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Posts published in December 2015

Labrador’s government

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Raul Labrador, the representative from Idaho so visible in the elite media, has given us something there worth chewing over, at the heart of what this country is about, and in the heart of Raul Labrador.

You’ll find it in a December 14 article for the New Yorker by Ryan Lizza on how a smallish group of U.S. House members called the “Freedom Caucus”, for which Labrador is a spokesman, won enough clout to push out one House speaker, John Boehner, and circumscribe his replacement, Paul Ryan.

Ostensibly, the reasons concern policy: The decisions about how the country should be governed. The policy had mostly to do with the budget, and the prospect that an inability to compromise on it, as federal officials have done for a couple of hundred years and more, might shut down the government. The Caucus has insisted on conditions; noncompliance by the Senate and president may result in a shutdown.

Lizza quoted Labrador, “We don’t want a shutdown, we don’t want a default on the debt, but when the other side knows that you’re unwilling to do it you will always lose,” Labrador said. That means he considers a shutdown and fiscal default an acceptable bargaining chip. The article noted, “Unlike many Republicans, Labrador did not see the shutdown as a permanent stain on the Party. He grabbed one of two large poster-board polling charts leaning against his desk; it was titled ‘Before /After 2013 Shutdown’ and showed the Republican Party’s approval ratings quickly recovering.”

Labrador’s point: “Within a couple of months, people forgot what happened. So our favorables went back up, and our unfavorables went back down.” What was important was not that people thought a government shutdown was damaging or wrong or bad, but that (whew!) the voters have a short memory, and therefore a shutdown won’t be a liability for Republicans when they vote.

He then noted that this year, absent shutdowns, favorable ratings for Republicans have fallen from 41 percent to 32 percent. Why? The party was “governing,” he said, with air quotes. (Don’t give me any garbage about how that’s a term of art or some metaphor or joke. It was perfectly clear.) “If people just want to ‘govern,’ which means bringing more government, they’re always going to choose the Democrat,” he said.

Full stop. Re-read those last paragraphs. Or read the New Yorker article (which, as far as I can tell, Labrador has not objected to). Or what Greg Sargent of the Washington Post wrote: “That is a remarkable theory of the case: Republicans lose ground when they govern along with Democrats, because achieving bipartisan governing compromise inherently represents capitulation to Dems, in the sense that when government functions, it affirms the Dem vision.”

The way to affirm the Republican vision, by that logic, would be to force our government to collapse. That means governing at all is the problem: Republicans shouldn’t do that. If they actually, you know, “govern”, if they perform their jobs in a useful or constructive manner, they’re part of the problem. The alternative being . . . what? Civic vandalism? A sit-in at the Capitol? That our government ought to be damaged so as not to function?

Be clear about this: However much we dislike things our government does or fails to do, there will be a government of the United States as long as there is a United States. No nation ever has been without a government. Someone will rule here. The theory behind our form of government is that we the people, though our elected representatives, rule – that we govern.

Labrador’s view seems to be that the whole project of governing, or at least of self-government, is terrible. And damaging to his political party. So what does he think his job as a member of Congress is? What is he’s accomplishing if he intentionally rejects governing? And if he – and implicitly his allies too – are not governing, then who does he think should be in charge? I’d like to know who he’d hand the reins over to.

When you see him, ask.

First take/fear fear

No big surprise: A New York Times/CBS News poll taken in recent days finds 44% of Americans say a terrorist attack is “very likely” to happen in the next few months.

Depending on how you define your terms, that may be a safe prediction. Increasingly, there are calls (variously from left and right) for defining any mass shooting, as at San Bernardino and Colorado Springs, as a terrorist incident. In that case, the 44% are almost surely right, since mass shootings have been happening a lot faster than that.

But maybe we ought to get rid of the word "terrorist" altogether and call these murder sprees what else they are: murder. Crimes, not an ideological statement or an expression of war.

Murder can be frightening enough when you're brought face to face with it, or personally face the threat. But "terrorism" connotes a sense of impersonal pinpointing that really does scare a lot of people.

