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Posts published in December 2013

Pope Francis and ‘family’

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Many Catholics, both Mass-going and lapsed, were pleased to see Time Magazine accord the new Pope, Francis I, its “Person of the Year” award.

He not only has been one of the top news-generators this past year, what he is saying, and how he is walking the talk, has spoken volumes to people hungry for some moral leadership in this world dominated by situational ethics.

No one would characterize me as a “pray, pay and obey” Catholic. Indeed, conservative Catholics would probably tag me with the pejorative “cafeteria Catholic,” meaning one who picks and chooses which Church dictums to follow.

The counter to this myopic view is to point out that above all else the Roman Catholic Church affirms the right of an individual to exercise his or her own conscience after prayerful consideration of church teachings.

Much of Catholic doctrine has evolved over the two thousand years the Vatican bureaucracy has functioned; and many senseless rules have been promulgated by fallible men in that span.

Pope Francis understands this which is why he is calling on Catholics to refocus on the basic injunctions in the New Testament that ask people to care for the poor, help their fellow men and women in distress, and put into practice one of the few commandments stated by the Lord: to love one another. Another commandment from the Lord was to “judge not lest you be judged.”

Again, Francis says only God can judge for only God knows the heart. He adroitly side-steps the issue of gays and lesbians in the Church by stating all should be made to feel welcomed regardless of sex, creed, color or orientation.

The Pope has now embarked on a remarkable exercise made possible by modern technology. He has sent every diocese a questionnaire built around the notion of the family as the domestic model of the Church in the basic unit of society.

Many parishes are already holding meetings to develop their response which is especially appropriate as Christians everywhere focus on the Holy Family and the birth of Jesus. The responses are then forwarded to the Bishop or Archbishop of the diocese; a summary and consensus document is crafted and sent to Rome. It all leads to a Bishop’s Synod in 2014 and a General Assembly in 2015.

I participated recently in a session at my parish. Of the 30 people there, 20 were women and ten were men. Most of the women were divorced and single parents. Most of the men there were in stable long-time marriages, but only two were under 40.

The purpose of the questionnaire appeared to be to garner whether the church is providing sufficient support to the laity (Not even close was the answer) in dealing with the challenges presented to church-goers trying to raise children in a culture that glorifies hedonism, sexual promiscuity, easy divorce and a changing definition of whether marriage can only be between a man and a woman as well as condoning cohabitation before marriage regardless of the genders. (more…)

Musical ‘spirits’ of Christmas

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Christmas presents a number of challenges for me. The first is that I’m not a shopper – I’m a buyer. Need new jeans? Go from car to Men’s Department – find my size – go to cashier – back to car. Four minutes flat! Now that’s buying. Anything more is painful.

Except Christmas. Because, personally, there’s one significant difference this time of year; something that makes the pain of “shopping” more bearable. And that’s listening to the sounds of all the dead singers coming over the sound system at the mall. Really brightens thing up.

Think about it. Listen for it. Bing Crosby – Rosemary Clooney – Karen Carpenter – Perry Como – Eddy Arnold – Sammy Davis Jr. – Nat Cole – Mel Torme – Burl Ives – Ella Fitzgerald – Frank Sinatra – Dean Martin – the Andrews Sisters – Andy Williams – Patti Page – Margaret Whiting – Elvis. All dead. Except at Christmas. At the mall.

These people were recording Christmas songs before most of today’s shoppers were born. Now they’re gone. Except at Christmas. Then we dig ‘em up. All of ‘em. Every year.

I’m a child of radio. I listened to Ed Murrow from London in the early ‘40′s on my little bedside Sears Silvertone while doing grade school homework. All the mystery shows, the comedies, variety shows and the news. Those were my childhood friends. I knew ‘em all.

For about four decades, radio and television provided me with a fine life of earning a living, travel, one-of-a-kind experiences and making friends. TV was a large part of it but radio was where I felt most at home. Television “is.” What you see is what you get. But radio was “whatever-you-wanted-it-to-be.” Nobody else in the whole world – nobody – visualized the Green Hornet exactly the way I did. When Superman lept over a tall building, mine was the tallest that ever was!

When you had such deeply ingrained memories of what was possible with radio, who wouldn’t want to grow up and be a part of it. I sure did. Until radio as I knew it – as it was intended to be – died. Starting in the ‘80′s.

My last broadcasting job was in radio. And one day – I just quit. Cold turkey. Radio was gone. Time for me to go, too. Listen to it now. Pick anyone of three content categories and listen. Really listen. They all sound alike.

