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Posts published in September 2015

National political thievery

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Happily watching a public falling out among political thieves is one of my more harmless diversions - particularly when it’s the right wing where such events are regular and always predictable. It’s happening again. This time, it’s the big guys. The really big guys. And a whole political party. And I don’t mean that jerk Trump. And it’s been a really big insider secret.

A couple of years ago, I noted in a previous column how the then-reclusive Kochsters were gutting the top level staff of the National Republican Committee. Charley and Davy wanted to step up their cancerous growth on the body politic. So, they went looking for talent. They settled on the top GOP staff and proceeded to lure many of ‘em out with big bucks. Really big bucks.

They nearly cleaned out the information technology office at the top. They also took several department folk who knew the ins and outs of mailing lists and operations of GOP field offices. They paid highly - read richly bought - a pollster or two. Poor ol’ Reince Priebus almost wound up alone.

They did one other - at the time - curious thing. Charley and Davy laid out some of their greenbacks to help what was left of the GOP crew develop some new computer software - programming that would identify such things as all state office staffs, workers - paid and unpaid - and a very snazzy voter identification system. Rience apparently agreed if only in an effort to stop the talent raiding and keep at least some of his staff intact. The deal was the GOP would do the development work and the Koch’s would pay the bill. For two years or so. Then they’d talk again.

Some months back, it was time for that talk. But Charley and Davy had other ideas. Apparently, in the original agreement, there was a clause allowing the Kochs to duplicate all that software and all the goodie information it contained. And guess what’s believed to have happened?

The Koch’s - who have more money than the national GOP AND Trump combined - and who can raise more money than the national GOP - now apparently have at least a working copy of all the computer files and all the voter info the national GOP thought it owned exclusively. It appears the stage is set for Charley and Davy to step up and over Reince’s body and what’s left of the NRC and go straight to voters with ad campaigns, direct mail, registration efforts and voter identification. Whoops! Wha’ hoppened?

The plain fact is the Kochs appear now even more in a position to become major and even more viable actors on the American political stage. They’ve got the bucks - they’ve got a new and higher public profile - and they’ve got direct access to millions of voters. Seems to me all this mostly defines what a political party is supposed to be. They now seem to be one!

The Kochs and all their various political fronts have been playing fast and loose with the truth for several years now. So have Priebus and his minions. Rience has dictatorially tried to limit debates, limit media access, pick and choose media “favorites,” stack the cards for who gets the most national GOP support. Hint: those running for office that sign “no tax” pledges, hold the line on abortion, help disenfranchise whole classifications of voters and generally see things his way.

But now, all the GOP office-holders - and would-be GOP office-holders - have a new voice in their ears. Make that “voices.” Trump. And Charley and Davy. Directly. Distinctly. With the background sound of dollars clinking. Dollars they own. Dollars they can give. Dollars they can withhold. More of ‘em than the national GOP.

It would seem the Koch boys have - or will soon possess - a parallel Republican Party. It would also seem the boys have reduced - or are about to reduce - the national GOP to National Republican Party Lite.

Now, some reading this may say “Look, Rainey. The National Republican Party is a recognized national political entity with a long history and lots of resources. These Koch guys may have big bucks but they’re just a couple of guys. And, while they may have some clout, they’re more like the tail on the elephant.”

Oh, yeah, sez I? Consider what a teenager with a bad complexion and an anti-social streak can do with his laptop in his basement in Cincinnati. One such teen can use today’s technology to infiltrate federal computers, bring large banks to their knees with a few keystrokes and tap into national security files. All with just a bit more knowledge about technology than the average bear. And the Koch’s ain’t your “average bears.”

With massive amounts of information they now apparently “own,” Charley and Davy can do a lot more than that Cincinnati kid. With their various front organizations, a heavy hand in the affairs of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) - which has operatives in every state capitol - and with the political propensity of many political candidates to grovel for folks/companies with big bucks, seems to me the Koch’s are more scary now than they’ve ever been. Being “outed” by the media hasn’t reduced their clout. It’s just easier to see what that clout is and how/where they use it.

