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Posts published in February 2016

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

First take/Cruz & Robinson

Remember Art Robinson? He was the Republican candidate, three times in a row, running against incumbent Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio in the congressional district in southwest Oregon. He also was for a time chair of the state Republican Party.

Robinson was, well, a little different. Back in the 60s he was a leading biochemist, working in major California universities, but things turned sour in the next decade, and he eventually moved to a remote area in southwest Oregon. In the years since he has condemned public education, declared that climate change is a hoax, dissents from Darwinism, has advocated spreading irradiated material atop the oceans and has collected "thousands of vials of human urine" which "he claims his work holds the key to extending the human life span." You might say at the least his is in a minority position in the scientific community.

His last two congressional campaigns (will he run again this year?) were low-key, but his first was very well funded. More than $1 million of Robinson's money, much the largest share, came from a New York hedge-fund billionaire named Robert Mercer. Mercer also contributed heavily in the later campaigns to PACs supporting Robinson.

Mercer's Art Robinson connection is worth remembering as we read now about the Iowa success of Teas Senator Ted Cruz: Mercer, apparently, is the big money behind that campaign.

And it's not just money. Mercer's background is in computer programming, and he apparently has a strong interest in big data. A story in the Daily Beast today notes, "Mercer is also likely the inspiring spirit behind the high-tech Cruz campaign. Mercer is said to have a financial interest in a firm that is seeking to use such voter data as Facebook likes to boost even a candidate as widely disliked as Cruz."

How did this work? The article explains: "Operatives collected vast amounts of data and composed profiles based on as many as 50,000 variables ranging from voting histories to favorite websites to automobile ownership to Facebook likes. The results were used to divide voters into what are known as the Big Five personality traits: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Digital ads, emails, phone calls, even personal visits were all adjusted to a particular individual. Websites were “geo-fenced” so they would only be accessible in a discreet area, sometimes as small as a single building. . . . The magic of computers set to translating Likes into votes for the guy nobody likes."

All of this in the service of what might be called anti-science. Of course we're moving past the age of irony. - rs

Hope against fear

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The people of the state of Iowa are getting ready to attend their precinct caucuses in a few hours as this is being written. It is the first balloting by the people expressing their views on who should lead this nation for the next four years.

Regardless of who comes out ahead for either political party, the question the rest of us should ask is whether the winners expressed optimism about our future as a nation and appealed to our hopes and aspirations or did they win by utilizing cheap demagoguery and appealing to fear?

Unfortunately, too many elected officials today take the easy path of motivating by fear and tapping into anger. For this writer watching two events this past week crystallized the difference in approaches.

The first was an interview in Davos, Switzerland at the annual World Economic Forum with the recently selected Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. Trudeau is the son of Pierre, perhaps Canada’s most famous Prime Minister.

By no means was he groomed to succeed his father someday and his path to the Prime Ministership saw him spend several years working as a teacher and part of another year as a snowboard instructor at Whistler outside of Vancouver.

He did, however, spend time often traveling with his father as the then Prime Minister criss-crossed Canada. The most important thing he said he learned was how to listen to what Canadians were saying they wanted from their government and then channelling those desires into programs that deliver services effectively and efficiently.

He ended the interview by saying that Canadians had a choice to make which was whether they would be motivated by hope and optimism or by fear and pessimism. He offered the former and the Canadian voters gave young Justin’s Liberal party an overwhelming victory this past October.

This contrasted greatly with a Legislative Forum held this past weekend by eight of the nine member, all Republican Kootenai county delegation to the Idaho Legislature. It was a disappointing display of pure pandering to the Tea Party element in attendence as well as supporters of permitless gun carry.

Most in the audience seemed to see the federal government as an out and out enemy. Yes, there are too many examples of agencies and individuals over the years lying about everything from atomic testing to deceptive practices by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Nothing, however, can justify any one taking the law into their own hands, seizing federal property and engaging in outright sedition. Yet when one member in the audience asked if the Legislature would take up or would one of them in front introduce a resolution of support for the outlaws at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, not one legislator had the guts to look the guy in the eye and say “Hell no. No one is above the law in this country and there are long established processes for obtaining redress from the excesses of government.”

Another person expressed his frustration with what goes on in Washington, D.C. We all know inside the Beltway is a surreal world, but rather than propose a real solution of say term limits for both elected officials and public servants in the civil service we would rather just rail against our government that for all its faults does a pretty good job of taking care of those who legitimately cannot do so themselves.

This person though asked “why vote?” Now there’s a question every one of them should have knocked out of the ballpark. Only State Senator Mary Souza, to her credit, pointed out the obvious. If you want change you have to participate and vote for people who reflect your views and hope (there’s that word) that they’ll do what they say when they get into office (and yes, too many don’t).

