hispanic vote for Obama. Overwhelming black vote for President Obama and women will probably break President Obama's way. People feel that they are entitled to things, and which candidate between the two is going to give them things."

Not that it's going to comfort him, but while the white establishment may have slipped from majority to minority, that doesn't make it "the" minority; it would be the largest minority, of many. Maybe it will make it better-behaved. But at least a little less presumptuous.

10.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Fantasyland Permalink to this item

No night (or year) at the theater would be complete without some thoughtful criticism; Frank Rich's review of the current season gone by and a party of denial is brutally honest:

"At the policy level, this is the GOP that denies climate change, that rejects Keynesian economics, and that identifies voter fraud where there is none. At the loony-tunes level, this is the GOP that has given us the birthers, websites purporting that Obama was lying about Osama bin Laden's death, and not one but two (failed) senatorial candidates who redefined rape in defiance of medical science and simple common sense. It's the GOP that demands the rewriting of history (and history textbooks), still denying that Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Richard Nixon's 'southern strategy' transformed the party of Lincoln into a haven for racists. Such is the conservative version of history that when the website Right Wing News surveyed 43 popular conservative bloggers to determine the 'worst figures in American history' two years ago, Jimmy Carter, Obama, and FDR led the tally, all well ahead of Benedict Arnold, Timothy McVeigh, and John Wilkes Booth."

There's something for everybody, from the top of the ticket ("about as much of a human touch with voters as an ATM") on down to Mary Matalin, George Will, Dick Morris, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, the anti-Silver Jay Cost of The Weekly Standard, "whose learned, lengthy, and chart-laden explanations of why Nate Silver and the polls were wrong could be considered scientific in the same way creation science is," Michael Barone, Joe Scarborough, Jack Welch, Peggy Noonan and Karl Rove, with his

"remarkably graphic public meltdown on Fox News—babbling gibberish about how his Ohio numbers showed a path for Romney even after the election was lost—marked not just the end of his careers as a self-styled political brainiac and as a custodian of hundreds of millions of dollars in super-PAC money. It was an epic on-camera dramatization of his entire cohort's utter estrangement from reality."

And finally Permalink to this item

You probably already know that Nate Silver is the king of quants, so Daniel Terdiman's short coronation speech on c|net doesn't have an element of surprise, but this:

"each of the five aggregators that CNET surveyed yesterday—FiveThirtyEight, TPM PollTracker, HuffPost Pollster, the RealClearPolitics Average, and the Princeton Election Consortium—successfully called the election for Obama, and save for TPM PollTracker and RealClearPolitics handing Florida to Romney, the aggregators were spot on across the board when it came to picking swing state victors"

was a bit of news. Oh, and Florida finished making its decision. (Obama won that, too, for a total of 332 electoral votes, versus 206 for Romney.)

And Allen West lost in Florida too, even though he's not going down quietly. As Connor Simpson put on the Atlantic Wire, "West is labeled as a 'firebrand' Republican because he routinely says crazy things."

Speaking of saying crazy things, what does Richard Viguerie think about the election? He tweeted "don't blame the voters for Romney's defeat" which is a bit odd. They were the ones who defeated him, after all. But he has a point: give the voters credit! Maybe he meant. And linking to the World Nut Daily for perhaps the first time I ever, more that R.V. and I can agree on: GOP bosses must go! "They all need to resign and bring some new leaders in." "Massive failure."

"Most people expected he would lose his re-election, and he won a strong victory," Viguerie said [talking about some different group of "most people" than the one I know]. "The leadership of the party, including (Reince) Priebus at the Republican National Committee, Speaker Boehner and Leader Mitch McConnell and all the others, including John Cornyn of the Senate campaign committee, they all need to resign and bring some new leaders in there."

Hear hear.

9.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Dear Mr. Speaker: GET TO WORK Permalink to this item

This is the problem with a largely status quo result in the election: stale mates in Washington. John Boehner seems to think since he got re-elected too, the same tired b.s. is going to be good enough.

