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Social studies homework


“You ready?” Blanche called back to Dennis. “C’mon, I want to get to Walmart. Bring your homework, you can do it there.”

Dennis came out in his sweatshirt and ball cap. He grabbed his school backpack as he passed the kitchen table.

On the way into town Blanche asked him, “You know what you’re supposed to do?”

“Yeah, remember, I told you last night. You even had me practice on you.”

“I didn’t know nothing, did I?” Blanche and Dennis laughed.

“No, you didn’t. But at least you didn’t yell at me.”

“So that’s what’s got you worried. Now if you are polite and talk to people straight, not mumble people will be polite to you. Oh, and always remember to smile.”

Dennis still seemed worried. Blanche thought it was a pretty odd homework assignment. She asked, “You know all the answers to them questions?”

He nodded. “I got an “A” on the test.”

Blanche whistled. “Ain’t you something.”

They parked in the Walmart parking lot and the early Saturday shoppers were in full force. “You know,” Blanche offered, “You could offer to help them out with their groceries and ask them the questions then.”

Dennis nodded. Blanche clapped him on his shoulder. “Well, you get at it. I’ll go shopping.”

Blanche went in the doors and Dennis got out his clipboard.

“Excuse me sir, can I ask you some questions? I have a homework assignment.”

The grey-haired man grinned as he slowly pushed his cart into the lot.

“I won’t be getting you in trouble if I help you with your homework, will I?”

“No sir, you see, that’s the assignment, to ask you some questions. It’s for my social studies class.”

“Well you go right ahead.”

Dennis started reading from his clip board, pencil in hand. “Do you live in Latah County?”

“Yup” Dennis checked a box.

“Do you vote?”

“Always” Dennis checked another box.

“Do you know who represents you in the Idaho legislature?”

“That’s a tough one. I think it’s that Risch guy and maybe there’s a new guy, I think it’s Fullmer.”

Dennis frowned and studied his sheet.

“How about who the Governor of Idaho is.”

“Oh, that’s easy, Butch.”

Dennis frowned again, not sure what to write. “Is that his last name?”

“No sonny, it’s Otter, Butch Otter.” The old man grinned. “He’s been for a long time, you know that.”

“OK, thanks. Can I help you with those bags?”

Dennis had a sheet of paper for each interview, so he slid out a new one as he approached the mom with three small kids. She was frowning so he smiled, then she did too. “Can I ask you some questions for my homework?”

“What kind of questions?”

“It’s for social studies.”

“Well, you go ahead.”

She said she didn’t vote but it turned out she knew two out of the three state legislators and three of the four Idaho congressmen. “Hope you get a good grade,” she called to him as she belted in a toddler. “You sure are brave to be out here asking questions.”

“Yes ma’am. Thank you.”

He ran into some folks from Washington so he had to excuse himself. Then he asked the older woman with a near empty cart. He offered to help her and she agreed to answer his questions.

“Oh yes, I vote, always vote straight Democrat.” She smiled absently. She couldn’t name a single representative at the state level or in Congress, but it didn’t bother her a bit. “I don’t read the paper anymore, I just watch the TV. Can you believe that Trump character?” Dennis helped her put the bags in the trunk.

Blanche asked him on the way home, “What did you learn?”

Dennis frowned. He wasn’t sure how he was going to write his report.

“It seems to me some of the folks who vote shouldn’t, and some of the folks who don’t ought to.”



Just a joke? Sounds like gaslighting to me.
► internet meme

A Google search results for blame-shifting also brings up the phrase “blame-shifting and gaslighting,” which suggested that an opening word about gaslighting also is in order.

It entered our common vocabulary in 1944 with the movie Gaslight, a thriller in which a treasure hunter who has committed murder is at risk of being found out by his bride – who he attempts to manipulate by adjusting her perception of reality to the point that she begins to doubt her own sanity. (The “gaslight” here is a reference to his ploy of turning up or down the light, then denying it had happened, leading the bride to think she was misunderstanding reality.)

