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Posts published in July 2015

What a web we weave

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Most can complete the saying: “when first we start to deceive.” Most get the point also - that one lie begets another lie, and the more a person or institution lies, the more likely it is to become entrappped in a spider web of its own making.

Apparently the folks running the Department of Energy (DoE) today and its Idaho National Lab (INL) subsidiary either don’t get it or don’t understand it or just don’t care. This casual disregard for truth is seriously eroding public trust both in the department itself and in INL’s management.

Admiral Grossenbacher, the INL site manager, is on the one hand a pleasant, intelligent, and charming fellow. The extent to which he presents the deliberately misleading company line, on the other hand, has one questioning everything he says.

The latest example of the long, sorry history of DoE duplicity, double-talk, distortion and misrepresentation is the proposed importation of “only two hundred pounds of commercial spent fuel rods” for research purposes. To bring two shipments in, however, requires a waiver of the 1995 Agreement between the state of Idaho, the Navy and the DoE negotiated by Governor Phil Batt, which prohibits such importation.

Both former Governor Batt and Governor Cecil D. Andrus immediately registered strrng objections. Andrus also referenced information he had that the first two shipments were just the camel’s nose and that DoE had plans to bring an additional 20 metric tons of commercial spent fuel rods to Idaho.

INL boosters pooh-poohed Andrus’ information saying it was indicative that he simply did not know what he was talking about. Guess what, folks? Andrus was correct. The Snake River Alliance produced a tape of Admiral Grossenbacher in a September of 2013 presentation to Governor Otter’s LINE Commission referencing DoE plans to follow up the initial two shipments with 20 metric tons of commercial spent fuel rods from the North Ana (Virginia) nuclear plant to be stored, monitored and studied for a number of years.

Both former governors pointed out to the media that absent DoE’s now cancelled final repository being constructed at Yucca Mountain, Nevada there is no other place to ship waste at INL to despite the Batt Agreement’s deadline of 2036 for all waste to be gone. Once here it will stay here.

DoE has since put out a Supplemental Analysis (SA) of the supposed environmental impacts of moving and storing these commercil spent fuel rods that can only be described as a joke. Using 20 year old data rehased from an earlier EIS simply will not fly and Governors Batt and Andrus are betting that if and when they go to Federal court on this issue the judge will again side with them.

What was most deceitful in the SA, however, was the misrepresentation that both Governor Otter and Attorney General Wasden have signed off on and in effect approved of the waiver request. That is simply not true.

In a letter to DoE on February 27th, AG Wasden made it clear he was not signing off on anything until the department fulfills another condition of the Batt agreement, that of cleaning up and disposing of 900,000 gallons of liquid waste stored at the site. Past efforts to solve this challenge have failed and the department is years away from finding a solution and meeting that pre-condition.

Just prior to Andrus/Batt attorney Laird Lucas¸ of the Advocates for the West, submitting on behalf of the former governors their comments dissing the incompleteness of the Supplemental Analysis, the Office of the Secretary of DoE finally provided a classic non-response to a separate Freedom of Information request filed by Andrus in January of 2015. The document contained 18 specific questions regarding the proposed handling and storage of the spent fuel rods, whether there was a supplemental budget to cover costs, and other basic, easy-to-answer if you want to questions.

Claiming privilege and national security, the letter was another complete non-response, containing page after page of redacted material. Here’s hoping the two governors, or at least Governor Andrus, file a federal lawsuit against INL and DoE on this matter also.

At the very first joint press conference held by the former governors to announce their opposition, Governor Batt referenced an important principle that should be honored.

He pointed out that the people of Idaho in essence ratified his agreement. Batt said any change whatsoever in the agreement would have to be taken back to the voter to be ratified.

Here’s a wager that DoE/INL will never do that for the simple reason even they know the public seldom rewards liars.

