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Posts published in “Year: 2013”

Right wing amoeba splitting

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A basic tenet of folks on the right in this country is they can’t abide unity. It’s what they preach. It’s on their signs in the streets and is the major theme of their boisterous and usually crazy gatherings. But unity is a concept they can’t grasp. It happens again and again. And it always will.

The Achilles’ Heel of the extreme right is distrust coupled with anger. Why? Because the prime motivational forces of those most drawn to the lunatic fringe are – wait for it – distrust and anger. The passions that bring them together are most often distrust of – or anger with – government. Or some element of thereof. Read their literature. Listen to their preferred media. Hear their spokesmen. No words of peace. No talk of love. No promise of better times. No plans offered. Just the ever-present distrust and anger. Of someone or something. Always.

But, while these two traits draw them together, sooner or later they’re the same forces that create divisions of loyalty, splits in “philosophy” or give birth to factions which break off from the original group to form one or more new cells of the distrustful and the angered. This basic truth is what’s likely to make the Republican Party a minor national influence for years to come. And many elections to come. Evidence is everywhere.

Take the now-discredited Texan Dick Armey – around whom tea baggies gathered so faithfully a couple years back – that same Dick Armey had a “philosophical” falling-out with the big money guys in their faux “grassroots” club. He walked out the door with a “severance package” of $8 million plus. Stage far right of course. Seems he was seeing things differently from the billionaires who’ve been putting the big money in his pockets all this time. He was angry and distrustful. “Grass roots movement?” Oh, sure. Yeah. You betcha!

Then consider Jim DeMint quitting the U.S. Senate to run the Heritage Foundation, which began long ago as a respected conservative “think tank” but which has become a bastion of all things far, far to the right. His stated reason? He can “be more effective.” Sure. If you’d been reading his clippings recently you’d have known he was angry his far right minority views weren’t being adopted by the majority of his GOP colleagues – that he was feeling “stifled” and couldn’t carry out his “agenda.” He even put hundreds of thousands of dollars into 2012 primary campaigns against sitting senators. In his own party! Anger. Distrust. He also more than tripled is income!

Rep. Shelley Capito of West Virginia, says she’ll run for the U..S. Senate in 2014. Years of GOP membership and service. The ink wasn’t dry on the press release before three – count ‘em – three “republican” groups (small r) denounced her, saying they’d support someone else in the primary. Their joint “reasoning?” She occasionally voted for things they didn’t like and all said “she couldn’t be trusted.” Oh, yes. They were angry, too.

The Koch boys tried to take over the Cato Institute this year – another fortress of GOP “conservatism.” Not far enough right for the Koch’s and their phony “Americans For Prosperity” front. They lost in court. They were angry. From Pine Street in Meridian, Idaho, to “K” Street in Washington, DC, the far right is constantly in a state of amoeba-like throes of joining – then splitting. It was ever thus. It will ever be.

Faux news chief Roger Ailes was very angry when he took Karl Rove and political whore Dick Morris off the payroll this year. Temporarily for Rove. “Unprofessional behavior,” he said. “Angry and distrusted,” sez I.

Even John Boehner had to “fire” four members of his caucus from important committee spots so he could assure passage of whatever budget deal he and the White House might agree to. And they will. Naysayers who opposed him from within did so because he wasn’t “pure” enough – because he appeared willing to compromise. Purity rejects compromise.

Basic, child-like reasoning would say “put all your similarly inclined, disaffected into one organization – one club – one party – and you’d be a force to be reckoned with. Your numbers would be sizeable and your affect on elections could be greater.” It won’t happen. (more…)

A courageous president?

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Dear Dr. Staben:

As a strong supporter of the University of Idaho and its flagship, land grant, national research status within the state, allow me to give you a conditional welcome to the great state.

Why “conditional” you may ask? Because you must understand you have been hired by an impotent board that has not for years served as the advocate for higher education it should. It is a board that has stood by idly as the budget for higher education has been eviscerated by a governor and a legislature that by their actions demonstrate they just don’t get nor appreciate the proper role education plays in securing a decent future for Idaho’s children as the driver of a thriving economy.

