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Posts published in February 2016

Gotta love Bernie

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Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders appears to be on the cusp of sinking the vaunted, well-financed and well-staffed Clinton election machine. It’s a notion the vast majority of the political punditry class, and the political cognoscenti (Especially those inside the beltway) thought to be absolutely unimaginable.

One could hear it anywhere - some version of the “Democrats will never nominate one who calls himself a “progressive socialist.” Well, Bernie just may surprise.

Listening to Bernie and Hillary the differences become more clear each time they debate or share a platform: one speaks with an undeniable sincerity, the other sounds like an automaton - a flat-sounding almost plaintive voice.

It reminds one of that great scene in the classic movie 2001 where the onboard computer has tried to kill Dave, the astronaut who has gone outside the spacecraft to make a repair. The computer, named Hal, is trying to reason with Dave.

“Dave, listen to me. I suppose you are upset with me. And you have a right to be. But the mission must go on. Dave, talk to me Dave,” Hal pleads.

Just as many Democratic voters in New Hampshire, as well as across the nation, have stopped listening to Hillary Clinton’s plea to support her historic quest to be the first woman elected president, Dave does not listen. He relentlessly goes into the computer’s “brain” and turns Hal off. Hal’s credibility and trustworthiness gone - as is Hillary’s.

Bernie clearly speaks with more passion than Hillary. He has stayed on message relentlessly while Hillary has bounced between various messages. He’s following the KISS formula and it's resonating. He is absolutely correct in pointing out that the top 1/10th of 1 percent, the wealthiest, have been and are subsidized by the middle class.

What’s worst, they brag about their status.

There are numerous stories of extraordinarily wealthy individuals boasting about paying no taxes.

Readers are invited to read New York Times tax writer’s David Cay Johnston’s fine books which document in painful detail the many ways the average American subsidizes the wealthy. Read Perfectly Legal or No Free Lunch or Read the Fine Print. If you’ve got a pulse, you’re spitting mad.

When Bernie makes it clear he has no SuperPAC, nor received any money from Wall Street, like the $17.2 million Hillary has received, more and more voters know what he is saying.

The great irony is that the oldest person in the race has so galvanized the nation’s under 45 years of age crowd, and especially those in college, that his plausibility of winning the nomination and the November election grows with each passing day.

National polls have him almost dead even with Hillary, within the margin of error. His campaign team thinks Bernie did actually win the total vote count in Iowa and also point to six Iowa precincts which supposedly were dead even where Hillary won the coin flip each time.

Conventional wisdom is that Bernie will clobber Hillary in New Hampshire, so watch for the spinmeisters and biased media to play down a Sanders victory. Candidly, many media scribes engage in the “expectation” game and then breathlessly proclaim how their pre-vote speculation did indeed happen. Of course there’s no one engaging in self-fulfilling prophecy.

Conventional wisdom says that South Carolina is Hillary’s firewall that will offset the midships blow she took in Iowa and the possibly 2:1 loss in New Hampshire. Much is made of the commanding lead she has among African-American voters there.

Bernie, however, is countering with the endorsement of one of the most influential NAACP leaders in modern times---Ben Jealous. Bernie has another gambit in his favor the media is ignoring----there are many white Democratic voters who are strong supporters of gun rights.

Bernie voted against the Brady Bill five times and he’s never been a big anti-gun senator in part because there are several major job employing gun manufacturers in his state. Like rural states and rural areas across the nation, there are many gun owners. Thus, Bernie is not anathma to the National Rifle Association though his rating is now an “F” because the NRA perceives a major shift to the left and support for more gun controls. If Bernie pulls off the upset, however, and beats Hillary in South Carolina his momentum may be unstoppable.

As Bernie’s national surge continues look for Hillary to attack more and harder. If she gets too nasty, look for Bernie to play the Walmart card.

It could unfold as follows: “Madame Secretary, you say you will be a fighter for the average working person. However, you served on the Walmart board for six years, from 1986 to 1992.

“During that time did you ever fight for an increase in the minimum wage? The answer is no, isn’t it? Did you ever argue for equal pay for equal work? The answer is no, isn’t it? Did you ever argue for health benefits to be extended to the thousands of part-time Walmart workers? The answer is no, isn’t it? Did you ever in the confines of the board room argue for the right of Walmart employees to form a union? The answer is no, isn’t it?

“You tell folks to look at your record. Well I have, Mrs. Clinton, and the record belies your claims.”