Wikipedia lists these as the most common strategies a gaslighter may use:

“Hiding: The abuser may hide things from the victim and cover up what they have done. Instead of feeling ashamed, the abuser may convince the victim to doubt their own beliefs about the situation and turn the blame on themselves. Changing: The abuser feels the need to change something about the victim. Whether it be the way the victim dresses or acts, they want the victim to mold into their fantasy. If the victim does not comply, the abuser may convince the victim that he or she is in fact not good enough. Control: The abuser may want to fully control and have power over the victim. In doing so, the abuser will try to seclude them from other friends and family so only they can influence the victim’s thoughts and actions.”

The concept has been richly mined over the years, mostly in fiction (it was even turned into an episode of the old Dick Van Dyke Show), but it has become a significant factor in politics. As an article in Vox explained, “The term ‘gaslighting’ has gotten thrown around a lot over the past year, mostly in reference to political campaign tactics – when candidates claimed something had (or hadn’t) happened, and refused, when confronted with contradictory evidence, to acknowledge otherwise. Lauren Duca most famously wrote about the term for Teen Vogue in a piece titled ‘Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,’ for which she caught some heat and also raised the profile of Teen Vogue.”

Blame-shifting, an age-old device in human personal relationships, adds a small twist into the concept.

In this version, the viewpoint of the victim (or observer) is changed not only to disorient, but to shift guilt from the actual perpetrator to someone else – often the victim. This too increasingly has come to the fore in politics. A definition (from the on the personal level: “Blame-shifting is when a person does something wrong or inappropriate, and then dumps the blame on someone else to avoid taking responsibility for their own behavior.” The article lists five techniques – tactics for this mental jujitsu – including playing victim, minimizing feelings, arguing about the argument, telling self-pitying stories and “the stink bomb” (a major, loaded, counter-accusation).

All of this has clear political application; look around many ideological web sites and you’ll find larger or smaller examples of it.

One such case was raised by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, after the Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, when his accuser Christine Blasey Ford fielded criticism from Kavanaugh’s defenders:

“Right-wing male politicians such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have the audacity to declare that Ford has been victimized … by Democrats. (Maybe ask her?) Even if you thought that, why would anyone say such a stunningly condescending thing? Telling someone who has said she is the victim of a sexual assault whom she should and should not hold responsible for her pain represents a new low in Senate Republicans’ twisted exercise in blame-shifting.”

On any given day, check the political news out of Washington and count the instances of blame-shifting. You may be surprised at the number. (Warning: Don’t try this as a drinking game.)

Courage and patriotism in the Senate majority?


Senator Jim Risch has come around to thinking that climate change is a “very, very troubling problem.” Risch told a BSU audience on September 13 he “thinks” climate change is “a very valid theory, that it’s caused by human emissions,” and “the world’s in a very precarious situation, if that’s the case.” He agreed with a Pentagon assessment that climate change is a national security threat. This certainly indicates that we ought to take action.

Not so fast, though, because he also said that if it’s as bad as scientists say, “I don’t know that there’s anything anybody can do about it.” So, it’s bad but, golly gee wilikers, ain’t nothin’ can be done about it.

Risch did offer a solution of sorts to the students, however-- “You kids, we’re handing this off to you in not too long. So I hope you’ll study it, and I hope you’ll have the answer by the time we get there.” The picture that comes to mind is the Road Runner handing Wile E. Coyote a bomb with a short, burning fuse. Good luck, kids, it’s your problem, not those of us in a position to do something now.

When I was growing up in the Republican Party, it was considered a patriotic duty to vigorously attack existential problems confronting the country. When the Soviet Union got the hydrogen bomb in the 50s and seemed intent on taking over the world, Republicans did not cower down in their Washington offices, hoping the big bad Russians would go away. If they had, we’d all be speaking Russian now.

Presidents of both parties rallied bipartisan support in successive Congresses to appropriate billions of dollars (trillions in today’s values) to meet and eventually defeat the Soviets. At that time, we all thought there was nothing this country could not do once we set our mind to it. We have the technology now to slow global warming to the extent we can leave a habitable world to future generations of Americans. We can’t do it if we shrink back from fulfilling our patriotic responsibility to our children.