Which is just fine if you're a political figure like Donald Trump, who feeds off fear, or any number of other interests that have something direct to gain from it. But this country does not benefit, nor do the people in it, from being perpetually fearful. Alert and prepared to act, yes. But fearful, no. Those who consider themselves loyal Americans but who stoke the fear - and the fear is rising as it is deliberately stoked, not just by perpetrators but by those who exploit as well - should be ashamed, and reconsider if they have any right to call themselves loyal Americans.

And if you need a convincer about that, consider what it is that "terrorists" are trying to accomplish with their acts. Their intent is right there in that noun. Why are so many purportedly patriotic Americans so eager to help them in their quest? - rs (photo)

Governor and the working poor

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The Governor’s proposed plan to avoid recognizing the Affordable Care Act remedy for Idaho’s working poor, as revealed in last Saturday’s Statesman, is just plain dumb.

He cannot seriously expect anybody to believe in it. Further, as stories of needless deaths and suffering from lack of affordable health care continue to mount, the Governor’s continued obstinacy to expanding Medicaid is just plain cruel.

The problem is how to provide adequate health coverage for a defined class of Idaho’s working poor, meaning those who do not receive health care through their employment, do not earn enough to qualify for subsidized private insurance from the state exchange, cannot depend upon a parent or spouse for health care coverage, and who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid under existing eligibility requirements. In Idaho there are approximately 78,000 individuals who fall into this category and have therefore remained uninsured. Two solutions are on the horizon.

Option A is to expand Medicaid to cover this defined class. This obvious solution is the intended implementation of the ACA. Federal funds to cover ten years of expanded Medicaid benefits are already built into the Act, so the cost to the state to accomplish and maintain the expansion is exactly zero. The estimated return in federal health benefits paid on behalf of the working poor recipients would be approximately $70 million per year. All that is required to fully implement the Act is state approval.

Option B is to continue the status quo with the addition of the Governor’s proposed care plan. This plan would cover some doctor’s visits for preventive care only, but would not provide coverage for labs, diagnostics, hospital care, prescription coverage, or follow up. Emergency care would still be under county indigency programs. Non-emergency hospitalization and surgery is not covered; there is no coverage for acute outpatient, non-emergency diagnostics, nor any follow-up care.

This means for example, that most cancer, cardiac and diabetic care would not be covered except for emergency flare-ups. To get any kind of follow up care, the circumstances have to qualify as a catastrophic disease or condition. The young woman who died in Idaho Falls from untreated asthma would still be uninsured under the Governor’s status quo plan. Everyone, even the Republicans who were recently quoted, acknowledged that the addition of the new plan to the existing hodge-podge of the status quo would be inadequate.

The cost of this new plan would be at least $30 million per year. In addition, the cost to the counties for indigent emergency care is over $30 million per year, and the cost to the state for catastrophic health care is over $35 million per year. Since the Medicaid expansion would essentially replace all of these status quo resources, these costs to the state and counties, approaching $100 million every year, could be almost completely eliminated.

On the pure numbers, Idaho has already lost in excess of $250 million over the initial two years of the ACA in state and county costs that could have been avoided and federal benefits that would have been paid if Medicaid had been expanded when the ACA was first implemented. Unnecessary deaths sustained by reason of inadequate health care in Idaho – which now are centered upon the 78,000 uninsured – have been estimated at 124 deaths per year.

It is pure sophistry to argue that there is some advantage to turning away close to $70 million per year in federally funded health care benefits for the poorest among us, plus wasting a combined $100 million per year of our own taxpayer money that could be saved, just to maintain a half-baked patchwork of admittedly inadequate state based programs. When the unnecessary death toll is measured against amounts of money we are flushing down the toilet every year, the right wing’s political objections to expanding Medicaid become the height of Luddite ignorance.

Even if the Republicans pull all their rabbits out of all their hats nationally in the elections of 2016, no thinking politician expects the ACA to be repealed outright; too much of it has become too ingrained in too many lives to imagine a U-turn now. With expanded Medicaid under the ACA now in place in 30 of our 50 states, there is no political chance that it could be abandoned in 2017. As even the tightest fisted Republican must acknowledge, adequate coverage for the very poorest among us is a legitimate government function that will be retained.

