Writings and observations

Boise street
The Idaho Historical Society is launching celebration of the Idaho Territorial Sesquicentennial – 150 years since the formation of Idaho Territory (the first major land mass with the name of Idaho), in 1863. This street scene from Boise in 1866 is one of several free photos available for download.


Little noted in current news, but – this is the year of Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial; it marked the first real designation of a substantial land mass as “Idaho.”

Last week was a quiet week, but the political storms are just beginning to brew as legislatures in Washington, Oregon and Idaho get ready to gear back up into action.

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Suppose you get a bill from your credit card company. It shows a large balance due the end of the week. Deciding you should pay in full promptly, you get out pen and checkbook. You draw what looks like one of your usual checks, fill in the exact amount and drop it in the mailbox. Bill paid.
Yeah. Sure.

But, before you ashcan this example of substituting worthless paper for currency-of-the-realm to pay bills, consider what folks are tossing around in Washington, D.C. circles. And not all of ‘em elected incompetents.

We’ve hit the debt ceiling. Did it a couple weeks ago. Federal debt reached $16.394 trillion. That’s the current limit. The ceiling. So, until the zoo we used to call Congress fixes the problem, the Treasury Department is playing shell games with the loose change still available to pay bills. Even that slight-of-hand will have to stop about the first of March. Flat broke.

So – let’s have the folks at the U.S. Mint create a platinum coin in the exact amount of the national debt – $16.394 trillion. We’ll take that new coin down to the nearest bank and deposit same in the federal account that’s brimming over with red ink. Bill paid. Debt gone.

Crazy? Maybe. Legal. Yes.

Our federal laws allow the Secretary of the Treasury to do just that. The specific authorization was written many years ago to allow for creation of commemorative coins. But – the Secretary has blanket authority to “mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins” in any denomination and for any purpose desired. No congressional approval needed. No new laws necessary. Just do it!

While the President has carefully avoided comment, some of the folks at the “zoo-on-the-hill” are giving the idea some consideration. There’s even a petition on the White House website which says – in part – the $1 trillion coin “may seem like an unnecessarily extreme measure” though “no more absurd than playing political football with the U.S. – and global – economy at stake.”

If that scheme – which is being taken seriously in some quarters (pardon the pun) – is not to your liking, former President Clinton has another idea. Just invoke the 14th amendment to our Constitution and let the current President raise the debt ceiling all by himself. The 14th was written after the Civil War and says – in part – “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

Clinton says President Obama should just “do it.” When we went down this ridiculous road in 2011, Clinton said, if he were still in office, he’d have done it and “forced the courts to stop me.”

The current legal staff at the White House has looked at this scheme and is not convinced it’s a “good” idea. But it’s still an “active” idea.

If all this sounds like we’re living in the Land of Oz, it’s ‘cause we are. Our dysfunctional government – stalemated politics – anger and dissension – the ideological nuts – all have brought this nation to a political dead end. Getting anything done – especially the last couple of years – has meant using parliamentary gimmicks and goof-ball tactics. Neither party can control the legislative process. There’s no effective leadership to assure things get done. We haven’t even had an original government budget in more than a decade. Just those damned “continuing resolutions.” Patch-and-scratch. Keep propping things up. Steal from one pocket to fill the other.

Printing phony coins to pay real bills – using Civil War remedies to take care of complex, 21st Century national problems – ideas as weird and warped as the times we live in. And serious people are taking them – seriously.

The rest of the world watches us and wonders at our seemingly endless battles among ourselves. We’ve become more of a world curiosity than a world leader. We’re a productive, capable population – with an economy we know how to run – being constricted and hamstrung by our own government.

Abe Lincoln’s warning that this nation’s downfall – should it ever happen – would “come from within” is more and more on my mind these days. It should be on many more minds than just this ol’ fella..

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The table just may start to be set for Idaho’s Second District Congressman, Mike Simpson, to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. Yes, the split in the House Republican Caucus started to show when one member cast a vote for Idaho’s 1st District Congressman, Raul Labrador, and Labrador himself refused to vote. Rep. Labrador, however, even though the darling of the Tea Party types, will never be

Mike Simpson, on the other hand, has a real shot in part because he has been a loyal lieutenant to Speaker Boehner. One can predict that if it becomes clear to the Speaker that he no longer enjoys the confidence of his Caucus and should step aside, he will still have a sizable contingent of loyalists. Boehner could no doubt direct these loyalists to vote for one of his key advisors, Mike Simpson.