It is a colossal cop-out to say we can’t do anything to protect our kids or that they have to take care of the ticking time bomb we are handing them. American leadership can get the job done. It worked in defeating the Soviet Union and it worked in keeping the protective ozone layer at the Earth’s poles from being eroded by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used in refrigeration. The U.S. banned CFCs in 1978 and eventually brought almost 200 countries onboard to eliminate the threat they posed to the planet. Slowing global warming will be an even bigger job, but we can do it if we can just muster the moral and political courage.

Like confronting the USSR and eliminating CFCs, the U.S. needs to work with other countries to solve this common threat. Risch and Crapo and their Republican colleagues need to speak out and educate the public as to the imminent danger. America should take the lead to build on the Paris Climate Accord, but this time with hard emission limits for each polluting nation.

The top ten polluting countries account for two-thirds of the CO2 emissions. They need to be the major focus of any agreement. Smaller polluting nations could be given targets enforced by a variety of carrots and sticks.

The hard limits for the top ten could be enforced by a variety of trade and tax provisions targeting violators. Those limits should be written into every trade agreement. For example, if a country wants to sell its goods or services in the U.S., it must be in compliance with its emission limits. The European Union is working on a variation that would tax goods brought in by a foreign firm that pollutes.

This should be accompanied by a Manhattan-style research effort for means to eliminate or sequester CO2 emissions, to store green energy and to find other solutions to fight climate change. It can be done, and it must be done before our kids are handed the job of cleaning up the mess we have created. It will then be too late. The time is now for Risch, Crapo and the Republican Senate majority to muster the courage and patriotism to protect America’s future. I’m fervently hoping those essential qualities have not gone AWOL from the Grand Old Party.

Keeping faith


With the possible exception of the Civil War, our nation now seems more divided, more acrimonious, more splintered and filled with outright hate than at anytime in our history.

The causes are many. Solutions seem few. Each day, it seems another dose of division is sewn into our nature and those divisions appear wider than ever. None of us can escape them. Nor should we if we’re ever to come out of this dark period intact.

But, one societal separation bothers me more than any other. And that’s the often stark divide between citizenry and law enforcement.

It’s not enough to say there’s fault on both sides. Which, of course, there is. Our suspicion of some of them and their suspicion, and on occasion, treatment of some of us seems to make the news daily.

What set this train of thought going for me was an incident that happened just down the road from our house the other day. Six local officers coordinated their morning break time to meet at a coffee shop for a latte or two. As they sat chatting, the manager came to the table and asked them to leave. Just go! Seems a customer had complained the presence of the officers was making him/her “uncomfortable.”

There’s so much wrong with this picture. Obviously the action of the manager was ridiculous. So, too, was the unreasonable request from the customer. The presence of half-a-dozen local officers was “disturbing?” Why? My first reaction to the story was what was in the customer’s mind - or background - that made him/her so “uncomfortable?” And the next thought: was the customer Black? A totally outrageous situation made worse because of the extreme ignorance of both the customer and the manager.

This dustup may be isolated. But, there’s more at play here than just a citizen complaint. While conduct between most law enforcement and most citizens on a daily basis is routine, we’ve seen many instances when it’s not. The oft-photographed murder of unarmed Black men and teens springs to mind. The difference in treatment by law enforcement on the basis of race has been well-documented. And, whenever it happens - wherever it happens - it’s wrong.

And so is this: the dangerous decisions by lawmen in many parts of the country that they’ll enforce certain laws and ignore others. Our western sheriffs are often the most strident. In Washington, Idaho, Utah and Oregon, many have not only said they won’t enforce gun laws but will actually arrest federal officers who may try to do so. Sworn to uphold all laws, some have decided to be selective. Which is illegal and sends terribly mixed messages to citizens. When is a law right and when is a right law deemed wrong? That’s what courts are for. Not cops.

The relationship of law enforcers and law abiders is one of the most important basics in a civilization. The balance is best when there’s trust demonstrated by all participants. But, when officers become selective - when they become threats to unarmed citizens through words or actions - the results can be deadly.

