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Posts published in October 2012

An actual proposition fight

idahocolumnn

From since a couple of months past the time the three school propositions – 1, 2 and 3 – aimed at overturning what have been called the “Luna laws” were developed and circulated, they looked like losers. I've written and said as much.

Today, not so much. In Idaho's political climate, you couldn't possibly call them a slam dunk for passage, but the route to repeal does look more realistic than even, say, a month ago.

The laws were passed, at the request of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, in the 2011 legislative session. They were sprung as a massive surprise, unmentioned in the preceding election campaign (Luna had never hinted what was ahead), for legislators as well as people in the state generally. They've become known for greatly reducing teacher collective bargaining ability, merit pay which could link to teaching to tests, and large-scale provision of laptop computers to students.

Jerry Evans, the four-term Republican SPI which retired in 1995 and one of the most knowledgeable Idahoans ever on the mechanics of the state's education system, cited the impacts in a recent column opposing the laws as aimed at reducing the influence of the Idaho Education Association, “in effect trading teachers for computers” and prospectively “the base salary for all teachers may be further reduced.” (Don't try arguing school budgeting with Evans; he knows more about that than you do.)

Still, in Idaho's political climate, there's a “so what's your point?” element to the debate. The passion against the laws seemed to trend downward from the spring of 2011 through this summer, and that kind of passion can be hard to rebuild. The November election looks likely to draw out a lot of Republicans to vote in Idaho, and while not all Republicans supported the laws, most of Idaho's Republican leadership did and does.

But something is afoot. Numbers from by the Associated Press (sourced from the Department of Education, which Luna runs) show that the number of Idaho teachers departing of their own volition, as opposed to layoffs or firings, increased in 2011 by more than 500 compared to the year before, and more than 1,000 more than the year before that – this in a bum economy that logically would have kept teachers hanging on to their jobs. Word of such a large trend may well have circulated around the state.

Have there been other changes on the ground? Based on the purely political evidence, you tend to think so. News stories about the slowness of laptop deliveries may have sunk in. There's been an energetic campaign pushing the referenda which seems to have cohered only since mid-year, but maybe that has something to do with it too.

Debates over the issue, such as one a few weeks back featuring Luna and (in the opposition) state Representative Brian Cronin, have turned unexpectedly testy – an indicator that this isn't a runaway issue. And then there's the recent polling, some by the anti-law group but also from news media, which seems to show the laws failing.

Whether they will is still unclear. A lot depends, as ever, on who turns out to vote, and Idaho's very conservative voters are likely to be there in full force. But in a way that didn't look likely even a couple of months back, this seems to be developing into a real, live, serious battle.

Someone else swimming upstream

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

I don’t believe endorsements by the media, celebrities, corporations, unions or anyone else have much effect in today’s political environs. I’ve never cast a vote for or against anyone or any issue because someone who makes scads of money said so. Nor have I ever carried a list of local newspaper endorsements into a polling booth. Such third-party opinions go in one of my senior ears and out the other with no notice.

Until Saturday, October 20, 2012! One definitely caught my attention.
On the surface, an editorial endorsement by nearly any newspaper is read by few and ignored by many. But Saturday’s exercise by The Salt Lake Tribune in old Mormon Utah had to be a shot heard ‘round the political nation.

The SLC Trib ignored Utah favorite son and part time resident Williard Mitt Romney in favor of President Obama. Right there in black and white on the old editorial page. Top of the fold! The closest I can come to a social, economic and political comparison is if the Vatican endorsed Israel’s Prime Minister to be the next Pope. Something like that.

The SLC Trib is owned by MediaNews Group of Denver, CO, but operates under a joint agreement with The Deseret News, traditionally considered the media voice of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS). Both newspapers share printing and other facilities under their contract and both trace their lineage in Utah back to nearly the first settlements. Very long histories – longtime rivals – sometimes nasty enemies – but now sharing a common operating contract.

