Writings and observations

What effect is Donald Trump having on this election year? Check out this ad and get an early sense for what’s ahead. Actually, a few months from now this ad from Arizona may be considered a softball.

From George Will this morning: “Trump’s collaborators . . . will find that nothing will redeem the reputations they will ruin by placing their opportunism in the service of his demagogic cynicism and anticonstitutional authoritarianism.” . . . – rs

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First Take

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You can follow what’s going on at the Idaho Legislature in many ways besides the conventional news media and digital streaming. One of them is through the reports released by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Another, it turns out, is through podcasts – such as one released last week by state Representative Kelly Packer, a Republican from McCammon, on the subject of the IFF.

The IFF, which is run by Wayne Hoffman, has been a major presence at the Statehouse for some years. It has generated news-type reports on legislative activity, and also made clear its support or opposition to various pieces of legislation, which Hoffman is careful to say does not constitute lobbying. (Not everyone agrees with that.) Its most impactful activity, though, may be its regular scoring of legislators on a “freedom index,” which is derived from support or opposition to various pieces of legislation. The scores informally are used to describe Republicans as relatively conservative or not. Those ranking low may be attacked as RINOS (Republican in Name Only), which can be hazardous in a Republican primary.

(Ironically, all this matters far less to the Democrats, who’d face sharper questions if they scored well.)

This week, in response, legislator Packer said that. “I just had finally had enough. I wanted to push back.”

She said this on her regular podcast, available online to her constituents and others. (The web address for this one is https://soundcloud.com/kelley-packer/week-6-rep-kelley-packer-2016-idaho-legislative-report.) Packer is no RINO, as her overall comments and past work as a Republican county chair make clear. But in her latest podcast (at about th 6:20 mark), she had some sharp words for IFF.

“It’s more concerted this session than it has been in the past,” she said. Packer said she was at one time supportive of the group: “I was looking forward to having someone that would provide an honest conservative view as well.” Now, she said, “They don’t like me,” and the feeling seems to be mutual.

“There are just a lot of ironies and hypocrisies that I see in place” she said. “With a 501(c)3 those people that donate to them get a full tax deduction, but the offset to that is that they’re not supposed to be able to lobby, and yet they do. And in fact in the campaign season for 2014, I believe, they put up billboards smearing good conservatives . . . another hypocrisy is they’re very un-transparent even though they ask everyone else to be transparent.”

Her immediate concerns run inside the statehouse: “I watch people selling their votes in order to get a certain score, and that is worrisome to me. When you put on blinders and you simply follow any organization and you just do what they want you to do, then how can you really be saying you’re representing your district or the people that put you here; how can you say in good conscience you’re doing your due diligence ad understanding the issues well enough to do the right thing every time? You’re not. You’re turning your power and vote over to that organization …”

For several years, the IFF report card has been an influential medium within the Idaho Legislature. But as Packer’s podcasts show, there’s growing potential for other new media to counter and compete with it, which may come as a relief to a number of legislators and to many of their constituents.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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Short line railroads in Idaho will soon be blowing their horns over a proposed taxpayer funded subsidy that will amount to more than $2 million in federal tax credits which comes out to $14,090 per railroad employee. AND, that is just for Idaho rail companies.

Short lines are the the railroads that connect to the big mainline trains like Union Pacific and Burlington Northern. The Boise Valley RR between Nampa and Federal Way in Boise is a short line.
Senator Mike Crapo and Sen. Ron Wyden are behind the scheme to make permanent what has become a regular special break for the railroads. They call it “Building Rail Access for Customers and the Economy–BRACE Act.

The GUARDIAN sees the special interest tax break as Organized Fleecing For Tax Refunds Abusing Citizen Kind–OFF TRACK.

Here is how Crapo spins his special interest tax break:

WASHINGTON – Idaho Senator Mike Crapo and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden today introduced the Building Rail Access for Customers and the Economy, or BRACE Act, which would make permanent a critical tax credit used to repair and upgrade short line railroads.

“Small business freight railroads connect Idaho’s farms to markets across the nation and around the globe. For too long, Congress has taken a short term view of these crucial economic corridors. This measure will allow short line railroads to make long-term plans for infrastructure repairs and upgrades,” said Crapo. “Short lines are a crucial economic link to thousands of railroad customers. This legislation will improve the link between our communities and the national freight railroad network.”

The short line railroad track maintenance credit provides short line and regional railroads a 50 percent tax credit for railroad track maintenance expenses, up to $3,500 per mile of track owned or leased by the railroad. The short line railroads ensure that small manufacturers’ products can get to markets in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Last December, Congress passed the Short line Short Line Railroad Rehabilitation and Investment Act of 2015, which expanded and extended the credit through 2016.

Since 2006 Congress has acted periodically to extend the credit, often retroactively and often almost a year after expiration. This uncertainty causes private investment to decline, limits investments in safety and customer service, and provides uncertainty to businesses, farmers, and employers that cannot be globally competitive without freight rail.

Meeting farm to market demands, nine small freight railroads serve the Idaho economy operating 624 miles of privately owned freight track—40% of all railroad track in the state. These railroads directly employ 155 Idahoans and serve as the crucial link to the dozens of rail-dependent businesses that employ thousands more and would not be competitive without rail access. These railroads serve as the crucial link to the dozens of rail-dependent businesses that employ thousands, and would not be competitive without rail access.

