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Posts published in October 2015

Reading the sheets

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The campaign finance reports that tend to get most attention are those for the big offices, for governor or for Congress (not to mention president). That’s understandable.

But you can find the reports for many Idaho cities too, and sometimes they show you information useful in deciding where your vote should go.

Cities weren’t included when the state’s voters passed the Sunshine Initiative in 1974, but in 1982 the legislature added elective offices - mayor and council - for cities over 16,000 in population to the requirements. In 2004, more cities were added: Those with a population over 5,000.

That means it covers 32 Idaho cities, the smallest of those being Preston; Weiser and Rupert are the next largest to be included. Fruitland, Shelley and American Falls just missed the cutoff.

The details of reporting have been changed, by the legislature, over the years. This year, for example, House Bill 112 changed the rule covering late contributions. It (according to a Secretary of State’s report) “requires all political committees to report within 48 hours all contributions of $1,000 or more received after the 16 th day before, but more than 48 hours before Election Day (as is currently required for candidates). The bill takes effect July 1, 2015.”

Many of the cities post the campaign contribution reports online, which means easy access for voters.

Boise’s Mayor David Bieter, who’s running for a fourth term, has his most current one (the seven-day pre-general report) at http://cityclerk.cityofboise.org/media/310646/bieter7daypregeneral.pdf. It shows substantial contributions indeed, more than $180,000. You could find a lot to look at there. His main opponent, Judy Peavey-Derr, showed contributions of a little more than $15,000. Among other things, this may give you some idea how the race is likely to shape up on election night.

Fine. But does all this tell you anything useful, assuming you’re one of the minority of eligible voters planning to cast a ballot?

It can. On Friday, for example, the Idaho Press-Tribune at Nampa reported that, “The largest contributions to this year’s city council elections in Nampa and Caldwell have come from real estate, construction and development groups.” It proceeded to tell who received how much from who.

That’s of interest and meaningful, especially in growing communities like Nampa and Caldwell. Who are these contributors, what sort of work would they like to do in these cities, and what kind of relationships might they be trying to build? What might that mean for the kind of cities Nampa and Caldwell may become a few years from now?

You don’t have to assume corruption or foul play in asking these questions: The answers could be good ones, depending on your point of view. But they are likely to matter, and could influence your voting choices - in fact, the reporting laws were designed with that in mind. Substantial contributions to city candidates from businesses or other organizations with concerns before a city government tend not to materialize simply because a candidate seems to be a nice guy.

There are implications here, maybe good, maybe bad, which voters taking their job responsibly ought to try to understand.

First take/endorsements

The view here for some years has been that newspaper endorsements tend not to be very decisive in most political races, with the possible and periodic exception of down-ballot races where few people know the candidates. Seattle's Crosscut site adds a new twist this: When two competing news sites endorse, which carries more weight? The question here concerns the city's newspaper behemoth, the Times, and the scrappy indie weekly, the Stranger. "The Stranger has positioned itself on the left, appealing to the young urbanists who live on Capitol Hill and Ballard and never missing an opportunity to insult the Seattle Times. The Times, meanwhile, continues to hold its ground as the voice of moderates — “socially liberal and fiscally conservative,” according to the editor of the Seattle Times editorial page Kate Riley. From the outside, it looks like something of an arms race between the two — with the papers both buying advertising space for elections-related Google searches." There's an argument that, when factoring in online analytics, the Stranger's endorsement, which is apt to be more emphatically stated and aimed at the gut, may actually be the more significant of the two. Read and see. - rs (photo/Jon S)

Incumbent’s advantage

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Judy Peavey-Derr filed at the last minute in a bid to unseat incumbent Dave Bieter who is seeking a fourth term which could carry him to a 16 year reign as Boise’s top politico.

Peavey-Derr positioned herself as a champion of the Bench and southwest citizens. She didn’t count on Bieter standing in a new park on Federal Way announcing his dedication to residents of the Boise Bench with new playground equipment.