Because of LDS dominance in Utah – large dominance – its history, commerce, religious and political worlds are all tanged into a larger mishmash of an almost incestuous nature. I mean that in absolutely no negative connotation. It’s just fact. It all operates very well for Utahans and has been that way for a couple of centuries. Parts of Southern and Eastern Idaho share very similar traits, the reason for which is also the large presence of the LDS Church. It just is. And Idaho’s politics are similarly affected.

So much for that. Hold that thought. Now, let’s look at a couple of the billionaire families in Utah that share a large and often dominant role there. Jon Huntsman, Sr. is the industrialist father of Jon Huntsman, Jr.. Recall Jon Jr. briefly ran for president in Republican primaries this year. Both men very rich and very influential in Utah politics. Jon Jr. was governor a few years back. Both men have been GOP deep pockets for many years. They’ve know Mitt and fellow Romneys for years and years. (more…)

A tribute to McGovern

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The most decent person to ever serve in the United States Senate, South Dakota’s George McGovern, has died. The 90-year-old former senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee passed away quietly over the weekend of October 20th.

With the 20/20 hindsight of history most folks with political memories at all willingly concede America would have been much better off to have elected McGovern rather than the ethically-challenged and ultimately disgraced Richard Nixon.

The only national political convention this writer ever covered was the Democratic convention in Miami Beach during a stretch of hot summer days in a sultry August week in 1972. I then worked as a Washington, D.C. based correspondent for the A. Robert Smith News Bureau.

We had major clients in Alaska (The Anchorage Daily News), Washington state (Tacoma News Tribune), Oregon (The Oregonian, the Eugene Register-Guard), and, Idaho (The Idaho State Journal and the Lewiston Tribune.). All were interested in receiving dispatches from their Washington, D.C. correspondent.

I can still hear, echoing in my mind¸ the rhetorical use of anastrophe, the beginning of a series of paragraphs with the call “Come home, America. . . . .” It was a wonderful speech, largely written by McGovern himself. The only trouble was most of America had gone to bed by the time the much delayed convention agenda got
around to the party nominee’s acceptance speech.

It unfortunately became a metaphor for the admittedly disorganized campaign that followed managed by future Colorado Senator Gary Hart.

One of the significant factors delaying the acceptance speech was the crass move by Alaska’s vain, egotistical and delusional Senator Mike Gravel to nominate himself as McGovern’s running mate.

It is doubtful the people of any state will ever again be so embarrassed by one of their delegation on a national stage than were almost all Alaskans. An Alaskan native had been asked by the McGovern campaign to give one of the seconding speeches. Senator Gravel somehow talked her into turning the microphone on the platform over to him in what was clearly an unscheduled and unanticipated gambit
by the second term senator. (more…)

Hate, fear and guilt to go around

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

The lies and damned lies of this presidential election could well damage our vaunted two-party political system beyond full recovery. At a minimum, they could change elective politics in very damaging, destructive ways.

Strong words? Yes. Mine? Yes, but not mine alone. Near-daily research of opinions of some of the best political minds in this country shows many of them saying similar and, in some cases, exactly the same thing.

That we are a badly divided nation is no overstatement. Daily transfusions of hate radio, political and social lies on all our computers spread by too-often anonymous cowards and the ignorant drivel of some in high political office combine to create the toxic atmosphere. Add prolonged uncertain national economic conditions affecting us all, a national media which seeks sensation without information, sustained high unemployment and you’ve got a breeding ground for division, mistrust, ignorance and hate.

To all this, add the now-legal ability of a couple dozen billionaires to bombard our national atmosphere with poisonous media messages – often anonymous and always uncontrolled – seeking to change the foundations of our society to conform to their own self-interests. Dividing us still further.

We have a presidential contest devolving into some of those “lies and damned lies.” While the principal candidates must share some blame, the more scurrilous of the bunch come from those SuperPACs. The ones that are supposed to operate completely unattached to the candidates they support. Road apples! Two of the Obama and Romney SuperPACs are headed either by former staffers or avowed supporters very familiar with each man. Such isolation as there may be rests in the lack of emails or other direct communications but any separation stops there. They are “joined at the hip” for all practical purposes. To the extent they are, the candidates must accept a large share of the blame for the falsity of their messages.