The public falling out of thieves. But it’s really more than that. It’s about the largest power grab in American politics in the last 80-90 years. And it almost got past us.

This is something that needs watching. Notice I didn’t say “fun to watch.” ‘Cause “fun” it ain’t!

First take/Colbert

The job that a first paragraph of a book has is to get you to read the next one, and establish some interest in reading the pages after that. So, presumably, was the central job of Stephen Colbert's first show last night as host of Late Night, which also had the job of showing he could do this new thing as well or better than his old one, which was hosting the Colbert Report - which was a work of near-genius. It may be that the Report was something that just couldn't be followed or matched, and it may be that Colbert becomes just another in the crowd of late-night hosts. First show demonstrated without doubt he is fully capable of doing that; the question is, can he create and break barriers and inform while entertaining on something like the level of the Report, or even beyond it? Freed from having to work inside his "character" (although most of the time he doesn't really come off all that differently), the possibility of a major new invention is there. But that's as yet unclear. The first Colbert Late Night followed the usual contours of a late night talk show, in outline not so different from David Letterman's show. The energy level was high, and Colbert seemed beyond delighted to be there. But there isn't yet, as there was on the Report from the beginning, much of a sense of something very new and different - something you just had to stay up to 12:30 a.m. to see. But it fell just short of that: This was an entertaining show with enough going on, and enough of interest (and just enough you'd want to talk about the next day) that you do want to see what comes next. So I'll check it out again tonight; it was good enough to make me curious about what comes next. And maybe, possibly, the page after that. - rs

Labor Day thoughts

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As millions of Americans go about the Labor Day weekend brought to them in the name of the working men and women of America, one wonders if much thought is given, especially in a right-to-work state like Idaho, to the debt owed to those labor pioneers who worked so hard to establish benefits we all take for granted: the eight hour work day and the 40 hour work week; overtime pay; health benefits; retirement plans to supplement Social Security; the passage of laws outlawing child labor and laws ensuring safe working environments are the priority not productivity.

Its doubtful much thought is given or thanks offered. In part this is due to a relentless campaign over many years by Republicans to portray labor as “greedy unions” that would rather see a business go broke if it cannot meet the union’s grasping effort to get paid more for doing less.

There’s greed in abundance, but today it is almost wholly monopolized by over-paid, unaccountable corporate executives who often install strategies that fail but still receive outlandish compensation for their failure. The failure usually reveals a woeful undervaluing of employees who are treated as “overhead,” not as people trying hard to do their best. Constant cutting of “over-head”can tempoprarily improve share price and/or provide the façade of a better return on investment number. But its short-term thinking that sacrifices the future for the present.

In past years, the gap between the average union worker’s paycheck and the company ceo once was 10:1. Today it is more likely 100 to one and growing. It’s at a point now where it is excessive enough to be an issue in the presidential campaign.

The decline in union membership is well-known, as is the proliferation of right-to-work laws which forbid the forced payment of union dues in an organized shop. There’s no argument that there was a time in the late 50’s when unions were their own worst enemies. Public disdain grew either because of corrupt union leaders or strikes supporting demands for excessive pay increases, or suspected “socialist” tendencies.

I once was a member of United Steelworkers of America local 338, the union shop at Kaiser Aluminum’s huge Trentwood rolling mill. I worked there the summer of 1965 to earn extra money before heading east for college.

Initially I was assigned to the box shop stacking lumber that came through a saw cut to the correct dimensions to make pallets for shipping coils and other products. During the afternoon break a union “brother” mosied over and said, “Slow down, kid. You’re working too hard.”

I was dumbfounded since I was easily keeping up. “But I’m doing fine,” I protested. The brother then got blunt and snarly. “Listen, kid, the company contract says that’s a two-person job. Your showing one person can do it is denying another person a job. Slow down or else. .”

Welcome to what’s called “featherbedding.” Not wanting to find out what the “or else” meant, I slowed down. The next day there were two of us during the work. In those days Kaiser was selling every pound of aluminum it produced at a handsome profit.