The President says we shouldn't need "long negotiations or drama" to solve this problem, but that presumes both sides want to solve problems. There's not a lot of evidence that Boehner has solving problems on his agenda, however. I'm with Paul Krugman: let's not make a deal.

"Mr. Obama essentially surrendered in the face of similar tactics at the end of 2010, extending low taxes on the rich for two more years. He made significant concessions again in 2011, when Republicans threatened to create financial chaos by refusing to raise the debt ceiling. And the current potential crisis is the legacy of those past concessions.

"Well, this has to stop—unless we want hostage-taking, the threat of making the nation ungovernable, to become a standard part of our political process.

"So what should he do? Just say no, and go over the cliff if necessary."

Winners and losers, part 2 Permalink to this item

Aside from some rejection of the worst of the wing-nuttery (and yes Texas, we see you endorsed some, too), the most remarkable thing about this election is how much we just asked for more of the same. That's a symptom of how Congress enables its members to cherry-pick credit and dodge blame on one hand, but the larger effect is no doubt that being in office gives a huge advantage in fundraising. Not that money is all it takes, but it is a ton of what it takes.

In ruby red Idaho, even after the rarest of occurrences of the electorate standing up on its hind legs and repudiating the work of the (state superintendent of public education, governor and) state legislature, the re-elected perpetrators seem prepared to attempt a do-over under the adage "don't take 'no' for an answer."

Senate Education Chairman John Goedde (R-Coeur d'Alene) was one of the architects of failure and seems fully prepared to blame anyone but himself. After GOP moneybags Frank VanderSloot spent more than a million dollars to demonize the teacher's union, and failed miserably, Goedde is singing the same tune before the ink is dry on Tuesday's results:

"If the union is sincere in looking at reform, I think they need to be included. But if it's going to be 'not only no but hell no,' which has kind of been their prior approach to this, then it's a futile effort to include them."

Yes, futile to include one of the key groups of stakeholders who actually have experience in education. They so get in the way.

Goedde was supposedly planning to move on to another committee (rather like Sherman's march to the sea), but after this "debacle" (as he called it), he's graciously considering sticking around and see if he can't manufacture Son of Debacle.

For the big House, we're sending both our incumbents back to obstruction central, including our grandstanding freshman. Under the election day item on Betsy Russell's Eye on Boise blog, in which Raúl Labrador was said to have promised "bold actions and strong leadership," commenter WildWest spelled out his(?) assessment and expectation based on the record to date:

"Labrador's Regressive Right Representation has been clearly bad for our nations democracy. Labrador is pursuing a conservative assault on modern society by making his stance against forward thinking solutions and voting against all forms of compromise.

"Labrador's concept of compromise is that the other side give up their polices in favor of his. Labrador and his radical tea party politicians have made it very clear they are prepared to make us suffer if they can't get what they want.

"Labrador and his Republicans brothers have never offered an actual detailed economic plan, Labrador loves to use slogans and propaganda about cutting regulations, taxes, spending, and ending health care reform as economic solutions, however the facts are in... conservatism tax cut & defunding of government polices specifically hurt the middle class of Idaho and our economic opportunities."

8.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Taking it hard Permalink to this item

A friend—who I trust is not making this up—in California posted this to Facebook today:

"Just had an amazing experience! A rather earnest middle aged white male came up our driveway, and told me and our neighbors to tune to 1340 on the am dial, where the announcer was warning that UN troops would be coming door to door within the next few hours take away our guns, and haul some of us off to FEMA concentration camps. Of course, I immediately tuned to 1340am, only to hear the familiar raspy voice of Alex Jones, nutbag extraordinaire, the guy that makes Rush Limbaugh seem like a statesman and towering intellect. It all made sense! I know we have our share of crazies up in the Santa Cruz mountains, but to have a guy in mini-van, hurriedly canvassing the neighborhood, made me think for a moment I was back in Idaho."

And from a lamenting non-citizen who has somehow becomed entrained with the rabbling right (watching Fox News could mess you up, I'm just saying), "My younger brother and both of my parents are lucky as they died some years ago and don't have to witness this breakdown of American values."

