Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in September 2016

Defense is over

watkins

Since the Democratic convention, I've been defending Bernie Sanders supporters from the characterization as entitled, spoiled brats. I too was very unhappy with the way the DNC & the media handled Sanders' campaign, and I too believe that had they approached it without bias we'd have seen a very different result.

But life being what it is, the result is that Hillary Clinton got the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie conceded – with a great deal of class and humility I have to say – and life goes on. As Sanders has said, our job now is to ensure that Donald Trump does not become our next president. And while I'm not Clinton's biggest fan, reason dictates that I support her in this election because there is simply no other good option.

And that's what I've tried to convey to the Bernie supporters that I have contact with. To support either of the minor party candidates, or to withhold your vote completely is a step toward nuclear war...because if Trump becomes president I have no doubt we're going to see one.

I believed, and hoped, that the vast majority of the Sanders supporters would eventually suck it up and come to the party.

But the lackluster support being given to Our Revolution (the framwork organization that will continue to support and promote Sanders' progressive agenda) – both by the media and by Sanders supporters has given me some real cause for concern.

Apparently Bernie's best line out of the entire campaign failed to sink in: “Real change does not happen from the top down. It happens from the bottom up. Our Revolution is our chance to begin the groundwork for change. But it appears that many of the folks who were so excited about Bernie Sanders weren't looking for real change – they were looking for someone to make the changes for them. From Baby Boomers to Millenials – a portion of every age group that supported Sanders seems to have seen him as their grandpa who would come in, give “mom and dad,” (aka: the current elected government) Hell, and straighten things out.

Unfortunately, that's not how life works and that's especially not how government works. And now, those folks who wanted everything handed to them on a silver platter are pouting because they didn't get it. So instead they're turning to people like the Green Party's Jill Stein (whose sincerity about making changes has been proven by participating in the vandalization of construction company equipment at the Dakota Pipeline site) and the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson – who at least has some governing experience, but...have they really read the Libertarian platform??

Why? Because both Stein and Johnson are promising change without work. Like Trump, they promise to change everything if they get elected...but they don't bother to mention how that's going to happen.

One of the (I believe) significant reasons Sanders didn't win the primary was because many of his supporters simply didn't understand the voting process in their states. They didn't understand that every state is slightly different, that caucuses are an esoteric, complicated process, and that you can't just walk in there en mass and expect everyone to hand you the keys to the White House. They weren't willing to educate themselves or do the work in order to get the results they wanted.

So, I've reached the point where I'm done defending – or attempting to persuade – those holdouts. And I am sad to admit that yes, there appears to be a significant portion who are feeling entitled; who think that the system that they couldn't be bothered to understand has failed them. All of those kids whose parents' cars were plastered with “MY KID WAS STUDENT OF THE MONTH” bumper stickers are learning a hard lesson: In real life, “student of the month” doesn't count for much. You have to actually know how the system works.

Trump 56: Bad risk

trump

A "good businessman" is one who succeeds in making his business stable and profitable, and hopefully growing. But that cannot include all of the definition. A good businessman should be ethical and deal fairly with people, whether vendors, customers, employees or others.

Donald Trump probably doesn't meet the "good businessman" definition sheerly on the criterion of making money, since - as analysts have pointed out without rebuttal for more than a year - his inheritance invested in an index stock fund would have outperformed his actual income growth. (The big difference is that he would not have gotten as much ego satisfaction out of it.)

But here let's talk about what a risky character he is to get into business with. Especially if your business is smaller than his.

The stories have circulated all over the place, but last June USA Today scooped up many of them into a collection of 60 lawsuits, "along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA TODAY NETWORK, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others."

These cases do not fall into one single pattern, rather running out over a broad range of activity which has in common a failure to pay people who are owed money.

There have been, over the last decade or so, a couple of dozen citations for minimum wage or overtime payment requirements. There have been upwards of 200 mechanic's liens filed against property on which they worked but were not paid. (At least one of these was in the $1 million range.)

