Writings and observations


A few years back the Vail Symposium (A gathering of the rich and famous to mull over the BIG issues) had an artsy poster given to all the conference participants, attendees and the media. At the bottom of the poster were some lines from a Grateful Dead song:

The trouble with you/Is the trouble with me;
You got two eyes/But you still don’t see!

Those lines came back to me as I sat pondering the bazaar phenomena of Donald Trump leading all the other Republicans running for president. This is just mind-boggling. It defies logic and common sense. What don’t I see that apparently a fifth of self-identified Republican voters see and are captivated by?

Then several other questions popped up: The old question about does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Put in a more modern context, is politics becoming more and more entertainment and thus less relevant? Is the body politic starting to gravitate towards entertainers because politics is no longer an honorable calling and there are no political leaders today we feel we can trust?

Did Ronald Reagan start a trend? By most accounts he was seen as a successful leader, who kept California together, dared the Russians to take down the Berlin Wall, reversed America’s declining stature in the world and rebuilt our military. He was also an entertainer.

So, since there’s no one we trust and no officeholder we believe, we might as well pick someone who can keep us entertained. Correct? If that’s the criteria, then, let’s throw some other names out and urge them to run also. Kevin Spacey is doing an excellent job of portraying the ruthless, win at any cost President Frank Underwood in the current series House of Cards. Martin Sheen also did an excellent job of portraying President Joshia Bartlett in the award-winning series West Wing that ran from 1999 to 2006.

Among the reasons voters who like Trump tell pollsters why are the all too familiar phrases like “he’s not a politician,” “he tells it like it is, says what thinks and isn’t guided by polls,” “he’s rich enough he doesn’t need anyone else’s money,” “he can’t be bought,” “he’s a breath of fresh air,” and last but not least, “he tells the TRUTH!”

Really? The other night on one of this season’s last House of Cards episodes, Kevin Spacey as President Underwood, delivers a brief speech to the nation that begins “My fellow Americans, tonight I’m going to tell you something you don’t hear from politicians – I’m going to tell you the Truth!” Sound familiar? Is art imitating life, or life imitating art?

And what’s the Truth according to President Underwood? Well, folks, the truth is Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are bankrupt. Furthemore, the TRUTH is not one of us is entitled to any entitlement, according to Underwood. This does not sound like a winning platform but don’t be surprised if the Donald doesn’t adopt it.

Here’s the real Truth, my friends. This past weekend Trump in essence said Senator John McCain was NOT a true hero because he had been captured and heroes don’t get captured. In one fell swoop he insulted McCain, every veteran and every prisoner of war. Mitt Romney had it right when he said Trump had just shot himself down. Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said he had disqualified himself to run for President and should drop out. Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio agreed with Perry.

Asked if he ever asked God for forgiveness, being the true narcissistic egomaniac he is, Trump said “no.” He didn’t stop there, though. He went on to insult every believing Catholic and every Christian who believes communion is partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. Trump referenced sipping a little bit of wine and eating the cracker.

Maybe I’m missing something and my two eyes really don’t see, but there is no way a majority of American voters is going to put such a loose cannon anywhere close to the nuclear codes.

What I do see, though, is Trump sucking air and media coverage away from the other Republican candidates, and Democrats thoroughly enjoying the consternation and disarray Trump is causing. It’s enough to make me wonder if Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t put him up to having a little fun.

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Has Presidential candidate Donald Trump been wiped out by his blast at John McCain – and, implicitly, any other American soldier captured in wartime? You recall what he said, that McCain wasn’t a war hero (in between other references that seemed to call him one) and saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” So much for all POWs. Trump has been dumped on by most of the rest of the Republican presidential field, and lots of other people, some of whom have called on him to withdraw from the presidential race. (A lot of Republicans were hoping well before last weekend he’d do that.) Trump so far shows no sign of backing off, and a poll from last weekend (most of it conducted before his McCain comments hit the news) showed him not only in first place but in a 2-1 lead over each of his next closest competitors, Jeb Bush and Scott Walker. What happens next? The guess here is that Trump stays in, for a while at least. He has the money to run the campaign and there’s no formal vote for him to lose to come for months ahead. Most of interest: How much of his base of support does he keep? The guess here: Not all but most of it.