Oh, they will claim they do, but the facts conclusively demonstrate otherwise. So you will be working for a board and a governor that report to a legislature that with a few notable exceptions frankly is full of hypocrites.

Truth be told, many would admit if they thought it were politically palatable that all education, public and higher, ought to be privatized. You’ve come to a state that is not just suspicious but is downright contemptuous of teachers and public employees.

Right now there is a statewide radio campaign funded by the Joe and Kathryn Albertson Foundation called “Don’t Fail Idaho.” The foundation is run by Joe Scott, who by no stretch of the imagination could be considered a flaming liberal. He is in fact conservative but he understands education is critical to a good future for Idaho’s children.

The facts are damning: only 4 out of 10 Idaho high school graduates start college and only 1 out of 10 get a degree in an economy that needs twice as many college graduates to meet demands.

You will also find one of many reasons students don’t finish college is the cost. Again, the numbers are damning: in 1980 a student at Moscow and his family paid 7% of the cost in tuition and fees; in 1990 it was 13%; in 2000 it was 20%; and today it is 47%. Much of the increase in student fees and tuition can be directly correlated to legislative evisceration of public support.

If you have real courage, Dr. Staben, you will be an advocate for restoring more state support and reducing utilization on student fees. It is bad enough that predatory banks have swooped down on college campuses offering ever more expansive federally guaranteed student loans. For many middle class and poorer class students these loans have become a modern form of indentured servitude. (more…)

Filibusters and Indian country

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The United States Senate is a curious institution. It's not democratic. It's not representative. And it's the ultimate millionaire's sandbox.

So in the U.S. constitutional scheme: The 38 million people living in California get two votes out of 100, the same as the 576,000 folks who are residents of Wyoming.

One person's vote is worth more if they live in a tiny state, but at least it's a vote. Because some four million American Indians and Alaska Natives -- citizens of tribal governments -- aren’t counted as a unique constituency. By land mass, Indian Country's 50-plus million acres are bigger than almost half the states. Even breaking that number up into population counts, Cherokee’s 819,000 people or Navajo's 350,000 is in the same ballpark as one of those small states.

But that’s the deal. And the Constitution is sacred script (roll the organ-heavy musical theme now). So get over it, right?

But the thing is the U.S. Senate, this undemocratic institution, is made worse by the filibuster. Especially now that the filibuster has become a routine, invoked on every nominee or every bill. Instead of fifty votes, a supermajority of 60 votes, was required to get anything done. That changed last week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, used another rule (one requiring just 50 votes) to overrule the filibuster on judicial and executive nominees. Only now that that procedure has been invoked, it’s only a matter of time before the filibuster is gone forever. (The filibuster is only a tradition, not a constitutional procedure. It’s only been used for about a century. And in the past decade it’s use has increased significantly.)

Let’s be clear: The super-majority has not been good for Indian Country. One of the reasons it took so long to pass the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was that 60-vote hurdle. Or reach a final settlement on the Cobell lawsuit. Or we’ve been reading all about the complications with the Affordable Care Act. One of the key appointments, Donald Berwick, was never confirmed as the director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, and took the job with a limited timeframe as a recess appointment. (more…)

After Heinz, what now for Pocatello?

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

A few years ago, the Heinz frozen food plant in Pocatello employed more than 800 who worked its packaging lines, eclipsing Union Pacific Railroad, the J.R. Simplot Co. and ON Semiconductor as the Gate City’s largest private employer.

Heinz’ recent announcement that it would close its imposing factory on Pocatello’s north end near the Quinn Road overpass and terminate its remaining 410 employees within five to eight months stunned the community, sending shock waves throughout Bannock County.

That bad news came on heels of the shutdown of the $700 million Hoku polysilicon plant in Pocatello. A bankruptcy judge recently blocked that plant’s sale to JH Kelly Inc., the plant’s Longview, Wash.-based general contractor, which bid $5.27 million for the abandoned complex and says it is still owed $25 million for its work on the project.