Yes, that's right. The dead are the lucky ones, because they don't have to witness Obama's re-election.

7.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Winners and losers, part 1 Permalink to this item

A few closing remarks to counter the tendency toward traumatic amnesia, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias going forward. Firstly, and most importantly, Nate Silver rocks. He showed unequivocally that while individual polls can have a variety of flaws, careful statistical analysis of multiple sources of information and historical performance can provide useful predictive power. He joins Hans Rosling in the pantheon of statistical superstars.

Winners not on any ballot include Chris Christie and The Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

The not-so-rocks list is a long one, which you can fill at your leisure. Pollster Scott Rasmussen, on the day-of, having "no idea who's going to win." George Will is in the top N, with his last minute "Romney landslide" prediction. (321-217 electoral votes for Romney over Obama, you say? Wednesday afternoon, it's 303-206, with Florida's 29 still TBD but leaning 49.9 to 49.3% Obama. Everybody's a winner to not have another Florida recount and the Supreme Court deciding this election.)

And Dick Morris, oh my. His super-insider-wonky forecast:

"On Friday, I saw the real numbers. These state-by-state polls, taken by an organization I trust (after forty years of polling) show the real story. The tally is based on more than 600 likely voter interviews in each swing state within the past eight days.

"The trend line is distinctly pro-Romney. Of the thirteen states studied, he improved or Obama slipped in nine states while the reverse happened in only four. To read the media, one would think that Romney had a terrible month. In fact, the exact reverse is true."

In fact, Dick Morris is full of beans.

I love that he used Aaron Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" to introduce his March "lunch" talk, and endorsement of Romney. There needs to be a category beyond "irony" for this guy. Über-irony.

Last Friday was the day Nate Silver observed that Obama's lead was widening, he was a more than 4-to-1 favorite to win the Electoral College, and for Romney to win, state polling data would have to have been statistically biased.

Yesterday, when Scott Rasmussen had "no idea" who would win, Nate Silver had the odds at better than 10-to-1 for Obama, and the oddsmakers, our "market-based solution" for making predictions, were a lot more certain than Rasmussen, even with suspicions of partisans paying to game the system.

Update: Nate Silver, guest on The Daily Show tonight:

"What was surprising to me is that before the election there were people who were not just predicting 'oh, Romney will eke it out in Ohio, it's Republican leaning, etc.,' right, they were saying 'we have a Romney landslide in the swing states,' and to come to that conclusion, means that, you know, I think you're a little out of touch with reality, and you'd better be right. We get a test, we get a test and it's the good thing about making any kind of prediction or forecast is that you're called on your... can I say 'bullshit' on TV?"

Election Day Permanent URL to this day's entry

Credit where due Permalink to this item

The bank had the Fox Business channel on today; perhaps they responded to my complaint about the inappropriateness of Fox News? It looked to be all election "news" which was a bit of a strain at 4pm MST; there's really not that much to say yet. But hey, they had some exit polling data, including one graphic about who's to blame for the bad economy. 40% Obama, and "incredibly," as I think the newsgal said, 51% Bush. Yes, it's amazing half of those polled have been paying attention for four years or more.

They didn't state a share for Romney, sure he deserves some credit? When a poll this summer asked about responsibility for kiling Osama bin Laden, Romney got 15% credit.

No more calls please, we have a winner Permalink to this item

Entrance to Leisure Villa, 2006 Two winners, actually: Jeanette and I rode our tandem to our polling place at Leisure Villa on a beautifully sparkling, tree-colored fall morning. It was busy, but well within capacity around 11am. I got to be the citizen witness of the emptiness of ballot box, #2 of 5, and had a little extra time while waiting for Jeanette to finish to notice that there was radio on in the corner of the room... not all that loud, but just my luck to hear how Mitt Romney thought I should vote on the three propositions on Idaho's ballot today.

No, no, no, I thought, this radio must not be on here. I turned it off, and told the nice ladies checking names what I'd done. One waved her hand over her head, "we don't even hear it."

On the way in, I overheard one grumpy old man was saying to his wife as they left, "how come I didn't hear about most of the stuff on that thing?" I guess he should've listened to the radio or something.