Given all of this, and whether one is a flaming liberal Democrat, a rock ribbed Libertarian or a teapot Conservative, money is money is money. Approving the Medicaid expansion will solve the problem with Idaho’s working poor, eliminate the wretched consequences of inadequate health coverage, and bring about a potential return to the state, in terms of immediate cost avoidance, potential cost reductions and fund savings at the state and county level, together with inflow of federal dollars for benefits paid to the working poor, of close to $165 million per year.

What can the Guv possibly be thinking?

First take/collapsing middle

From the Pew Research Center, in a report released Wednesday:

After more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it. In early 2015, 120.8 million adults were in middle-income households, compared with 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined, a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

In at least one sense, the shift represents economic progress: While the share of U.S. adults living in both upper- and lower-income households rose alongside the declining share in the middle from 1971 to 2015, the share in the upper-income tier grew more.

Over the same period, however, the nation’s aggregate household income has substantially shifted from middle-income to upper-income households, driven by the growing size of the upper-income tier and more rapid gains in income at the top. Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.

And middle-income Americans have fallen further behind financially in the new century. In 2014, the median income of these households was 4% less than in 2000. Moreover, because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001 to 2013.

Meanwhile, the far edges of the income spectrum have shown the most growth. In 2015, 20% of American adults were in the lowest-income tier, up from 16% in 1971. On the opposite side, 9% are in the highest-income tier, more than double the 4% share in 1971. At the same time, the shares of adults in the lower-middle or upper-middle income tiers were nearly unchanged.

These findings emerge from a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. In this study, which examines the changing size, demographic composition and economic fortunes of the American middle class, “middle-income” Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, about $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014 dollars for a household of three. Under this definition, the middle class made up 50% of the U.S. adult population in 2015, down from 61% in 1971.

Speaking softly

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She isn’t anywhere to be found on the 2015 list of the 100 most influential Idahoans compiled in book form by Randy Stapilus, publisher of Ridenbaugh Press. She was, however, on the 2014 list. She should be there somewhere between #74 Phil Reberger, Dirk Kempthorne’s former chief of staff, and #95 former Governor Len B. Jordan.

On November 24th in a scene right out of the old E. F. Hutton television ads
(You remember the tag line: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”) the audience of some 300 concerned citizens jammed into the gymnasium of the Grangeville Elementary school grew quiet.

While the weather outside was rainy and cold with the wind bringing in the taste of the onset of winter, inside the gym things were hot, emtions high and there was legitimate concern for the health and welfare of Idaho Senator James Risch and his staff. Thus, there was an unusual number of police officers and sheriff’s deputies present to ensure the safety of those speaking to th e issue of the day.

Could a proposed land exchange possibly generate so much angst? In a word, yes. Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, was holding an informational discussion among three pre-selected groups to be followed by a public hearing on legislating a proposed 30,000 acre land exchange in the Upper Lochsa River basin between the Forest Service and Western Pacific Timber Company.

Most of those there were opposed to the exchange, so much so that even the well-known local environmentalists, normally the objects of ridicule and scorn in the timber dependent community, were cheered when they spoke in oppostion.

Everybody, though, wanted to hear what the lady with gravitas and a command presence was going to say. Her name is Sandra Mitchell, and without question she is one of the most influential professional public affairs consultants in Idaho. She is the long-time executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council and the Idaho Snowmobile Association. She represents the thousands of Idahoans who enjoy the great out-of-doors, especially the public lands, utilizing atv’s, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and other mechanized vehicles.

Her influence is derived not just because she and her organizations are largely bankrolled by Joe Scott, the heir of Joe Albertson, but also because of her skills and demonstrated abilities. For example, it is widely believed she convinced Senator Risch to back away from his earlier commitment to support Second District Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder/White Clouds wilderness proposal. When the smoke cleared a couple years later almost all the areas and trails coveted by snowmobilers and atv riders were still open to their use.

