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Posts published in October 2016

Trump 31: Small peccadilloes


Back in the 90s one of the chief congressional staffer pit bulls sicced on to Bill and Hillary Clinton was Michael Chertoff, a Republican by party (now as then), an attorney by profession and during the George W. Bush Administration secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

He has also said he will endorse and vote for Hillary Clinton for president, saying she has the qualities and background to do the job well.

In an October 7 piece on the National Memo, writer Joe Conason noted this: "Asked about Clinton’s email problems, Chertoff briskly brushed that overhyped 'scandal' aside, comparing it with the Whitewater circus as a frivolous distraction from serious issues."

More exactly, Chertoff said this:

In the end … I go back to Sept. 11, 2001, and I was on duty. I was the head of the [Justice Department’s] Criminal Division and I was part of the immediate response to prevent that from happening again. In looking back on that I realized that in the ’90s we spent an enormous amount of time pursuing issues involving the Clintons’ associations back in Arkansas in the ’80s, Whitewater and other things, and we didn’t spend nearly the same amount of time on what bin Laden was up to and others were up to in the region. And it reminded me that — you know — the ability to spend an inordinate amount of time chasing small peccadilloes is a luxury we only have in a world at peace.

Think now about how much time Donald Trump has spent attacking enemies (many of his own making), getting into battles over basic deportment, and in general devoting a whole lot of his time on pointless junk. A president's time is precious and critical; there is never enough. Does Trump look like the sort of person who will manage it well? Ever? Or have the perspective to understand what is worth his time and what isn't? In the end, only a president can make that call. - rs

Kinds of qualifications


In the May primary election, candidates for an open state Supreme Court seat included two of the most deeply qualified candidates for the high bench in the state’s history. The voters didn’t choose either of them.

But then, qualifications can come in many flavors. They differ considerably between the two remaining candidates, Robyn Brody and Curt McKenzie, competing for the seat now held by Chief Justice Jim Jones.

Jones had an extensive history in partisan politics, running unsuccessfully in a Republican primary for Congress (against an incumbent) in 1978 and 1980, then successfully as a Republican for attorney general in 1982 and 1986, finally losing a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate in 1990 to Larry Craig.

Quite a few Idaho justices have had background in the give and take of partisan politics, and that can be an asset on the bench. We tend to forget it now but many federal Supreme Court justices through our history had extensive political histories too, and we probably are not well served by limiting the roster of justices to veteran judges and law professors. People who come from other perspectives and especially from politics, where they typically have to work with a variety of real-world situations and viewpoints, could contribute a great deal.

So the idea, which seems to have spread widely, that McKenzie’s legislative background ought to be a black mark against him, doesn’t really work. As a resume point, it seems more a plus than a minus.

There are other kinds of background that would be useful on the court.

Most recent Idaho Supreme Court justices have come from either lower benches or from the top law firms in the state, mainly in Boise. Jones is the near-exception in the current group (the attorney general’s office can be considered the state’s biggest law firm); Daniel Eismann, Roger Burdick and Joel Horton all were district judges, and Warren Jones was a top litigator with one of the leading private firms in Boise, Eberle Berlin.

Compare that with this from a description (in the Spokane Spokesman-Review) of attorney Brody: “Robyn Brody’s law office in downtown Rupert is right next door to the police station and not far from the courthouse and City Hall. ‘I get a lot of walk-in traffic,’ she said. It could be someone needing help appealing their unemployment decision, or seeking information on how to get a marriage license. Her law practice includes that work, plus water law, an array of business clients, major real estate transactions, and representing a local hospital, several community health centers and two school districts.”

An attorney doesn’t get much more grounded than that. A small-town attorney taking in such a wide range of law work may not develop super-deep specialized expertise, but probably will have a strong sense of how those decisions emanating from Boise hit home in the far reaches of the state. It’s not glamorous or especially prestigious, but it sure is real. And, while several of the current justices (Eismann, Burdick, Jones) do have some small-town law practice experience, that’s awhile back in their pasts, mediated through years on the bench. (Candidate McKenzie practices in the Boise, and his experience would be mediated through statehouse legislative experience.) Brody’s background would bring something to the court that isn’t there now.