Game, set, match. It’s all over.

First take/New Hampshire

The establishment of both political parties had a very bad night and must be having a rugged morning after.

On the Democratic side, the New Hampshire primary win by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was certainly no surprise; most polls there have for several months shown him leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The size of the win was something else, though - that was beyond what nearly any poll had predicted. Sanders wound up with a true landslide, a 60% win, beating Clinton not just substantially but by more than 20 percentage points. He was advantaged in being a next-door neighbor, of course, and demographically as well, two reasons why a win was predicted. But a win on this scale has to involve other factors as well, including connecting with the tenor of the times in a way Clinton has not.

A month from now, there's a real possibility this point in the process may be a distant memory; the upcoming states will not represent such favorable ground for Sanders. But he has shown some real strength for his brand of progressive politics. He has tapped into something, and Clinton will ignore that at her peril. She is said to be spending time the next day or two recalibrating her campaign. If that involves such things as staff shakeups, you'll know that the interest is more in scapegoating than in problem solving; her chief problems do not appear to include staff weaknesses. But if you see changes in campaign style, tactics, and messages, you may get a sense they're actually adapting to conditions as they are on the ground.

On the Republican side - well, principally it was a night for businessman Donald Trump to prove that the polls weren't lying, and that any establishment attempt to take on him and Texas Senator Ted Cruz remains hopelessly incoherent, and will for at least a while longer.

The Iowa results were less conclusive in this respect. There, in the difficult caucus environment, Trump underperformed, the well-organized Cruz did about as well as expected (or maybe a little better), and the established appeared to found its guy in the form of Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

Now this scenario has been completely upended. This time, Trump matched his polling, or maybe did even a little better, ending the hope that his poll-reflected support wasn't real. It's real, all right, even if it may be reflected to various degrees in different kinds of states. Cruz fell to third place this time, though he probably wasn't feeling too bad about that; he had a first-place win (in Iowa) in his back pocket, and third place in a state as non-amenable to his form of evangelical and militia activist organization wasn't awful. Like Trump, he emerged well positioned to go on.

The real punch-out, strategically, was to the "establishment candidates" - Rubio, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Ohio Governor John Kasich. The mainstream of the national Republican organization badly needs one of them to emerge as its champion to slay Trump and Cruz, but the odds of that happening aren't promising right now.

Christie, finishing in sixth place, had invested heavily in New Hampshire and just couldn't gain traction, and now is nearly out of money; he probably drops from the race today. Bush, who saw an uptick in New Hampshire in the final days, did just well enough to justify continuing on, and can since he still has money and organization - even though there's no evidence of any enthusiastic support, or reason to think he'll be competitive with the top two. Rubio, the former organization champion, emerged badly bloodied after his "Marcobot" fiasco, and will have to rebuild enthusiasm for his campaign from the ground up - with hardly any time left to accomplish that. And Kasich, the one of the group who really did do well in New Hampshire, a state that was about as amenable to him as any in the country, spent practically every resource he had - time, money, personnel, energy - for months specifically in that state, and has little to nothing left over to pour into any other place. He has to be hoping his second place win Tuesday will translate to more money and support, and he may get some, but he remains a very long shot.

In all, the Republican race looks very much as it did a month ago. The clearest paths to the nomination are those pursued by Trump and Cruz; their nearest competitor, whoever that turns out to be (and that identity is far from clear right now) will have to clear out a lot of brush along the way. - rs

Costly nuclear

A guest opinion about the rising cost of nuclear power, by Tami Thatcher, a former nuclear safety analysis at Idaho National Laboratory and a nuclear safety consultant.

From brilliant nuclear scientists there is an endless variety of proposed reactor designs from various small modular reactors, fast neutron reactors, molten salt reactors, to thorium reactors.

But from advanced light-water reactors to fast reactors, the construction prices never seem to come down.

From the Argonne National Laboratory – West, now part of the Idaho National Laboratory, came the sodium-cooled fast EBR-II reactor. Advancement of its design by GE-Hitachi has yet to be built commercially.

Fast reactor economic disappointments range from the We Almost Lost Detroit Fermi I reactor, whose license to construct was denied by the reactor safety committee but overridden by the chairman in 1957 and suffered a partial meltdown before ever reaching full power — to Japan’s costly problem-plagued Monju reactor — to France’s Superphenix, at $9 billion, 6 times the original construction estimate. It generated electricity only an average 6 percent of the time.