Similarly, citizens can also alter that delicate balance by acting inappropriately or making unreasonable demands. Our local “uncomfortable” latte drinker is one such.

In younger days, I spent a lot of nighttime hours doing “ride-alongs” with cops. I became very familiar with some of the dangers they face each shift and some of the unreported good things they do just because they’re the right kinds of people. I have a healthy respect for what they do, how they do it and why. Often dangerous work. More often, thankless work.

We need them. They need us. It’s just that simple. We may live in difficult times. We may be surrounded by politically turbulent times. We may be victims - or perpetrators - of the hateful divisions faced daily or deluged by lies and disappointments in our national politics.

But, we must strive for - earnestly work for - a continuing respect for laws and the people who enforce them. If we lose that trust - that faith - that respect one for another - not much else matters.



A century ago, “anti-trust” was a serious political subject, a crusade even, around which political careers – Theodore Roosevelt’s to name but one – were partly or wholly built.

Today, when the concept could use serious activation more than in generations, it has become a sad joke.

Here’s a semi-clear Google definition: “relating to legislation preventing or controlling trusts or other monopolies, with the intention of promoting competition in business.”

It’s semi-clear because it begs another question in the new millennium, which is: What’s that trust thing about? We sometimes hear about trusts in the sense of “living trusts,” a personal financial structure; or a “charitable trust”, an irrevocable organization to hold funds for charitable uses; or a “land trust” which does something similar for property; or else we think of it in the sense of having confidence or faith in someone or something else (as in trusting a friend to carry out a request).

The “trust” part of “anti-trust” came from something else altogether. An 1888 academic article, reflecting the sense of that time, said a trust is “one person holding the title of property, whether land or chattels, for the benefit of another, termed a beneficiary. Nothing can be more common or more useful. But the word is now loosely applied to a certain class, of commercial agreements and, by reason of a popular and unreasoning dread of their effect, the term itself has become contaminated. This is unfortunate, for it is difficult to find a substitute for it. There may, of course, be illegal trusts; but a trust in and by itself is not illegal: when resorted to for a proper purpose, it has been for centuries enforced by courts of justice, and is, in fact, the creature of a court of equity.”

Anti-trust, then, is opposition to monopoly, which is control of a business sector by a single person or interest. In that sense, it has also been defined as a rule intended “to make sure that businesses are competing fairly.”

The interest in trusts coincided with changes in business structure; those trusts so popular toward the end of the 1800s largely have been superseded by other forms of business structure. But “trust” in the older sense was the issue at hand when, in 1890, Senator John Sherman led passage of the federal anti-trust law that still bears his name, and he proclaimed, “If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.” It was intended as a tool for keeping monopolies from controlling the American economy, a (per the Federal Trade Commission) “comprehensive charter of economic liberty aimed at preserving free and unfettered competition as the rule of trade.”
The Sherman law, which contained criminal as well as civil components, held some sharp teeth, useful in the hands of regulators willing to employ them. The FTC description of the law says: “The Sherman Act outlaws ‘every contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade,’ and any ‘monopolization, attempted monopolization, or conspiracy or combination to monopolize.’”

It added, “Long ago, the Supreme Court decided that the Sherman Act does not prohibit every restraint of trade, only those that are unreasonable. For instance, in some sense, an agreement between two individuals to form a partnership restrains trade, but it may not do so unreasonably, and so may be lawful under the antitrust laws. On the other hand, certain acts are considered so harmful to competition that they are almost always illegal. These include plain arrangements among competing individuals or businesses to fix prices, divide markets, or rig bids. These acts are per se violations of the Sherman Act; in other words, no defense or justification is allowed.”

The counter-argument from some business advocates is that the law is a restraint on business operations, and that when enforced it can be very costly for important businesses; both assertions are true. The counter to that is that the cost of unregulated monopoly, to consumers, fellow businesses, and the citizenry at large, can be much higher.