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First Take

What is it worth – as an economic proposition, that is? The answer – again, as an economic proposition – is what someone will pay for it. There aren’t a lot of exceptions to the rule, much though some people would like to imagine them. If you watch late-night television you’ve doubtless seen the many ads for precious metals sales, advising the gullible to buy because gold and silver – especially gold – are really the only “sure thing” in terms of holding value. Except that prices for gold rise and fall like everything else. Reuters reports today that “Gold prices plunged as much as 4 percent to their lowest in more than five years on Monday as sellers in top consumer China offloaded the metal. Investors have been finding less and less reason to hold gold as an insurance against risk, with the dollar strengthening ahead of what is expected to be the first increase in U.S. interest rates for nearly a decade.” So who you gonna believe: the markets or late night TV? (photo)

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First Take


Most folks are unaware that Boise City’s urban renewal agency owns the Ada County Courthouse through a convoluted “lease” agreement which was used to deny voters the right to approve or reject the debt.

Capital City Development Corp (CCDC) financed the courthouse, but now the current Commishes are aiming to pay off the thinly disguised debt with a mid-August payment within the current 2015 budget. We applaud the move and hope the current Commishes will go to the voters for approval of future “profound projects” as required by the Idaho constitution.

Here is today’s press release on the Ada budget about the lease that was really a purchase as well as an outline of the proposed 2016 budget.

On Tuesday, July 21 at 6 p.m., Ada County will be hosting a public presentation of its fiscal year (FY) 2016 proposed budget. The public and media are encouraged to attend the presentation, which will be held in the first floor Public Hearing Room of the Ada County Courthouse at 200 W. Front St. in Boise. Parking is free after 5 p.m.

The presentation will cover the proposed budget of $231,435,852 for the year beginning October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2016.

During the current fiscal year, $37 million was budgeted to pay off the lease and purchase the county Courthouse, scheduled to occur in August. As a result of this purchase, county taxpayers will save $6 million in future lease payments. Despite continued growth within Ada County, the removal of this large one-time expenditure is what causes the FY16 budget to be down from last year.

Highlights of the proposed FY16 budget include the second year funding of public safety initiatives approved last year. These initiatives include $6.9 million for construction of a new emergency 911 Dispatch Center. Of that funding, $2.6 million will be provided by the $1.00 surcharge applied to monthly telephone bills, with the remaining $4.3 million from new county property taxes. The FY16 budget also contains $4 million to cover a 27th pay period, due to a calendar anomaly which occurs once every 11 years. Fees collected from Drug Court have been saved over time to build a new Drug Court and treatment facility at a cost of $2.8 million. A 2% merit increase for the county’s 1,780 employees is included at a cost of $2 million, and $1.2 million is included to replace aging network systems throughout the county government infrastructure.

The proposed $231,435,852 budget is funded by $109,395,305 from property taxes, $95,996,814 from other revenue, and $26,043,733 in savings. A breakdown of the proposed budget will be made available Friday, July 17 on the county website at adacounty.id.gov.

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Being neither a medical nor a legal professional, I’m wary of stepping too far into this intersection of the two arenas. But there’s a large public policy question here worth your, as well as my, consideration.

On July 7 the Idaho Supreme Court decided Sohar Chavez v. Kevin Stokes, a worker compensation case. Chavez worked as an irrigator for Stokes on a farm near Payette; one day in September 2012 his pinky finger was caught and mangled in a piece of machinery. Stokes wasn’t insured for workers compensation but paid without dispute Chavez’ various medical expenses – except one.

After the accident happened, Chavez drove himself to the home of a Payette area law officer, where paramedics tried to treat him. Someone – apparently a paramedic – made the decision to call for the Life Flight helicopter, which flew him to the St. Alphonsus hospital in Boise. A few days later Life Flight issued a bill for $21,201. Stokes paid all the other expenses, but argued that the Life Flight, or at least its cost, was not necessary or reasonable.

The dispute over this has lasted a long time. About a year after the accident a referee was called in, and sought an independent doctor’s opinion. The doctor said the injury to the finger (which was serious enough that it was amputated at St. Alphonsus) was serious but it “was not in any way, shape or form, life critical. For that reason I do not understand why Life Flight was called or addressed in the first place, and why the case was not taken to Holy Rosary. Indeed, it is extremely reasonable that the patient would be taken physically to Holy Rosary Hospital. Had there been an incident which may in some way benefited from a vascular reconstruction, then the patient could be transferred to St. Alphonsus or St. Luke’s. Indeed, this was in no way necessary.”

The Holy Rosary Medical Center at Ontario is a substantial general-purpose hospital located about four to five miles from Payette, and could have been reached in a few minutes. St. Alphonsus in Boise was about an hour away by car, less by helicopter but still a longer trip even by air than to Holy Rosary. The referee concluded that the medical work could have been done properly at Ontario.

There are specific rules and guidelines in Idaho (as elsewhere) covering when a medical procedure is “reasonable,” and in this case the court applied some of those rules and partly reversed an earlier ruling. Overall, the unanimous court said, “We recognize that the Life Flight transport may be seen as arguably unnecessary with the benefit of hindsight, but the evidence nonetheless supports the Commission’s finding that the Life Flight transport was reasonable medical treatment at the time of Chavez’s injury.”