5.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

The United States of Money Permalink to this item

Cartogram thumbnail from the referenced link Hey, it's just like we're thirteen colonies again! Check out this year's presidential campaign map, morphed by money (or as Chris Cillizza put it for his link on his Washington Post blog, "the real U.S. political map").

"We looked at ad spending on the presidential race from April 10 to Oct. 10, based on data from Kantar Media. The millions of dollars spent by superPACs and other outside groups send a clear message: There are really only 12 states in this presidential election. It's no surprise that they are all pretty purple."

Please vote NO on Idaho's HJR 2aa Permalink to this item

If you haven't cast your ballot in Idaho, and aren't aware of the two Constitutional Amendments up for voter approval, please don't walk into the booth unprepared. Consider this argument for rejecting HJR 2 "as amended": Vote No on Hunting/Fishing Amendment to Save Hunting and Fishing.

Damming SE Asia Permalink to this item

BBC headline, about Laos approving a "mega" dam on the Mekong brings up a part of the world we haven't heard much about since the last two presidential elections I didn't vote in, 1968 and 1972. The map of "mainstream dams on the Mekong" has the political boundaries light and barely distinguished from the rivers, and the key colors for "operational" and "under construction" are hard to tell apart, but it shows three of the four dams they say exist "in the narrow gorges of the Upper Mekong in China" (where they call it the Lancang R.), two under construction, and one planned. "Until now there have been none on the slower moving lower reaches of the river."

Excerpted from the Mekong River Commission's 2010 State of the Basin Report Wikipedia tabulates existing infrastructure, showing 5.4 GW installed capacity in those 4 Chinese dams on the Mekong, commissioned in 1992, 2003, 2008 and 2010. The active storage is just short of a billion cubic meters (800,000-some acre-feet), covering more than 2,000 square kilometers (800 sq. miles). The map with the BBC story shows thirteen planned, including the subject of the article, the Xayaburi dam.

But Wikipedia's table of proposed dams on the Mekong mainstream show that it's China with plans for a "mega" dam: the Nuozhadu, planned for 2016 completion, and with almost 6 GW of generating capacity, more than all of the existing four dams, and approaching the scale of Grand Coulee dam (which has active capacity of 6 billion cu. meters, more than 5 million acre-feet).

Still, with a dozen or more Mekong dams on the drawing board for the next decade, this is a planned evironmental makeover on an epic scale. One thing that caught my eye in the short BBC piece, regarding "concerns about fish migration and sediment flow":

"Sediment will be allowed out of the bottom of the dam periodically through a flap and lifts, and ladders will help the fish travel upstream."

Don't believe I've heard of "sediment flaps" in a dam before.

While searching around for a good map of the Lancang/Mekong system, I came across an interesting blog (for the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute) with a photo- and graphic-rich entry, Reflecting on Rivers, from the mid-course seminar of a 2010 expedition field course.

And this, from Michael Richardson, 3 years ago: Dams in China turn the Mekong into a river of discord: rivers know no borders, but dams do.

And probably more than you or I are prepared to digest, the Mekong River Commission's 2010 State of the Basin Report, a 44MB monster PDF (from which I excerpted the map above).

GOP leaders endorse Romney Permalink to this item

It's not one of those nasty attack ads, just a retrospective of nice sound bites from Mitt Romney's 5 or 6 year run for the white house:

Rick Santorum: "This is someone who doesn't have a core, he's been on both sides of every single issue in the past 10 years." "This is someone who will say anything to get elected..."

Rudi Guiliani: "I've never seen a guy change his position, on so many things, so fast, on a dime."

Brent Hume: "You're only allowed a certain amount of 'flips' before people begin to doubt your character, and I think Romney exhausted his quota some time back."

And much, much more.

Standard Time Permanent URL to this day's entry

All paths being equal... Permalink to this item

which of course they aren't, this dichotomous tree shows 431 ways for Obama to win, 76 for Romney to win, and 5 ways for everybody to lose by letting the House and Senate decide an Electoral College "tie." 5 out of 512, slightly less than 1%. Mild reassurance. And brilliant work on an interactive data graphic.

