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Posts published in July 2015

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.

First take

Is Oregon really "allowing 15-year-olds to get state-subsidized sex-change operations”, as Fox news has it? And thereby unleashed an uproar among the gotta-have-something-new-to-be-angry-about-today crowd? It's one of those cases, one of those many cases, where there's a piece of truth surrounded by misinformation. You'd get this impression from the article that this is a new ruling by Oregon liberals gone wild. The medical age of consent in Oregon has been 15 since 1971 - a long time, and without significant debate - and, the Oregon Health Authority told KOIN-TV, "Patients should be able to demonstrate the capacity to make a fully informed decision and to give consent to treatment, regardless of age. However, nothing in Oregon law requires a health care provider to provide medical services to a minor or safeguard the confidentiality of a minor. In most cases, providers will encourage (and in some cases require) family engagement and supports unless it would endanger the patient.” Are gender-changing medical procedures included in procedures covered by the Oregon Health Plan? Yes. But stopping there ignores that the nearly 500 procedures are prioritized, meaning that in most cases procedures toward the bottom of the list won't make the cut - and this one is close to the bottom of the list. And so on. Such facts are more reflective of reality, but don't fit so easily on a bumper sticker. (photo/"PortlandTramCar3" by User:Cacophony - Own work.)

Scofflaw sheriffs

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His name is Dennis Dotson. Probably doesn’t mean anything special to you. More than likely you couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Unless you live in Lincoln County, Oregon. Here, it’s Sheriff Dotson to us. At the moment, he’s giving me reason to doubt my vote in our last election.

The Good Sheriff is just one of more than a half dozen in our little state to renounce a new Oregon law he doesn’t believe in and has promised lax- if any - enforcement. Seems he’s a practitioner of a sickness that’s been sweeping the country lately: elected officials turning their backs on laws they don’t like or agree with.

In Dotson’s case, it’s the result of a new law requiring - requiring - nearly all gun sales in our state include at least a cursory background check. Even sales between private individuals. Seems like a damned fine idea to me. But not to our High Sheriff. And a few others.

No, he’s pissed. While not saying he’ll ignore our new legal requirement for gun sales, his reaction was “We’ll put enforcement on the back burner because we’ve got a lot of other things with higher priority.” In other words, law be damned. In more other words, “I’ve got to run for re-election soon and I’m not going to enforce a law that may return me to private life and no pension.” Or something to that effect.

This is not the first time Oregon sheriffs - and to some extent sheriffs nationally - have decided they don’t like their chances of re-election if they enforce an unpopular law. Several years back, the U.S. Attorney General emphasized federal authorities can step in and enforce gun laws if local representatives of any stripe don’t. Or won’t. Not only did many sheriffs throw a hissy-fit that someone from “outside” might make them live up to the oaths of office they’d all taken. Some even promised to arrest and jail the legally-constituted feds.

Now a tidy number of Oregon sheriff’s have joined county clerks in other states who’ve also become law breakers; clerks refusing to honor a U.S. Supreme Court decision by issuing marriage licenses to LGBTs. Clerks, all of whom - like the lawmen and law women - had taken an oath to perform all legally prescribed duties of their offices. Oaths of office, they’re called. Oaths. Promises to uphold all laws.

So now, as a nation, what the Hell do we do? Is someone in authority a step or two above these miscreants going to have to go from state to state - office to office - to force compliance with our laws? Do legally constituted authorities - a link or two up the food chain - step in and jail ‘em? Do we have recall drives for every recalcitrant sheriff and clerk?

Many of these lawbreakers - badged or not - claim no one can remove them from office but voters. They hide under a claim that they’re “constitutionally elected” which gives them some sort of perceived immunity from being forced to do something. Or to be responsive.