The entire Hoku plant will be re-auctioned onsite on Dec. 17. Its fair market value has been set at between $6.25 million and $35 million. The plant’s owner has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and owes an estimated $1 billion to creditors. Once operating, the plant was to initially employ 200 and eventually boost its payroll to 400 -- or equivalent to the number now employed at the Heinz plant on the opposite side of town.

That Pocatello plant is one of three Heinz plants to be closed by the summer of 2014. The others are at Ontario, Canada, where 740 work, and Florence, S.C., where 200 are employed. Heinz plans to add 470 employees at existing plants in California, Iowa, Ohio and Canada, bringing its total work force in the U.S. and Canada to 6,800 hourly and salaried workers.

While displaced Pocatello Heinz employees will get severance benefits, outplacement services and other support, that’s little comfort to some who have worked at the plant for decades, stemming back to when it was owned by Kraft and Ore-Ida Foods. The unexpected shutdown is devastating for many of them and a major blow to Pocatello’s economy.

Kraft Foods built its first Pocatello cheese factory and warehouse along the Portneuf River in 1924, well east of Simplot’s existing phosphate fertilizer plant. By 1955, production at Kraft’s three-story structure on Kraft Road began to wind down, not far from Great Western Malting’s existing plant, which is east of the Hoku plant.

In 1967, Kraft Inc. started constructing its 450,000-square-foot plant where Heinz now operates and abandoned its old site along Kraft Road. In April 1989, 500 were working at the processed cheese plant when Kraft announced it would move operations to Tulare, Calif., after operating in the Gate City for some 65 years. Kraft had hoped 80 percent of its Pocatello workers would move to California, but only about 10 percent opted to do so, preferring Southeast Idaho’s much lower cost of living and other amenities.

By May 1989, only a month after Kraft’s bombshell announcement, it was disclosed that Boise-based Ore-Ida Foods Inc. had taken an option to buy the Kraft property to process low-calorie entrees and frozen potato products.

To their credit, Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus and Commerce Director Jim Hawkins hustled to dispatch a rapid response team to Pocatello to help soften Kraft’s gut punch to the greater Pocatello area and quickly fill the food factory.

By the end of March 1990, 150 Kraft workers were terminated after 50 laborers had been idled the previous February, leaving fewer than 50 distribution personnel before Ore-Ida took over the plant. Weight Watchers low calorie meals were among the main products churned out after Ore-Ida took over the plant.

Famous for its Tater Tots, the Ore-Ida brand was acquired by the H.J. Heinz Co. in 1965. Its division headquarters was in Boise until 1998-99 when a new frozen foods division was created in Pittsburgh, Pa. At that time, 235 of the 320 employees of Ore-Ida's Boise HQ lost their jobs and 150 Weight Watchers plant workers in Pocatello were cut.

There have been telltale signs in recent years that production at the Pocatello Heinz plant has not been kept at full capacity as a steady drumbeat of layoffs sliced and diced employment by 50 percent.

In September 2009, 65 Heinz employees were let go. Last February, 80 workers were terminated as Heinz ended its TGI Fridays frozen meals line. The number of employees has plummeted from an 800 peak to its 400 level now. It’s been estimated that the Heinz plant shutdown will adversely impact another 200 people indirectly, worsening Pocatello’s unemployment rate.

In August, the city’s jobless rate stood at 7.8 percent, the highest of Idaho’s 11 largest cities. The Idaho Department of Labor on Friday, Nov. 22, disclosed that the Gate City’s unemployment rate declined from 7.7 percent in September to 6.9 percent in October. (more…)

The third judge

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

There's not much ideological content to this, so Representative Mike Simpson may not get a lot of attention for his proposal of last week, which my be the most specifically useful to Idaho any of the delegation offers this term. And a repeat from 2010, at that.

