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Posts published in January 2017

Nightmare of a dream

rainey

I’ve been having a recurring dream.

Nell is tied to the tracks. A large locomotive bears down on her with Snidely Whiplash driving. I’m not immediaately concerned because I know Mountie Dudley Do-Right will appear, rescue Nell and derail Ol’ Snidely once again.

Except - a voice off-screen quietly whispers “Dudley resigned from the Mounties last year and is now head of security at a Calgary Safeway.” Damn! The screen goes blank. But, just before I wake up - I hear “HELP” and SQUISH.

I contacted a gypsy “dream reader” in our little coastal community. Here’s how she explained it. Dudley is really President Obama who’s now gone. Trump - I mean President-Elect Trump - Trump is actually Whiplash in the engine. And Nell? Well, she tells me Nell - tied helplessly to the tracks - is US! ALL of US! “SQUISH!”

There’s more truth than comic fantasy to my little “dream.” Snidely - er, Trump - hasn’t even been given the keys to the White House yet and he’s already tearing up the place.

Following our November election, many of us thought him to be the most unqualified President in our 250+ year history, but there would be traditional “checks-and-balances” to keep him from inflicting severe damage on the body politic. Now, in just nine weeks - all of that’s out the proverbial window. From entire departments of government, down to and including each employee in many of them, he and his “transition team” have begun treating our national structure like a field of stubble that needs burning.

A new Congress is brimming with zealots and willing sycophants already taking their own axes to the “body.” They’ve started swinging away on everything from health care to minimum wage to Planned Parenthood to God-knows-what.

All of this has been duly “reported” by a media, breathless from running from one disaster scene to the next or reading the latest “tweet.” But, none I’ve heard, read or seen has dealt seriously with one subject that really could threaten our national future - an exodus of professionals with the institutional memory and developed skills necessary for federal continuity and effectiveness..

Some cretins in the House have dug up an old government rule allowing Congress to single out an entire department for elimination or a specific employee and reduce that person’s salary to a dollar. Yep, a buck. That way, you can get rid of each one you don’t like for no reason at all and not be sued for wrongful termination. It’s called “The Holman Rule.” It’s been on the books since 1876. It was approved in the House last week and shoved into the Obamacare repealer. It could be used to wipe out entire programs. Think food stamps. Medicare. Housing.

Except - it was declared unconstitutional in the ‘40's. But, that was a different time and a different Supreme Court. Who knows now?

Trump has selected some totally unqualified but wealthy minions to go into these departments, handing each a copy of “The Holman Rule” and expects them to use it. Liberally, if you’ll pardon the word. Rick Perry at EPA or Sessions at Attorney General. Or the rest of the equally in-over-their-heads major donors to his campaign. With a genuine lack of knowledge of their jobs - and this Rule - federal government could be crippled for several generations.

Take it one step further. Suppose you’re mayor of Washington D.C., or governor of Virginia or Maryland where most federal workers live. Can you say “unemployment?” Can you say “exodus?” Can you see a significant eroding of your tax base? Your talent base?

I’m not trying to defend every government employee as one worthy of continued employment. The point is, if allowed to run its course, with unqualified people at the top backed by a Congress full of crazies and a self-important President lacking any skills of governance, we could be watching our nation put at risk on many fronts. Defense, HHS, Agriculture, Treasury, Education, EPA, Attorney General and more.

Trump scares the Hell out of me. For many reasons. He’s not someone who knows boundaries or self-limitations. His head is full of ego-driven ignorance because - like that Palin woman and so many of his ilk - he doesn’t-know-what-he-doesn’t-know and has no desire to learn. He’s a perfect setup for anyone with a crackpot idea like the Holman Rule which could become government policy. His ignorance is a breeding ground in which Putin and other dangerous souls can plant false sincerities, ego-scratching, self-serving relationships and cause Trump to make dangerous - if not world-ending - decisions.

We got lucky once when public outrage forced Congress to back up in that ethics oversight mess. Bottom line, House leadership didn’t want and used the public outcry as support. Pressure like that won’t work every time. They’re working to federally defund Planned Parenthood right now. Where’s the huge public outrage on that?

Little by little, they’re going to keep chipping away. Without sizeable public interference. And, like Nell’s predicament tied to the tracks, Dudley Do-Right won’t be there to “save the day.”

Ah, to sleep. Perchance to dream.” Those words don’t sound as inviting as they used to.

The petition

stapiluslogo1

A new ballot petition being circulated around Idaho would put directly a question many people uneasily dance around:

Is abortion murder?

It comes from a group called Abolish Abortion Idaho (website http://www.abolishabortionid.com), based at Hayden. It calls for not repealing the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, but defying it. There’s the possibility coming changes at the court could lead to a repeal anyway, but the effort here is no gray-area endeavor. It’s a frontal challenge based around the group’s core principles and, it has to be said, those of a lot of Idaho’s elected officials.