She advocates parks and open space, but not the proposed Foothills levy. Bieter stood before the TV cameras to break ground for a new three acre park along the Boise River.

He was joined by two incumbent councilors who are also running for re-election.

When Peavey-Derr called a press conference to perform a victory dance for the Greater Boise Auditorium District’s supreme court ruling over Dave Frazier (GUARDIAN editor), Bieter hijacked the moment and waltzed before the cameras and waved his arm with promises of “even more” construction projects, “like the one behind me.” She is a member of the GBAD board.

Wednesday, Peavey-Derr scheduled a media event to spotlight her plans to create “districts” (known as “wards” in big cities) so citizens would have councilors from throughout the city and not just north of the Boise River. Bieter and Team Dave put a big shadow over her spotlight as they broke ground across town for a 5th library at Bown Crossing in Southeast Boise.

We gotta hand it to Team Dave. They know how to play the game of politics. Amazing how all these projects just happened to come up a month before the election! Timing is everything.

First take/debate

The Republican presidential debate round three was having some trouble differentiating from round two, or round one - the crowd was the same as it was in number two with the exception of the departed Scott Walker. And the players mostly played their familiar roles, Dona Trump blustering his way through, Ben Carson getting through as quietly as he could, Jeb Bush never quite connecting. Reviews of the four-man undercard debate generally seemed to agree that Lindsey Graham did best, and that seemed about right. But time has surely arrived to start the winnowing process. By now it should be clear that none of the four at the kids' table are going to make the leap; they should drop out. And two or three on the main stage ought to take a serious look at doing that too. Months have gone by in this campaign so far, and many twists remain, but some improbabilities have gotten pretty clear. - rs (illustration)

Origins of the bill

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The new book Eye on the Caribou by Chris Carlson old from the perspective of one who was on the inside, here's the story of the passage of the Alaska Lands Act. It was an effort spanning 80 years, from the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt and culminating with President Jimmy Carter signing into law what many consider the greatest piece of conservation legislation in history. It is a story of grit, greed, political double-­crosses and shrewd strategy that achieved what many thought unobtainable. Here's an excerpt.

Excerpt: (Cecil) Andrus, while still serving as Idaho's governor in November of 1976, extended an invitation to the then president-elect to take a fly-fishing float trip on Idaho's Middle Fork of the Salmon River. Andrus issued the invitation while standing in the Carter's kitchen at the former president's home in Plains, (Georgia) following his interview to be the next Secretary of the Interior. Carter accepted the invitation from the incoming 44th Interior Secretary, and he kept his word.

The float trip turned out to be both serendipitous and fortuitous. As the two couples sat around the evening fire, the men would first settle up on the day's bet regarding who caught and released the most cutthroat, the largest and the first. They usually bet $1 on each. Then the conversation would turn to larger matters.

The timing could not have been better. Just a month earlier, Andrus had taken 15 of the nation's premier journalists on a week-long tour of Alaska covering many of the sites being contemplated as additions to the nation's great systems of protection and conservation: wilderness, national parks, national wildlife refuges, national monuments and wild and scenic rivers. The trip garnered extensive publicity for setting aside and protecting anywhere from 80 million to 103 million acres of federal lands. This would satisfy the commitment to the environmental community to accept the settlement of the long unresolved land claims of Alaska's Natives. It also allowed the trans-Alaska pipeline to proceed in exchange for a promised significant increase in the great preservation and conservation programs that over the years the United States, more by luck than coordinated planning, has been able to achieve.

With his Alaska trip fresh in his mind, and knowing that the president's No. 1 goal for the nation's major environmental organizations was passage of the Alaska lands legislation, Andrus took full advantage of time spent by the evening camp fire to discuss his media tour of Alaska, the status of the then negotiations, the likelihood that Alaska's Democratic Senator, Mike Gravel, would prove to be the dog in the manger and do everything he could to stall and delay any legislation.