Someone should have reversed the question: if you don’t vote why should I even listen to you?

Six of the eight at one time or another gave out misleading information. Another person in the audience decried the many rules and regulations that come with new laws. While pointing out that Idaho is one of the few states where the Legislature reviews and approves an agency’s regulations the six pretended this review had nothing to do with approving the often astronomic increase in fees. Fact is when they approve the regs they approve the fees.

Another legislator assured a questioner that the Federal government could no longer obtain any additional acreage without state approval. This completely ignores the government’s ability to condemn property or the President’s authoriity to with the stroke of a pen create new National Monuments.

Several others sanctimoniously talked about how state acreage returns $14 per acre to the state while federal property only generates 10 cents an acre. No source was cited nor was there any promise to increase the number of Department of Lands employees that would be needed if by some miracle the state did get ahold of federal property.

Another example of a misleading response was the promise several made to try to protect private and personal information. The questioner had had his identity stolen six times and made a valid point, but instead he received vague bromides.

Reference was made to possible legislation severely restricting the gathering of personal data but the honest answer is it will never pass because two of the biggest collectors of personal data in order to profile individuals are our two great political parties.

As far as this observer is concerned two legislators distinguished themselves by saying very little - State Senator Bob Nonini and State Rep. Luke Malek. At times, State Senator Mary Souza also did well. No one, however, delivered a message of hope and optimism. Sad.

First take/out

So now it's come to this: The remnant of the occupiers at the Malheur bird refuge are now pleading to just be let out.

More or less.

Though most communications from the refuge are cut off, the two Idahoans in the group, a married couple from Riggins, did get on the phone with the Idaho County sheriff, Doug Giddings. Giddings was somewhat sympathetic, saying the couple hadn't been bad actors back home. They're "have been very good citizens in Riggins. They’re not criminals — well, they are now. But they’re not some militia, this armed militia. They want the heck out of there. They never planned to be in there in the first place but now they can’t afford to leave. They have to defend themselves.”

Actually, they had the chance to leave some time ago, when not only the FBI but also the former sit-in leader, Ammon Bundy called on them to go. They declined.

What Ammon Bundy, now imprisoned in Portland, probably could and would tell them now is that actions have consequences. And maybe that the picture isn't always pretty when a fantasy construct bumps into the real world. - rs

Alternative Citizens view

Editors Note: This is a guest opinion on Oregon Outpost by Kyle Markley, an appointed member of the Joint Task Force on Campaigns Finance Reform. Previously, Oregon Outpost published an article by fellow task force member Seth Woolley a longtime supporter of campaign finance reforms. Markley has twice run as a Libertarian for State Representative in the swing district HD30, in 2012 (5.8%) and 2014 (8.9%), and is currently the Vice-Chair of the Libertarian Party of Oregon.

The Joint Task Force on Campaign Finance Reform was charged with analyzing the subject of campaign finance. I believe the Task Force has fallen short of that goal. The report of the Task Force makes many observational findings, but it is not clear which observations the Task Force believes are problems, nor about which of those problems are best solved by government. That is because the Task Force had little debate, and no votes, on those matters.

Furthermore, when the Task Force examined alternative proposals for a Constitutional amendment, the discussion stopped and the voting started too early. We made observations about the different aspects of the proposals, but we did not debate any of those aspects on their merits. It was premature to make a recommendation to the Legislature without having that debate.

As a Libertarian, I cherish the freedom of speech, and particularly the freedom to speak about politics and to criticize the government and elected officials. I believe that political speech violates no one’s rights, and that therefore it is improper for government to suppress it. I furthermore believe in a right to privacy that includes privacy about one’s political beliefs and activities, and consequently oppose mandatory public disclosure of campaign contributors or of independent expenditures. I look back fondly to the founding of this nation, when the Federalist Papers and the Antifederalist Papers were published anonymously to focus the vigorous public debate on ideas, instead of on personalities.

Everyone should have the freedom to express their political ideas, privately or publicly, openly or anonymously, as much or as little as they choose – and the government should protect that right, not create burdensome regulations that stifle political participation.

The accepted rationale behind campaign contribution limits is that large contributions have the potential to give the contributor undue influence over elected officials, creating the potential for corruption. Of course, no one can define what level of influence is “undue” – in a representative government, elected officials should be influenced by the people. Even setting aside the hollow rationale, it is doubtful that a large contribution made in support of a politician’s declared agenda would “influence” their actions if elected, anyway. (If my campaign slogan is “a chicken in every pot”, and then the National Chicken Council gives my campaign a million dollars, they aren’t influencing me – I was already pro-chicken.)