Brody also brings more to the table. She has worked for a larger firm (Hepworth Lezamiz & Hohnhorst in Twin Falls), and has background in Idaho (and as far away as Russia) to broaden her horizons. She evidently has a good reputation with her peers, serving in leadership in the regional bar association, usually a positive indicator for a prospective judge.

Without party labels (either explicit or implicit) as guidance, Idaho voters will need to look deeper to make their choices for the Supreme Court.

Trump 32: War crimes


Donald Trump seems to take the whole subject of war crimes lightly.

He has spoken of targeting bit just terrorists but also the families ad associates of them.

Waterboarding isn't enough, he said; what we do should be "much tougher."

“We have to be so strong,” Trump said. “We have to fight so viciously. And violently because we’re dealing with violent people viciously.”

For example, in June in New Hampshire, Trump proposed again, as one publication put it, "America should hold itself to the same standard as a fascist death cult."

American military forces long have held to a standard that, while in general orders must be obeyed, war crimes are illegal orders, and as such should be refused.

Trump said that in his administration that won't happen: “They won’t refuse. They’re not going to refuse me. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.” Exactly how that would come to pass, he didn't say.

On a few occasions, such as for a stretch in March, Trump seemed to back off. He said then that "“I do, however, understand that the United States is bound by laws and treaties and I will not order our military or other officials to violate those laws and will seek their advice on such matters. I will not order a military officer to disobey the law. It is clear that as president I will be bound by laws just like all Americans.”

Given a few weeks, he reverts to torture and mayhem.

Does this sound like America to you? - rs

Trump 33: Maybe I will


When can something be both awful and chaotic and wonderfully good news at once?

Donald Trump has provided an answer. Just because he's been running for the last year and a half for the presidency doesn't mean that, you know, he'd actually take the job.

Given the other 99 items on this list, this could stand as terrific news. Of course, he could decide to take the job too, so that's a limited boon.

At the same time, a decision that he would not take the job would be a matter of sheer chaos. The departure of a prospective president - or a new president - under such conditions would leave the country in a mess.

"I'll let you know how I feel about it after it happens," Trump said to the New York Times. Great timing. - rs

Where have all the salmon gone?


Former Arizona Governor and Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was in Coeur d’Alene recently to address the first annual north Idaho dinner for the Idaho Conservation League.

The dinner is also a living memorial to the late Scott Reed, a Coeur d’Alene attorney who helped found the ICL, and who also became an expert on Environmental Impact Statements and water law.

Reed is survived by his beloved spouse, former State Senator Mary LouReed, a daughter, Tara, and a son, Bruce, who served former President Bill Clinton first at the Democratic Leadership Council and then as President Clinton’s chief domestic policy advisor.

Fellow Coeur d’Alene attorney and ICL board member Buddy Paul spearheaded the effort to put the sold-out dinner together.

At 78, Babbitt still is ramrod straight in posture, quiet and modest in demeanor, has a ready smile, a great sense of humor, an intellect like few others, and an undiminished passion for protecting the environment.

For an hour before the dinner, Governor Babbitt (the 47th Secretary of the Interior) sat down to discuss the future prospects for survival of the ocean-going salmon on the Columbia and Snake River systems, with two of Idaho’s leading conservationists: Pat Ford and Rick Johnson. For years Ford headed up the Boise office of the group “Save Our Salmon,” and before that was the executive director of the Idaho Conservation League.

Rick Johnson is the current executive director of ICL.

Ford is a strong advocate of taking out the four lower Snake dams, breaching them to restore natural river flow. Once again (4th time?) a Federal District Judge in Portland, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon, has ruled that the Biological Opinion on whether the dams too adversely inhibit the journey of the smolt to the sea is deficient. Therefore, ipso facto, the EIS so dependent on the BIOP, is also deficient.

Ford is the quintessential “lean, mean fighting machine,” and a vigorous advocate for restoring the salmon and steelhead runs, He speaks eloquently and writes with style and passion on the need for the region to take the proper steps before wild salmon and steelhead are extinct.