Mitchell, on her part, made no claims but the results spoke for themselves. She also is a devout Republican having cut her teeth working for the 1976 re-election to Congress of Caldwell apple grower Steve Symms and then running his Lewiston office for a number of years, starting in 1977.

No insider doubts her clout and on this particular Tuesday evening all present knew Senator Risch would be listening carefully. One of Mitchell’s assets is she does her homework, digs into the details and does not deal in cant, bromides or platitudes.

She stuck to the allotted two minutes, but went right to the heart of why despite the considerable efforts of Western Pacific’s attorney Andy Hawes, who she has great respect for, to educate folks about why this exchange is in the public interest (and the Forest Service does support it) the company was still coming up short.

The core issue is a lack of trust in Western Pacific to keep its word and in the Forest Service to keep its promises. She cited a long history of broken promises which undeniably had occurred.

She did, however, lay out a path forward for the company and proponents of the exchange, which, if followed, could lead to a change of heart on the part of the folks she represents. She identified eight areas ranging from dissatisfaction with the Forest Service’s process for chosing which lands in Idaho county would be in the exchange, to confusion over how easements would work, to loss of access, to the sale of lands to other private interests after being logged, to impacts on wildlife, to maintenance of roads and trails.

Hawes believes the company can address all these concerns to Mitchell’s satisfaction and that the exchange can still win Senator Risch’s support because folks like Mitchell will reward the company for demonstrating its ability to listen. Mitchell, for her part, will wait and see. She is a living embodiment of the speak softly but carry a big stick school of politics. She does both with skill and charm.

First take/leaves

Yesterday while walking through my neighborhood in heavy rain, I saw one of the dumbest things I have ever seen: A man using a leaf blower to try to move around leaves in the street over to the yard. Leaves that were thoroughly wet and had been rained on for hours, many of them in puddles.

I had to stop and stare. But not in disbelief. On the list of really dumb everyday activities I have witnesses, use of leaf blowers holds many honored spots.

I'd concede some limited uses where leaf blowers can make sense, mainly in places not easily accessible otherwise, blowing leaves and other material out of hard-to-get-to places. But most of the use I have seen of them involves chasing leaves around, and around, and around, places like streets and parking lots. They make racket that can be heard from blocks away; when I hear them in downtowns, the sound can reverberate all over the place. They (at least most, though not all) pollute.

And they weigh a lot more than an inexpensive rake, which mostly can be used far more efficiently and disrupt the lives of no one else in the area. - rs

Independent Democrat strategy

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When Sen. Chip Shields (SD22-Portland) announced he wasn’t running for re-election and Rep. Lou Frederick (HD43-Portland) announced his intent to run for that seat, Frederick’s seat became in play. In a city with may more ambitious Democrats than available positions we may expect several candidates in the May primary.

HD43 is 61% Democratic and 5% Republican so commonplace for the winner of the Democratic primary to start ordering furniture to their Legislative office in Salem. And typically in these deep blue PDX districts, the Democratic nominee even wins the GOP nomination with a handful of write ins. So all the non Democratic voters end up with basically no viable choices in November.

So far two candidates have announced for the Democratic HD43 nomination

Tawna Sanchez, is the Family Services Director at the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA Family Center). And Roberta Phillip-Robbins, a youth and gang violence prevention specialist for Multnomah County.

Both seem highly qualified and capable. Judging only from their websites Ms. Phillio-Robins has garnered much of her support from the Democratic party stalwarts. A check of her ORESTAR finanical reports confirms that. On Ms. Sanchez’s endorsement page, she lists community activists, parents, educators and small business owners. Ms. Sanchez hasn’t filed any financial reports with ORESTAR yet.

A few other office seekers may jump into this race, but these two candidates seem likely to be at the top given their early start, qualifications and endorsements.

If we had a top two system, these two fine candidates would likely be on the November ballot and HD43 voters would get to choose between them. But we don’t, so one of these two candidates will likely be the Democratic nominee and presumptive new State Representative. That means that just 61% of HD43 voters will be able to vote for their next State representative.