USA Today reported, "On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.
The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether."

Here's another case that went even further: "One drapery factory owner, Larry Walters, told The Wall Street Journal that his company was hired to supply Trump's Las Vegas hotel eight years ago. But Walters said that the developer, Trump Ruffin, refused to pay when it demanded additional work that went beyond the original contract. Walters said that when he withheld some fabric, Trump Ruffin sued him and authorities burst into the factory and hauled the fabric away in trucks."

Trump hasn't denied such roughhouse - and obvious unfair - practices. The Wall Street Journal last spring reported him as saying "that he sometimes doesn't pay vendors and business owners if their work was merely satisfactory — 'an OK-to-bad job'."

Sounds from here like doing business with Donald Trump is a good way to lose a lot of money and maybe your business. (That's of a piece with why American banks have largely quit doing work with him.)

In my business I sell books, mostly for payment up front. Under some conditions, if I consider the buyer trustworthy, terms might vary. On some large orders, I've done half up-front and half on-delivery deals, and never got burned. But that requires at least a measure of trust. After reading about Trump's business history, I'd have to insist on full cash up front, no returns. He'd simply be too risky to do business with any other way.

Now picture him in charge of the federal budget. - rs

NAFTA and the job markets

mckee

Two of Donald Trump's bumper sticker claims on domestic policy read “Dump NAFTA,” and “Bring Back the Jobs.” To the roar of thunderous applause, Trump promises to bring back all the jobs lost to foreign sources. He will do this, he says, by doing away with NAFTA and imposing a punitive tariff on the import of anything in a jeopardized industry.

If we peel away the bumper sticker labels, there is no substance to any of these claims, although all are greeted with wild applause and boisterous enthusiasm every time Trump trots them out at a rally.

Unfortunately, to get to the bottom of Trump's bull bleep requires us to travel out into the weeds. But hang on, it’s not as bad as it looks.

Let’s take a deeper look at NAFTA first.

The North American Free Trade Agreement was controversial when it first appeared during the term of Reagan, when it was substantially worked out during the term of Bush I, and when it was finally adopted in 1993 during the Clinton administration. It is controversial today. Yet, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in a study published in 2014, and to the Council of Foreign Relations in a more recent study released in 2016, most economists believe that, on balance, the United States economy has benefited from the agreement. This means we are better off today with NAFTA than we would have been without it, notwithstanding the loss of some jobs.

Canada and Mexico are currently our first and third largest trading partners (China is second). United States’ trade with our two North American partners increased from $293 billion in 1993 to over $1.1 trillion in 2016. This is made up of both imports and exports – both of which soared under NAFTA. Our partners largely benefits as much and as broadly as we do from the influence of NAFTA. Tinkering with any part of NAFTA from our side of the line would immediately affect our partners’ as well, which all economists tell us would then ripple around the world. Economists are uniform in the opinion that dumping NAFTA, or changing materially its no-tariffs provisions, would bring about catastrophic turmoil to the international markets, probably leading to a worldwide recession, and maybe to a world-wide depression.

The greatest opposition to NAFTA, and to free trade generally, comes from the argument that unrestrained foreign competition hurts U.S. employment. In the long run and in general, this has not been borne out by actual experience. It is true that pockets of production jobs have been lost to foreign resources, some to Mexico and some to other countries, notably in the Orient. These losses generally have been in low technology, labor intensive production jobs, including automobile assembly, steel production and the garment industry. However, despite, these job losses, U.S. production in general manufacturing across the board continues to increase. For example, in the 13 years prior to the adoption of NAFTA domestic manufacturing output increased 42%; in the first 13 year period after NAFTA, with many companies taking advantage of outsourcing manufacturing to the maquiladoras, domestic manufacturing output increased by 60%. The domestic economy fell into upheaval in 2008, and the specific impact of NAFTA became impossible to extract, but overall domestic manufacturing output today has returned to record levels. There is a significant difference in that the greatest manufacturing growth today tends towards high technology, computer controlled processes, and away from the labor intensive processes that are being outsourced to other countries, but nevertheless, production has never been stronger.