When the economy started to slide with inflation and interest rates rising, demand declining, and profits disappearing, Kaiser began to hemorrhage and a long slow struggle to right the ship began. To their credit the Kaiser unions recognized inefficiencies had to be removed, that contract niceities had to be sacrificed for maintenance of necessities.

Despite wage and benefit concessions for future profit sharing,eventually Kaiser went into bankruptcy.

The idea of labor/management partnership though has survived and many unions today work closely with management to maintain solid profitable production while providing a safe working environment and a decent benefits.

Unfortunately, state Democratic parties everywhere have become enamoured of Labor’s major legislative priority---raising a state’s minimum wage. While Idaho’s is one of the lowest in the nation, imposing an unrealistic, unsustainable number on businesses in Idaho is not the answer.

Idaho Democrats should take note of the fact that the four states that most recently increased their minimum wage did so through a ballot initiative. That’s not going to happen in Idaho.

The Idaho Democratic party would be better served by promoting a woman’s right to “equal pay for equal work.”

So what is Labor’s top legislative agenda for the next session: a law that mandates an Idaho employer has to provide a one hour lunch break for employees! In 2015 an Idaho employer can deny an employee his or her lunch break and force them to work eight or ten hours without the lunch.? Simply unbelievable.

First take/prisons

The Corrections Corporation of America, which used to run a massive Idaho prison (now under direct state control), is still plenty busy. The Daily Beast today is reporting this: "The latest quarterly finance report from Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit prison company, indicates that its contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to manage a detention center packed with immigrant mothers and children is very helpful to its bottom line. Part of the reason their deal is so lucrative? The public isn’t particularly bothered by it." The reviews haven't always been good; at least one federal judge has issued a ruling severely blasting the conditions under which these children are being held. But when so much of the public dialogue is just about getting "them" outta here, more humane thinking tends to go by the boards . . . - rs

The Boise races

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Looks like Boise Mayor Dave Bieter will have an interesting football season and it won’t be on the gridiron.

Judy Peavey-Derr, former Ada County Highway District commish, former Ada County commish, and current Greater Boise Auditorium District commish, ran onto the field just before time ran out at 5p.m. Friday to get her name on the ballot, hoping to win the quarterback position so she can call the plays at City Hall.

Peavey-Derr was critical of Bieter’s “urban sprawl” policies and said she is up to the task of running the city following the death of her long-time husband, Allen Derr. She told the GUARDIAN she was not in support of the latest Foothills levy proposal, but would bring some substitute plays to benefit all residents of the city.

The filing deadline for the November Boise City Council and Mayor elections ended with all but one seat being contested.

Former Ada County Sheriff Myron Gilbert was apparently willing to toss his helmet into the game when no one else would challenge Bieter (he filed prior to Peavey-Derr). Gilbert is 84, but still active in local community projects. His biggest problem will be name recognition since he has been out of office for nearly 50 years.

Seth Holden, a BSU student, has also filed to challenge Bieter, but we don’t have any further info on him.

Lauren Mclean, the incumbent at seat 1 is running unopposed. She was a moving force during the first $10,000,000 Foothills serial levy campaign. She bucked Team Dave and voted against the “panhandling ordinance” which was overturned in Federal Court and has gained interest by the U.S. Justice Department. Boise citizens will be forced to pay tens of thousands in attorney fees to the ACLU, thanks to the ordinance.

Scot Ludwig, a Bieter appointee with support of the development community, including the Gardner Company–the big downtown builder–is running for reelection as an incumbent for seat 3.

Ludwig is challenged by Adriel Martinez, a BSU student. Rather than pay the $40 filing fee, Martinez filed a nominating petition with 10 signatures. At least two of the signatures are invalid because the people live in Kuna and Garden City–outside Boise City limits. The Ada County election clerk certified only 3 signatures on the Martinez petition and 5 are needed to qualify as a candidate.

The seat 5 race looks like a re-match, in part, of the election from four years ago. Incumbent Elaine Clegg is being challenged by former Boise FD Capt. Paul Fortin. Newcomer to politics is Andy Hawes, a 45-year old attorney who is also running against Clegg. Based on coffee shop chatter, the Clegg-Hawes race could be a liberal vs conservative contest in a supposedly non-partisan election.