Radio is primarily a for-profit product these days. And most of the stations – too damned many of them – are not owned by professional broadcasters any more. Now, majority ownership is “chains” – some with hundreds of outlets. They’ve got investors and stockholders and bean-counters with ex-time salesmen for managers. Bottom line determines programming – not originality. Medford radio – Eugene Radio – Boise radio – Olympia radio. Run up and down the dial and you won’t find any real differences. (more…)

Known quantity

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

At some risk of invoking a political Heisenberg principle - creating a bounce against what I'm recommending - here's a suggestion for how Idaho House Republicans might usefully deal with the opening in their ranks occasioned by the announced resignation of Representative Mark Patterson.

Patterson is the figure of recent controversy who became so in part because so few Idahoans had known much about his background. They knew, when voters elected him to the House, that he was a small businessman at Meridian. They did not much else, that pieces of his stated biography were false, that large gaps existed in his resume, and that he had been charged with rape and attempted rape years before (albeit, not convicted). What the Idaho Republicans didn't know about him wound up generating all kinds of controversy they would rather have done without.

This week, Patterson was slated to send in his resignation, and now District 15 Republicans, with Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, will have to fill the spot.

We don't yet know all the names up for consideration, but at least one logical prospect has thrown his name in.

I'd note up front that I have known Chuck Malloy a good many years from the time we both were political reporters for Idaho newspapers. (Just recently, until yet another round of layoffs, he was an editorial writer at the Idaho Statesman.) An Idaho native who has spent most of his life in the Gem State, he's a thoroughly known quantity. And that cuts in both directions: He knows the state quite well, having written a good deal about it.

As a matter of politics, he would be a fully rational choice. Malloy spent years as communications director for the Idaho House Republicans, and was comfortable in the role. He knows the people at the legislature and the issues, the stands House Republicans take and how to express support for them. He probably would fit comfortably into the caucus.

He said he would not want to run for the job next year, which would allow for an open contest which might allow for a more careful vetting than was given Patterson.

If the matter of serious vetting is a consideration here - as it should be - Malloy's already past that point. In the case of a legislative session starting not much more than a couple of weeks hence, this would be an appointment that would solve an array of problems all at once.

Baloo, the friendly bear

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Most baby boomers can recall the Walt Disney adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. It was a delightful, full length animated movie with the usual contest between the good characters and the bad characters (remember the giant cobra?). Of course good always triumphs over evil.

Idaho Democrats at last have a candidate for governor - Boise businessman and long-time school district board member, A. J. Balukoff. Yes, the easiest way to pronounce his name is to remember Baloo, the friendly bear.

Democrats are hoping Idahoans will be drawn to one of the first of the baby boomer generation much as people were drawn to the Disney character.

This column six months ago put in print that “Baloo” would be the Democratic nominee.

He could ignore my column, but a month later when the alpha-wolf of Idaho political journalists, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey, bannered his probable candidacy on the front page, he had to acknowledge he was taking a serious look at entering the race.

Several questions immediately come to mind: what took him so long to get around to announcing? Given his acknowledged expertise on education matters, why governor instead of State Superintendent of Public Instruction?

With no political experience other than 16 years on the Boise school board, why does he think he can start at the top of the Idaho political food chain?

Most importantly, though, will he open his own checkbook (He clearly is a very successful businessman) and will his wife (She is reportedly the sole heir to the Skaggs Drugstore chain) open hers in order to buy the kind of statewide name recognition he needs to be a serious challenger to Republican gubernatorial hegemony.

One can safely presume he starts with the narrow hard-core Democratic base in Idaho of 30% of the vote. His challenge is to make himself known well enough to be viewed by many of the hard core 40% Republican base and the 30% that are true independents as a credible alternative to a charming but do-nothing governor who literally brags about taking a billion dollars out of state spending and ignores how badly educational support has been eviscerated on his watch.

To make up for lost time and for not being a household name, “Baloo” is going to have to buy name identification quickly. To do that he needs to spend their money first and hope he generates enough buzz to jump-start fund-raising that will eventually enable him to repay the loan to his campaign. (more…)

Is the difference enough?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

There now being a partisan 2014 campaign for governor – at least one substantially-organized member of each major party – maybe the first thing to do is to fresh our memories of 2010.