Not all the jobs lost to outsourcing overseas were due to NAFTA or the absence of tariffs. In almost all areas of labor intensive production, pressure was already on domestic producers to find ways to remain competitive. Improvements in basic technology and the increased availability of reliable electric power in foreign lands made quality manufacturing to U.S. standards feasible. Steel production, for example, was already on its way out when NAFTA was first adopted. The auto industry was fighting to stay competitive with Japanese and European competition. The garment industry was changing dramatically to feed the huge demands of consumers for lower cost wearing apparel. Further, most of the major manufacturers in these fields were attempting to compete in the world markets, with exports in many cases as strong as domestic consumption. While elimination of tariffs may have sped up the implementation of cost savings through outsourcing, most of these jobs were destined to be outsourced eventually anyway.

While the job loss in specific industries and specific locations was and is dramatic, from an overall picture, employment overall and in general increased after the adoption of NAFTA. Again according to figures comparing the first 13 years after NAFTA, employment overall increased from 110.8 million in 1993 to 137.6 million 2007, an increase of 24%. U.S. unemployment averaged 7.1% unemployment during the 13 year period prior to NAFTA, as compared to 5.1% for the first 13 years after. From 1979 to 1992 the annual, real hourly compensation rose at an annual rate of 0.7% per annum for a total increase of 11% over the entire period; after the approval of NAFTA, between 1993 and 2007, real wages rose 1.5% per annum, for a total of 23.6% overall.

After 2007, the world-wide economic upheaval makes isolation of economic factors due to NAFTA extremely difficult to extract. However, with all the other economic variables in play, what is apparent is that with technology improvements and cost differentials, these labor intensive manufacturing processes that have been lost through outsourcing are not going to return. Penalty tariffs will serve only to curb demand for foreign goods, but would not stimulate domestic production if such could only be accomplished by production at the higher labor costs prevalent in the U.S., with the good so produced priced accordingly. It might protect the inelastic domestic markets, assuming no alternatives, but if those producers are constrained to production at U.S. costs, they would then be unable to compete in world markets. The intermediate term impact would be lessening of both imports and exports, with, the eventual result being a decline in all markets. There would be no winner under such scenario, only losers first among the consumers, and then to the domestic producers cut out of the world markets, then in markets themselves, and eventually the economy as a whole.

The point here is that these jobs are not coming back. Nothing Trump has said, and no program he can point to has any hope of causing jobs in the heavy manufacturing or labor intensive processes that have been outsourced to lower cost resources overseas and in Mexico to be returned to the U.S. None. Zero. The only impact of Trump’s blockading tariffs will be an immediate steep price increase to the consumer. This will strangle the import markets, on most new cars and trucks, ready-made clothing, electronic gear of all kinds, etc. which in turn will impact the export trade, which will bring down foreign trade generally. If the tariffs are pervasive enough, they will likely bring down the entire economy.

What it comes down to is a question of balance. Most economists believe that the overall gains that increased trade brings to the U.S. economy far outweigh the detraction of some jobs lost. A 2014 study released by the CFR found that about 15,000 net jobs per year are lost to outsourcing for competitive reasons, but that for each job lost, the economy gains roughly $450,000 in the form of higher productivity and lower consumer prices. By any measure, the balance is significantly in favor of free trade.

This is not to say that the loss of jobs in the areas directly affected was and is not a dramatic and disastrous consequence for those directly involved, and that there is nothing to be done. It is to argue that the solution is not to attempt to wind the clock backwards, to promise a return to punitive tariffs, and to promise to re-establish jobs since lost. Trumps’ promises in this area are baseless, fundamentally flawed and destined to fail.