First take

Probably you'd need to read the whole document - including the one secret section on the backend of the process - before you could fully evaluate the Iran nuclear deal announced yesterday. Is there anything we can reasonably grasp about it at this point? Foreign Policy magazine has a useful take on it (meshed with developments on the Greek economy) today, and it includes this: "no one can reasonably argue that it is not better to have some agreement that at least makes ending Iran’s nuclear weapons program a possibility for the foreseeable future. The key is how leaders in Iran and around the world act once the deal is in place. We have seen deals in the past that have simply not been effective. (See North Korea.) But there is a path forward with this deal that will certainly be better than the uncertainty that has hung over this issue for the past 13 years. If the deal’s terms are enforced and it translates into real inspections that are regularly and even aggressively conducted, where violations are marked without hesitation — and, of course, the Iranian government has the intent to honor its terms — this deal will be seen as successful." So is it a good deal? Maybe; the potential is there; but ask again in another decade or two. In foreign relations, probably, thus is it ever. - rs

Money hardball ahead

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GoLocalpdx.com is a startup online news site. Every Friday they publish a who’s hot and who’s not column by Douglas Fasching.

In todays column Senator Richard Devlin is skewered as a “not hot” because Devlin has signaled his intent to run for Secretary of State and:

“The speculation is that he is not giving up his Senate seat while he runs for higher office. He intends to hold onto his leadership role whilst campaigning. While it is not required to give up one’s seat, it is still poor form. Lastly, the rumor has him intending to dip into his campaign war chest to finance his campaign. A war chest that now stands at about 272k. Money he raked in by being the 3rd most powerful person in the Senate chairing the most powerful committee in the legislature. Money that should be going to help get other Dem Senators elected not financing your own aspirations. Using your position and a shit-ton of money to deter others from jumping in a race really isn’t fair. Nobody likes a bully”

Bam!

Who could have “speculated”? Who could whispered to Mr. Fasching the “rumor” that Devlin’s dipping into his campaign war chest to conduct his campaign? Who would have the motive to do that?

The Devlin spot ends with “Cheer up, Val, at least you don’t have a recall to deal with.” So apparently Someone named Val who was recently facing a recall was on Mr. Faschings mind when he wrote the article. For some reason.

This story could have been suggested to Mr. Fasching by someone partly as a response the Oregonian article about Hoyle’s announcement. That article tells the story of Hoyle starting well behind potential rivals for the SoS office Devlin and current Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian in the money race (Hoyle has only $30,000 on hand versus Devlin’s $272,000 and Avakian’s $133,000)

If there’s one thing you need to have in Oregon’s no holes barred campaign finance and spending anarchy, its a boatload of money. And money attracts money. Anyone starting with a real and significant deficit of money may quickly fall behind in a race. No one wants to be on the losing team. And while one way to compete is to raise money, the other way is to see if you can keep your opponent from raising – or using – money, by for instance shaming them into limiting the use of their campaign treasury.

So, while we don’t know who planted the seed for the GoLocalPDX story, we can draw reasonable inferences.

With the real meaningful political races in Oregon now being waged in the Primaries, we can expect some real hardball between Democrats. And some players are more willing to slide hard into second with their spikes up.

First take

Good history often has resonance today, and so it is with a piece today in the Daily Beast, which concerns the Confederacy and how people - especially the British - saw it at the time, and some of the lessons we might draw from it today. The battle flag defenders do have one point, that the past isn't entirely gone ("it isn't even past," as that southerner Bill Faulkner said). But what points should be taken from it?

Writer Christopher Dickey, who notes that he's not only a southerner and a war correspondent but the father of a soldier, discusses a new book about the British secret agent situated in the South as the Civil War unfolded, who was horrified at what he saw.

"One of the most shameful aspects of the American Civil War," Dickey wrote, "is that hundreds of thousands of men and many women in the Confederacy gave their lives in a fight to defend the interests of a small slave-holding elite that had used its money, its control of politics and the press, the exploitation of racism and fear, and a shrewd if sickening appeal to status to mobilize the masses and then lead them to destruction."