Anti-monopoly law was strengthened in 1914 with passage of two major laws in 1914 (the Clayton Anti-Trust Law and the Federal Trade Commission Law, setting up an enforcement agency). And there have been two more, largely strengthening, laws passed since then, Robinson-Patman in 1936 and the Cellar-Kefauver in 1950. That last was the most recent substantial legislative update on the subject.

You may have noticed a little slowdown here on the anti-monopoly front.
That slowdown has coincided with an explosion in the types of reach of business organizations and new varieties of financing and ownership. To say that federal law hasn’t kept up – most especially in the years since the rise of the internet – would be drastically undertelling the story.
That point from the Google definition about “promoting competition in business” ought to mark the law as inherently pro-free market, since the marketplace is supposed to depend and thrive on competition. In the real world, few business people relish competition unless they see a clear path to dominating or eliminating it. In the latter part of the 20th century, “anti-trust” law was steadily redefined from the pro-marketplace measure it was designed to be, to a description of a crippling regulator of business.

Chris Hughes, who co-founded Facebook, has said that anti-trust law should be used to break up that online megalith. In discussing how that law has been used less in recent years: “Starting in the 1970s, a small but dedicated group of economists, lawyers and policymakers sowed the seeds of our cynicism. Over the next 40 years, they financed a network of think tanks, journals, social clubs, academic centers and media outlets to teach an emerging generation that private interests should take precedence over public ones. Their gospel was simple: ‘Free’ markets are dynamic and productive, while government is bureaucratic and ineffective. By the mid-1980s, they had largely managed to relegate energetic antitrust enforcement to the history books. This shift, combined with business-friendly tax and regulatory policy, ushered in a period of mergers and acquisitions that created megacorporations. ... The results are a decline in entrepreneurship, stalled productivity growth, and higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.”

It can’t be said that the anti-trust – anti-monopoly, to put it more plainly – laws aren’t used at all. The Trump Administration, for example, did unveil the machinery in throwing a roadblock before the massive AT&T and Time-Warner merger (albeit that the motivations weren’t clearly centered around promoting competition).5 But that and a few other instances in recent decades are anthills compared to the mountainous mergers and combinations of recent generations – most of them excellent news for executives, insiders and some stockholders, and bad news for employees, vendors, vendors and almost everyone else.

Economist and former Clinton Administrator Labor Secretary Robert Reich warned (during the Obama Administration) that the weakness of anti-trust regulation was creating serious damage:

“Wall Street’s five largest banks now account for 44% of America’s banking assets – up from about 25% before the crash of 2008 and 10% in 1990. That means higher fees and interest rates on loans, as well as a greater risk of another “too-big-to-fail” bailout. But politicians don’t dare bust them up because Wall Street pays part of their campaign expenses,” he wrote. “Because U.S. airlines have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four.”
And so on across the economy.

The implications of severe economic consolidation are much broader than that, and can turn frightening.

In 2018, writer Tim Wu noted, “We must not forget the economic origins of fascism, lest we risk repeating the most calamitous error of the 20th century. Postwar [World War II] observers like Senator Harley M. Kilgore of West Virginia argued that the German economic structure, which was dominated by monopolies and cartels, was essential to Hitler’s consolidation of power. Germany at the time, Mr. Kilgore explained, ‘built up a great series of industrial monopolies in steel, rubber, coal and other materials. The monopolies soon got control of Germany, brought Hitler to power and forced virtually the whole world into war.’ To suggest that any one cause accounted for the rise of fascism goes too far … [but] extreme economic concentration does create conditions ripe for dictatorship.”

Power combines are not an easy thing to stand up to. The last century of American history has been ample demonstration of that.

Tricky Dick and dissembling Donald


In his masterful biography of Richard Nixon the journalist John A. Farrell recounts the last days – it was the summer of 1974 – of Nixon’s presidency with a variety of anecdotes that are chilling in their relevance to the drama currently unfolding in Washington, D.C.

Most who remember their history will recall that it fell to two Arizona Republicans, Barry Goldwater and John Rhodes, and Senate minority leader Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania to troop to the White House in early August and tell Nixon that his support on Capitol Hill had evaporated. He was sure to be impeached and convicted.