Step Right Up Permalink to this item

Late October raspberries Thanks to Frank Wells for pointing me to The Baffler which had either escaped my notice or my memory. Wikipedia succinctly describes it as a "left-wing magazine of cultural, political, and business criticism" with a sporadic history of publication. The item of interest is a 4-page "salvo" by Rick Perstein (who says he "write[s] long history books that are published with photos of presidents and presidential aspirants on the covers"), The Long Con: Mail-order conservatism. It's undated, but close enough to "now" (and "No. 21" is "current"), leading with "Mitt Romney is a liar." Recommended. One other salvo (by one of the founders, Thomas Frank) online, and we'll have to track down a print copy for the more than dozen other articles, handful of poetry and the obituary for the alternative press.

If this is a crucial moment in our history (and why wouldn't it be?), accurate perception, analysis and conclusion are vitally important. It could be just an unfortunate quirk of human nature that so many of our projects involve deception, an obstacle we overcome when we need to obtain groceries or used vehicles, or it could be a readerboard on the road to ruin that we've seen so many times it no longer registers at the conscious level.

"Romney's lying, in fact, was so richly variegated that it can serve as a sort of grammar of mendacity."

There's the Big Lie: "I have a plan to create 12 million jobs." (Or, "I have a revenue-neutral plan to lower tax rates across the board.") There's the Mutable Lie, Outsourced: "always personally been prolife" and "did change his mind."

"And then there's the most delicious kind of lie of them all, the kind that hoists the teller on his own petard as soon as a faintly curious auditor consults the record for occasions on which he's said the opposite. Here the dossier of Mittdacity overfloweth. In 2012, for example, he said he took no more federal money for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games than previous games had taken; a decade earlier, however, he called the $410 million in federal money he bagged 'a huge increase over anything ever done before.'"

You might say, We Built That.

I've written from time to time about the silly email pitches that come my way, but I have not gone as far as Perstein did and "signed on to the email lists of several influential magazines on the right," but if I had, I'm sure I'd be enjoying the "battery of promotional appeals" that present "a right-wing id invisible to readers who encounter conservative opinion at face value."

I am on the list of one of his con cast of characters, but what Richard Viguerie sends me from time to time is more along the lines of disgruntled rump opinions from the right than entertaining snake oil pitches. (Either that, or I've become immunized against political solicitations.) His "Conservative HQ" was all in favor of a Rick Santorum candidacy (and presidency, one must assume), long lamented the rise of Romney, who he must inevitably now support, because well, you know. Better than the alternative! That would be the leader of "the conspiracy of some powerful cabal," "the ur-villain of the conservative mind: liberals."

"In this respect, it's not really useful, or possible, to specify a break point where the money game ends and the ideological one begins. They are two facets of the same coin—where the con selling 23-cent miracle cures for heart disease inches inexorably into the one selling miniscule marginal tax rates as the miracle cure for the nation itself. The proof is in the pitches—the come-ons in which the ideological and the transactional share the exact same vocabulary, moral claims, and cast of heroes and villains."

We need look no further than the back page of the Idaho Statesman's Sunday's Insight section, yet another full-page ad sold to "Melaleuca," a.k.a. Frank VanderSloot, purveyor of natural snake and other oils, to see the con, coin, cure, and conspiracy theory come together. Beware the Union coming to steal the minds of your children!