It not only takes skill to maneuver successfully to ride herd on the incredibly divisive House, it also takes luck and a talent for being perceived to be the right person at the right time and the right place to become the next Speaker. Simpson, however, over his long career has demonstrated both skill and luck.

Make no mistake, Boehner has been mortally wounded. He just barely survived a major in-Caucus rebellion over his bumbling, lackluster inability to draw and quarter the president in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. The fact that the split within became so obvious is in all probability an unmistakable sign his days are numbered. He clearly cannot deliver a majority of his caucus on anything, which the Democrats smell, as do the House members of the Tea Party.

Simpson is thought to command the respect of all the factions within the Republican caucus in part because he is a good listener, a shrewd analyst and a savvy negotiator who is not afraid to compromise in order to achieve consensus and move forward.

There’s an old political saying about he who intends to kill the King ought to make sure they’ve done so. In this case, the challenge initially has failed but Boehner may be a member of the walking dead. It may take time to recognize his legs have been cut out from under him. But not by Simpson. Ever the loyalist he is not about to knife a friend and scramble over the body. That is another point for him.

Another attraction is that while second in line for Presidency, the House Speaker has rarely ever ascended to the Presidency. It is not a stepping stone. In fact the only Speakers of the U.S. House to ever make it were James K.Polk and James A. Garfield who by all accounts were successful speakers. Elected in 1880 he never was able to fulfill his promise as he was shot by an assassin within months of taking office. Incompetent doctors helped him to survive the bullet but he couldn’t survive their incompetent care.

Thus, most speakers are truly creatures of the House and not considered today to be potential presidents, or aspirants. Some Idahoans are familiar with the only westerner to ever become speaker, Rep. Tom Foley from Spokane, who served from 1989 until 1994, when he along with dozens of other Democratic office holders were swept out of office by the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans and their “Contract with America.”

The son of a Spokane judge, a graduate of both Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University, Foley began his political career as a staff person for one of Washington state’s “gold dust twins,” Senator Henry M. Jackson. Foley was blessed with much good luck during his career not the least of which was running as a Democrat in 1964 when LBJ received a tidal wave of support over Barry Goldwater, winning in a landslide which swept a number of congressional candidates into office with him.

As often happens, like Simpson is now, Foley was in the right place when events broke his way. A loyal majority leader to Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, the Democratic caucus turned to him upon Wright’s resignation over “forced sales” of his book to various interest groups. On Election Day in November 1994 I was visited by Solveig Torvik, a reporter for the Seattle P-I, who though born in Norway had immigrated with her LDS parents to Blackfoot where she grew up.

Solveig was stunned when told the Speaker was going to lose, that the Fifth District would be only the second district in the nation’s entire history to turn out a sitting Speaker of the House. The first time was back in 1864. There were two reasons:

1) The Speaker defended the indefensible, the fact that Congress almost always exempted itself from the laws it passes and expects citizens to follow. When asked about this practice, the Speaker gave a long-winded philosophical defense of why this was actually a good idea. His challenger, George Nethercutt, sensing the resentment of a small businessman who has to obey an endless set of rules enforced by OSHA, or the ADA, or EPA, simply said Congress should live by the rules it expects others to live by. The Speaker never quite grasped how much this reflected a tin political ear and how much support it cost him.

2) Failure to respect verisimilitude in a campaign television ad. In this case the Speaker let his big-time media consultant convince him to put on the red shirt, open-neck, jeans and a vest, take paddle in hand and paddle a canoe through a scenic setting. Voters would see that the Speaker was just like them, a creature of the rural areas of eastern Washington, a man who loved the out-of-doors, and was at home in the west. Except those with a discerning eye picked up on the Speaker’s awkwardness which manifested itself in anything but looking serene, secure and comfortable. Folks instantly knew it was a phony, staged ad and they took exception to it, as they should have.

There’s a lesson in Foley’s downfall for both Speaker Boehner and Mike Simpson if he becomes the next Speaker: to survive one has to keep their ear to the ground and always listen carefully to their constituency, whether it is a caucus or a district’s voters. They always have the final word.

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