The web site argues: “Idaho Code already says that abortion is murder but that it may not be prosecuted. [This appears to be accurate.] This petition will establish equal justice for the preborn by prosecuting all who would murder them. The initiative is about equal protection under the law for preborn babies, and it eliminates the ability of a special class of people to commit a serious crime without the fear of prosecution.”

To that end the proposal would set state policy that abortion, any abortion at any stage of development, be prosecuted the same as any heinous serial killer murder you can recall. The proponents add, “There will be no exceptions for rape and incest, since the baby should never pay for the crimes of the fathers. The traditional exceptions for abortion when the life or health of the mother are threatened have been eliminated as well.”

AAI is rigorously consistent here. If you do believe abortion is murder, as so many Idaho political figures have said so clearly for so many years, then why should each provable case not be prosecuted as such? No crime, after all, is ordinarily more rigorously prosecuted than murder.

To be clear: I’m not, in this column, arguing the merits of that determination of abortion as murder. But in Idaho and around the country many politicians who have made the “abortion is murder” argument, have spent decades tinkering with the laws (to make abortion more difficult, inconvenient and expensive), while knowing that Roe v. Wade means their beliefs will never be put to the test.

The nature of the test is alluded to by AAI, but in a way you might generously call over-optimistic: “The goal of the initiative is not to punish mothers, but it is to abolish abortion. Once abortion is illegal with a severe associated penalty, we expect that very few women will ever be prosecuted under this new law.”

There are two ways to take this. If the group means to suggest little prosecution because prosecutors would rarely bring the cases, that suggests the change in law would have no teeth, and be pointless.

But if they’re suggesting the law’s intended punishment – ranging from a very long prison sentence to the death penalty – would be an effective deterrent, they’re fooling themselves. Murders of the type prosecuted now haven’t stopped, and won’t, because deep penalties are attached to them. Neither do many other heavily-punished crimes.

And if the goal “is not to punish mothers,” why not, if they’ve committed murder? You could go after doctors and nurses too (as some anti-abortion activists have in other ways). But if the law drove abortion activity away from doctors’ offices and toward other means, including self-performed abortions, how can you be rigorously in favor of legally stopping abortion without going after mothers?

This ballot issue would put the core of the question right out there. If it gets on the ballot we’ll get a chance to see what Idahoans really think about abortion – and about the consequences of following through on what has been to now mostly rhetoric.

Loyalty in excess

schmidt

Loyalty is a fine quality, but in excess it fills political graveyards. - Neil Kinnock

It has been encouraging to get all the emails, texts, condolence cards, and even phone calls after my election loss. There have been many hands on my shoulder as I'm out at holiday events, "So sorry you lost." I'm sure my opponent got as many congratulatory ones, at least I hope he did. It was also something to ponder that I got so many messages (email, texts, letters and phone calls) from majority party legislators, active and retired, expressing disappointment in my loss. But at the same time the majority party spent so much effort to unseat me. Indeed, my Senate colleagues contributed significantly to my opponent.

I was not surprised; they always have, though not always as much. It didn't hurt so much before because I won, though honestly, I never won by much. My margin has never been more than 800 votes, close to one percent. This is a swing district (There are only three of the 35 legislative districts in this state with a delegation that isn’t all one party.) and that's where the parties in this unbalanced state play the game. I am trying to understand the meaning of party loyalty for those of us who have been elected as opposed to our supposed goal of working for the common good. Let me know if this is whining; I hate whining.

The above donation is just from my Senate Republican colleagues. All told, the Republican party  and seated legislators directly contributed over 20% of my opponents fundraising, not including the independent money (?$10,000) they spent. That's no small effort. One retired Republican legislator told me, "Dan, they just have so much money and there are so few contested races, and so few swing districts, they have to spend it somewhere." Such doesn’t seem a conservative value, does it?

I can remember a neighbor down on Wildhorse River that told me “the only good coyote was a dead coyote”. He raised sheep, so I understood his sentiment. I imagine the Republican Party in Idaho might say the same about Idaho Democrats. And indeed, Idaho Democrats may have the reciprocal view. Does this partisanship serve our state?

One could discount the public and private sentiments expressed by my colleagues as just polite condolence, not heart felt. One North Idaho legislator actually argued with me when I said the legislature will do just fine without me. He said he respectfully disagreed; he thought my contribution was going to be sorely missed. I politely did not confront him with this, from his local Republican committee:

So I'm wondering, maybe they did not really consider me worth keeping around, despite their words. Instead the value of having a Republican, any Republican (no matter the character or skills or politics) was worth getting rid of me. That makes me feel pretty special, like Wile E Coyote was special to the Roadrunner. But it sure brings out the cynicism.