Always able to look down the road and over the horizon to anticipate what would be coming, Andrus began to lay out his fall-back strategy to the president should Gravel not only succeed in torpedoing the current legislation but also block an extension of the deadline for resolution of the lands issue contained in the 1971 Land Claims Act.

The idea involved achieving the goal by using the presidential land withdrawal power under the Antiquities Act to create national monuments by the stroke of a pen. Andrus thought President Carter might have to designate as many as 17 new or expanded national monuments to protect both the lands and congress' option to act in compliance with the previous Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act requirement.

Andrus had the complete trust of the president. The two had worked closely together when both were serving as governor of their respective states and became acquainted at National Governor Association meetings. In later years Carter would say Andrus was the only person he considered for the Interior post. He relied heavily on Andrus' views with regards to most western issues and backed up every decision Andrus later made on Alaska. Andrus had been reading about Alaska since childhood, in particular Jack London's stories about Alaska and the Yukon. He also fondly recalled that the barbershop in the nearest town to their little farm used to save the old Outdoor Life magazines, and he and his brother, Steve, would read every issue from cover to cover, and dream about some day visiting there.

First take/REI

The Northwest is a leader in a lot of innovation, and maybe it will be again - on Black Friday, if not this coming one then maybe in the next few. REI, the outdoor recreation retailer from Kent, Washington, said that it will close its stores on the day after Thanksgiving (BF), which for years has been the top sales day of the year. It's helped along in this by its good sales year so far in 205, and by the fact that it's a member cooperative rather than publicly-held. Still, a lot of people will probably think approvingly of the company telling its employees to take time off, reconnect with family and friends and maybe explore a little more of the outdoors. And there was no dissent about it internally; the company's retail vice president said, “The moment (the closure idea) was uttered, it was so in alignment with who we are.” So who are these other guys? - rs (photo)

Government by destruction

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For the last couple of decades, the Republican Party’s been hellbent on not just changing various levels of government but dedication to deliberately destroying them. The challenge for these zealot absolutists has been not to govern once in office but to dismantle what they see as too much government. In most cases, they don’t know how to govern. And they’re wrong. But they’ve succeeded in making things difficult for millions of us.

Federal budgetary sequestration was their first dubious success. The still operable - but almost never mentioned - spending stranglehold on nearly all things federal has crippled everything from scientific research to public education to military capabilities to food sizes on the school lunch program.

For taxpayers in the West Ada School District in Idaho, the Republican wrecking crew has brought this dismantling of an excellent, working board down to a very, very local level. Largely driven by three school board zealots, the state’s largest - and one of the most successful - districts, has lost the talents of a gifted and supremely dedicated school superintendent.

Linda Clark’s 37-year history is well-documented. She is a respected voice for public education, not just in Idaho, but nationally with leadership roles in many regional and national organizations. She has been a champion for K-12 education, brought about many significant changes and worked in harmony with dozens of previous board members for more than a decade. An exemplary professional with a very public record. Until two of these political destructors were elected to the West Ada Board a few months ago.

Of the two, the most damaging haranguer and loudest voice is that of a guy who used to be a teacher and administrator in the public system. Someone with his own personal school employment problems. He’s been an incessant pain-in-the-ass since his first board meeting and has made no secret he wanted Clark out of her job. He’s redirected the school board’s attention away from it’s primary mission of setting policy and directing management of district educational efforts to a personal, very public attack on Clark’s tenure as superintendent.

As she resigned, Clark said “the Board” - this guy, his hand-maiden acolyte and another member - had spent their recent time “directing” things without once having a conversation with her about details of district management issues, policies or administration. Their primary contacts with her over three month, she said, were to talk about getting her to retire shortly or to pursue details of her contract status as determined by previous boards. They’ve even demanded all of her emails, a la Hillary Clinton.