The solution has to be in the area of reintegrating the pockets of blight into the general economy by means of education, retraining, and perhaps relocation of the labor pool, and by the introduction of new economic resources into the areas of blight to replace the facilities that have been outsourced. Government involvement lies in retraining and reeducation of the labor pool, in local incentive programs to encourage new economic development, and perhaps in stimulus projects like rebuilding infrastructure to ignite employment. And certainly, of course, by recasting the tax code to eliminate any premiums or tax benefits that may operate to reward domestic companies for shifting jobs elsewhere.

What it needs most, however, is for Trump to stick a sock in it.

Trump 57: Spoils

trump

One of Trump's throwaway lines, one he's used with some regularity is about how if those Middle Easterners don't settle down and behave themselves, he'd order the seizure of "the oil" in various countries in that area.

For more than a year, he's talked about seizing the oil in places like Iraq, Iran and Libya. Those are three he's named specifically; presumably, if you asked, he'd tack others onto the list.

It's been reported from time to time, yes, but largely glossed over - maybe because the boast/threat sounds so quintessentially Trummpian. But there's no particular reason to think that he doesn't mean it, that if he were in the White House, that he simply would forget about it.

So what are the implications of seizing, or trying to seize, the oil of one or more countries in the Middle East?

Writer Bruce Riedel, at the Daily Beast, did give it some thought, and concluded, "Taking the oil is the most dangerous and irresponsible of all of the Republican nominee’s policy proposals. . . . If you want permanent war in the Middle East and a titanic clash of cultures between Islam and America, it’s your best bet."

Riedel addressed only Iraq specifically, but the scenario in Iran or even Libya would be no more promising. (Trump to Fox News on Libyan oil: “I would go in and take the oil — I would just go in and take the oil. We don’t know who the rebels are, we hear they come from Iran, we hear they’re influenced by Iran or al-Qaeda, and, frankly I would go in, I would take the oil — and stop this baby stuff. . . . I’m only interested in Libya if we take the oil. If we don’t take the oil, I’m not interested.”)

In Iraq, substantial oil supplies are spread across the country, much of which has at the least security issues, but the largest concentration is in the south near the Basra area. Getting the oil out would involve securing extraction facilities over a large area, and over many years - as any Texas oilman can tell you, a large supply doesn't all pump itself out of the ground in a week or two. That would mean a massive deployment of American military, and associated contractors.

Riedel said that "Since Basra province has over 2.5 million people, almost all Shia Arabs, their resistance alone would be challenging. But they would not be alone. The Shia- dominated government in Baghdad would support its citizens, adding to the struggle. It will turn attention away from fighting for Mosul, and focus on recovering Basra. It will be a grueling war."

Nor is that all, since the Basra area is next door to Iran, which also would back the rebellion, whether openly or not.

Do you suppose Trump actually knows any of this?

If Trump had gotten into the mire this far, he'd probably be tempted - in good business fashion - to get improved return on investment if he could. That would mean taking over the large oil fields in Kuwait. The good news there would be that we already have significant forces in Kuwait, and it's a friendly country. The bad news is that Kuwait's three million people would be friendly no longer, and the war zone would simply have increased. The business-minded solution to that? Take over more oil fields, in the Gulf and in Saudi Arabia, giving the United States overwhelmingly control of the oil system, but at an immense military cost.

And that would be only the beginning: "No Muslim state would host American troops or cooperate with counter-terrorist operations. Friendly Arab governments like Jordan would have to break ties with Washington or face massive unrest. Americans traveling in the Islamic world from Morocco to Indonesia would be at risk. Sunnis and Shia alike would stalk Americans. None of our Western allies would support taking the oil. (Canada would have to wonder if Alberta is next.) The Europeans would see such a naked land grab as a return to the era of Hitler and Stalin. Russia, on the other hand, would claim its seizure of Crimea was post facto legitimized."

Does Trump pause, even for a couple of seconds, to think through this garbage before he spews it forth? Or is that too much to ask from this famously attention-disabled candidate for the presidency? - rs

No babies born here

rainey

Imagine a small meeting room filled with about 25 people - more than half in some stage of a pregnancy. They’ve come to hear about plans for a brand new multi-million hospital and what they hope will be a state-of-the-art Ob-Gyn department. Imagine the reaction when the hospital administrator says it ain’t happenin’.