Still freckle-faced with red hair, he was quickly called “Pixie” while attending Columbia and receiving his undergraduate degree. Though “retired” Ford is still a master of detail as well as a master strategist.

This particular day Ford has a specific ask given that new hearings have been ordered by the judge. Ford has chafed at the inadequacy of the previous BIOP’s and EIS’s in part because none of the previous one’s did an honest and diligent examination of the breaching option.

He instinctively knows that a better examination by the Task Force charged with the responsibility will create more support for his goal. He wants to make sure that the incoming administration knows the importance of the issue. He also has spotted a shortcoming that has contributed to the inadequate reviews: there is no one from the Interior department’s fish and wildlife agency or from the Environmental Protection Agency on the Task Force.

His ask of Babbitt then is a letter to another former Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who heads up Hillary Clinton’s Transition Team with Babbitt encouraging the Transition Group to pay heed to his request.

The former Arizona attorney general and 9-year governor still absorbs quickly and acts decisively.

He jokingly tells Johnson and Ford that he is once again a public employee working for the State of California at the behest of Governor Jerry Brown, heading up a Task Force that is examining California’s overworked, overdemand, overconsumed rivers.

He tells Johnson and Ford he is already zeroing in on the need salmon have for stream temperature no higher than 56 degrees if one wants to maximize the reproduction capabilities of the salmon and steelhead.

Ford commits to doing a draft and is rightly pleased to have achieved another small step in his relentless pursuit of preserving at least some of the historically magnificent salmon runs. Three warriors for the environment to whom future generations will owe much amble off to the reception.

Trump 34: Nothing broader


You can't quite say that Donald Trump is completely unable to draw a connection between his approach to an issue and the way it would affect real people. His first answer in the last presidential debate (though none of his answers afterward), on trade, did contain some linkages along that line. But left alone, without the advice of staff ringing in his ears (even a half-hour after the debate's launch), he loses the plot.

Among many examples of how he has lost the connection between policy ad presidential decisions on the one hand - which is to say, his preferences - and real impacts on the other, you need go no further than one recent comment about a recent incident.

Last month an apparent political coup was launched in Turkey, shortly after renewed conflict in the Kurdistan area.

JF The morning after an attempted coup in Turkey — a country that is a NATO ally, where U.S. nuclear weapons are based, which is at the center of international tensions over refugees and the struggles within Islam and dealing with ISIS and dealing with Syria — Trump’s comments, as potential commander in chief, were, in toto: “So many friends in Turkey. Great people, amazing people. We wish them well. A lot of anguish last night, but hopefully it will all work out.”

Such a broad view of international relations: It goes no further, in the mind of Donald Trump, than the handful of people he personally knows. Nothing else is a factor. - rs

Trump 35: Maybe yes, maybe no


Up to now, every candidate for president of the United States has been in deadly earnest about taking the office campaigned for. Sincerity in the desire to do that job has never been a question.

Until now.

It is true that in some records Donald Trump has said that of course he wants to serve.

But he also said, responding to a scenarioTrump has scoffed at criticism that he is not serious about becoming president, suggesting that his businesses have not benefited from his controversial presidential campaign and that he is truly in the race to "make America great again." about his winning the election and then declining to serve, that "I'll let you know how I feel about it after it happens," Trump told The New York Times.

As CNN reported, "Trump has scoffed at criticism that he is not serious about becoming president, suggesting that his businesses have not benefited from his controversial presidential campaign and that he is truly in the race to 'make America great again." -


Squaring off for SOS


Far from the fanfare of Monday night’s presidential debate, the two main candidates for Oregon Secretary of State squared off the following afternoon on the campus of Willamette University in Salem.
Members of the Statesman Journal editorial board moderated the forum, which was attended by around 20 people.

Republican candidate and former state representative Dennis Richardson described how his passion for public service was inspired by reading a biography of Benjamin Franklin in the mid-1990s. That later led to stints as a city councilor and in the Legislature, where he was unanimously elected speaker pro tem at the beginning of the 2005 session.