But Idaho does need a third federal district judge. An act of Congress literally is required to create a new slot, as Simpson has again proposed. He said that “I recently met with Idaho’s federal judges and heard directly from them about the serious impact budget cuts, sequester, and the lack of an additional judge are having on the federal courts in Idaho. While I am fully cognizant of the budget crisis facing our country, I share the judges’ concerns about delays in the administration of justice and the impact that has on the Constitutional role of the courts.”

He has specifics: “As Idaho’s population has grown, so has the number of court cases.  Between 2007 and 2013 the District of Idaho has experienced a 26% increase in total filings and pending caseloads have increased 30%.  Idaho has a heavier caseload than other rural states that already have three federal district judges (Alaska, Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming).”

If anything, Simpson understates. Idaho's current senior federal judge, Lynn Winmill, has been pitching the case for a third judge for years. The situation in Idaho – which is one of the most understaffed states – has been reviewed repeatedly in recent years, and independent review panels such as the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit (earlier this year) have specifically endorsed an additional judge for Idaho.

The understaffing has led to inefficiencies and, ironically, extra costs. Winmill said in one letter on the proposal that “the District of Idaho has made great use of visiting judges to assist with the District Judge caseload. In reviewing the visiting judge statistics for calendar year 2011, we estimate that our visiting judge in-court time will increase by 57% (from 169 hours to 266 hours) in calendar year 2012, which doesn’t include their own preparation hours.” (more…)

The move from hell

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

We – Barb and I – have just finished “the move from Hell.”

With a quick curtsey to the folks still living back there under the trees in the old forest in far Southwest Oregon, I don’t mean you’re still in Hell. It’s just, well, politically warmer there.

No, I mean by “Hell” one of life’s little experiences that really tests the limits of one’s patience, strength, durability and causes you to think you really are in Hell. Of course, all of those things are magnified when you both reach your 70′s and still try to do the things you did in your 40′s. You may look younger than your years. You may feel younger. You still may be living a lifestyle that belies those 70 years. But inside, when push comes to shove – or rather when push comes to lift and carry again and again and again – there’s no fooling about the rings on your trunk. Those higher numbers kick in with the accompanying pain.

From the off-the-beaten-path ‘50′s approach to life and seclusion of the forest, we’ve resettled beside the sea. The Pacific Ocean as it were. We’ve traded about 40 inches of rainfall per year for something like 70. Also more fog – more wind – more gray skies. And a chill in the bones that angers the old arthritis.

But, when the sun shines – and it does often here – and the ocean appears as blue as the skies – it’s a marvelous place to be. We’ve lived on the coast before – Curry County actually. Rainfall in Curry routinely tops 90 inches. But temperatures are so balmy year-round that growers plant lily bulbs and harvest the grown flowers all twelve months. Periods of heavy rain – very heavy rain- are punctuated by several days of beautiful skies. And it’s not unusual to hit 70 degrees in Brookings in December while the rest of Oregon shivers.

Now we’re enjoying the welcome and comfort of Lincoln County which – like much of the rest of Oregon – is a two-party neighborhood. Everything we own resides in four large storage units and we’re sharing a 30-foot motorhome with Rat Terrier Winston and Calico Clementine. Unusual names, yes. It’s a Churchillian thing. We’ve changed our driver’s licenses, the vehicle registrations and have become registered voters. Independent, of course. A different life awaits.

But – recovering from “the-move-from-Hell” is taking longer than before. The sore muscles and sprains are going to be felt for more weeks than previously. Going from living in 2,000 square feet to about 180 is not as easy to adjust to as in previous relocations. Even an older Winston is grouchier than he used to get. (more…)

JFK and Idaho

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Most people over 55 can tell anyone where they were on November 22, 1963, when they heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.

The news was unbelievably stunning. A junior at Spokane’s Central Valley High School, I was walking between classes as a palpable murmur surged through the hallways following a brief announcement by the principal.

Many of the girls started crying. Others rushed to their lockers to grab transistor radios to listen for additional news. There was instant confusion, a degree of fear as students tried to assimilate the impossible to fathom news. Rumors swept through the halls: the Russians were going to launch a nuclear missile attack; war was surely coming was the most prevalent.