At the same time, you and I know, if some of these sheriffs who won’t enforce a gun law - even a simple, common-sense gun law - faced a recall, they’d beat a recall vote. Gun owners, many of whom haven’t been to the polls since WWII, would show up en masse to support anyone they believed was being “forced” to uphold “unjust” laws regarding guns. If the feds stepped in, there’d be shots fired.

I was raised to believe laws are not government suggestions. They aren’t informal directions to help us get along with each other. They’re requirements for a certain behavior - do something or not do something because it’s a law.

So, what do we do? Should I take a page from our local sheriff and drive 60mph in a 35 zone because my personal belief is that 35mph is far too slow and I’ve got important things to do? Should I drive 20mph above posted limits through high school speed zones because I believe kids that age are old enough to take care of themselves? If I find prices charged at the county landfill are too high - maybe onerous - can I just dump my trash along some deserted road?

If constitutionally elected law men - and law women - openly declare which laws they’ll enforce and which they’ll ignore, what becomes of our society? If legislatures can write laws - if cities and counties can enact ordinances - if congress and the president create a law - what happens when the rest of us turn our backs and act as if nothing has changed?

And, if I want to fly my confederate flag in your face, who’s going to put a stop to it?

Election to public office confers no “above-the-law” or “laws-don’t-apply-to-me” exemption. Yet that’s what these folks who won at the ballot box are telling us. Sheriffs. Clerks. Legislators. Member of Congress.

What do we do about it?

First take

There's some prospect that the days of simply locking up people who have addiction problems - people who ought to be treated, and if they are may present no problem for society - might be moving behind us. Part of the reason could be a change in view on this subject in both political parties, as the signing of a Washington bill from a Republican legislator by a Democratic governor demonstrates. From the legislator's press release:

On June 11 the state Supreme Court ruled that the costs for pre-trial drug and alcohol monitoring fit under the statutory meaning of “pretrial supervision,” limiting the ability of courts to order these protective measures in cash-strapped counties. By July 6 – just 25 days later – a bill to address the consequences of the decision had been introduced, passed by the House of Representatives and Senate with large bipartisan majorities and signed by the governor.

“The practical effect of the ruling in Washington v. Hardtke is that courts could no longer impose reasonable, pretrial supervision, intended to protect victims and the public at large,” said Sen. Mike Padden, who sponsored the bill and chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “This new law will allow judges in counties without funds to pay for monitoring costs to once again require reasonable supervision that is critical to public safety. I am pleased that we were all able to come together so quickly to solve this problem. It’s unfortunate that the state-budget situation has forced the Legislature to remain in session so long, but that at least put us in position to take action now instead of waiting until 2016.”

Senate Bill 6134 clarifies that a $150 limitation on costs for pretrial supervision does not apply to costs for pretrial electronic alcohol and drug monitoring, which is critical in protecting the public and victims from DUI and domestic-violence defendants. Under the new law, upon conviction, a court may require a defendant to reimburse the county or other agency for the costs of the electronic monitoring or alcohol-abstinence monitoring ordered prior to trial.

‘Here we have Idaho’

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On July 3rd some Idahoans celebrated the state’s 125th year since admittance to the union of states. Idaho’s star was the 43rd added to the flag. With each passing year though it seems fewer folks even know or care about this great state’s past or its future.

This is partly due to the incredible mobility of today’s society and the ability, often the necessity, of moving to where meaningful, decent-paying work can be found. Because of its relatively inexpensive cost-of-living, Idaho continues to attract in-migration from California, and many are retirees.

In little more than a decade these newcomers changed the political demographics of northern Idaho from staunchly lunch-bucket Democrats to staunchly conservative Republicans.

One used to be able to tell a native Idahoan from non-native. The native could tell what county a car was from by looking at the license plate.

Native Idahoans had memorized the alphabetical order of Idaho’s 44 counties, ten of which start with the letter B, when first exposed to state history in the 4th grade. They also learned the state song, and not just the chorus. In later life, if one were a member of a Rotary Club, following the pledge of allegiance, everyone remained standing and sang the state song.