It’s only a few days since the donkey dung hit the fan in this unnecessary embarrassment. My guess is some of the more rational community and civic leaders in the district will step up to Clark’s side. A recall drive against the two main troublemakers had been previously talked of by Clark’s immediate predecessor in the superintendents’s job. While what’s left of any local adult media goes about reporting from the news releases and other handouts, I hope one or two of the brighter ones does some checking on the backgrounds of the two main antagonists. The public needs to know who these people are, what baggage - personal and professional - they carry and let the public balance their “professionalism” and effectiveness against Linda Clark’s.

Viewed with a broad perspective, this Idaho situation bears close resemblance to the machinations we’ve had in Congress. Again, the one common, over-arching fact in both cases is these Republican zealots are not there to govern. They don’t know how to govern. They’re there to destroy - to tear down - to gut whatever level of government they were chosen by a minority of voters to represent. We’ve watched Congress devolve into an ineffective pile of the aforementioned donkey dung as an intransigent minority has crippled the majority into surrender. Millions of people are being hurt, responsiveness to voters has disappeared, lobbyists have become the ruling class and a handful of billionaires move these GOP place-sitters like so many chess pieces.

The national embarrasment of trying to find someone - anyone - to become Speaker of the House - second in line to be President of the United States - has got to have foreign governments looking at us like we’re a bunch of idiots trying to become a more responsible banana republic. I give Paul Ryan 90 days - make that 60 days - before these cretins stab him where it hurts. He will unify no one. These destructive voices trust no one, will turn on each other for little to no reason at all, and will turn on Ryan the minute he tries to use his authority to accomplish something they don’t like. Which is anything - anything - they disagree with. Politics - governance - the art of compromise - none of these a part of their Captain Destructo worlds.

From the West Ada School District to the banks of the Potomac, we’re being eaten by a cancer of zealotry and unguided hatred of all things governmental. Large doses of voter chemotherapy - accompanied by some surgery at the ballot box - are needed if we are to ever experience again a functional, people-serving system of government.

In Meridian, Idaho, at the moment, the patient is especially sick.

First take/bases

Some weeks ago I posted on Facebook a link to a summary list of U.S. military bases around the world - hundreds of them, more than 600 by that count, leading to my question of why we need so many bases around the world. I got some gentle blowback, the main thrust of which was that the count and the list was too simplistic. Many of the "bases," the response went, were actually just tiny outposts, some maybe unmanned, nothing like what we think of as a military base. Fair enough. Military bases no doubt were a lot more varied than the list or post seemed to allow for, and the reality probably was more complex than I'd allowed for. Happily, I was able to follow up in reading a new book (published in late August) called "Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World" by David Vine. I would recommend those Facebook readers and anyone else interested in the subject (all Americans should be) pick it up and read for the details, which Vine supplies. He gets into the wide variety and nature of U.S, military bases overseas, and points out that while fewer than 70 are really big bases ("Little Americas" like Ramstein in Germany, which look like full-scale U.S. cities transplanted to another country), many others are substantial, and many of the little ones (called "Lily Pads") may carry large costs and implications even when few military personnel are assigned there. Vine also points out that some bases are run by contractors - and a few are even owned by contractors and leased back to us (and used by our military), so we can maintain the fiction we have no formal military base there. This is a subject on which more of us really ought to be more conversant. After reading "Base Nation," I think I am, at least somewhat more than I was. - rs

Playing fair in the sandbox

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Donald Trump called Bernie Sanders a “socialist-slash-communist,” proving convincingly that he has no idea what either term means. Senator Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist,” a phrase disconnected from both. Let’s examine some basics.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the term “socialist” means one who advocates that the means of production, distribution and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. It says the term “communist” means one who advocates that all property be owned by the community, and that each person participate according to ability or needs. Socialism and communism are each independent economic theories.