First take/California

The hottest recent Oregonian story as measured by heated comments must be the piece about the vandal who's been slapping "No Californians" stickers on house for-sale signs. After the story made its way down to California, a bunch of Californians responded with the predictable "we'd never want to move there anyway" type comments. Some of the idea behind it may come from worries about gentrification and costs of homes, especially in the Portland area, being driven upward; although prices of homes in California are more widely variable than many people think. (San Francisco's through-the-roof prices aren't typical.) Some may have to do with ideas about who these Californians are; but in a state with tens of millions of people, who can say what's a typical Californian? The biggest fact about California is that it's big, and diverse, and the variations are vast. Of course, if you want to go back to the Tom McCall pull-up-the-drawbridge approach, covering entrants of any kind, that would be another argument entirely. - rs (photo/Alfonzo Jimenez)

The Stuck Pendulum

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The Stuck Pendulum page

The book Paradox Politics was written in 1987 and 1988, and published in that latter year - which, as this is written, was 27 years ago. Considering that it was intended as a current, up to the minute, review of Idaho politics and how it had gotten that way, that makes it heavily out of date now.

It's been out a long time, but it's not entirely forgotten. While most of its sales came in the 80s, it has sold copies ever since; Amazon has moved copies this year. That's nice to see. What's less easy to contemplate is that some of those people may think that Idaho politics in this new century is anything like what it was in the last one, and that would be a problem, because it isn't. I think, generally, it holds up as a good review of the subject as of the time it was written. And I think it may have helped prompt a spate of Idaho political memoirs and biographies that cropped up in the years following.

But since then, much has changed.

Hence, The Stuck Pendulum. It's a standalone book that also functions as an afterword - even a coda - for that earlier one, intended to bring up to date people who may have relied on Paradox for a look at Idaho politics. It doesn't unearth a lot of secrets and not much in it will come a a big surprise to people who have followed Idaho politics in the last quarter-century or so. But for those new to the subject, or who may have wondered what has happened since 1988, I think it can be useful.

I have gotten requests from time to time for a sequel for Paradox, and it's not just the passage of time that has increasingly made the point compelling. As the title suggests, Idaho politics, which once wandered across the political spectrum, driven by an electorate often willing to take a flyer on something different and didn't trust anyone too damn much, has changed, locked in place, adjusting if at all only to whatever seems to be the hardest right alternative at hand.

How it got there, and especially after how it changed so drastically right after the best Idaho Democratic election year in a generation (1990), is much of the subject of The Stuck Pendulum. But there are overviews of more, of the Larry Craig incident, the fierce battles in the first congressional district and the recent splinters in the Republican Party.

For the moment, it's priced for free, so get your copy if this sounds like your area of interest. We'll attach a price (not a hefty one, though) a little later.

Them people

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While I was reviewing old columns for inclusion in a book collection a few of them from years ago jumped out at me as especially relevant right now, and worth pondering even more now than then. This one (edited a little for length from a longer web-only original) dates from almost exactly nine years ago (about a year before the headlines that eventually ended Larry Craig’s Senate career), but it has resonance considering the issues in front of the presidential campaign now underway . . .

Senator Larry Craig and his staff – and they wouldn’t be alone – must still be wondering about just what the hell happened at their town hall meeting Tuesday night in Coeur d’Alene. They’d have good reason to, because a significant issue rides on it: To what extent did it reflect a substantial strain, or just fluke fissure, in the community?

Craig has taken heat for a few years now from parts of the conservative community – which for most of his years in Congress has given him unqualified support – for his stand on immigration and illegal aliens, a stance bearing some resemblance to that of President George W. Bush. Yes, there are a lot of people in this country who aren’t supposed to be here, and that fact – and border security – needs to be dealt with more effectively, Craig has suggested. But he also suggests that there’s no reason for a panic reaction, either.

As he was quoted by the Coeur d’Alene Press: “You can’t go door to door and force between 8 million and 10 million people to leave at gunpoint. For 20 years, immigration laws have failed. We know there’s a problem and we’re working on it. The first step is securing the border and we’re doing that.”