Since returning to my native state five years ago I’ve been a guest speaker at five different Rotary Clubs. Only one, the Twin Falls Rotary, sang the state song. These are small things but they serve to unite the people of this state and establish a common identity.

I admit being a state chauvinist; Idaho hands down is the best state in the union, with unmatched beauty and a diverse mix of people who work hard for their pay, play hard in the state’s mountains and forest, and on her lakes and rivers, acknowledge their Creator, and care about their fellow citizens.

As Idaho grows increasingly urban, however, it won’t be long until over half the voters will reside in the two counties of Ada and Canyon. When Cecil Andrus was first elected governor in 1970 he captured only 14 of Idaho’s 44 counties, but those 14 represented a solid majority of the electorate and included a couple of north Idaho counties, Kootenai and Nez Perce.

Today, Nampa and Meridian compete to be second to Boise in population. For years it was Pocatello competing against Idaho Falls.

Andrus was the last governor to come out of north Idaho and he defeated an incumbent Republican governor, Don Samuelson, from Bonner County. That was the last time Idahoans had a choice for governor between two north Idahoans. In modern times besides Andrus and Samuelson, there has been only two other governors to call north Idaho home: C.A. “Doc” Robins, the first governor from north Idaho, was elected in 1946 and was from St. Maries. His successor, Len B. Jordan, came from Grangeville where he moved to after spending almost ten years raising sheep in Hells Canyon,.

Today not one statewide elected official nor any member of the congressional delegation comes from the ten northern counties.

Another characteristic of Idaho’s major office-holders is almost all have deep roots in the state. It used to be voters wanted to know that the candidate knew the state and many of its prominent citizens. Additionally, voters expected to and often did meet in person their elected representatives. They could size them up and with unfailing accuracy could spot the phonies. Today this kind of interactive sizing up is much tougher to do when an offficeholder can only be judged through the television medium.

Idaho voters in the past also felt better about voting for someone for higher office if they’d already been vetted by the voters for some lesser office—usually the State Legislature. All the members of Idaho’s congressional delegation today cut their teeth in the Idaho Legislature: Senators Crapo and Risch were in the State Senate and were in leadership; Congressmen Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador were in the House where Simpson rose to the Speakership.

Three of the four know Idaho and her people well. They have built and nurtured relationships all across the state for years.

The exception is Labrador, who just may be the tip of the spear in the “Californication” of Idaho politics. There’s no question he is a talented , telegenic, articulate, ethical and a colorful member of Congress. However, he is relatively new to Idaho, was not viewed by fellow Republicans as much of a team player while here, and simply hasn’t had the time to get to know his own district well let alone the entire state.

There is speculation he may run for governor in 2018 which would set up a donnybrrok of a primary between he and Lt. Gov. Brad Little. If that happens, bet on Brad. He’s built his stock the traditional Idaho way traveling the state extensively and shaking hands. It is basic retail politics and it still beats wholesale, at least for a few more years.

When they debate, if challenged to name all 44 counties or sing all the state song, bet on Brad doing it easily while Raul struggles.

First take

You don't turn around a battleship in an hour or two, which is why the clear signals from Microsoft about its smartphone division are so interesting. The Redmond giant spent $7.2 billion a little more than a year ago buying Nokia, the big smartphone maker, which many people took as an indication that Microsoft planned to move into the field. It promptly laid off half of Nokia's workforce, which may not have been a shock since the corporations did have some overlap. But the new "restructuring" announced this week, in which the smartphone staff is cut by half again, is a clearer indicator. The move into smartphones was launched not long before his departure by former CEO Steve Ballmer; current CEO Satya Nadella has moved away from them. PC World interpreted: "The write-down is essentially an admission that Nokia’s phone business is worth practically nothing to Microsoft." In other words, on one hand, we're changing direction, fast. On the other - $7.2 billion thrown to the winds?