It’s not precisely true as political legend has it that the GOP heavyweights told Nixon to resign. They didn’t need to. The master politician who based his entire career, as Garry Wills once wrote, on “mobilizing resentment against those in power” got the message. The power was against him. Nixon immediately told his family “we’re going back to California.”

Proof, contained on an Oval Office tape recording, of Nixon ordering the cover-up of the Watergate burglary had sealed his fate. “This is it,” Rhodes said at the time. “It’s all over. There was the smokin’ gun. He had it in his hand.”

Nixon had refused to turn over the tapes, of course, and only did so when compelled by a unanimous order from the Supreme Court.

In his book Farrell recounts one phenomenal earlier conversation – it occurred in July 1974 – involving former chief justice Earl Warren, like Nixon a Californian and a Republican, and two sitting justices of the high court, William O. Douglas and William Brennan. Douglas and Brennan visited Warren in the hospital where he was recovering from a heart attack and before it was certain that the Court would force release of Nixon’s smokin’ gun.

Warren, however, was certain of what must happen. “If Nixon is not forced to turn over tapes of his conversations,” the former chief justice said, “with the ring of men who were conversing on their violations of the law, then liberty will soon be dead in this nation.”

* * *

A famous line is attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat, but it does rhyme.” So it is with Tricky Dick and Dissembling Donald. As it was in 1974, so it is in 2019.

I got to wondering what the political mood was in Idaho when Nixon’s crimes were the dominate theme in the country, when Democrats in Congress struggled mightily to investigate a stonewalling White House and when another president attempted to obstruct justice by among other acts firing the special counsel investigating the Watergate affairs.

Idaho Republicans almost to a person supported Nixon until the absolute end. The precise dynamic is playing out now with GOP support for Trump.

In May 1973, after Nixon’s two top White House aides had resigned and after White House counsel John Dean had been fired, then-Idaho Republican Senator James A. McClure gave what Associated Press reporter David Espo called a “tough and disturbing” speech in Twin Falls. In the speech to a Republican audience, McClure lashed out at journalists for what he termed “stealing records of grand juries” – syndicated columnist Jack Anderson had reported on leaked grand jury testimony pertaining to Watergate – and blasted federal judges acting out of what McClure called “rather self-righteous motives.” That was a clear reference to Judge John Sirica, who by that point had sentenced two of the Watergate burglars to stiff prison sentences.

Espo wrote that McClure specifically exonerated Nixon for not taking the Watergate burglary more seriously since the senator contended Nixon was preoccupied with his re-election and affairs of state.

In October 1973, a few days after Nixon fired special counsel Archibald Cox – the infamous Saturday Night Massacre – Don Todd, then the executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, defended Nixon and sounded eerily like Trump defenders today.

House and Senate members who talk of impeachment, Todd said, would “disgrace themselves” with their overreaching. There was nothing wrong with Nixon’s handling of the Oval Office tapes, Todd contended, and said the president was justified in firing the special counsel.

John Farrell wrote that Nixon’s decision to fire Cox was the real beginning of the end for the president. The Washington establishment, he recounts, had reached a consensus – Nixon was trying to put himself above the law, but the Idaho delegation with the exception of Democrat Frank Church continued to passionately defend Nixon.

After Cox was fired McClure said the former solicitor general was a ”stubborn, willful man” and that it was inevitable that Nixon would sack him. And sounding like a Trump defender today, McClure discounted Cox as nothing more than a liberal Democrat who made no secret of “his partisan views.” For his part, First District Congressman Steve Symms said Nixon had every right to fire anyone in the executive branch “from the secretary of defense to a janitor at HEW.” But, Symms did allow that it was a legitimate question as to whether Nixon should have fired the man investigating his actions.

As the long course of the events that we now collectively call Watergate, from the arrest of the men who broke into Democratic Party headquarters in June 1972 to Nixon’s resignation in August 1974, Idaho Republicans stood by Richard Nixon.

McClure never admitted that Nixon’s actions related to Watergate constituted grounds for impeachment, but did tell his biographer that had he still been in the Senate he would have voted to convict Bill Clinton for lying to a grand jury about his relationship with a White House intern. No one is above the law, McClure said, obviously missing the hypocrisy.