Here are two specific examples of charges that are completely untrue. From the Obama camp, the charge Mitt Romney is “hiding” his tax returns. Not true. Romney’s returns are legally protected from publication as are those of the rest of us. Despite the false charge of “hiding,” Romney and his advisors have made a calculated political decision not to publish what he is entitled to keep private. You may argue – and I certainly do – that the decision is doing more harm than good as continued polling shows. But to claim he is “hiding” them is not true. (more…)

Way beyond endorsement

What the Seattle Times is doing in two of this fall's campaigns is beyond unusual.

To set the norm: Editorial endorsements are standard. And it's not too unusual for corporate newspaper executives to contribute to political campaigns. But it is highly unusual for general circulation newspapers, in this country at least, to dip into its own pocket to post advertising for a candidate or issue.

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog today:

The Seattle Times announced Wednesday that it will develop and run ads for Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna as an “independent expenditure” that is supposed to show the value of political advertising in newspapers.

The news, three weeks before the November election — and appearance of a big Times-created McKenna ad on page B6 of the newspaper’s Wednesday editions — immediately raised two questions:

Can Seattle Times reporters and editors be trusted to fairly cover McKenna’s opponent Jay Inslee? Can the newspaper fairly report on a campaign where the Times has a vested financial interest in the outcome?

The Times described the effort as an independent expenditure, like that of a super-PAC.

If you look carefully enough in the direction of the Times building, you can probably see the mass cringing going on now in the newsroom ...

Among other things, it has led to headlines like this: "The Seattle Times Is Officially a Republican Newspaper," in the Stranger Slog, which at this point can pretty credibly say it's no more overtly political than is in the city's big mainstream daily.

The fashion tipoff

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Despite my near total ignorance of fashion, I’ve always liked the color hot pink. It’s not for everyone. But when it’s worn by the right person at the right time – it’s dynamite! I just never figured it would help me understand candidate behavior in a presidential debate.

I’ll leave the “what did it all mean” debate details to media heavyweights more intellectually attuned to such stuff. Besides, they get paid for the job. I’ll just stick to the hot pink.

Go back to the end of the debate on Tuesday night. After all the furor was over. If you looked up in the bleachers just above the section reserved for the questioners, Ann Romney was in the first row on the right – in hot pink. Michelle Obama was in the first row on the left – in hot pink. Damn poor planning that. Each almost an equal distance from the stage. Best seats in the house.

But – within half a minute of the moderator’s last words to the camera – Ann Romney was on the stage. The candidates had not had time to even turn to formally acknowledge each other with small talk. As is customary. Not that these two guys were going to do that. Fat chance. And it appeared to me Ann Romney made sure it wasn’t going to happen if she could help it.

She quickly climbed the few steps and placed herself on Mitt’s right side – smack between him and the President. About eight feet away. If Mitt had turned to acknowledge Obama, he would have had to go around – or through – Ann. If the President had turned to his left to speak to Romney, he would have had to go around – or through – Ann.

Within seconds, she consciously nudged Mitt to his left and the small group of his supporters standing there. No further acknowledgment between the debaters was going to occur if she could help it. Obama looked left, saw the situation and – about that time – Michelle reached his side. His left side. Shoulder to shoulder, about four feet from Ann – with no glance or other recognition between the two women.

The moment hit me like a brick. Two well-dressed women – in nearly identical hot pink – separating their husbands from each other and assisting both in avoiding what would have been tough and perfunctory – if not totally meaningless – small talk. Two lionesses protecting the family.

Within three or four minutes, the Romney’s and their entourage were gone. But the Obamas hung around for some 40 minutes, shaking hands, signing autographs and posing for pictures with members of the audience. Suddenly, just one woman. Just one hot pink dress.