Unless that is, one of these two candidates likes their chances better among 100% of the electorate in November. In which case, they could withdraw their candidacy for the Democratic nomination just prior to the deadline, then run as a write in candidate for the Independent Party nomination. (Because of Oregon’s “sore loser law” a candidate can’t run for and lose the nomination for their own party and then later get the nomination of another party).

My guess is that Ms. Phillips-Robbins wouldn’t consider such a strategy since she seems more invested in the Democratic Party and leadership would definitely frown on such a strategy. But a better case could be made to Ms. Sanchez that come March 2016, if her chances for the Democratic nomination seemed slim, running as an Independent could be the best path to a November victory. Particularly since the IPO has opened up it’s primary and non affiliated voters will be allowed to vote on an IPO ballot.

And, if she ran as a write in candidate, there would be no need for her to change her own voter registration. She could remain a registered Democrat, and if she won, she could caucus with the Democratic Party in Salem.

Utilizing the May primary ballot access won by the IPO and now open to all IPO and NAV voters could be a viable path for non career progressives to challenge Democratic party insiders in Portland area districts. It is not an option for those who seek a political career are are tied to the Democratic Party apparatus. But for Democrats who genuinely seek to be citizen legislators, it is a path that is legal, logical, and smart.

And wouldn’t democracy be better served if 100% of the voters were able to choose between these two qualified candidates in November and whoever is elected is beholden to all the voters of HD43 and not just active Democrats?

First take/about war

President Obama's speech Sunday night drew brickbats from the expected quarters (especially the Republican presidential candidates), but what it did not draw was this: An alternative strategy. Most of Obama's critics in this area don't have one.

Obama argued forcefully for the approach he has been pursuing: Air strikes, cooperation with other governments, special forces on the ground and so on. He argued against any proposal to send a mass of American troops on the ground (something only Lindsey Graham has been pushing), because that would provide the gasoline for the bonfire Daesh (I call them that because they hate the term) do badly wants. Anything that can be played as the big bad West crunching down on the Islamic world, or on Muslims, is catnip for them.

And I think he's right. And that's apart from the fact that the United States has wasted far too many lives and too much treasure in the Middle Eastern sinkhole for a generation now. And if ground troops were to be engaged, we'd be drawn into another big war, one damn near without end.

Read this piece, which centered on a professor of military science named Elliot Cohen, who has called for a more aggressive posture in the Middle East but is also sufficiently well versed to understand what would mean: "his war will probably go on for the rest of my life, and well into my children’s.”

Article writer Andrew Bacevich continued, that "would require at least a five-fold increase in the current size of the US Army — and not as an emergency measure but a permanent one." The draft probably would have to be reinstated. The cost would be immense: "ratcheting up military spending would undoubtedly require either substantial tax increases or significant cuts in non-military spending, including big-ticket programs like Medicare and social security — precisely those, that is, which members of the middle class hold most dear." In return, we get this: "the more deeply we insert our soldiers into the Greater Middle East the more concerted the resistance they face; that the more militants we kill the more we seem to create; that the inevitable, if unintended, killing of innocents only serves to strengthen the hand of the extremists."

Bacevitch called that kind of outright war "an invitation to collective suicide."

Or. We could ratchet down and back ourselves out of the Middle Eastern snakepit. And the argument against doing that, as terms of the well-being of this country and our people, would be what exactly? - rs

Ignoring the cancer

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“BREAKING: In __________, a tragic situation leaving ______ dead and, with no known motive and few details, still confirms our opinion about ____________.“ (Ron Fournier in the National Journal this morning, the day after San Bernardino.)

Fournier is being sarcastic, of course. Maybe. Or, maybe he’s just trying to make it easier for the media to report on the latest carnage by not upsetting anybody. Just fill in the blanks. Maybe sarcasm best describes the callousness of a nation refusing to act.