The Democratic nominee that year was Keith Allred, a specialist in conflict resolution, a former faculty member at Harvard, a businessman, an Idaho native – he grew up around Twin Falls – and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He had never been a candidate for office before, but he had been involved in Idaho politics as a leader of the non-partisan group Common Interest, which had some successes at the Idaho Legislature. This fresh face was polished, articulate and seldom gaffed; he was obviously a very bright man, but carried that without projecting a sense of superiority.

He campaigned with some rigor, and pulled in support from across the aisle. The Republicans for Allred group may have had the most impressive roster of identifiably Republican members ever to cross parties in such a high-profile race, a string of well-respected former state senators and county officials among them.

Why was this long-avowed independent running as a Democrat? From his web site: “Like many Idahoans, my independent streak runs deep—I like good ideas and good leaders wherever they come from.  When the Democratic Party asked me to become their gubernatorial candidate, they told me that they were offering to enthusiastically support the sort of leadership I’ve provided at The Common Interest.” More there, in other words, about Democrats agreeing to support him, than about him supporting them and their agenda.

On election day, Allred pulled 32.8% of the vote, to Republican incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter's 59.1%. Holding Otter below a 60% true landslide was about as far as he could push it.
The other Democrats running for statewide office ranged from 24.9% to 39.5%, so Allred actually did a little better than average. But despite the many real pluses he brought, Allred in the end attracted few votes outside the Democratic base, though bipartisan support was supposed to be his big wild card.

This year's new Democratic candidate for governor is A.J. Balukoff, a successful Boise businessman and a veteran member of the Boise School Board (meaning he has run for office, albeit nonpartisan). Apart from a biographical details, he has a lot in common with Allred – smart, presentable, a (to most of the state) fresh face. Bi-partisan (he was listed as a Republican supporter of Democrat Walt Minnick in 2008). Very strongly interested and active in education. Mormon. Articulate. Energetic. (more…)

Back to square one

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

While the U.S. Supreme Court gutting of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA) can probably be strictly legally supported, minorities in this country have even more to fear. The decision – questionable or not – throws their future access to the polls into the hands of the most do-nothing, divided, regressive and inoperable congress in recent history. And that ain’t good.

The challenge to the VRA was based primarily on Section 5 – that portion requiring certain states and other government entities holding elections to get advance U.S. Justice Department approval of their election rules if they appeared on a list of locales where previous election discrimination had been proven. In the 1960′s. The plaintiff’s argument was basically “We’ve changed and what we intentionally did wrong before we don’t do anymore so we shouldn’t be forced to comply with a 48-year-old decision.”

While the Justices bought that dubious claim 5-4 – apparently believing previous discriminatory practices had likely ended – the question is: have they? Some new serious statistical evidence suggests – they haven’t.

Law professors Christopher Elmendorf and Douglas Spencer (University of California Cal-Davis and University of Connecticut) have published a study arguing “the list of states required to obtain federal approval under VRA ‘remarkably mirrors the geography of anti-black prejudice’ in the United States today.”

“What we generated,” Elmendorf said, “is an answer to the question whether racial voting conditions in specific states had really changed which was asked by the chief justice during oral arguments. Defendant was unable to answer.”

Using a 2008 National Annenberg Election Survey, the professors asked non-blacks to rank their own racial group against blacks regarding intelligence, trustworthiness and work ethic. Respondents ranked their racial group above blacks by an average of 15 points in each category.
The results were striking. Their mathematical model suggests, of the states with the highest percentage of people biased against blacks, six are Southern: Lousiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. All had been previously required to seek fed approval for election law changes under the VRA based on past bad practices.

But no longer.

Two other states – Arizona and Alaska – also were required to get government approval of voting changes. But Elmendorf and Spencer note, while those two ranked much lower in black bias, their data indicates Arizona’s significant bias is against Hispanics and Alaska’s is anti-Native American.

Certainly some racial bias likely exists in all states. But – no matter how the researchers crunched the numbers in this example – “the Deep South states went right to the top,” according to Elmendorf.
So, let’s take stock. SCOTUS says things have changed racially. The above-cited survey – and others – show the same old bias’s still exist. Which leaves the whole thing up to 535 people who can’t agree on what time it is or whose watch to use. If that’s not bad enough, states-after-Republican-controlled-states are doing their damndest to stop minorities from registering and voting. At a time in our political history when we need some stability, SCOTUS tipped the scales to even more serious problems.