When Nixon did resign, McClure said there were “literally no words to express the compassion” he felt for Nixon. And as for any punishment for the former president, McClure declared, “enough is enough … you don’t kick a man when he’s down.”

Orval Hansen, the Republican congressman from Idaho’s Second District, was more measured. Nixon had done the right thing by resigning, Hansen said, since his ability to continue in office had been destroyed by the revelation that he had ordered a cover-up and lied about it. Ironically, Hansen lost in a primary in 1974 in part, many Idaho observers concluded, because Nixon’s taint rubbed off on him.

The rhyming will continue.

Census, prisons, redistricting


The point has been made, for many purposes, that the original draft of the United States Constitution required that every person in the country be counted in a once-every-ten-years census.

It did exempt “Indians not taxed” and provided a numerical discount - “three fifths of all other Persons,” for slaves. The point generally however was that the census was intended to count everyone, even then. It did not exempt non-citizens, and didn’t exclude people who were incarcerated.

That point underlies a Nampa story (in the Idaho Press) last week sure to interest political strategists looking a step ahead beyond 2020, when Idaho like other states redistricts its congressional and legislative districts to account for changes in population.

The census already is gearing up (have you seen the employment notices sprouting all over?) but details about the numbers and processes of the effort are moving ahead of even that. One of the most eye-catching reports concerns the Idaho prison complex in southern Ada County.

More than half of Idaho’s state prisoners, about 5,600 of them, are housed there. They are non-voters, but they are counted in the census as residents of that location rather than wherever their previous home might have been. Their location is in the bounds of legislative district 22, which takes in Kuna and most of southern and southwestern Ada County, and they make up about 12 percent of the residents of the district.

You can turn that around and look at it this way: Fewer votes are needed to elect a member of the legislature from District 22. This is not much of a partisan matter; this area long has been heavily Republican and the margins between the parties (whenever a Democrat does run here) aren’t close. But the fact that fewer voters are needed to elect here means that voters here are more powerful than in, say, a district based in Meridian or Eagle.

You can say some of the same in congressional terms. The prison complex is in Idaho’s first congressional district, meaning that voters there are incrementally more powerful than those in the second district.

The Idaho Press story added that, “the phenomenon became known as ‘prison-based gerrymandering.’ The Census Bureau has faced criticism for this, and has so far stood its ground. It announced it will not change the way it counts prisoners in 2020.”

Census doesn’t really deserve the hashing, though, even if some of the results seem a little locally odd. The idea of the census is a little like that of an opinion poll: It’s intended to be a snapshot in time rather than a three- or four-dimensional image. It’s intended to take a picture of where we are at a given moment rather than in some deeper sense. Are you and I “from” the place where we will be spending tonight? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ll never get a clear overall picture if we start making exceptions.

The census rules actually do seem to approach exceptions territory at times. As one description (by Pew Research Center) put it, people are supposed to be counted at a specific location if they, “Live or stay at the residence most of the time; OR stayed there on April 1, 2010 and had no permanent place to live; OR stay at the residence more time than any other place they might live or stay.” There’s a little room for ambiguity in this, in the case, for example, of some college students.

But the prisoners are stuck in place.

That means this is going to lead to some warping of the system in places. But we can hope that the little warps in the counting will, for the most part, cancel each other out around the country. It’s not a perfect system, but we should be able to live with it.

When Will Health Care Cost Too Much?


Most healthy people think about their health insurance about as much as they do their retirement; not much. It’s hard to value something that you don’t use regularly.

But a recent survey showed that the total cost for an employed person’s health care has risen to now be more than $20,000 a year. That includes what the employer pays as well as the individual with deductibles, copays and family premiums. The cost increased 5% this year, is expected to go up 6% next year and has been rising at twice the rate of wage growth for 10 years or more.

Since I hear so few griping about it, I find myself thinking of the frog in a pot slowly brought to a boil. Most of us aren’t jumping out.