Well, I’m damned upset! If I hear one more political son-of-a-bitch spout the words “thoughts and prayers” after mass murder in this nation, I’m prepared get the 12- gauge out of the closet. Talk, talk, talk while innocent Americans die, die, die!

The President has warned us of the dangers of starting to take such events as commonplace because there have been so many of them. And, because there has been absolutely no commitment on the part of our society to take a single step to stop this maniacal savagery. None!

It would be easy - and wrong - to lay all blame for this national cowardice at the feet of a Congress terrified to act because of an outsized concern for personal future employment at the public trough. A lot of it correctly goes there. Just not all of it. What’s happening in your city hall, the courthouse, your statehouse? Anyone in your neighborhood who can write legislation or an ordinance or put new laws on the books in any form working feverishly to get it done? Didn’t think so.

Oh, we give it lots of lip service. We tell each other how sick and awful this unchallenged attack is. We grieve and wring our collective hands about another shooting “somewhere else.” We do it each time it happens. But what’s being done to stop it?

We’ve become cleverly artistic designing barricades out front of many buildings. We’ve gotten better disguising video cameras so they’re not intruding so we can continue with our false sense of both security and privacy. We’ve come to expect armed guards, body scanners, barefoot strolls around airports and looking at ourselves on monitors in banks, government buildings and even some theaters. We’re coping really well while armed murderers learn to work their way around our latest “barricades.” (More sarcasm there.)

As a society, we keep coming up with all sorts of mental nostrums to deal with the aftermath of these multiple, unprovoked killings. But we’ve not done a damned thing to remove the underlying cancer eating the guts of our collective security. Getting guns and other weapons of destruction out of the hands of the sick and deranged. Or anyone else who violently attacks our society. Not one damned thing. We’re treating symptoms and cleaning up after each new slaughter but ignoring the obvious steps demanded to end the killing.

Outside of more cops in our schools and insane talk of arming teachers, what’s been done since Newtown to protect our kids and grandkids? Has putting armed guards inside and outside Planned Parenthood clinics ended the murders of innocents? Is there a single college campus safer now than 10 years ago because enlightened leaders have done enlightened things? With thousands of cameras and mental detectors hidden in stores, are we less likely to see someone blasting away as shoppers dive for cover? Have we ended sniper attacks on our highways? How about theaters? Churches?

The only possible answers to all those queries is a shouted national “NO!” We’ve done nothing. And, if we keep treating the NRA as some sort of above-reproach protector of the bastardized Second Amendment, we’ll continue doing nothing. Despite the continuing slaughter of unsuspecting innocents who happen to be in the “wrong place” at the “wrong time.”

As a society, we’re bombarded by the NRA and gun fanatics - who may or may not be members - that “Obama is after your guns.” Membership campaigns are based on this B.S.. And, despite absolutely no proof, they succeed. And we let ‘em!

Speaking of that Second Amendment garbage about gun ownership being guaranteed because of the Constitution, retired SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens has an answer for that. Insert five words - just five - in that paragraph. His wording would read “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms - WHEN SERVING IN THE MILITIA - shall not be infringed.” Seems to me that would put some common sense back into the original words written by the authors a couple of hundred years ago.

Republican presidential candidates are a national embarrassment (again) as they pander for votes after another mass murder. Carly Fiorina said “liberals are wrong” to blame those phony abortion videos for what happened in Colorado Springs. She says that after (a) the makers of the trash admitted the falsity of their work and (b) the shooter told police there would be “no more baby parts” harvested there. With any luck at all, the wicked witch of H-P will melt away when cold water is poured on her latest fraudulent presidential ambitions .

We’re facing many serious national problems. But, before we can begin solving them, we MUST first secure the safety of citizens insofar as government can do that. It may mean replacing a significant number of politicians with folks who have the determination and guts to end this weaponry nightmare - to put the NRA Hydra back in its box - to shout “NO” to interests trying to keep unfettered access to guns the “law of the land.”

The Second Amendment also talks of the necessity of “the security of a free state.” We’re long overdue in quoting those words long and loud! What the Hell is it going to take? And when the Hell is it going to start?