Minorities have a right to worry about being disenfranchised. Responsible Americans in the majority should be equally concerned. Speaker Boehner has proven he can’t even pass gas let alone serious legislation. It’s quite likely his farm bill debacle will be followed by a similar disaster dealing with any immigration bill that accidentally makes it to the upper house. And, failing some prompt corrective action on voting rights in Congress, the offending states will continue to be hellbent on cutting access to the vote. That’s not just speculation. It’s been happening for several elections. Even in some of the states on the now-defunct list of violators. (more…)

Fourth time around

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Governor John Kitzhaber really is an unusual, and major, figure in Oregon history, a point just underlined if he's re-elected to the fourth term he announced on Monday he would seek.

As matters sit, he's a strong favorite. The leading Republican contender (and odds are, even if Allen Alley gets into it next year this will still be true), state Representative Dennis Richardson, will function most as a clearly-spoken exemplar of his state's brand of conservative Republicanism, but not as a candidate likely to reach much outside that sector.

Kitzhaber broke records in 2010, of course, when he was elected to a third term as governor, the first Oregonian to do that. There was some speculation about whether Oregonians would go along with that, but also some real question marks about whether the man known in his first two terms as "Doctor No" and who famously said that Oregon was ungovernable, could accomplish much if given the reins again. In his campaign, Kitzhaber laid out an agenda both specific and highly ambitious, and you have to wonder if even he thought he would be able to accomplish more than a piece of it.

He seemed to be suggesting in the campaign, though, that eight years out of office, with time for reflection, gave him some new perspective on the job, that he now had a better sense of how do it, how to be governor and get things done. Upon his return, at least, he demonstrated exactly that, changing his approach and roaring through his 2010 agenda, checking off major item after major item, sweeping developments on education, health care, energy and other areas. Probably not many governors nationally in recent years have had so consequential a term. And his change of approach was startling, too; he has been about as hands-on with the legislature as a governor could be without turning overbearing, and building good relations on the way. At times, you saw more positive quotes about him from Republicans than from Democrats (and a fair amount of Democratic snark accompanied his announcement), but those Democrats seem to be forgetting how much of the Oregon Democratic agenda he has been pushing forward.

Kitzhaber's fourth-term announcement is almost more by way of following up, getting those third-term accomplishment locked in, than anything else. But that's no small thing. Not only time in office has made him consequential in the larger Oregon picture, and that would be true even if you only look at his third term. Not to mention a fourth.

Dwelling in Beulah land

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Occasionally my dear departed mother would turn and say “quit dwelling in Beulah land.” It means get out of your fantasy world and start dealing with reality; work with facts, not fantasies.

There’s a major disconnect between the real and the surreal is another way of stating it.

If ever there is a walking personification of this it is Idaho’s charming but terribly out of it governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Perusing a copy of the North Idaho Business Journal’s December issue recently, I came across a “no coincidences” juxtaposition of an article and an ad. The top of the page was a headline from a speech to a business group by Governor Otter. It said “Otter: D.C. Can Learn from Idaho.”

The bottom half was an ad by the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign financed by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Headlined “We Fail, She Loses,” the ad portrayed a young child looking quite pensive, as she should given the deplorable record established by the governor and his fellow travelers for starving systematically state support for public education.

As the ad says, our children will be the ones to carry Idaho forward. It continues: But when it comes to preparing them for the challenges ahead, Idaho is falling behind. Education Week ranked Idaho 48thnationally. And only 1 in 10 Idaho high school freshmen are graduating from college with a degree. . . . .

We can do better. . . . Let’s get to an educated state.

Turn now to the governor’s speech. Incredibly, he brags about having inherited a $3.2 billion budget in 2007 but by 2010 having reduced it to $2.2 billion. In reality this is bragging about having eviscerated public k-12 and higher education. Its chutzpah reflecting misplaced priorities and a distorted world view.

The governor rationalizes his administration figured out what was truly “necessary” as opposed to what was “nice.” By his definition adequate supplies for school children and decent salaries for teachers are nice but not necessities. He is claiming he found $1 billion worth of “nice.”

Then he repeats the Big Republican Lie - but we didn’t increase your taxes! Pure balderdash. Almost 3 out of four Idaho school districts passed supplemental levies to replace the funding cut by the state. That’s a tax pure and simple directly attributable to the parsimonious governor and a cohort of education hating legislators. (more…)

Original opinions

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Next year, after you cast your vote for the high-profiled offices like governor and United States senator, your ballot will include choices of a non-partisan variety: For judges and (Supreme Court) justices.