NRC licensing processes are costly, but bypassing thorough licensing reviews can also be costly. An existing design was changed during steam generator replacement at San Onofre, and despite modern computer codes and engineering wizardry, the change allowed the tubes to vibrate excessively causing tube cracking and failure very soon after being installed. The utility tried to argue safety was not compromised.

Burning plutonium in fast reactors could shuffle the spent nuclear fuel problem a bit, but according to the Blue Ribbon Commission report from 2012, it doesn’t solve the problem. It does not alleviate the need for long term disposal in a geologic repository.

Plutonium-blended Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel can be burned in conventional reactors, but the Department of Energy’s South Carolina project can’t even give its MOX fuel away. The MOX plant is so over budget that a panel has recommended just burying the excess plutonium at the struggling to re-open Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico. But pork keeps rolling to the fizzling MOX project.

Last year the NRC cancelled funding of what would have been the first meaningful epidemiology study of health near US nuclear facilities. They claimed it would cost too much (at $8 million) and take too long.

The US NRC prefers reliance on the 1980s epidemiology study that mixed children and adults and populations near and far from nuclear plants and predictably found no harm. The NRC actively ignores the irrefutable studies from Germany that found increased cancer and leukemia rates of children living near each of the plants.

What are a few children’s lives compared to the health of the nuclear industry anyway?

While accident risks threaten the public’s health and economic future, and seven decades of unsolved and politically untenable nuclear waste issues continue, it is largely construction cost overruns for new US plants as well as internationally that have further dampened enthusiasm for nuclear energy.

Construction costs do not include the decommissioning and waste disposal costs, the cost of repairs, or the cost of early reactor retirement.

French taxpayers on paying billions for state-backed company AREVA’s cost overruns on its fixed price promise to construct a reactor in Finland. Construction costs are three times the original estimate and 9 years behind schedule.

Who pays for construction cost overruns depends on the contract between the builder and the utility.

The NuScale small modular reactor, if built at the INL, may be obsolete before it is finished. And it doesn’t solve spent nuclear fuel disposal issues.

With closed meetings being conducted by Idaho energy planners, will the citizens who are the captive ratepayers and taxpayers and also bear the consequences of an accident be able to discuss lower cost, infinitely safer low carbon alternatives?

“Debates” in quotes

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Against the informed advice of smarter, saner people, I’ve tried - yes, really tried - to watch the presidential “debates” this year. Even though there’s only been one real “debate,” I’ve tried to watch all of what the national media passes off as “debates.”

I put the word “debate” in quotes here because all but one really weren’t actual debates. They were shows - displays of unchecked egos - flights of brainless fancy - unfounded charges - verbal putdowns - lies and damned lies. In terms of issues, they lacked reality-based discussion of the problems this nation faces and avoided mention of a number of subjects voters need to know more about from the candidate’s perspective. Nada. Zero. Zip.

The only real debate thus far has been the Sanders-Clinton match-up on MSNBC - and not because they were Democrats. Simply put, it was because the candidates were allowed to go back and forth directly and the two moderators stayed out of most of the discussions. There was actually a 28 minute period when no one spoke a word except the candidates - something I’ve never seen before.

There are two reasons why Republicans have shown so badly. First, there have been too damned many of them. When you have six-eight-10 or whatever behind matching podiums, there’s no real opportunity for meaningful face-to-face action or moderator followup. People just fling a bunch of unchallenged statements or charges without being cross-examined for accuracy or truth. Throw it against the nearest wall and see what sticks.

The other reason is that GOP candidates - all of ‘em - deliberately avoided subjects on which they could be challenged. If you wanted to see how each felt about global warming, it never came up. In any meeting. Not once. If you wanted realistic in-depth discussion of whether we should continue or change our approach to middle east issues, it didn’t happen. Not once. Lots of irresponsible gibberish about nukes, carpet bombing, unwarranted attacks on the current administration and empty threats made by voices with no serious knowledge of what they were talking about.

Maybe there’s a third reason for the failure of GOP “debates” to have any real substance. That’s the candidates themselves. With one or possibly two exceptions, the rest didn’t deserve a place on any of those stages because they had nothing serious to say. The one talking about “carpet bombing” couldn’t accurately describe it in a media interview the next day.