"There's a kind of mystic wingnut great-circle-of-life aura to this stuff. Mark Skousen, a Mormon, is the nephew of W. Cleon Skousen, author of the legendarily bizarre Birchite tract The Naked Communist, which claimed to have exposed the secret forty-five-point plan by which the Soviet Union hoped to take over the United States government. (Among the sinister aims laid out in the document: gain control of all student newspapers; 'eliminate all good sculpture from parks and buildings, substitute shapeless, awkward and meaningless forms.') Upon its publication in 1958 (it was republished in 2007 as an ebook), the president of the Church of Latter-day Saints, David O. McKay, recommended that all members read it. Mark Skousen is also author of a book called Investing in One Lesson, which cribs its title from the libertarian tract Economics in One Lesson, distributed free by conservative organizations in the millions in the fifties, sixties, and seventies (Reagan was a fan). He founded an annual Las Vegas convention called 'FreedomFest'—2012 keynoters: Steve Forbes, Grover Norquist, Charles Murray, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey—which advertises itself as 'the world's largest gathering of right-wing minds.' This event points to another signal facet of the conservative movement's long con: convincing its acolytes that they are the true intellectuals, that anyone to their left is the merest cognitive pretender. ('Will this 3 Minute Video Change Your Life?' you can read on FreedomFest's website. Because three-minute videos are how intellectuals roll. Click here to learn more.)"

If you missed your chance at FreedomFest, fear not: there may be something like Powerup360 coming to a town near you with an equally illustrative keynoter list, as it did to SW Idaho last month. (It was "a huge success." Did you get your picture taken with someone special? If you did not receive an email from PowerUp Live with the link to your picture, please send an email to support@powerup360.com to receive your picture link.)

Step right up.

3.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Open space, or Commie plot? Permalink to this item

Jeanette spent some time distributing campaign literature today, and heard a funny story about the Republican candidate vying for our open state House seat, after Elfreda Higgens' retirement. Another volunteer said that Graham Patterson had come to his door, he of the "voice, not echo" slogan. One way or another he figured out that he was giving his pitch to a Democrat. (Chances are pretty good here in district 16.) Patterson told him he'd changed; "I'm someone capable of learning," she says he said he said. "When the foothills levy was first proposed, I thought it was part of a Communist plot. But it's turned out pretty well."

That's no rush to judgment: we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the levy more than a year ago.

Betty Richardson for Idaho Senate Permalink to this item

Betty Richardson would be a great addition to our state legislature, representing district 15 (the next one over from us). Education's a key issue for the 10+ square miles of Boise residences in the Meridian School District, and she's been outspoken in her opposition to the contentious reforms being pushed by state superintendent Tom Luna. Her opponent was dodgy, until his feet were held to the fire by the student moderator from the Centennial High School Political Action Club and he admitted voting "Yes" to Propositions 1 through 3.

Dan Popkey reports that Martin said he answered the question about his vote as a citizen, not as a potential senator, even though yeah, he is a potential senator, who sure, we would expect to keep an open mind should he get to legislating, and if the propositions pass, it would moot. But if he could have kept his "citizen" POV quiet, and the propositions lose (which it's starting to feel like they might), then he could have had it both ways. Oh well.

Politics of a bygone era Permalink to this item

From the middle of last century, to San Diego's Globe Theater, the record run of "Allegiance — A New American Musical": more than 30,000 people saw George Takei's "passion project of a lifetime" telling the story of a family torn apart by the forced relocation of Japanese-Americans to internment camps at the start of World War II.

Is it destined for Broadway? I thought about us taking a short-notice trip to San Diego in October to see it, but didn't quite work up the nerve. New York would be more difficult, and (a lot) more expensive, but maybe. Just maybe.

Lost opportunities Permalink to this item

FiveThirtyEight 'Chance of winning' snapshot David Brooks tallies up the final reckoning of Obama's first term and does his damndest with faint praise. It's hard to sift out truth from malarkey in a seemingly endless campaign, but one phrase does come to mind, derided by some as another excuse, another blaming someone else.

"So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you," President Obama said in his nomination acceptance speech in Charlotte in September. (Not to be outdone, Mitt Romney picked up the theme stumping in Ohio in late October: "This election is not about me. It's not about the Republican Party. It's about America. And it's about your family.")

Simple truth from Brooks: "The financial crisis exposed foundational problems and meant that we were going to have to live with a long period of slow growth, as the history of financial crises makes clear."

Campaign response from Romney: He said unemployment would be down to 5.4%, and it's not! I could have done better. I know what it takes!

Brooks: "Washington dysfunction now looks worse than ever."