If the problem is rather that government is too cozy with special interests, then the solution is to take away the government’s power to play favorites – not to take away freedom of speech. The government has too much power, not the people.

The standard Libertarian advice is that people should have as much freedom, and government as little power, as possible. Giving government broad authority is a mistake. It is a responsibility of legislators to define government power narrowly, to prevent it from stifling individual freedom. How is this perspective applied to the topic of campaign finance? Let us assume, for the sake of argument, the standard rationale – that limiting large contributions reduces the risk of quid pro quo corruption.

We can see immediately that there is no justification to limit contributions to ballot measure campaigns: ballot measures are text, not people, so there is plainly no possibility of corruption of elected officials. Campaign contribution limits for ballot measure campaigns would suppress political speech but have no anticorruption effect whatsoever. But limits would reduce the quantity of political speech, taking information away from voters. Surely that is not what we want.

Similarly, recalls in Oregon involve the removal of an official from office, but not the selection of their successor. So recall efforts do not create the potential for corruption of that successor, who may in fact be unknown to the recall committee and its contributors. (In Farris v. Seabrook, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals followed this reasoning in upholding an injunction against enforcing contribution limits against a recall committee. In that decision, the court noted that no one “has presented any evidence showing that contributions to recall committees in Washington raise the specter of corruption, and certainly not in this case.”)

Independent expenditures related to ballot measure and recalls are yet another step removed, and so again pose no corruption risk that could justify the suppression of political speech. More importantly, expenditures for political speech are a direct exercise of freedom of speech, protected by black-letter Constitutional law. Spending your own money on your own political message is your right.

Even when focused narrowly on contributions to political candidates, it is a mistake to limit all contributions without considering their purpose. Political committees may engage in non-electioneering activities that present no potential for corruption, and those activities should not be limited. For example, in Institute for Justice v. State of Washington, the court ruled that “free legal assistance to a political committee in a federal civil rights lawsuit” cannot be treated as an in-kind campaign contribution. (The Motion for Summary Judgment in that case is worth reading.) In Cozen O’Connor v. Phila. Bd. Of Ethics, the court ruled that litigation over ballot access is distinct from electioneering, and that “forgiveness of the Committee’s legal debt, incurred to defend [the candidate] in ballot challenge litigation, would not constitute a ‘contribution’ that is subject to the Code’s contribution restrictions.”

The pattern in these cases is that the definition of a campaign contribution was too broad, and it took judicial review – meaning lots of time, money, and lawyers – to push the law back to where it belonged. The lesson to learn is that laws should be drafted narrowly in the first place, so they affect only what is intended. The wrong lesson is that there should simply be an exception for legal defense funds – because then you’ve already forgotten that a legal offense fund may be needed for similar reasons, and you’re simply in denial that political committees might engage in any other sort of non-electioneering activity.

It is dangerous for governments to have the power to suppress political speech. The temptation to use that power to benefit incumbent officials is too great – and this risk must be considered against the purported benefits of campaign finance restrictions.

When the government has the power to suppress criticism of government officials, you get lèse-majesté as in Thailand (where a tour guide’s Facebook posts netted a 30-year jail sentence) or Turkey (where a newspaper editor was arrested for tweets critical of the President). Don’t claim that it couldn’t happen here – it already has. In 1798, less than ten years after the ratification of the Bill of Rights, the Sedition Act enabled those same kinds of prosecutions in America. Of course it was unconstitutional. But it happened. Preventing it from happening again requires vigilant defense of your rights.

The Citizens United case, frequently maligned by supporters of campaign limits, was actually a case about protecting the right to criticize government officials. A nonprofit corporation “Citizens United” created a documentary film critical of then-Senator Clinton, and wanted to make it available via video-on-demand shortly before the 2008 primary election in which she was running for President. They wanted to advertise their documentary on broadcast and cable television, which would be considered a corporate independent expenditure – which was totally forbidden (a felony!) in the time shortly before an election.

In other words, there was an association of people pooling their resources for the purpose of publicly criticizing a sitting government official who was running for higher office. But the government had passed a law prohibiting their speech at precisely the time it would have had its greatest impact.

Does suppressing political speech near elections inform the electorate, or keep them ignorant? Does limiting the freedom of people to criticize elected officials make those officials more accountable, or less?

That is the proper context in which to evaluate Hillary Clinton’s stated litmus test for Supreme Court appointments. She said that she will only appoint Justices who would overturn a case which affected her, personally. For that, she deserves unceasing scorn.

I agree that “something needs to be done” about the Citizens United decision – and that thing is reading it. The decision deserves to be widely read. It is an excellent example of the Court standing on principle and defending individual rights against a government and popular opinion that would trample on those rights.