Over the ensuing days Americans came together as never before, or since (not even 9/11), watching their televisions, listening to the reassuring voice of Walter Cronkite. Indelibly imprinted in the minds of “baby boomers” will be the image of the riderless horse being led down Pennsylvania Avenue following the caisson carrying the President’s casket.

Nor will any forget the heart-breaking image of young three-year-old John Kennedy Junior saluting as the caisson rolled by a grieving Jackie and Caroline Kennedy.

Idaho, like the rest of the nation, shared the grief, and in many respects joined in embracing the myth that quickly became Camelot. Beyond the shared grief, though, JFK impacted Idaho in several ways not recognized by many today.

As the 50th Anniversary is observed there will be numerous stories and various opinions on President Kennedy, his legacy and his impact on people and states. Without question his most lasting Idaho impact was the inspiration he gave a young, 28-year-old lumberjack with one year of college to enter politics.

In the spring of 1960 Kennedy agreed to a stopover in Lewiston to give a speech at the Lewis-Clark Hotel before heading on to Portland to campaign in the important Oregon Presidential primary.

The young lumberjack, Cece Andrus, decided to drive the 40 miles from his home in Orofino down the Clearwater River to hear Kennedy’s remarks. To this day he cannot tell you what exactly it was Kennedy said, but he walked out of the hotel feeling he had heard a great person’s call to others to enter public service, to be part of the new generation taking over in America. (more…)

Some radical thinking

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Sitting in the timberlands of Southwest Oregon – after having lived in several other states over the years – I hear many people tell me how “conservative” the area is. They’re right. But they don’t go far enough.

These five wooded counties harbor more radicals, political extremists, flat-earthers and outright socially-disconnected people than any other place I know. Despite my lengthy residence and familiarity with some of these people, I am unable to tell whether they were radicals before they came here or whether living here has radicalized them.

But one thing I do know is that, after a decade of residing here, some of this “different” thinking is rubbing off on me. Not that I’m becoming a flat-earther or developing a strong desire to buy dried food supplies and more ammunition. No, it’s more that I’m having the beginnings of some “radical” thinking, too.

Here’s a bit: the political structure of our government is not currently serving us well. Together with some goofy political practices – like the phony GOP filibuster carpet bombing that appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution – we’ve tried to live more or less as the founding fathers intended. But, in doing so, we have become gridlocked, separated from recognized solutions to our own problems and are unable to react to national conditions that change much faster than they did in 1776.

The intention of the authors so long ago was to have co-equal branches of power: executive, legislative and judicial. Worked fine for awhile. Even with the resulting slowness with which government operates. We’ve had times in the past when slowness – or outright inaction – saved us from making some large mistakes or going down the wrong road. That’s not entirely bad.

But we now can achieve little or nothing playing by the old rules because of the highly partisan, fractured nature of modern politics and huge changes of technology in our lives. The system of balances has become a three-way struggle for control. Answers to problems immediate and massive job creation are really achievable. There really are remedies to our national economic and financial mess that economists and other professionals know will work. There are many doable ideas to streamline the military, make government more effective, improve everyone’s quality of life and realistically reorder our national priorities and goals.

All that – and more – can be done. Now. But not if we cling mindlessly to the old ways because 235 years ago, a couple dozen guys in a hot Philadelphia meeting room did the best they could to negotiate solutions to the issues of their time. Their time! Slavery. British tyranny. Taxes. A war in some of their states that threatened an entire nation as they knew it. Then. Not one of them could imagine supersonic flight, computers, organ transplants, cloning, sending men to the moon and beyond, a worldwide economic system tying all nations together and all the other things we take for granted. Well, maybe Franklin could. But no one else.

Still, we try to run a country as if we were using quill pens on parchment paper to send messages by horseback. Jefferson had a three-day ride from his home to Philadelphia but we send people in space around the entire world every 90 minutes. George Washington couldn’t find wooden dentures that fit well but we now grow human ears and noses in a laboratory and graft on entire faces.