Please remind me when that has not been a true statement during my lifetime. But he does have a point, perfectly illustrated by this week's story of the Congressional Research Service's economic report that was withdrawn after Senate Republicans fussed about its findings.

The party that sought to repudiate their own idea for healthcare insurance reform, enacted, by calling it "Obamacare" is perhaps smarting from having the president accept the term. Now they feel the term "Bush tax cuts" is pejorative? The party of Grover Norquist?

You don't need a Ph.D. to look at history and see that there is essentially no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth; to imagine that there would be requires ignoring the many other essential factors, boiling down complexity to a simple, pleasing message that voters love to hear: "good times are coming; I will lower your taxes." You also don't need an advanced degree to know that's what we heard last time around, and gee, does that have anything to do with the deficit that partisans keep screaming about?

Center for American Progress' chart, annotated by me (And by the way, don't be left wondering what was in that withdrawn CRS study: Ezra Klein boiled it down to one easy-to read graph back in June, for contrast with the John Boehner's simple untruth that "we've seen over the last 30 years that lower marginal tax rates have led to a growing economy, more employment and more people paying taxes." Population growth has certainly led to a growing economy, more employment and more people paying taxes, however. The Business Insider also illustrated the debunking of the "tax cuts spur growth" theory, back in September.)

Lost opportunity Permalink to this item

It has to be close to the end of the parade of fundraising emails, doesn't it? I'm even seeing a few that say "this will be the last one." Ok then.

Today's from the R-R team, subject "You've stepped up," and my first thought was, for the hurricane Sandy relief effort, the "just grab something" topper to Paul Ryan in the soup kitchen? Was this an apology and a proposed act of contrition to actually do something for the victims of the disaster? No, no apology: it's all about more campaign fundraising, for the final barrage. Duh. The "call" is to

"raise $7 million in 7 days to bring our message into new states"; "with 3 days left we are asking you to dig a little deeper to support our effort to raise $2 million by tonight.

"Your contribution will help us reach our goal, and help us reserve airtime in other critical states to share our plan for a real recovery. ..."

You want what to do what? Please.

2.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

Decisions, decisions Permalink to this item

If GOP policies work, why is Idaho one of the poorest states in the nation? And in other questionable election sloganeering, the Republican candidate for one of the state House seats in my district is going with "A Voice, Not an Echo." More than a little curious pitch for someone trying to join the four-fifths majority. Consider the question posed by the Bonneville County Democrats: If GOP policies work, why is Idaho one of the poorest states in the nation?

Most voters in the state think Republicans should be in charge, and they don't expect much in the way of results, apparently. Having expectations is just a recipe for disappointment.

Vote for me, or else Permalink to this item

The closing arguments are mostly more of the same, and who isn't starting to feel an early Thanksgiving emotion that this election is soon to be behind us? Mr. Romney's applying a new twist to his reliably dour outlook for every bit of news about the economy.

"You know that if the President is re-elected, he will still be unable to work with the people in Congress," Romney said in West Allis, Wisconsin. "He has ignored them, attacked them, blamed them. The debt ceiling will come up again, and shutdown and default will be threatened, chilling the economy."

Poor little Congress? Yes, the Republicans in Congress threatened shutdown and default, chilling the economy; and Romney is promising that they'll keep it up if Obama is re-elected?

It was a despicable strategy the first time around, and it's not improving with age. In case the stump speeches are too subtle, Paul Krugman calls it by name: BLACKMAIL. As Krugman puts it, in The Des Moines Register's endorsement of Romney, they

"mainly asserting that Mr. Romney would be able to work with Democrats in a way that Mr. Obama has not been able to work with Republicans. Why? Well, the paper claims—as many of those making this argument do—that, in office, Mr. Romney would be far more centrist than anything he has said in the campaign would indicate. (And the notion that he has been lying all along is supposed to be a point in his favor?) But mostly it just takes it for granted that Democrats would be more reasonable."

In addition to the low moral character of this Republican argument, there are the facts of what Obama has been able to accomplish in spite of the disloyal opposition.