That seems hard to argue, reflecting a general reality we’ve managed to live with for a long time, and yet the reaction has suggested it’s an edgy statement. The reaction at – and yes, this is where it was – the Human Rights Education Institute at Coeur d’Alene, was something else again.

The Press said that “of nearly 60 people in attendance, many wanted action, including immediate deportation. They said it was a crisis that was going to bankrupt the country and cited numerous examples of problems in Southern California, including drugs, rape, and gangs. Some went so far as to say he wasn’t doing his job to uphold and protect the Constitution and has failed the citizens of Idaho.” Robert Vasquez, a Canyon County commissioner and recent congressional candidate, has for some years been saying the same thing; this year his message has expanded across more territory.

The spearhead of the protest or at least the loudest protester apparently was Stan Hess, a candidate for office, opposing Denny Hague for a seat on the North Idaho College Board of Trustees. The Press said he “erupted with anger over the immigration issue. He screamed at Craig and the citizens, who tried to boo him down. Then Hess confronted a woman and yelled at her only a few inches away from her face. Several people stood up to diffuse the confrontation. Craig’s handlers said they were moments away from calling the police. Hess, who also blasted NIC professor and longtime Human Rights advocate Tony Stewart, stormed out of the meeting.”

It may be, as Spokesman Review writer David Oliveria suggests, that Hess’ performance at the Craig town hall provided ample information about who not to vote for in the NIC trustee election. Additionally, though, it – and the not-so-divergent views of others in the audience – shows that razing an Aryan Nations encampment has not yet erased some ugly strains in northern Idaho.

First take

City office candidate filing closed yesterday in Idaho, and a quick look at the shape of ballots to come doesn't suggest a lot of excitement. There is a race for mayor of Boise, which in some past years has had some excitement, but probably not this time. Incumbent David Bieter is running for what would be an unprecedented fourth term (if elected he would be the longest-serving mayor in the city's history), and he has two opponents. But one is a 25-year-old college student, and the other an 84-year-old former sheriff who's been out of public visibility longer than most Boiseans have been alive. Unless there's a huge anti-Bieter wave out there, which doesn't seem evident at this point, he's probably headed for an easy re-elect. And I'm not seeing a lot of excitement in many other places either, not even in Coeur d'Alene, which is usually usually good for a hot scrap or two. Although, CdA could yet surprise. - rs (photo/Daniel X. O-Neil)

Obama in Alaska

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President Barack Obama’s visit to Alaska was inspiring. I eagerly watched everything I could see online: The official restoration of the name Denali, his powerful words on the climate, his visits to Resurrection Bay, and his interaction with Alaska’s Native communities. I especially loved the Yup’ik dancing (and the president showing his moves).

But there is one story that’s missing from the national accounts of the president’s visit: the role of tribes in determining Alaska’s future. The president himself referred to this debate in several ways. The first mention was in his statement to tribal leaders when he said: “My administration also is taking new action to make sure that Alaska Natives have direct input into the management of Chinook salmon stocks, something that has been of great concern here.” Then a few sentences later he promised to follow up on “everything from voting rights to land trusts.”

Those last two words are the story that needs to be told. The president’s language was a bit off. It’s not land trusts, but land into trust. This issue goes far beyond the status of land; it’s about the nature of sovereignty in Alaska. It’s complicated but basically there are two competing narratives that need to be resolved into a single story.

One version says that tribes ceased to exist when the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (or ANCSA) became law in 1971. This story says that Alaska is the primary vehicle for all government in Alaska. The state sets the rules for education, law enforcement, land use, etc., etc.

But there is another reading of this history. This narrative says ANCSA was primarily a land settlement act. It did create a different structure, such as establishing Native corporations, but it did not end the right of Native people to determine their own future.

This second story arc began shortly after ANCSA. As a Native American Rights Fund attorney Robert Anderson said in 1973: “….our work in Alaska is really on the cutting edge of Indian Law. We are establishing for essentially two hundred tribes, that they are recognized on the same level as those in the lower forty-eight (states) and that they have all the powers and authority.”