Some are. For the first time in 10 years the number of uninsured Americans increased last year, now up to 8.5%. Before the Affordable Care Act, we were at 13.3% uninsured. I can’t blame folks for dropping health insurance when the total annual cost could buy you a pretty good car, or pay for a kid’s college costs.

But will these slow but steady increasing health care costs kill us?

I believe they already are.

Think how plush “Cadillac Health Plans” for well-paid or union workers tie them to a job. They might have an idea of a way to do this work better and want to go off on their own and build a new business. But the costly health insurance for small businesses could scare off an entrepreneur.

I believe the cost of health care is contributing greatly to our stagnating economic growth, but even more to our slow wage growth.

We hit the lowest unemployment on record recently, but wage growth in adjusted dollars, especially for the lower income earners has not changed much since the 1960’s.

But benefits have increased significantly. Wages are being eaten up by health insurance costs.

With a significant amount of our income being siphoned into health care, we ought to all be pretty healthy, huh? Let me remind you, the United States has seen a declining life expectancy for three of the last four years. This is mostly due to the striking rise in accidental overdose deaths and suicides. And we can put a lot of the blame for narcotic overdose deaths square at the feet of our medical industrial complex.

Let’s stop feeding it.

That’s what the Democratic presidential candidates who have lined up behind Bernie for the Medicare for all have in mind. Outlaw private insurance, let government starve the big Pharma, for-profit hospitals. I understand their perspective, I just don’t buy it.

I believe the market place would be much more powerful than a big government program, and would better suit our national character. Let private insurance compete against government plans, the so called “Public Option”. Such a change might be acceptable, though I can’t imagine any Republican voting for anything right now.

What is the Republican plan for this? I’ve heard the “Repeal” chant for eight years, then the “Repeal and Replace” chant for another two, but now I only hear crickets from Republicans; not even a Tweet. Maybe they have found a cool place in the simmering pot.

I don’t think so. I think we are all in this frog stew together. And the sooner we can start talking about realistic solutions, the better off we all will be.

It can start on the state level. There are many promising innovations some states have made in their Medicaid programs. Look at Missouri’s Health Homes for high cost patients. Consider Tennessee’s waiver for Money Follows the Person to move patients out of high cost nursing facilities into community care. Idaho has a similar waiver. Oregon is rolling out Community Accountable Care Organizations that put some of the risk (and reward) at the local level.

It’s time to get to work. Feel the heat.

Having it both ways


Earlier this year, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim Risch stated : “My repertoire does not include sparring publicly with the president of the United States. . . . For many, many different reasons, I think that’s counterproductive, and you won’t see me doing it.”

Well as "the church lady" character on Saturday Night Live might say, "How conveeeenient!"

Mr. Risch not only refuses to "spar" with the president, he fails to make public his views on key issues. The title “chairman” would suggest a leadership role, but Risch offers little more than smug silence.

By keeping mum on all matters relating to foreign affairs, Mr. Risch gets to have it both ways. If Trump does something that plays well, Risch can always say, "Yeah, I encouraged him to do that." And if Trump does something utterly horrible, say abandoning the Kurds? Well, Risch can insinuate that he bent Trump's ear in the other direction, ever so softly of course, behind the scenes. As I write this, Risch has uttered not a word on Trump’s latest reckless foray, one which has been condemned by even the usual sycophants Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham.

With this playbook, who is to know what Risch actually said to the president? For that matter, who is to know if Risch talks to the president at all?

Standing in the shadows of former Idaho U.S. Senators William Borah and Frank Church, both of whom served with great distinction as chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Risch looks small. Church and Borah were giants in the field of foreign relations. Unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom or to call out unwise executive branch policies, even from presidents of their own party, they trusted the people of Idaho to know exactly where they stood on the issues of the day.

But Risch? He’s basking in Trump’s “full and complete” endorsement. That likely means one of two things: Risch is either in lock step with Trump, which is concerning, or he’s never voiced any disagreement to Trump, which I think more probable. Either way, he’s playing it safe and trying mightily to have it both ways. What he’s not doing is being forthright with the people of Idaho.