I haven’t yet designed a new system. But I’ve been looking at others that offer some interesting tools to help us change our current bitter stalemate.

Parliamentary is just one example. A prime minister is elected every four years or when a “vote of confidence” is necessary. That post virtually controls the political system when it comes to a national course of action, the economy, relations with other countries and much more.

Can mistakes be made? Sure. But corrections can come quickly in a streamlined decision and action process designed for our time. Does this vest a large amount of power in one person? You bet. But accountability is achieved at the ballot box and parliament. Does it work where it exists today? Pretty well, actually.

Of course, this is all just a guy here in the forest talking to the trees. Such a major redesign of our national government would take years to bring about and require an awful lot of work. And trust.

Would it be worth it? Well, you decide. How do you think we’re doing now?

Washington by vote

A cartogram weighed by actual votes on the I-522 (GMO labeling) initiative, showing fairly clearly how the votes fell. (You can click on it for a clearer, larger view.)

wabyvote

You can see how it failed despite support in King and Snohomish.

Kennedy memories

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

This month the airwaves and the print media have been flooded with every sort of story marking the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. So why should I be the exception?

I had the privilege of seeing John F. Kennedy in person twice. The first time was on D Street in Lewiston when he was still a senator campaigning for the presidency. I don’t recall if it was in 1959 or 60. He arrived at the Lewiston airport and was driven in a motorcade to the Lewis Clark Hotel, where he was to deliver a speech. I was standing on D Street when they drove by.

In the spring of 1963, when I was attending Columbia Basin College, he came to the Tri Cities to dedicate a new reactor at Hanford. I had the good fortune to be there for his speech. Three giants of their time, President Kennedy, Senator Warren Magnuson and Senator Scoop Jackson were on the stage together. For me, it was an unforgettable afternoon.

I first heard of his assassination as I was walking across the parking lot at CBC getting ready to go to Lewiston for a weekend National Guard drill. Later that weekend, someone brought a TV set to the armory and we witnessed Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. It was a remarkable chain of events.

I never met President Kennedy, but I’ve had a handful of interesting Kennedy related occurrences over the years. I have known a couple of people who served on Kennedy’s White House staff. One of them, Dan Fenn, had a home in suburban Maryland with a pool which was a great place to cool off on hot summer days when I was living in Washington, DC. Dan became the first director of the Kennedy Library. His son, Peter, was on Frank Church’s staff for many years. In 1984 I had the opportunity to attend summer school a Harvard where Dan was one of my faculty members. It was wonderful to renew that friendship. Today, at age 90, he continues as an active member of the Harvard faculty. This week he will be in Washington for a reunion of the few remaining members of the Kennedy staff.

Although I never met President Kennedy, I did meet his brother Ted and daughter Caroline. Caroline Kennedy and her mother before her have been strong supporters of the Ernest Hemingway Collection project at the Kennedy Library. As a sometimes Hemingway scholar I have spent many pleasant hours doing research at the library. In 1999, I did the planning outline for the Kennedy Library’s Hemingway Centennial dinner featuring a group of Nobel Prize winning authors and hosted by Caroline Kennedy. Although my planning efforts brought great praise, I ended up being stuck in the University of Washington Medical Center having major surgery the night of the dinner.

But I also had one episode related to President Kennedy that, in my mind, borders on the bizarre. (more…)

Idaho man of mystery

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

We tend to demand to know a lot about the background of those people who would be president, somewhat less for prospective members of Congress. Down to the level of state legislature, we usually ask fewer questions.

But here we have Mark Patterson, a state representative from west Boise, Republican, for whom background has become a real issue, partly because of a dispute with the Ada County Sheriff over a denied concealed weapons permit. But there's more to it.

We know he heads a business called Rock N Roll Lubrication LLC, said to employ five people, which manufactures lubricant for bicycle chains, motorcycles, and sporting equipment. The product has gotten excellent reviews, with (apparently) some cache not only nationally but internationally. The first Idaho state paperwork for it dates to November 2007; Patterson's name is alone on papers filed in state business records for that firm. Before November 2007 … nothing.