In a way, I envy the people of New Hampshire for making candidates show up for small town hall gatherings - one-on-one. I learned more about Bush, Christie and the rest by watching some of these back-and-forth sessions with real voters. Hard to hide who you really are when it’s just you and 50-60 people sitting around in a circle listening to every word. A lot more information - and better information - than the televised “debates.” As a result, by the end of this week, there’ll be fewer Republican candidates.

The recent GOP “star” has been Rubio, though his stock took a real plunge Saturday. Pleasant enough fellow. Good speaker. Pleasant appearance. But he’s undisciplined and, at the moment, an untruthful voice for his party.

An example. Last week, President Obama visited a mosque in Baltimore. Among his remarks describing this country, he said “An attack on one faith is an attack on all faiths. We have to reject a politics that seeks to manipulate prejudice or bias and (which) targets people because of a religion.” Word for positive word.

Rubio’s reaction? “Always pitting people against each other. Look at today. He gave a speech at a mosque. It’s this constant pitting people against each other that I can’t stand.” Word for lying word.

It’s this kind of uncalled for B.S. that’s marked the Republican “debates” and has made them far less useful than they were intended to be. I don’t care which party or what candidate positions are on anything as long as they can clearly state those positions without a lot of carping and flinging too-often false charges about the sitting administration, each other or anyone else. Just make your case as clearly as possible, avoid useless and false rhetoric, stick with the truth and let us know who you really are and what you really think. It’s just that simple.

Some advice for Republicans left in the count. If you’d like to know how that’s done - what a real debate can be - how much more effective you may be - dig up a tape of the Sanders-Clinton match-up. You may not like what you hear and their answers might not be your answers. But count the number of subjects addressed, the depth of understanding each participant was allowed to display and the amount of real information produced for voters in the same 120 minutes as your last “debate.”

Candidates should not be up on that stage for their own gratification. They’re up there to make give important information to voters - you and me - about subject knowledge, goals if elected, direction of the country and improving our national quality of life. So far, one of those debates has done that. The rest are still “debates” in quotes. Spectacles we can do without.

First take/flip

Watching the two presidential debates last week, the Democratic on Thursday and the Republican two nights later, the idea of a question reversal returned . . . with a variation.

Start with Fox media commenter Howard Kurtz, who tweeted after the Thursday MSNBC debate about the source of some of the questions: "Rachel Maddow's smart & did a good job last night. But why did MSNBC put a liberal commentator on that debate stage?"

Hmm. Probably for the same reasons that Fox and other Republican debate media several times used as hosts conservatives Hugh Hewitt, Neil Cavuto and Mary Katherine Ham. On each side, the campaigns probably preferred it that way, which will make for an interesting set of negotiations come time for debates in the fall.

Before going further, I should say that both sets of moderators, across most of the debates, have not embarrassed themselves by throwing softballs. The questions typically have been at least reasonably challenging.

But there is this: The parties are talking about different things. The Republicans are talking much more about foreign policy and national security, and Democrats much more about domestic policy. They're on different planes. What would happen if you actually forced them to interact?

So let's put this idea out there: For at least one of the remaining debates, flip the moderators: Hewitt & company for the Democrats, Maddow & company for the Republicans.

That might bump the ratings a bit. - rs

A death a day

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The story of how and why Jenny Steinke died last summer might be the kind of story that would goad a legislature into action. That’s because, had the legislature voted differently at any point over the last few sessions, she might be alive today.

Jenny Steinke, 36, of Idaho Falls, had for some years endured asthma, but generally managed it with the use of inhalers. In late August, her condition got worse, but she and her husband Jason put off medical treatment until insurance at Jason’s new job started on September 1. For a long time up to then they had been uninsured, since their employers hadn’t provided health insurance as part of the employment package. A serious brush with the medical profession, not to mention an actual useful health insurance policy, was financially either out of reach or a disastrous proposition.

The Steinkes were not a rare fluke case in their lack of health insurance. State officials have estimated 78,000 Idahoans are similarly caught in a gap, outside the provisions for a state health insurance exchange policy, or for Medicaid coverage. In many other states, as part of the Obamacare effort, Medicaid was extended to cover people like the Steinkes. Idaho is one of the states where it hasn’t been; while several task forces have recommended the expansion, the legislature has been resistant.

With medical assistance, asthma usually isn’t life-threatening. But Jenny Steinke’s case got worse quickly, unexpectedly fast, and hit a crisis. By the time she got to an emergency room, she was in a desperate condition. About three days later, she died.