What did the British really think of the South (with whom they often were said to have some sympathy)? Agent Robert Bunch wrote, among other things, "The frightful evil of the system is that it debases the whole tone of society — for the people talk calmly of horrors which would not be mentioned in civilized society."

Dickey concludes with the Civil War in mind, "Let’s remember that almost all wars are launched by ambitions, miscalculations, and grand illusions cherished by a few at the expense of the many. Perhaps the Confederate monuments will remind us we should be wiser about what wars we fight in the future." One can hope. But the chances don't improve with the still-large number of people deluded about what the Confederacy was.

Welcome, Donald

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Much is heard these days about Democrats welcoming Donald Trump to the 2016 presidential primaries, hoping he’ll really screw things up for Republicans. Much is also heard from many GOPers along the lines of “What the hell is Donald Trump doing screwing up our primaries?” My lone voice says, “Welcome, Donald Trump. What took you so long?”

I’ve been waiting for that most able representative of the worst in American politics to get beyond “threatening to run” to the real thing for a long, long time. I’m not saying he’ll actually do it - because he won’t. He’d have to eventually publish too much of his financial holdings to ever fully and officially qualify for the nomination. That he’ll never do.

No, it’s 99.44% certain Trump won’t be on your November, 2016, ballot. It’s also just as sure he’ll be center stage for many more months. If you’re surprised by his verbosity and dominance thus far, you shouldn’t be. The Republican candidate garden has been cross-pollinating this political weed for years. Trump is that weed taken to the extreme.

As the original Tea Party began devouring the Republican elephant more than 10 years ago, it regurgitated pre-Trump ancestors. Bachman, Gohmert, King, Issa, Mo Brooks, Don Young, Jeff Denham, Dana Rohrabacher, Duncan Hunter, Ted Yoho, Tim Huelskamp, Steve Scalise, Kevin Kramer, Mark Sanford, Jeff Duncan, Kristi Noem, Raul Labrador, Marsha Blackburn, Sam Johnson, Jeb Hensarling, Joe Barton and a couple dozen more. These spawn began devouring anything moderate in the national GOP about 2004. Dozens of level-headed, knowledgeable and acceptable Republicans were eaten alive at the polls by supporters of these nuts, or the good people just quit after trying to deal with the lies, the intransigence and nasty politics.

Though Trump has been playing around in the Republican gene pool for some years, before that he was a Democrat doing the same thing on a much quieter level. He’s old, very tarnished goods. He didn’t spring full-throated to his present undeserved prominence. The above list of much-lesser, politically-challenged earthworms preceded him, breaking up the anti-intellectual ground and sprinkling it with verbal B.S. so Trump’s most recent incarnation could be hardier stock.

The soil that grew a Donald Trump now covers the GOP garden. It’s from this diseased earth the crazies have sprung. The ones condemning nearly everything governmental. The insane voices in Texas, for example, frothing at the mouth about “secret tunnels and holding cells under empty Walmart stores” where “President Obama plans to confine them” after a long-planned military exercise starting this week. Obama taking absolute dictatorial control so there’ll be no 2016 presidential elections.” Martial law. Armed U.S. Army soldiers gunning down unarmed civilians.

Nourished by verbal excrement of Limbaugh, Beck, Savage, Ingraham and too many others to name - loons who’d normally be left to solitary mutterings are being fed tainted diets of lies and half-truths with which to weave conspiracies and whole worlds of ignorant fantasies. With superb monetary largesse from the Kochs, the NRA, Heritage Foundation, Birch Society, Faux Neus and self-serving political voices, they cling to any word that appears to justify and nourish their demented existence.

Donald Trump is the wall Republicans need to smash into before possibly bouncing back to more moderate positions - something acceptable to us normal folk. Like purging a contaminated water supply, Trump might be the impetus for thinking GOPers to finally act to retake control of what’s left of their party and do some thorough housecleaning. Because it’s now just the party of the old. Of white males. Of vanishing support. Of dwindling numbers at the polls.