Crapo and Wyden’s bill is also cosponsored by Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Pat Roberts R-KS, Bob Casey, D-Penn., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

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Frazier

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So even before Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Anton Scalia is cold in the ground, lines are being drawn over his replacement.

Scalia was a self-described “originalist” in interpreting the Constitution and Bill of Rights. In other words, he sought to apply what the founders intended in the context of their times. Just in terms of the Second Amendment, “well-regulated” militia did not mean regulation in the way we perceive the word. Clocks have regulators; it meant well-trained and reliable, not regulated-by-the-government.”

Kinda like when Hamlet told Ophelia to “get thee to a nunnery.” If you pull out a real Oxford English Dictionary and study the etymology of Shakespeare’s time, “nunnery” did not mean a convent. It was English slang back then for “whorehouse.” Changes the whole meaning of the joke. That’s “originalism.”

We will not have another “originalist” the likes of Scalia on the Supreme in our times. Italians aren’t part of the perpetually indignant and offended identity politics of the Progressive era who need pandering to. They just work, think, build and invent stuff: not qualifications necessary or desired for high office. Scalia prevailed over an egregious decision having to do with death row cases – depriving post-trail exculpatory evidence of consideration during appeals – but on balance he held the court to weather.

No, the next appointee will be an LGBT/disenfranchised/victimized irritated type with an Ivy League law degree. There are, one is sure, decent folks even amongst this ilk, but even were Obama to break stride and appoint, say, Jesus Christ, juris doctor, for the job, the GOP would obstruct it. So it is business as usual in Washington, D.C.

But since identity politics is sure to frame the appointment, why not appoint a Native American? As I mentioned in a brief brain-fart the other day on Facebook, surely no more disenfranchised and screwed-over population exists in this country than the American Indian.

All nine Supreme Court seats are occupied by lawyers but there is no Constitutional mandate that a High Court member has to have a law degree. Surprised? I was, too. Non-lawyers have served in that high office before, the last being Stanley Reed, who was appointed to Supreme Court Justice in 1938 and served until 1957. He never held a law degree, although he was admitted to the bar. Robert H. Jackson joined the High Court in 1941, retiring in 1954 without ever having obtained a law degree, although he did attend one year of law school at Albany.

Nor is there a minimum age: the legendary Joseph Story took his place on the Supreme Court at the tender age of 32, back in 1811.

The Constitution in fact specifies neither age nor professional minimum requirements to serve on the High Court. So why are fat-cat juris doctorates (left or right) the only possibility for nomination these days?

One answer lurks in the composition of the United States Congress. Lawyers comprise the single largest voting block in the Congress: 43 percent. Sixty per cent of U.S. Senators are lawyers; 37.2 per cent of House members are attorneys.

This is not a new problem.

According to Legal Reform Now, “Since the time of de Tocqueville (1841), students of American government have noted the over representation of lawyers in American politics (se e.g., Hyneman 1940; Hurst 1950; Matthews 1954, 1960; Schlesinger 1957; Derge 1959; Eulau and Sprague 1964; Keefe and Ogul 1989: 117-18). And it seems that the more important the political office, the more lawyers who occupy that office.”

What seems to have changed is the nature and motivations of lawyer-congressmen. Continues Legal Reform’s analysis:

“With the large number of lawyers descending on Washington in the 1970’s to enforce newly passed civil rights laws in an increasingly liberal culture, the goal of lawyers changed from doing good to simply increasing their power and influence. And in a very short time their income too.

“As in many other aspects of our society there was a change from meeting one’s public responsibility to attempting to enrich oneself. Even at the expense of one’s fellow citizens.

“In To Kill a Mockingbird [Harper Lee, RIP] Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch, a white lawyer using a rifle to defend a black man’s life by blocking the entry to a jailhouse door. That was in the 1930s. How many lawyers today would do the same to defend an individual’s right to justice? Very few.”

Maybe the one physicist, the one microbiologist, the one chemist, or one or two of the eight engineers (all in the House, with the exception of one Senator who is an engineer), or one or two of the
29 farmers, ranchers, or cattle farm owners (four in the Senate, 25 in the House) or the two almond-growers and two vintners serving might have the testicular fortitude to take up arms against the genuine evils depicted by Harper Lee or Mark Twain. The lawyers in Congress? They’d cop a plea bargain for their bigot and collect their fee.

But I digress. Scolding greed-head lawyers in Congress and their increasingly pernicious presence in the press is like shooting fish in a barrel. But it is time we rid ourselves of this time-honored tradition of lawyers selecting lawyers to govern us.

Lawyer Obama should consider a Native American tribal elder to replace Scalia, pedigreed or not in the rubber-stamp of law school. That would appeal to his identity politics and quiet down the Republicans. My friend Lisa Reimers of the Iliamna Village on Bristol Bay in Alaska would be an elegant choice. She knows the consequences of unilateral EPA actions. Or if it has to be a lawyer, Howard Funke of Idaho, of the Sho-Ban Tribe, who fought and won the Swan Falls Dam case for Indians and migratory fish.

You’ve had eight years to do something right, Mister President. Here is your chance. Appoint a wise Native.

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Bond