Neither have anything to do with the totalitarian government of the former Soviet Union. For The Donald to call Bernie a “socialist slash communist” is an ad hominem argument intended to arouse visceral feelings towards totalitarian Communism reminiscent of the Cold War. It is baseless slander when applied to Senator Sanders, and should have no place in a legitimate political argument.

While the pure socialist may advocate for government ownership of most business, the democratic socialist does not. With the exception of demanding the abandonment of private ownership of prisons, which was a wrong-headed idea from the outset, and perhaps advocating for the eventual merger of the health insurance industry into a single-payer entity, the democratic socialist appears to accept private ownership of business, provided that the community and the masses are protected by reasonable and effective government regulation.

“Capitalism,” says the OED, means the system where trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit. Pure capitalism, or laissez faire, means the private ownership without interference or regulation by the government. Under laissez faire, it is only the “private owners” who are in any position to benefit from the economic system. In today’s economy, the “owners” would be the top 2% of us, or perhaps only the top 1%, being those who actually control the resources to push capital, labor and production to their best advantage. The masses, the 98% or 99% of us who do not have this power, would literally be at the mercy of the “owners” under laissez faire.

In the late 1700’s, Adam Smith realized that unrestrained free market capitalism would be intolerable. Smith recognized that if the entirety of the economy was left to vagaries of a market exclusively controlled by the owners, then what he termed the great body of mankind – i.e., the rest of us – would be impacted by “intellectually erosive effects.” He said this was the condition “into which … the great body of the people must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.” Thus even Adam Smith felt that in certain circumstances, it was a proper function of government to protect the masses.

The plain fact is that we have not had anything close to laissez faire capitalism in this country from the earliest days of the 1800’s. Certainly beginning with the trust-busting days of Teddy Roosevelt, and continuing to this day we have established an extensive matrix of government regulation to protect most of us from the “intellectually erosive effects” of the unrestrained free market. One might say that our system has evolved into one of regulated capitalism.

What we enjoy from the view on the left is a system of democratic socialism with strong components of regulated capitalism, and a few tendrils reaching towards laissez faire. From the right, the view is of regulated capitalism with a strong dose of democratic socialism, and a few tendrils stretching into classic socialism. Or maybe it is the other way around.

The point is that from wherever we look, we see an amalgam of both economic systems, interwoven, and hopefully taking the best from each. There are considerable differences between regulated capitalism and democratic socialism. In almost every quarter, there is plenty to argue about in the areas of who is entitled to protection and from what, how much is reasonable, whether the involvement is national or best left local, and always, always, how much will it cost and who is to pay.

But certainly we must recognize that these debates are well intentioned, by patriots of good cheer, and are being advanced with honorable motives and a sincere desire for betterment of society. There should be no place here for personal attacks or mean spirited slander.

First take/death in Idaho

One phrase for it, from a member of the family, was "death by poverty," but you could also say "death by legislature." This account comes by way of Boise Weekly, which some months back "spoke with Idahoans who anxiously watched as Idaho GOP leadership pushed away two separate recommendations from a bi-partisan committee to pursue an expansion of Medicaid as soon as possible. It's estimated as many as 78,000 Idahoans are in the Medicaid gap." That means those 78,000 make too little money to afford health insurance - and, so, health care. But those are just numbers. On Sunday, the paper noted, the Post Register in Idaho Falls reported on the specific case of Jenny Steinke, whose battle with asthma started about 10 years ago. As Boise Weekly recounted, "The cost of insurance coverage for her and her husband was just out of reach, yet they were ineligible for care through the state health insurance exchange or for Medicaid. On September 1, Steinke's inhaler wasn't working and when she suffered a severe asthma attack, she was rushed to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Three days later, she died of a brain herniation." She died, in other words, in large part because the Idaho Legislature wouldn't do what many other states do, and expand Medicaid coverage, which would have allowed her to get her condition under control. A dozen angry, snarky closing sentences suggest themselves; please add your own here. - rs