One other thing about Trump and the current defective crop of GOP candidates. These “candidates” are not supported by a lot of people who, if their guy loses, will say “Oh, well” and get on someone else’s bandwagon. No, Sir. These are people who will either stay home come election day or will willingly subvert, by any means, the guy who beat their guy. They represent the zealotry of what passes for modern-day Republicanism. “Coming together” is unacceptable to zealots.

The Republican party may take a shellacking at the polls in 2016. Not everywhere. But enough to further diminish the already decreasing size of its share of the electoral pie. Not because of a Clinton or a Sanders. But because more and more folks, who usually frequent that part of the ballot, are coming to realize those running their party are as ignorant and impotent as trickle-down economics.

Trump’s embarrassing use of the Republican brand to further his own fortunes may sound the clarion call for smarter, more reasonable people to step up in and take control. This country NEEDS a healthy GOP! Soon! Donald’s as unfit as it comes in his “candidacy.” Were it not for his demented outlook on nearly everything, he’d be a cartoon character. But he ain’t funny.

Trump could be the wake-up call the GOP needs to be viable again. His racist, war-mongering, exhibitionist rhetoric may be his own undoing. Damn, I hope so!

First take

While working on this week's Idaho Briefing I ran across this press release from Idaho State University, sent out last week. It's presented here as a Monday morning read, as I encountered it . . .

Encountering a self-identified vampire can pose challenges for clinicians in the helping professions such as social work, counseling or medical fields.

“We live in an age of technology and live in a time when people can select new, alternate identities to fit how they understand themselves better,” said DJ Williams, Idaho State University associate professor of social work. “We really need to understand some of these new identities and new ways to identify ourselves, and some of these new identities do not fit into stereotypes. Helping professionals of all varieties need more education on these kinds of topics.”

Williams, along with co-author Emily Prior of the Center for Positive Sexuality in Los Angeles, recently published the study “Do We Always Practice What We Preach? Real Vampires’ Fears of Coming out of the Coffin to Social Workers and Helping Professionals” in the journal Critical Social Work, an interdisciplinary journal devoted to social justice.

“The gist of the article is that self-identified vampires are probably more common than most people realize,” Williams said. “A lot of people probably assume they are younger kids or young people who watch ‘Twilight’ or other pop-culture types of things. Yet, the real vampire community, which is self-defined by people who claim the need for extra energy (either blood or psychic energy), tend not to fit that demographic stereotype.”

Self-identified vampires say they have different energy needs than other people and that they may be distinguished based on the different sources of energy from which they “feed,” Williams said. Despite having an alternate lifestyle, Williams said that it is important for counselors and others in the helping professions to treat them without prejudice.

“People with alternative identities have the same set of issues that everybody has,” Williams said. “People of all kinds sometimes struggle with relationship issues or have a death in family or struggles with career and job-type issues. Some of these people with alternate identities may come to a therapist with these issues, and if clinicians are open and educated about this group they should be able to help the individual much better.”

He said that the self-identified vampires interviewed for this study “without exception” were very fearful about approaching clinicians. They did not want to be judged as being wicked or evil or viewed as being psychotic, delusional or having a psychological problem.

First take

That Jeb Bush quote about working hours has a few more lines of subtlety than most people, including me, originally gave it. Here's what he said, in a form long enough to be in context: “My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in.”

My shorthanding of this was that Bush was calling on workers to work more hours - which in the case of fulltime workers, often can be expanding on what's already 50 or 60 hours, intruding in family and relaxation time, paid to a theoretical projection of a 40-hour week. That may not have been entirely fair.

A commenter, not a Jeb Bush fan, on my Facebook post where I noted this suggested, "I think what he was actually trying to say was the we need to get people who can only find parttime jobs back to working full time." That may be true, at least as part of what Bush was trying to convey, which would be reflective of a real and significant problem: The many part-time workers who want or even desperately need to get back to fulltime work.