If I were to go this route, that is, to decide their words were not genuine, just polite pandering like cocktail party compliments, then the work I did for six years to build relationships and integrity in the legislature is not worth dry spit. And such effort isn't worth any time for those involved in the legislative process. I find such a bitter conclusion abhorrent, but possible, given the reality of our current political landscape, both in the state Capitol, and maybe in the populace in general. Should we all just play the partisan game, winning and losing? I am guilty of wanting more from all of us.

We could cynically say: it's just politics. And the party brand is how politics is played: my guy wins, your guy loses. Even more insidious, my Republican colleagues could be trying to distance themselves from the actions of their party. That is, their party makes decisions they would not on their own. So then why are we affiliated? If you look carefully at the beautiful Idaho Capitol, you will find Majority Party and Minority Party caucus rooms build into the structure on opposite sides of the chambers. Was this just a reflection of an historical assumption? Or does this partisan duality serve our state?

I’m working on these answers. Let me know what you think.

(photo/Debra Schmidt)

Worth your time

carlson

The end of one year and the beginning of another is often a good time for reflection, introspection, and the reading of a book or two providing one with new information, insights and perspective.

Besides the fine memoir written by the 90-year-old former Idaho Second District Congressman, Orval Hansen, the subject of last week’s column, there are two other fine books published recently that should command attention.

The first is a fascinating compilation of anecdotes, stories, experiences, observations and reflections by Jim and Holly Akenson who spent a total of 7003 days in the Idaho backcountry serving as the caretakers of the University of Idaho’s Taylor Ranch on Big Creek a few miles upstream from its confluence with the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

This is deep in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. It takes a special kind of person to live and thrive off the grid and deep in a wilderness area. Jim and Holly, however, have what it takes, as do a few others who belong to the fraternity or sorority of wilderness thrivers.

What it takes is an ability to appreciate solitude, to treasure the wind soughing through the trees, to listen for the yip of the coyote, the howl of the wolf or the hoot of the owl. It takes appreciation for the isolation, and ability to sit quietly by a campfire watching the coals while a yarn is spun.

The book’s intrepid couple are both trained biologists so little escapes their eye, from discussing their use of pack mules, to staving off approaching fires, to talking with visiting dignitaries. And of course they hold Maurice Hornacher and his seminal studies on cougars in the Big Creek drainage in high regard.

Backcountry residents also form a special bond with the pilot who despite troublesome weather almost always gets their mail to them. For the Akenson’s it was most often Ray Arnold at the controls. In earlier times it was Sid Hinkle.

Once in a while one will stumble across these wilderness reincarnations of the elusive “RidgeRunner,” all of whom will describe the magic of the time they have spent in the backcountry. The chief editor of the Ridenbaugh Press, Linda Watkins, spent the better part of eight years as a cook and a ranch hand in the back country, for example.

Marty Smith, who owns Three Rivers Rafting, a firm that runs rafts and kayaks on the Selway and Lochsa, would spend every day of the year in the wilderness. Guests on his trips are always surprised when about half way through a trip he’ll casually mention that he graduated from Yale with a degree in history and played for Yale’s football team.

The book, 7003 Days, is published by Caxton Press of Caldwell.

Another book, A Little Dam Problem, published by Caxton, is worth one’s time even if they aren’t into the complexities of Idaho water law. Retiring Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court Jim Jones has done the public a favor by writing in clear, lucid language about the bitter dispute surrounding the re-licensing of the Swan Falls/Guffey dam.

Jones, who early in his career worked on the staff of Senator Len B. Jordan, it can safely be said, revered Senator Jordan. One can tell part of his mission was to hold Idaho Power to the commitment the company made in 1952 to subordinate their water rights to the upstream irrigation companies in exchange for Jordan’s suppport to build three smaller dams in Hells Canyon rather than one huge (larger than Grand Coulee) federal or privately built dam.

Idaho Power spends the next 40 years trying to renege on the agreement, but Jones, as Idaho’s then Attorney General, with the support of then Governor John Evans, won’t let Idaho Power squirm off the hook. It is an interesting tale well told by Jones.

Unfortunately, the book, while avoiding some legalese nonetheless is repetitive at times because the former AG merely slaps press releases and talking points he wrote together at various times rather than summarize and produce new narrative.

What is most entertaining is Jones’ description of matching wits with and out maneuvering Idaho Power’s salty, in-your-face chief lobbyist, Logan Lanham, and “Lanham Lite,” Greg Panter.

Jones also errs when he claims that while serving as President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of the Interior, former Governor Cecil Andrus entered the fray on the company’s side. This is simply not so. Anyone who has followed Andrus’ career knows Idaho Power never supported him, especially after his Public Utility Commission vetoed the proposed Pioneer coal-fired generation plant.