On Tuesday Jenny Steinke’s physician, Kenneth Krell, the critical care director at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, reflected on her case as he spoke to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee about the possibility of Medicaid expansion.

Krell told how the Steinke case, and others not so different, and their implications haunted him: “I kept asking myself, how could this be? How could, in a state like Idaho where we care about each other, could I be seeing deaths and really damaging illness on a nearly daily basis as a result of failure to expand Medicaid that cost tangible lives? It’s difficult to understand.”

He added, “Nearly one patient per day dies in this state as a result of not having Medicaid expansion. And that’s a direct result of that failure to obtain care at a stage when the disease process could be treated effectively and not only death, but hospitalization and illness prevented.”

That adds up, as the headlines around the state noted, to around 1,000 Idahoans who have died over the last three years because the legislature chose not to expand the reach of Medicaid.

After the hearing, no vote on Medicaid expansion was taken by the committee. The chairman did not, however, rule out a vote at some later time.

If Jenny Steinke were the only person who died because of that decision, the moral case involved here would be clear enough. But hundreds of Idahoans dying every year?

All legislative decisions involve weighing the good and the bad, and sometimes those decisions are close and difficult. (This is not, I should note, a case of inadequate resources; the state would actually save money with Medicaid expansion.)

Here, you have a lot of lives on one side of the equation, and on the other side – well, what, exactly, is it in this decision that is worth more than saving a life every day?

No more mining writing

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Why I'm quitting writing about mining:

First and foremost, I've lost interest. I find tube hi-fi much more interesting.

Second, I have been connived and fooled by the best in the business and passed this tomfoolery off to my readers. 

Justin Rice and the Russell Brothers took me and many friends into near-bankruptcy on the Azteca Gold project up Two-Mile just northeast of Wallace. I republished many of their lies and I am ashamed of it. I trusted them. Their lies seemed true at the time.

Secondly, I've been hauled into federal court involving a lawsuit between shareholders and Bob Genovese over a mine I wrote about, the Liberty Silver Trinity silver property near Lovelock Nevada. I still think it's a good prospect, discovered by US Borax and heavily and positively reviewed by a respected mining evaluator, SRK, but after my writing a positive article the stock tanked and the longs lost, well, their shorts and have dragged me into their shit. Never owned a share of Liberty. I did lose $7,000 on Justin's gambit, long after I wrote about it, and I could probably sue Justin for his lies, but really, why sue because I'm stupid or gullible. Maybe Ralph Nader could knock some sense in to me.
Whatever happened to, You pays your money and you takes your chances? Ain't that the American way?

Capitalism is by nature creative and destructive. What do we taxpayers owe the buggy-whip makers for going out of business because of the auto mobile, which did not require horses? Precisely nothing. But then in steps the modern federal government, to sue Henry Ford for buggy-whip-maker damages. This latter mind-set prevails today and it's why your kids can't read. But that's another rant.

I am not abandoning in spirit the hard-rock miners for what they do, which if you think about it, is magnificent. But having been conned twice, and having passed along bad advice, it's time to move on. And I have some very precious vacuum tubes I need to sell.

First take/maniacs

There's another way to take the debate over the prospective Idaho vehicle license plate bearing the image of the "Maniacs."

The origin of this is clear enough, and most of the discussion centers around it. Orofino is home to State Hospital North, a psychiatric facility. Decades ago, when the local high school was looking for a distinctive team mascot, they came up with something a little more original than the timber-related name they might have chosen, and went with "Maniacs." Over time, criticism of the name grew as derogatory of the people at the hospital.

I'm not generally inclined to take too seriously the names of sports teams; the whole idea of most of them is to suggest something unruly or even dangerous. (My college's teams were the Vandals.) Putting them on state vehicle license plates may be a little different, though; that's putting on the state imprimatur.

The proposal by Representative Paul Shepherd did include a compromise of sorts: The words "Orofino" and "Maniacs" would not be included, only the image of the mascot - a genuinely unruly, open-mouthed character who looks like he's coming right at you.

An Orofino city council member was quoted as saying, "In 2016 our mascot, the maniac, continues to be a symbol of unbridled enthusiasm and a symbol of overcoming odds. It's about a positive image to win and keep fighting."

I just wonder about what a driver from another state will think upon seeing the maniacal image, unexplained, on the Idaho license plate: "This is Idaho. You've been warned." - rs