Richardson, who later served as a co-chair of the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee, said he thought he was done with politics after unsuccessfully challenging then-governor John Kitzhaber in the 2014 general election. He spent the following months volunteering at a local employment office before filing to run for Secretary of State.

Democrat Brad Avakian, a civil rights attorney and former legislator, pledged to use the Secretary of State’s office to ensure fairness and equity, and said he’s taken that approach in his current position of Labor Commissioner. Avakian said his accomplishments as Labor Commissioner include shrinking wage disparities between men and women in the state, bolstering apprenticeship programs and returning shop classes to schools.

If elected Secretary of State, Avakian said he would break down barriers to the ballot box, pursue campaign finance limits, ensure access to voter pamphlet statements via smart phone apps, return civics education to the classroom and use his spot on the State Land Board to make Oregon a global leader in the fight against climate change.

Richardson bemoaned the fact that audits were never conducted for Cover Oregon or the Columbia River Crossing project. Nearly $1 billion was spent on the Oregon Department of Energy’s controversial Business Energy Tax Credit (BETC) program, he said, yet it took six years for an audit to take place. One-third of those BETC projects were “clouded,” Richardson added, and turned over to the Oregon Department of Justice for further investigation.

The Secretary of State’s Office should function as a non-partisan Government Accountability Office, Richardson said, and can use audits to stop waste.

Differences between the two candidates became very clear in response to a question about Measure 97, a proposed corporate tax projected to bring $3 billion into state coffers annually if approved by voters in November.

Richardson cited an analysis of the measure conducted by the non-partisan Legislative Revenue Office, which estimated that its passage would result in the loss of 38,000 private sector jobs and cost the average Oregonian $600 per year. He added that the money it raised would go to the Legislature as a “blank check.”

Avakian said the measure was necessary, as schools have been “stripped” of music, art, shop and physical education programs. The Legislature has failed at revenue reform, he said, and Measure 97 will “fill the void.”

Both candidates did agree, however, on the need to have more clear and precise language for ballot measure titles and descriptions.

In his closing statements, Richardson characterized Avakian as an “activist” labor commissioner, and said the Secretary of State’s job is not to force change.

“I don’t think we need that kind of aggression,” Richardson said.

Avakian countered by stating that he has been putting Oregonians’ values into action. In concluding his remarks, Avakian said his vision for the Secretary of State’s office includes being assertive and standing up for the rights of Oregonians.

Trump 36: Chains of command


We often are reminded in this season that one of the most important roles of a president is that of commander-in-chief: The top-ranking, the ultimate, leader of the military of the United States, which by orders of magnitude has the most powerful and effective military in the world. It is a military formidable enough that, as Donald Trump once put it, no one is going to mess with us.

Well, that almost was his point. Our military really is so powerful that any frontal attack on it would be an outright suicide mission, one reason the attacks we have seen amounted to sneak attacks from guerrillas and terrorists. Which sometimes have had a certain amount of effectiveness (you might remember that incident from years ago called Vietnam), but none of which existentially threatened it. And the years since Vietnam have seen our military transformed into a professional and technically spectacular force beyond the imagining of Americans from a couple of generations ago.

So it's hard to see what Trump uses as evidence that - to extract from his actual statements - our military is so weak and ineffective it invites attack. Nothing remotely like that is true, and in itself such a conclusion represents so drastic a misreading of the real world as to amount to a presidential disqualifier.

But it goes further. Trump, who took five deferments to stay out of the military, believes he understands our military and our military options better than the officers and enlisted military who live and work with the reality every day. “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” Trump said at the national security forum hosted by NBC.

And it goes much further than that. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank said in a September 9 column, "Trump later implied that he would fire current generals — who, in the American tradition, are avowedly nonpartisan — and replace them with retired generals who have supported him politically. His advisers on defeating the Islamic State will 'probably be different generals' from the current ones. My former Post colleague Tom Ricks, author of 'The Generals' and four other books on the military, tells me that would be 'banana republicanism.'”