I immediately flashed back to the end of the earlier Biden-Ryan debate – after all the talking was done. Within a couple of minutes – and after the obligatory handshake with smiles yet – wives, kids and grandkids circled both men. Then, in a minute or two, both families mashed together into one hugging, smiling and chatty crowd. Adult Ryans were kissing each other – and adult Bidens. Adult Bidens were kissing each other – and adult Ryans. Kids in both families talking and running around the stage. It was just one of those very, very good moments in our national politics you don’t often experience. A good end to a good experience.

But the Romney and Obama slugfest? Well, if you wanted to determine the winner, all you had to do was watch the hot pink. Really made the whole winner-loser decision easy for me. Wonder what the coordinated color is for next week in Florida.

Avoiding World War III

peterson
Martin Peterson
From Idaho

Today we're adding a new column by Martin Peterson, co-author of the Idaho 100: The People Who Most Influenced the Gem State. He has decades of experience (more than could even be summarized here) in Idaho politics, government and social history. Welcome!

Fifty years ago, in October 1962, I was stationed at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, attending a communications school. Ft. Sill was home to the U.S. Army’s Artillery and Missile School. I was the ranking enlisted person in our class and, as such, was in charge of my platoon. On the afternoon of October 22 I was instructed to have my platoon gather in our unit’s dayroom that evening to watch a televised speech by President Kennedy. The purpose of the speech was to inform the nation that the Soviet Union had installed intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States.

We were then notified that the entire U.S. military had been placed on a DEFCON 3 alert. DEFCON stands for defense readiness condition and the highest level of alert is DEFCON 1. By way of example, after the September 11, 2001attacks, the military was placed on a DEFCON 3 alert.

The next morning, we moved out into the field to participate in maneuvers with other Ft. Sill units. We ended up encamped near an Honest John missile unit. The Honest John was the country’s first U.S. nuclear surface-to-surface missile. That morning, the Strategic Air Command was placed on a DEFCON 2 alert, the only time our country has ever faced that level of alert.

Usually you will hear a lot of rumors floating around a military unit at a time like this. But not this time. Everyone seemed to know that this was a matter between President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Khrushchev. And there was also a general awareness that the U.S. and Russia were remarkably close to going to war. Not a comfortable feeling sitting in a tent in Oklahoma in the midst of the Army’s primary missile training facility.

Following around-the-clock intense negotiations, on October 28, after a pledge by President Kennedy that the U.S. would not invade Cuba if the missiles were withdrawn, Khrushchev announced that they were pulling their missiles from Cuba. On October 29, all returned to normal at Ft. Sill.

Fast forward to February 13, 2007. I am at one of my favorite locations in the world. Sitting on the outdoor plaza of the Hotel Nacional in Havana, Cuba, with a glass of Havana Club rum and a Montecristo No. 2 cigar, looking out over Havana Bay with a Cuban musical combo playing background music. I had done this before on previous trips to Cuba and it is always a highlight of the trip. It is also a long ways away, both geographically and time wise, from sitting in a tent at Ft. Sill Oklahoma. But maybe not so far away as it would seem.

The grounds of the Hotel Nacional slope down to a spectacular view of Havana Bay and the Malecon, the highway that runs along the bay. If you had been standing there on February 15, 1898, you would have had a grandstand seat to watch the sinking of the battleship Maine.

On previous visits I had noticed a door leading underground and some rock lined trenches on the hotel’s grounds. I assumed it had something to do with the infrastructure that supports the hotel and its grounds.

This time I found myself talking to an elderly Cuban man who spoke pretty good English. I asked him about the doorway and the trenches. He asked if I would like a tour. As we walked toward the door, he told me that he had served in the Cuban Army in 1962 and, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, known as the October Crisis in Cuba, he was assigned to a surface-to-air missile unit. During the crisis they had dug the trenches on the hotel grounds and placed a missile installation in them to protect Havana from any U.S. air attack.

Opening the door revealed a stairway connecting to the trenches. We went down the stairway and he took me on a tour of the entire missile complex, which had been abandoned many years earlier. It turned out to be a complete underground military complex, even if it was somewhat primitive by even 1962 standards. It was an incredible step back into the past for me. Now I was experiencing first-hand what the Cubans had experienced while I was on DEFCON 3 alert at Ft. Sill. The similarities were remarkable. The Cubans had been just as convinced that the U.S. was preparing to attack them as we had been convinced of the potential of a Soviet missile attack from their Cuban installations and they were prepared to defend their country at all costs.