He did what was necessary to stop the bleeding and bring the economy back from the brink of collapse. he rescued the auto industry, signed healthcare insurance reform into law, ended the war in Iraq, acted to improve clean energy's chances, raised fuel efficiency standards, created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, supported veterans, repealed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and crippled Al Qaeda.

If the best the Republicans do is try for another four years of sabotage, all I can say is it sucks to be them.

1.Nov.2012 Permanent URL to this day's entry

November surprise Permalink to this item

Could've been an October suprise, when Greg Palast's investigative reporting on the subject appeared a couple of weeks ago, but yesterday, Palast previewed today's "formal complaint with the US Office of Government Ethics in Washington stating that Gov. Romney improperly hid a profit of $15.3 million to $115.0 million in Ann Romney's so-called 'blind' trust," "hidden inside an offshore corporation inside a Limited Partnership inside a trust which both concealed the gain and reduces taxes on it."

"It's bad enough to be wrong on the policy. It takes an especially dishonest candidate to simply turn up the volume on a lie and keep repeating it."
NYT editorial

Nice work if you can get it! Reducing the tax "burden" was a nice touch. And then "crony capitalism on a grand scale," you couldn't make this stuff up. Give him credit for having an informed opinion about cronyism, at least.

This could be a little hard to swallow in the rust belt, where run-of-the-mill fortunes (the kind that pay the rent and buy groceries) rise and fall with the auto industry. Certainly for the United Auto Workers, having the economic collapse and government bailout used to facilitate eliminating union jobs and moving them to Mexico and China doesn't look like a real presidential thing to do.

"In 2009, Ann Romney partnered with her husband's key donor, billionaire Paul Singer, who secretly bought a controlling interest in Delphi Auto, the former GM auto parts division. Singer's hedge fund, Elliott Management, threatened to cut off GM's supply of steering columns unless GM and the government's TARP auto bail-out fund provided Delphi with huge payments. While the US treasury complained this was 'extortion,' the hedge funds received, ultimately, $12.9 billion in taxpayer subsidies.

"As a result, the shares Singer and Romney bought for just 67 cents are today worth over $30, a 4,000% gain. Singer's hedge fund made a profit of $1.27 billion and the Romneys tens of millions."

Costume party Permalink to this item

Glorious oak colors in the neighborhood a couple days ago Kevin Richert or his headline writer had some fun with the holiday angle, "On Halloween, a secretive group is unmasked" above the front page fold (but more mundane in the online version). Say what you will about John Foster, he doesn't lack for chutzpah and creative fundraising. Turns out the "Education Voters for Idaho" donors list includes NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, currently too busy to comment on a $200,000 investment in Idaho politics (but clear enough about education in general, in the past).

Joe Albertson's heir Joe Scott is not surprising, as a major investor in the online education industry who's previously used his position as chariman of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation to further his opinions and business interests. Curious that the Foundation took the trouble to say that they were not involved in any way, even though it seems by their statement they would have been perfectly happy to. KGOP gave Joe space to explain himself:

"I believe that [the legislation to be affirmed or rejected by voters through Propostion 1, 2 and 3] upend decades old, outdated models and bring Idaho into the 21st century. They disrupt the status quo. They put quality teachers in the classroom and arm them and their students with technology that will increase student achievement and prepare them for the incredibly competitive global economic environment in which we are living."

As if by magic, really. He puts a beautiful spin on union-bashing, and makes a case for redistribution: technology for all, "not just in the districts that can afford it," and that (ahem) vote to tax themselves to pay for better schools.

Other interesting names on the donor list include Rick Santorum's booster Foster Friess ($25k), Intermountain Gas ($10k), developer M3 Eagle ($10k), and 13D Research of the Virgin Islands ($5k).

What in the world is a regulated public utility doing chipping in to a political campaign? Or, excuse me, a "social welfare organization."

Update: An opinion page editor, a legislator and a blogger walked into a Facebook thread... and we're waiting for the punch lines to roll in.

raveling

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

ISSN 1534-0007

Saturday, 08-Dec-2012 13:25:46 MST
http://www.fortboise.org/blog/201211.html