Patterson's legislative bio describes him as a “businessman and manufacturer specializing in building manufacturing companies from the ground up that serve the national and international markets.” He uses the plural, but persistent searches turn up no second or third manufacturing companies.

Most legislative candidates tell you where they were born and grew up, and give you an idea of the contours of their life. Patterson mentions that as a child he was in the Boy Scouts and the Civil Air Patrol, and that he lost much of his hearing at age four. That's about all. Usually, if a candidate went to college, they say where and when; if they did something else, they usually say that. Patterson's different. An Idaho Statesman article about him – after the weapons permit issue hit – said he was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, “but declined to say where he has lived or list his occupations over the years.” His campaign in 2012 said he attended the University of Southern California and that he had worked as a petroleum engineer, but has since acknowledged neither was true. He said in 2012 he studied at “numerous colleges and universities,” but specifics are lacking.

Something we know: Patterson was 21 in the spring of 1974 when at a bar in Tampa, Florida, he offered a woman a ride home. Police records say she accused him of raping her. He pleaded guilty to the charge of assault with intent to commit rape, later receiving a withheld judgment. He has said since that he has no memory of that night, but later described it as “a bizarre encounter with a woman.” In 1977, in Cincinnati, he was again accused of rape. That case went to trial; he was acquitted.

Those are at least definitive times and places. Otherwise, Patterson's background seems almost invisible until 2007. At least from readily available public documents, including campaign materials, we know not where he was or what he did. Patterson's campaign web side offers his “background is in science and technology. Mark worked in oil, gas and geothermal exploration for 17 years.” Where? For whom? And what else did he do in the three decades between his court appearance in 1977 and his Idaho business filing in 2007? What brought him to Idaho, and when? Was he associated with any groups, professional or otherwise?

How did Rock N Roll Lubrication launch and go international with such lightning speed, with no apparent backing noted on the records other than one person? If this was a brilliant exercise of business management, that would be a great story to hear. (You'd expect he would share it.) If not that, then what?

This isn't a matter of tracking down every last detail about a relatively junior member of the Idaho House. I raise all this here because you likely cannot find a similar gap in the record for any other Idaho legislator, current or recent, or even not so recent. It's a gap unlike anything I can recall in four decades of watching the coming and goings of elected officials.

Who is this guy?

A Socialist – no, really?

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

A city council race in Seattle drawing national attention? Well, yeah, in this case. It involves the ouster of an incumbent, Richard Conlin, but that isn't the reason. Or the fact that the race was very close, coming into clear focus only well into last week.

Rather, it was that an avowed Socialist, Kshama Sawant, appears (narrowly, at a most-recent 1,148-vote lead) to have won.

Socialists have been getting the hard-core blast in national politics for the last couple of decades, demonized to the point that their actual stances have gotten obscured. Even a writer on the Seattle Horse's Ass blog, no stranger to liberalism, remarked, “It’s so rare that someone in government is to my left, it’ll be interesting to see what it actually looks like.”

Maybe not all that startling. Some decades ago, election of Socialists to local government offices was not especially rare. Small towns in places like Idaho used to do it with some regularity. Check out this list in Wikipedia of Socialist mayors around the country; it's a long list. Until not so long ago, socialists weren't that far out of the political mainstream.
(Quietly, to an extent, not so much even now: Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has described himself as a socialist, though generally he caucuses with the Senate Democrats and votes much as most of them do.)

So what is this exotic partisan have in mind for the council? What's the far-out agenda?

The list of issues on her campaign web site suggests: She likes the idea of a $15 an hour minimum wage, taxpayer-funded election campaigns, labeling GMO foods, and opposition to the coal transport trains.

In other words, the kind of stuff most Seattle City Council members already pretty much support, rent control probably excepted.

The most distinctive element is the up-front quote: “Our campaign is not an isolated event, it's a bellwether for what's going to happen in the future.”

Activism and movement, in other words, at least as much as policy.