Fortunately, not only for the U.S., Cuba and the Soviets, but for the entire world, calm heads and diplomacy finally prevailed and all sides came out ahead. But for seven days in October, 1962, both sides sat on the brink of what might well have become World War III. It is an anniversary that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Marty Peterson is an Idaho native. He is retired and lives in Boise.

A couple things you’re not being told

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

With all the political garbage talk going on these days about tax cuts, we voters – the people who pay those taxes – are being promised impossible things while hard facts are being ignored. The kindest, most gentle way of putting it is we are being led to tax slaughter while being lied to. Even if your favorite politician sounds so reasonable and factual, there are things he’s not telling you. So, I’ll take up two of the major omissions right here. Believe me, the list doesn’t end with just these two.

When politicians talk about “rewriting the tax code” or “eliminating deductions” or “reworking tax rules” or “prioritizing tax breaks” you should be scared. Very, very scared. The last time a major tinkering of our federal tax laws was done, it was overseen by Oregon GOPer Sen. Bob Packwood. He of the “lady problems” who soon thereafter was told to go home by his peers.

Here’s the first landmine. During the 1980′s process, we middle-income taxpayers got screwed and the big guys made out just fine, thank you very much. No matter who wins this election – from president on down – you can bet the farm it’ll happen again. The reason is simple. When tax rewriting begins, you and I are way under-represented at the table. Almost ignored. But the big guys – the ones with the well-paid lobby folks ever-present on Capitol Hill – those guys have front row seats and unlimited expense accounts with which to peddle some well-compensated Gucci influence.

Since you and I won’t be attending, who’ll speak for us? Who’ll make the case that our precious homeowner exemption is more important than some international company not having to pay taxes on a corporate jet? Who’ll speak up for you when the cutting turns to second home exemptions for RVs against someone’s luxury tax exemption for a 60 foot yacht? And that child tax credit. Will that survive a “K” Street onslaught by the briefcasers when they want to eliminate it in favor of another tax goodie for the international jet set?

If you don’t think that kind of horse-trading campaign contributor pressure is not exerted to the maximum against individual citizen interest, you must think Little Big Horn was just “a failure to communicate.” The big guys have an army – a well-paid army – to speak for them. Since you won’t be there, who’ll speak for you?

Then, there’s omitted tax cut fact number two. Let’s suppose – just for giggles – we all get the 20% federal income tax reductions being promised to we middle-classers. Whoopee! Yowser!!! Way to go!!! We’re off to the BMW dealer, check in hand.

Better wait up there, “ultimate driving machine breath.” You haven’t heard from your friends in the state capitol who set budgets and write the laws regarding levies and collecting taxes. You haven’t heard from your friendly county commission that shares the same legal responsibility.

If your state legislators and your county commissioners find themselves not receiving those absolutely necessary federal dollars – the ones you don’t pay anymore – what do you think the next step is? Can you say “tax increase?” Maybe “BIG tax increase?” Because your legislature and your county commission have responsibilities required by law to provide certain public services. It’s not a matter of “IF they’ve got the money.” No. It’s a matter of they HAVE to and they have absolute authority to reach into your pocket to do so. And, believe me, they will. I don’t care what you’re being told between now and election day. In many ways, they have no choice.

Oh, and don’t forget those other taxing folks in your neighborhood. The sewer districts, road districts, school districts, water districts, mosquito abatement districts, etc.. The ones getting fewer federal dollars, too.

Take the county, state and federal taxes you and I pay right now. Put them all in a big purple bag. Every dollar in the bag has been paid because each governmental level has lawful responsibilities or budgeted demands it must cover. So, let’s say, the feds put in 20% less – that 20% tax credit you’re being promised. Well, what has to be paid for by law still has to be paid for. By law. Who’s going to make up that missing 20%? You know. The 20% you didn’t pay? (more…)

An Idaho gender history

idahocolumnn

The most frequent specific reaction to the book Martin Peterson and I just released, Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State, is this: Only five women out of 100 people? Really?