But two other thoughts occur. One is that if Bush were trying to say that, it would have been very easy to say so: "I think we need to get back to full-time employment all those people who have only been able to find part-time work." Or something like that. Would it have been so hard?

The more important point is in looking at what he actually did say. He did not say his "aspiration for the country" is reduced unemployment for a full-time job for everyone who wants one. He said his "aspiration" is for 4% economic growth. That would be an increase - not enormous, but definite - over the current rate of growth. Overall, the United States has had strong increases in productivity for many decades. But one of the problems with the way economic growth is structured in the United States, in the last generation, is that almost all of the "growth" in wealth goes to a small sliver of wealthy people, and the vast majority gain no advantage from it. American workers have become steadily more productive over the last half-century, but middle-class wages for the last 40 years have been stagnant or worse. 90 percent of United States citizens, as matters stand, will reap no benefit from an increase in productivity to a 4% growth rate; much of that would probably come from jobs offshored or replaced by computers. The problem hasn't been productivity; it's been how the gains have been distributed.

Okay, Bush did make a quick reference to "gain more income for their families," but only as a lever to getting to that 4% growth. As Bush pursues his campaign, perhaps someone should ask him exactly who that additional growth in productivity is expected to benefit.

Another go-round

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People tend to forget now, but Joe Albertson started out working at someone else’s supermarket.

Dropping out of the College of Idaho, he started as a clerk for the Safeway grocery chain. He was successful there, moving into midmanagement in his early 30s, but it wasn’t satisfying. Albertson thought he had a better way to run a grocery – they didn’t call them “supermarkets” then – and wanted to try running one on his own. Merging some of his own savings and some investments from a few other Safeway executives who believed in him, he launched his first Albertson’s at 17tth and State streets in Boise in 1939.

Befitting a store bearing its founder’s name, the Albertsons stores, which expanded quickly to Nampa and Caldwell, had a distinctive approach for the era, emphasizing not only a broad selection of food and other goods but also both self-service and strong customer service. The approach would eventually become standard in the industry, but it was new then, and Albertson’s personal insight and focus, and in many place community involvement, helped make his stores winners. Over the years he ran the company, the stores proliferated into the hundreds in many parts of the country.

Albertson’s company went public in 1959, but its founder kept a close watch until his death in 1986. In the years after that came the mass acquisitions: Seesel’s, Buttry, SuperOne, Bruno, and finally in 1999 swallowed the giant American Stores Company, which operated Jewel-Osco, Sav-on Drugs, Lucky and other stores. Closures and sales of stores followed. The public company, concerned as all public companies are about improving stock prices, began to be, apparently, more about buying and selling properties than it was about creating an innovative and popular supermarket – the basis of Joe Albertson’s successful business.

Financial indigestion was the near-term result, and in 2006 Albertsons was sold to SuperValu, and one of Idaho’s landmark businesses ceased to exist as an independent company. The Albertsons-labeled stores were slips up into various groups, bought and sold and swapped like trading cards.

Then it got a second chance.

Following a series of additional sales and mergers, which remarkably included important involvement by Safeway, Albertsons became a separate, freestanding company again. The Albertsons stores (and some others) were brought together with Safeway and some other store groups, and started operation as Albertsons LLC, still owned by an investor group. It has become again a massive company, running more than 2,200 stores around the country.

Last week, the investor group said it plans to take the company public – to again place Albertsons stock on the public stock exchanges.

What will Albertsons do now?

It could go back to the way it did business in the 90s, and some years down the road go through another round of swallowing and regurgitation.

The suggestion here, though, is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Make that little memorial at 17th and State in Boise to Joe Albertson’s first store something of a touchstone. And remember that while much in the world may have changed since 1939, the basic business sense Albertson displayed back then is, or can be, something more durable.

You can’t say that

One of the more interesting complaints from conservatives about the Portland wedding bakery case - the bakers who declined to sell pastry for a lesbian wedding - concerns a specific provision in the state order about what the baker can say about it.