That’s the picture in remote Gold Beach, Oregon. Prospective parents looking for hope - and a couple of authoritative voices saying in no uncertain terms “no.”

Gold Beach is the county seat of Curry County on the far Southwest side of Oregon, just above the California border. It’s one of the prime tourist spots in the state. It’s also one of the poorest counties and - from a political standpoint - Curry is the most screwed up place I’ve ever lived.

Some background just in health care delivery there. The county has about 23,400 residents and one small hospital in bad shape, built in the ‘50's. About two-thirds of county residents live outside the boundaries of the hospital district and pay no taxes to support it. They also live 25-70 miles away from it. Bad situation all round. Yet all the folks expect the best care when they need it even though they pay no taxes to support it.

More than half the county population is in the Brookings-Harbor area 25 miles south of the hospital and outside the district. The hospital is trying to build an emergency room and a couple clinics in Brookings - where most of the people are - with some of the money approved for the new physical plant in Gold Beach. Dollars are stretched very, very thin.

Still, it was quite a shock to hear the hospital CEO and the Board President speak so candidly about the planned absence of Ob-Gyn services. None.

Curry Health Network CEO Ginny Razo: “If you’re planning on having a child lin Curry County, you’re rolling the dice. We don’t even have a physician to care for your baby. If things go wrong with a midwife and you come here, you’re putting yourself in a dire situation. This organization is not prepared to take care of such an emergency.”

Razo again. “I can’t afford three RNs and a physician to catch a baby. You’d have to have two Ob-Gyn docs because one can’t work 24/7/365. You’d also need several nurses and all that would cost another million dollars.” The situation now, she added, is there aren’t enough babies born in Curry to keep one doctor busy.

Board President Ryan Ringer: “It’s very black and white. We’re not interested in Brookings (25 miles South) because we want to serve Brookings. We want to make money off Brookings because it brings services here (25 miles North at the new hospital). I’m ultimately responsible for the health and well-being of this community. But I’m also responsible for the well-being of this organization (the district).”

Pretty tough talk. But, as I said, Curry is a mess in a number of ways. Unincorporated Harbor - where most people live - time and again has refused to merge with Brookings, which is incorporated. They don’t want to pay the city taxes. They want the services but don’t want to pay for them. Just as they pay nothing in taxes to support the hospital district.

Which puts more than half the people 25 miles away from a hospital they want and need but for which they pay nothing in direct support. So, if you live in Brookings-Harbor, you’ve got a 25 mile, twisting coastal drive when Mom’s labor starts at 2am or you rush 30 miles South to Crescent City, California, to another facility where there may be a qualified doc at 2am. Or, maybe not.

There’s more to this story if you widen your focus to all our Northwest neighborhood. A lot of other small towns are fighting all sorts of battles to keep their hospitals open and up-to-date. Some are losing. Burns, Moses Lake, Grangeville American Falls, Chelan and dozens more. Because health care is first and foremost a business. As patients, we don’t often give that a thought. But, birthing babies is a money loser. The profits are in surgeries, outpatient clinics and orthopedics.

Maybe that’s why the chiefs at Curry Health Network were so plain spoken in a room with a couple of dozen expectant parents. You gotta put the bucks where the institution is or it won’t be there. Makes perfect business sense.

But, to a 20-something woman in her last trimester and already feeling the baby inside, it’s not “business sense” she wants to hear. She must have had a long, dark drive home at the end of the meeting while feeling the kick of a tiny foot. God love ‘em both!

Trump 58: Run for the border

trump

Just because it was one of the very first among the outrageous things Donald Trump has said since declaring for president, his comments about illegal border-crossers from the south seem sometimes to have been forgotten. They should not be.

Apparently assuming that all the incomers are Mexican (many come from elsewhere south of the border), Trump said on the day he announced his candidacy, "When Mexico sends its people ... they're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists."