The same thought occurred to us as we populated the list. Were we, for some reason, just missing a lot of women who really ought to be on the list? We concluded we weren’t, at least not by the criteria we had set for the book. The reasons say something about the actual past and actual present of Idaho.

We weren’t saying women collectively didn’t influence the course of Idaho. Idaho became civilized as the female population increased; in politics, women were the main backers of prohibition, education and temperance, among other things. Many of the men on our list were strongly influenced by women, one way or another, and many women had a lot of specific, individual effect.

But individual leaders among women, especially early in Idaho’s history, are harder to find.

This is the history. Men led the original expeditions into what’s now Idaho. They scouted the trails, started the trading camps, found the precious metals, built the mining camps and boom towns and mapped their locations. In the early agricultural developments, women were more likely to be present, but men (like Charles Rich, Thomas Ricks, William Budge and William McConnell) were the leaders and founders of the early farm communities. Men designated the early roadways, specified boundaries on maps, designed and built the early water and transport systems on which the core of Idaho’s settled civilization was built. Men founded the major businesses – mining, timber, agricultural, communications and transportation – that formed the economic basis of Idaho in its early decades and beyond. The people who did these things account for many of the spots on the 100.

Idaho today has many prominent women in its business community, but that was not always the case, and in the context of two centuries of history, it’s a recent development. You’ll search in vain for the women who founded or controlled major Idaho businesses in the 19th century, or even the early 20th. (This isn’t necessarily true elsewhere, but it was in Idaho.) The first major female entrepreneur in Idaho with major reach and influence was Georgia Davidson, the key founder of Idaho’s television (and to a degree radio) industry, and she is on our list, but her greatest influence didn’t begin until 1940s and 50s.

It’s more stark on the government side. Idaho never has had a female governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general or U.S, senator, and just two representatives in all these years to the U.S. House. Idaho territory elected no women at all (so far as I can tell) to any territory-wide or legislative office. The Idaho state legislature was all-male well into the 20th century; the first female Idaho state senator took office in 1937, and the numbers did not rise substantially for more decades. Idaho did start electing women as superintendent of public instruction in 1898 (with Permeal French, listed in the 100), but decades passed before they reached any other statewide office.

When more recently women have argued that they long have been underrepresented in the state’s support political, economic and social ranks, they have been right – and that has changed, to some degree at least, in recent decades. But what has preceded this last generation or two is much of Idaho’s formative history. We didn’t argue that’s the way it should have been, or should be in the future. But we’d be dishonest to argue it’s not the way it actually was.

Completing an inventory – of remains

carlson
NW Reading

From the Federal Register, October 11.

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has completed an inventory of human remains, in consultation with the appropriate Indian tribes, and has determined that there is a cultural affiliation between the human remains and a present-day Indian tribe. Representatives of any Indian tribe that believes itself to be culturally affiliated with the human remains may contact the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. Repatriation of the human remains to the Indian tribe stated below may occur if no additional claimants come forward.

Representatives of any Indian tribe that believes it has a cultural affiliation with the human remains should contact the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission at the address below by November 13.

The human remains were removed from three different locations in Pacific County.

A detailed assessment of the human remains was made by Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission professional staff in consultation with representatives of the Shoalwater Bay Tribe of the Shoalwater Bay Reservation, Washington, and the Chinook Nation, Washington (a non-Federally recognized Indian group). The Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation, Washington, were contacted by mail and telephone but declined formal consultation unless neither of the aforementioned groups made a claim.

Sometime prior to 1958, human remains representing, at minimum, one individual were removed from an unknown site located in the town of Ilwaco, in Pacific County, WA. The human remains consist of a mandible and mandibular dentition. Dr. W. Iles discovered the remains and donated them to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, at Fort Columbia State Park. No known individuals were identified. No associated funerary objects are present. (more…)