It cannot say, the state said, that it will not provide services for gay weddings. Specifically, it said, it must “…cease and desist from publishing, circulating, issuing or displaying, or causing to be published, circulated, issued or displayed, any communication, notice, advertisement or sign of any kind to the effect that any of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, services or privileges of a place of public accommodation will be refused, withheld from or denied to, or that any discrimination will be made against, any person on account of sexual orientation.”

On its face, this sounds like a first amendment violation. How is it, or is it, justifiable?

California law professor Eugene Volokh takes on exactly this subject in a recent blog post, and draws a careful distinction:

The bakers have a flat free-speech protection if they want to say, “we disapprove of the Oregon decision,” or “we disapprove of same-sex marriages,” he said.

What they cannot do is say that "we won’t do same-sex marriage, same-sex wedding cakes” because doing so isn't legal. It becomes "essentially a true threat of illegal conduct." And threats of illegal conduct (it becomes most obvious in the case of threats of violence, but other conduct can be covered too) are themselves illegal.

It's a little subtle, but the point is clear.

Circuses and zoos

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In a Boise Weekly story, Boise City Councilor TJ Thomson and Meridian Councilor Genesis Milam were said to add their voices to the “loud call to end the public exhibition of exotic animals in Idaho.”

The politicos jumped on the anti-circus animal band wagon during the recent run of the Shrine Circus at the Century Link Arena in Boise.

Once again, like many things city councilors do, they are well intended, but not well thought out. Thomson is one of the “keepers” of ZOO BOISE – where big cats, bears, deer, elk, giraffes, and assorted exotic animals are on “public exhibition,” captive of the city and the councilors who run it. If Thomson is true to his position, he will have to either withdraw support of the captive zoo or finesse a response. (As always, the GUARDIAN offers a forum for response).

The GUARDIAN understands and acknowledges the role many zoos play in the preservation of species while providing children and adults a chance to see live animals they may otherwise never see. That said, we too find it unpleasant to see caged animals pacing on concrete floors while locked behind bars – be they at a circus or in a zoo.

Protester Lorraine Guptill said the circus exhibition of animals through strange environments, including the intense heat of the Intermountain West, is detrimental to the creatures’ health. (Sorta like a mobile zoo).

Thomson told the Weekly, “My goal is to start a public discussion. We need to determine if this is something we will continue to support as a community.”

Response by Councilor TJ Thomson:

I believe zoos and circuses are very different from one another.

The animals at a zoo live in an environment that is more spacious and designed to reflect their original habitat. While no amount of living space can compare to that which an animal is allotted in the wild, zoo animals have consistency in their life, with no expectation to travel show-to-show and “perform” before crowds.

Zoo animals rarely come from the wild, but are bred (between zoos) and would not survive if released into the wild. In many cases, animals that are extinct in the wild can still be found in zoos because of these protections. Zoo animals are provided top-of-the-line medical attention, nutritious meals and loving care and social attention. Zoo Boise and other zoos also provide a percentage of the money raised to conservation around the world.

Animals at zoos aren’t “trained” to do ridiculous acts while dressed up in silly outfits to please an audience. Circus “trainings” are well documented to include inhumane tactics, the use of sharp weapons and force the animals into unnatural, painful positions. There is no way to continuously monitor these circus trainings to assure the humane treatment of the animals.

Zoos are heavily regulated and held to mandated standards. Zoo animals don’t travel from city to city, through harsh climates – both hot and cold – confined to small cages for the majority of their life.

There are also public safety concerns using wild animals in shows and accidents have happened that have injured and killed citizens within the public. A circus could put on a heck of a show without the exotic animals and many circuses are dropping the exotic animals, while still attracting the crowds they desire. Circuses serve as the “poster child” of this issue, but there are other traveling shows, such as those that use exotic cats, that I believe would fall into the same category.

Let’s view exotic animals in a zoo, sanctuary, or in the wild. I support an end to the use of exotic animals for entertainment purposes in the City of Boise and look forward to a public discussion on the issue.