So, the conclusion was that the $21,201 less-than-an-hour helicopter flight was deemed a legitimate medical expense, and had to be paid by Stokes.

As the court’s language suggests, hindsight is easier than real-time emergency action.

Could the same result have been obtained for $21,201 less? It would seem so.

The answers aren’t completely settled and obvious in this area. The question of what was the right thing to do in this case was answered in different ways by various professionals. But the case of Chavez v. Stokes shines a light on why getting a handle on our medical expenses has been so hard, and on some of the discussions we’re going to have to have if we ever hope to bring them under some rational control.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

Is murder different in Oregon too? Put aside that the rates, compared with the nation overall, are not the same – they are lower (it is 2 per 100,000 people), and murders in Portland come at half the rates of comparable-sized cities like Baltimore. But there are other things. The Oregonian crunched some numbers and found that although guns are plentiful around Oregon, Oregonians are less likely to be shot to death than are residents of the country overall. (Would be interesting to know why.) The report also says police are more likely in Oregon to identify killers.

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First Take


The federal appropriations process may at its most convoluted point ever. A case in point: The Interior Appropriations bill was pulled from consideration by the leadership of Congress on July 9. That’s the spending bill that includes funding for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Indian Health Service.

Why? The debate wasn’t about money — even though that is an issue — but because some Southern Representatives are keen on protecting the Confederate Flag from being banned on federal land.


At the same moment when South Carolina was debating, and then lowering the battle flag from state grounds, Democrats successfully included language to remove the flag from federal facilities including National Parks. Republican leaders (no doubt seeing their fellow legislators at work) quickly agreed and the measure passed on a voice vote.

That should have been the end of the story. There isn’t a lot of support anywhere for the Confederate Flag these days.

Except in Congress.

Roll Call reported that “a number” of Southern Republicans demanded that leadership reverse that flag measure and were more than willing to cast no votes against Interior Appropriations — and possibly all 12 spending bills.

Who would ever have thought the Confederate Flag could be the controversy that stops spending on federal Indian programs? What’s next, a resolution on the Washington NFL team interrupting agricultural programs? Seriously this is messed up but it’s a good example of how dysfunctional the Congress is right now.


The U.S. Congress works best in a framework of two parties: Federalists challenging the Anti-federalists; Whigs against the Democrat-Republicans; and, mostly, Democrats versus Republicans. But now Congress is really three distinct parties: Democrats, Republicans and the Tea Party. This has happened before with the rise of the Radical Republicans around the Civil War. It was chaos then — and now.

A three-way split in the House means that Speaker John Boehner has essentially two choices. He can accept the Tea Party ideas as mainstream ones or he can produce legislation (and especially a budget) that’s centrist enough to win Democratic votes. The speaker’s goal is 218 votes — an impossible number when Republicans are divided.

That’s why Tea Party support for the Confederate Flag is not easy to dismiss because the rest of the budget is so radical that it cannot pass without that faction’s support.

As Norman Ornstein, a congressional scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, told Talking Points Memo: “What it means is he has to accommodate people he would really rather not accommodate. And what happened in this case of course he didn’t have the votes and several southern Republicans basically said, ‘You want our votes? You’re going to have to do something on the Confederate flag.’”

Then the prospect for this year’s Appropriations bills was already risky before last week’s blow up. The Obama Administration has been pressing Congress for a broader spending package that would lift the strict spending caps that are in place because of the four-year-old Budget Control Act. And Congress has pushed back by loading up the now stalled appropriations bills with poison pills, such as prohibitions that limit federal agencies from doing their jobs. (Read this: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

But federal spending will have to wait until the flag issue is resolved on Capitol Hill. As Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, said last week, “When I was marching a across that bridge in Selma in 1965, I saw some of the law officers, sheriff’s deputies, waring on their helmet the Confederate flag. I don’t want to go back, and as a country, we cannot go back.”

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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Here’s a list Idaho leads: States with the most commercial drone activity, per capita. Is it a positive list? Generally, I think so, even while having (as many people do) some uneasiness about those unmanned devices buzzing around through the air space, maybe overhead, maybe looking into windows. But then, the issue really isn’t the technology but rather how it’s used. A KBOI-TV (Boise) report notes that eight local companies have gotten federal approval for commercial drone use, and the uses they’re citing seem legitimate enough. There’s a real estate company that see aerial photography and land analysis uses. There are also commercial uses in agriculture, logging and even missing persons operations. Seems promising, but keeping a close eye on it is a good idea too. – rs (photo by Nicolas Halftermeyer)

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First Take