You could say that Trump was referring only to the people who crossed the border, not Mexicans generally. But Trump has done little to make that distinction, or the fact that illegal arrivers tend, once here, to be more law abiding than other residents. (It makes only sense that they would go further out of their way to avoid contact with officials.)

But a statement he made later covered all Mexicans - and who knows who else? - with its reasoning. Trump has a court case before U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, a judge sitting in California, a native of Indiana, whose family has roots in Mexico in earlier generations. Trump said he was biased against him because of that family background, and Trump's positions in the campaign: "Let me just tell you, I have had horrible rulings. I’ve been treated very unfairly by this judge. Now, this judge is of Mexican heritage. I'm building a wall, OK? I'm building a wall."

Still later in the campaign, Trump took a one-afternoon jaunt to Mexico City to have a photo op and a brief discussion with the Mexican president. Mexican politics have been in uproar since - all but calling on the president to resign - and Trump had to admit that, given the opportunity to call on Mexico to pay for the fantastical well, he had taken a powder.

Never would a president take office with relations with our southern neighbor more - and unavoidably - in such awful shape. - rs

Trump 59: The advisory corps

trump

No president can walk into office knowing everything of importance to the decisions that have to be made. Even after four or eight years, albeit better educated than at the beginning, a president still needs good advisors. Even if the advice isn't always taken - and a good president is neither bound by nor dismissive of advice from the specialists in everything from drone warfare in Yemen to medical care in rural counties - that advice is important. A good support staff is nearly as important as a good president.

You might be inclined to dismiss that a little more in the case of Donald Trump, who famously has pronounced himself to have "a good brain" and declared himself his own best advisor. There's the feeling that he may, in the end, listen to no one but himself.

In this case, that might be as well, since his gaggle of campaign operatives is the weakest in the last few generations.

Ordinarily, in both parties, you don't reach the level of working upper operational or advisory levels of a major presidential campaign without becoming one of the best in the country at that kind of work. Going back at least a couple of generations, nominees for both political parties have brought in top-flight help to run the campaigns and provide advice. That core of support often carries over into the White House; many White House staffers in recent years, again in both parties, have graduated to there from campaign jobs (much as the television series The West Wing depicted).

That's the case with the Hillary Clinton campaign, a corps with deep political and policy experience in recent Democratic campaigns. Most of the Republican candidates for president probably would have had a counterpart in place now, but the actual nominee, Donald Trump, from the beginning has scoffed at the idea of running an actual campaign organization. What do you need that for if you have rallies and free media?

Actually, you need a substantial organization for many things, but one of those, if you do manage to win the election, is to help provide a staff core for the next administration.

So what does Trump have along those lines?

The closest he has had to a conventional experienced campaign staffer was former manager Paul Manafort, who wound up being a political liability over his connections with Russia and being on the outs with others in the campaign. He was far from an optimal choice - his direct experience in American presidential politics is more than a generation in the past - but at least he had some idea of what the norms were.

Now the closest to that mark is his titular campaign manager but in effect spokesman, Kellyanne Conway, who does have useful experience as a pollster but not in any of the other jobs she seems to have been asked to do. The CEO of the campaign, Steve Bannon, has no campaign or governmental experience of any kind - he's been a stirrer of controversy and little more. And a variety of people hanging around the campaign and evidently getting Trump's ear more than many of the staffers do are no more helpful. (A few mid-level staffers do have some significant Republican Party political experience, but they seem not to be exerting major roles in the campaign.

The Breitbart web organization last year quoted Trump on the subject of where he got his advice on military action: "I watch the shows."

If his campaign careens now, you could expect a Trump White House would do the same. Or worse.

The outsider

stapiluslogo1

When this summer Idaho’s Department of Education brought on board a new legislative liaison, the choice was someone highly unusual: An outsider.

Maybe that has to do with the recent outsider status of the person who did the hiring. But it’s different enough, and the prospects for change in Idaho’s school policies partly as a result, that it shouldn’t pass without notice.