That story has multiple chapters that include the recognition of those tribes by the federal government, the push for Native hunting and fishing rights as well as the management of fish and game, law enforcement, and the most recent episode, a debate about land into trust. It’s this last issue that’s hot right now and worth a state and national conversation.

A few days before the president’s visit, Alaska’s new governor pursued an appeal that would prevent the Interior Department from taking land into trust, thus creating “Indian Country.”

The case involves Native villages Akiachak, Chalkyitsik, Chilkoot Indian Association, the tribe in Haines, and Tuluksak. These tribes seek to govern on issues ranging from law enforcement to zoning. The same powers held by other tribes. Indeed, the recognition (and expansion) of tribal authority was one of the main recommendations by the federal Indian Law and Order Commission, a bipartisan presidential and congressional task force.

But that’s unacceptable to Alaska. Simply put: The State wants to block tribal sovereignty.

As the state itself said:

“When the federal government takes land into trust, it holds it for the benefit of an individual Alaska Native or a Tribe. It is the federal government’s position that this land becomes Indian country—a legal status that can be likened to an Indian reservation. Currently, Alaska has only one reservation—the Metlakatla Indian Community’s reservation on the Annette Islands Reserve. Indian reservations are generally exempt from state jurisdiction, including taxation, except when Congress specifically authorizes such jurisdiction.

“If lands are put into trust in Alaska, the exact scope of federal, state, and tribal powers on trust lands would be played out as specific factual scenarios develop. Alaska would retain some civil and criminal powers over trust lands because Alaska is a P.L. 280 state. But generally, the federal government has the power to manage tribal and individual land that it holds in trust. The federal government will potentially have powers to approve and cancel leases of tribal trust land; as well as to govern the leasing of mineral resources (including oil and gas), regulate certain fishing activities, manage timber resources, issue grazing permits, and deal with certain water rights and irrigation matters on trust land. And Tribes have jurisdiction over civil and regulatory matters occurring on trust land. Gaming can occur on certain trust land in accordance with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.”

This is twisted. The state fears tribal authority. Then, this is not a new position. The one constant theme from the past four decades is that Alaska favors litigation over negotiation. And, when Alaska Natives win, the state appeals until every avenue is exhausted. This is a tired approach.

Indeed, since the Interior Department announced rules in December 2014 the state hasn’t had a formal consultation process about lands into trust, held public hearings or even set up informal town halls. This was the ideal time for a conversation about the future. (The state says it’s still talking. That’s rich. While we’re suing you, let’s negotiate, ok?)

What’s particularly disappointing about this chapter is that the new governor, Bill Walker, promised a different ending. I had a conversation with him during a public forum at the University of Alaska Anchorage last August where he said tribal-state relations would improve. And that’s been mostly true. The governor has been fantastic on many issues,especially the expansion of Medicaid. But on this big one, the future of tribes in Alaska, well, it’s back to court.

This is the story that the rest of the country needs to hear.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He 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.

First take

Parts of the Northwest finally have been getting some rain; in our neighborhood, some amounts - no more than moderate, but we'll take what we can get - have fallen. But not everywhere has been so blessed, and a good deal of the region has remained bone dry. So when the Washington Department of Ecology send out a warning-styled note about the possibility of dist storms, it merited some attention. The image here comes from just two year ago, in eastern Washington. Here's some of what Ecology said: "In 2013, three exceptional storms in Kennewick created high winds and excessive amounts of blowing dust. During these storms, Kennewick’s air pollution levels exceeded the national air quality standard. The Washington Department of Ecology has developed a report showing the dust storms were uncontrollable events. Ecology will submit the report to the Environmental Protection Agency and ask to exclude the high-pollution levels from calculations used to determine if the area exceeded standards." - rs

First take

Our writer Barrett Rainey sent this in this morning - the updated world population clock from the Bureau of the Census, which has all sorts of interesting data. You can get a sense of it with the graphic here; the actual thing is at the Census site. Scanning through, plenty of points of interest, including how close India is getting to overtaking China as the most populous country. And the reminder that Canada is the top recipient of our exports. - rs