Critics have been skeptical for a long time of putting the offices up to a popular vote, partly because of the difficulty in campaigning for them (talking about specific cases or legal issues is considered an ethical violation), and partly because of campaign finance issues (Who gives to judges who subsequently hear contributors' cases?). But there's also this: Many voters know little about the actual work that judges do, and in most cases have little useful basis for deciding whether for vote for them.

That last point, at least, comes with some solutions at hand. One of my regular weekly news stops is the web page at http://www.isc.idaho.gov/appeals-court/opinions. Let me suggest you bookmark it too.

What you'll find there are the opinions – well, they're more than just “opinions” since they're binding rulings – by the Idaho Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Few people other than lawyers make them regular reading, which probably conveys the sense that they're unreadable, or at least too legally wonkish to be accessible to the lay reader.
They're not. And while some of them are of interest to not many more people than those directly involved (the Supreme Court hears a lot of worker compensation, property ownership and insurance liability cases), you get, after reading them for a time, an exposure to the real law and how it actually works. People who read the decisions probably will be a lot less likely to resort to bumper-sticker ideas about how the legal system works, and how appellate decisions are developed.

Most of the opinions aren't very many pages long, and I'm not suggesting reading all the pages anyway. Most of them are structured so that you can get the gist in the first paragraph of the decision, where the decision writer describes what the case is about, what the legal issues are, and usually (although sometimes they save this for the end), how the court ruled.

Here's an example, from November 27, in a criminal case: “Appellant Zane J. Fields was sentenced to death for first degree murder on March 7, 1991. On July 28, 2011, Fields filed his sixth successive petition for post-conviction relief in the Ada County district court. He raised claims of actual innocence, prosecutorial misconduct, and violations of the right to counsel, due process, and the right to a fair trial. The district court granted the State’s motion to dismiss Fields’s petition because his claims were barred by I.C. § 19-2719(5), the statute governing post-conviction procedure in capital cases. Fields now appeals the district court’s dismissal of his petition. We affirm.” If that catches your interest, if it raises questions you'd like answered, read on (in this case, for seven more pages where the details are fleshed out).

The decisions also note which justice or judge is the main author, though as they would quickly point out the text has to be written as a compromise – something that will get support from most of the court. But then, you also see which justices signed on, and which if any didn't.

Here's why doing this is helpful to voters: You can start to understand the reasoning the justices and judges bring. In ways you can't as effectively do with most other office holders, you can trace their chain of logic, and you can decide whether it makes sense to you.

You'd also get an insight into a lot of parts of society – not just crime and law enforcement but business, families, charities and the way people interact with each other generally – that depending on your background may really open your eyes.

For what it's worth, I've generally agreed with the justices' logic, from time to time concluding they blew it. Would those be your opinions? Read them and see.

This exercise is good for the Idaho Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, but less so for district judges and magistrate courts, where web posting of decisions generally is far less frequent. A suggestion: Encourage judges there to do as the appellates do. The voters will then at least have the opportunity to make more informed choices than they realistically can now.

Settlement in Klamath

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The announcement of a major water basin deal-in-principle out of Klamath Falls (see the environment section), which drew the presence of the governor and both senators, was positive enough (they would not have shown, surely, if it had not been).
But don't mistake that for finality.
For one thing, the water situation at the Klamath, as elsewhere, is ever-changing, so that a deal that works now may not work only a few years down the line. There's not much getting away from that.
And that's apart from the fact that although a deal was structure, not everyone is thrilled with it.
The deal means that many agricultural water users will have to make do with a lot less. Tens of millions of dollars may bleed out of the area's farm economy in the near term as a result. (Some of the alternatives, to be sure, would have bled a lot more.)
The website Counterpunch offered a contrary view even to that: “As the legal trustee for federal tribes, the federal government is supposed to protect and advance the tribes’ interests. However, examination of dozens of western water deals shows that the Feds have not acted in good faith as the tribes’ trustee. Instead the feds have encouraged tribes to accept government funding in exchange for giving up – or agreeing not to exercise – tribal water rights.
“Those water rights are the only hope for really restoring our rivers and – in the case of western salmon rivers – our salmon runs; that hope is evaporating as more tribes settle for government funding rather than sticking to the right to restoration flows. The idea that government funded restoration projects can substitute for restoration flows is a chimera; tribes, environmental and fishing groups that have bought into that myth are sadly misguided.”
The deal is, apart from all of that, just a deal-in-principle. The parties involved may have quite a challenge ahead keeping even that much from flying apart.