If you hang around the Idaho Statehouse, and nearby buildings, long enough, you find that job titles often change faster than the people do.

If you’re a journalist covering state government, you may wind up in your next career move working, most often as a press spokesman, for one of the people you used to cover. You can find examples in the governor’s and attorney general’s offices, among other places.

And if you’re a legislator or legislative staffer, there’s plenty of precedent for going to work in a lobbying or similar legislative-related role afterward. The list of registered lobbyists includes a lot of people who know the legislature, it’s people and byways, because they’ve worked there in other capacities.

This isn’t especially horrible. It has the advantage of building institutional memory in the larger community around state government. But it does become incestuous. And a very subtle kind of bias starts to develop, involving people who have been on the inside, and those who haven’t, who in turn may find themselves disadvantaged when legislative season comes around.

When Sherri Ybarra, who was elected superintendent of public instruction in 2014, arrived as a surprise winner and definitely a political outsider, she initially made the kind of choice for legislative liaison that many others in a similar position would have made. She appointed Tim Corder, a former state senator, who had lost a recent primary seeking re-election, but had built some good will around the Statehouse during his time there.

Corder stayed only a little more than a year. A bit more established in place by then, Ybarra decided to move in a different direction to replace him.

Early in her term, Ybarra obtained planning help from a national association of her counterparts (the Council of Chief State School Officers), and it sent to Idaho one of its analysts, a former teacher and policy specialist named Duncan Robb. As the Idaho Ed News reported, “something clicked.”

It quoted Robb as saying, “When I would take a visit I’d make jokes and comments about how much I like it here. . . . I think they knew I would be interested, and they let me know when the position was open.”

Robb isn’t steeped in the people and ways of the Idaho Legislature, but he does bring an unusually broad background for working in a state education department. He grew up in California, and earned a master’s in public policy at Johns Hopkins University at Baltimore. He has taught math in big-city schools in Houston and worked with state-level education policy makers around the country.

The sometimes arcane approach to effective lobbying, which the already-insider group brings with it, is one area where he may still have a learning cure. Assuming he masters that, the payoff – in bringing an unusually broad background and expertise to bear on working with the Idaho Legislature – could be large.

Trump 60: This is loyalty?

trump

A five-year-old does this when he gobbles a slice of cake before dinnertime: He tries to frantically excuse his way out of it. Blame it on someone else, if he can.

In this latest Donald Trump case, of course, the stakes are a lot higher, even if the response is essentially the same. Maybe that's partly because Trump didn't even realize what the stakes were.

What he did was to talk to interviewer Larry King for about 10 minutes. Nothing unusual about that; he's done it many times. This time, however, King's program is on RT America - the Russian television network, essentially under the Kremlin's direct control. (King's production company said that the program was produced independently, but RT is licensed to use it.)

During the show, he reiterated several of his greatest hits, including his effusive praise for Russian strongman Vladmir Putin. On whose network, as a matter of practice, he was speaking. During his minutes on RT, Trump did his typical blast at the American media and said this about the United States government: “Hillary Clinton with her policies and Barack Obama — you know, look, we should have never gone into Iraq. Period. But once we went in, Larry, we shouldn’t have gotten out the way we got out. And the way they got out really caused ISIS, if you think about it. We got out in such a horrible, foolish fashion, instead of leaving some troops behind.”

Trump tried to squirm out from underneath the mess by saying he thought King would use the interview only for a podcast. That one doesn't come close to passing the smell test.

The whole performance - in fact, Trump's whole buddying-up with Putin and Russia - might put some conservatives in a mind to recall protesters during the Vietnam conflict (Jane Fonda likely most prominent among them) who were bitterly criticized for speaking against their home country while speaking on the local turf of an adversary.

Apply whatever further descriptive word you choose for that, at least in Trump's case where no claim was even attempted toward a moral high ground. But whatever word you choose isn't going to be pretty. - rs