Little wonder the bipartisan core of national security experts and advisors - Republicans as much as Democrats - sounds scared out of their wits by the prospect of a Trump presidency. They have good reason. - rs

No sale!


“Nyah” “We told you so.” “Told you so.” “Nyah nyah!”

Sometimes - most times - when politicians and special interests scheme against the public interest, all of us have a right - yea, a duty - to stand very tall and say very loudly, “NO.” Then put an end to the underhanded deed they’re trying to underhandedly do.

Such is the case in Idaho these days where the good folks are getting a firsthand lesson in why no one - NO ONE - should attempt to sell off - or privatize - lands now owned by the state or the fed. It’s damned hard to put a fence around 172,000 acres and post large signs saying “NO TRESPASSING.” But it’s been done.

Some months back, a couple of Texas billionaires started buying up what public lands they could find in several states. In Idaho, that included acres mostly in and around Idaho, Adams and Valley Counties. With the sale went hundreds and hundreds of miles of roads to the back country. Roads known to thousands of hunters and recreationists as their entry to whatever hunting, skiing, hiking, or just walking around they had in mind.

Except now, they can’t. Now those acres are posted with signs and bright orange posts to tell everyone who used to prowl around them, “PRIVATE! KEEP OUT.”

Dan and Farris Wilks are the brothers. DF Development is their outfit. They got their hands on most of the acres in a sale by Potlatch Corp. When finalized, up went the posts, up went the signs and up went the temperatures of hundreds and hundreds of hunters and others who ran into ‘em.

For many years, a large crowd of us has been loudly protesting the selloff of large plots of government land to private parties. “NO! NO! NO!” But, a solid string of mostly Republican legislators and members of Congress has been holding hearings, sponsoring meetings and gathering all the listeners they could find to promote said sales.

They’ve used some specious and, some would say, faulty “facts” that such marketing of government lands - especially Forest Service and BLM - are possible. And beneficial. Many fact-checking legal sources have said it’s NOT possible and NOT legal in most cases. Plus, the accompanying required costs to states, counties and cities for maintenance and care would be astronomical - absolutely impossible for such governments to handle.

As if those common sense rebuttals to selling off federal and other large chunks of governmental lands were not enough, the issue of loss of public access has always come up. But, the answer from those pressing the sell-off idea has always been the same. “Don’t worry. That wouldn’t happen.”

Tell that to the folks today in Adams, Valley and Idaho Counties. Suddenly, ranchers, grazers, hunters and recreationists of all stripes are facing exactly that. Yes, this was a private sale. But the lesson - and the dangers of government sales - are there to see.

Idaho Fish & Game had to call off special tag hunts with the accompanying loss of dollars badly needed by the Department. Counties are being told maintenance of access roads to snowmobile trails is ending. Leases that traditionally meant access are being cancelled. And everyone in charge of anything official is finally figuring out the situation is going to mean heavy losses of tourists, hunters and recreationists whose dollars have made big differences in local budgets.

Being a curious sort, my mind wanders to this: what’s going to happen when one or more large fires hits all that now private timberland? And they will. When the Wilks boys call for firefighting help, who’s going to answer the phone and say “Sure, we’ll be right out?” When a couple of good ol’ Texas boys have slammed the door to all former users of those acres, you just know they’ll be feeling helpful down at the local watering holes. Sure.

The Wilks story is going to be the talk of all future meetings trying to drum up support for government land sales. Because we now know whoever buys land buys access and can damn well slam the door on the entire public. Because it’s happened. And I’d be willing to bet more than a few state folk, county commissioners and city councils are taking a new look at the sell-off talk.

Nothing reaches a politician’s heart faster than a large group of supporters who’ve been adversely affected by some issue. Even just ending traditional access to hunting and recreational areas.

I don’t believe I’ve ever quoted the “wit and wisdom” of former Idaho Senator Steve Symms before. But a line he gave me many years ago seems very fitting to this land sales business.

“Makes no damned sense,” he said, “to sell the farm to buy a sports car.” In Idaho, that’s very sage-like.