Nonetheless, Jones has written a fair account of one of those issues, had it gone the other way, could have been catastrophic for the state.

Taking the oath

jorgensen

The Oregon State Capitol building is largely empty these days, aside from the facilities staff moving legislative offices around prior to the start of the 2017 session. But a notable recent exception was Friday, December 30, when former longtime state representative Dennis Richardson was sworn in as Oregon’s 26th Secretary of State.

Members of various Republican Women’s clubs started arriving in Salem in the hours immediately before the ceremony. The Senate chambers began filling with guests, well-wishers, elected officials and conservative activists from all over the state.

Richardson’s inauguration was a collective triumph for Oregon Republicans, who had long struggled to elect candidates to statewide offices. The ceremony represented a hard-fought success after years of frustration as the countless volunteer phone calls and door knocks finally paid off.

In a way, Richardson’s November general election victory over Democrat and Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian showed Republicans in this blue state that there is, indeed, a path out of the political wilderness.

Former Secretary of State Phil Kiesling, a Democrat who held the position from 1991 to 1999, served as master of ceremonies. He gave a brief history lesson about the office and its past duties.

One of Richardson’s many grandchildren lead the packed crowd in the pledge of allegiance before Congressman Greg Walden (R-Oregon) began his remarks.

Walden, the sole Republican member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation, reminded the audience that it had been 40 years since Norma Paulus was sworn in as Secretary of State.

Paulus, a former legislator, was Oregon’s first female Secretary of State and the first woman ever elected to one of its statewide public offices. She was also the last Republican to hold that position, which she did from 1977 to 1985.

Walden characterized the position as being “immensely important” to the state and its people. He noted Richardson’s “sharp eye” for budgets and numbers and “sharper pencil.”

“All Oregonians can take pride in our new Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson,” Walden said.

Richardson took the oath and gave some remarks. He began by recognizing current employees of the Secretary of State’s office, who were welcomed with warm applause.

A former helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War, Richardson told an anecdote about doing a landing in a combat zone. The helicopter was filled with villagers that he had to transport, Richardson said, and he had to do a corkscrew landing to avoid enemy fire.

Richardson said the experience taught him that it’s one thing to have authority and another to take responsibility for those that you have authority over. He vowed to take his new responsibilities seriously.

“As Secretary of State, I will represent all of you,” he said.

Richardson’s first day in office is Tuesday, January 3.

Us by the numbers

rainey

Well, here we are. 2017. All 324,310,011 of us ready to start another calendar turnover. That’s the most recent guess - er, pardon me - estimate of our nation’s headcount by the U.S. Census Bureau folk.

In the next 12 months, we’re expected to have one birth every eight seconds and one death every 11. Net migration to our shores is expected to be one new face every 33 seconds. Adding those three categories together means we’ll increase our population by one new person every 17 seconds.

Also worth noting, as we begin crossing off the days of 2017, the Bureau folk are putting world population at 7,362,350,168. Up about one percent from the start of 2016.

Pardon me for digging in the statistics bin again but it keeps me from thinking about the political Armageddon we’re facing about three weeks from now. Besides, it’s important, now and then, to take stock of how many of us there are, who we are and where we are.

The Census counters have come up with a rather surprising state in the “fastest growing” category. Utah. Yep, Beehive state residents increased their number a full two percent to 3.1 million in the last year. Coming in second was Nevada. Then Idaho, (1.8 percent), Florida and Washington (1.8 percent). All gainers.

And there was this. Rural areas cover about 97 percent of our land but contain only 19.3 percent of the total population. About 60 million people.

All this comes from the Bureau’s American Community Survey of our 3,142 counties conducted every five years. No one else has such a comprehensive data set so these numbers are important since many government and private agencies use them for all sorts of things. Many assistance programs determine eligibility factors right down to the smallest communities in all states. Companies make expansion plans using this solitary base. Construction, utility growth, highways, recreation development - these and more - all use this data bank.

The median income figure from large county to small was a real stretch. Highest in the so-called “rural” counties were in Connecticut ($93,382) and New Jersey ($92,972). You can guess where the smallest median incomes showed up - Mississippi ($40,200). Rural area poverty rates varied from a low in Connecticut (4.6 percent) to a high in New Mexico (21.9 percent).

A number of other interesting facts come from this source. For one, those of us who live in rural areas are more likely to own our own homes “free and clear” (44-percent) while, in the city, it’s closer to 33-percent). More of us still live in our state of birth. And more of us have been in the military than those from urban areas.

We also tend to be older with a median age of 51 whereas folks in the cities have a median age of about 45. Folks in smaller areas have lower poverty rates but more of our kids are uninsured. Probably some of that old rural “self-sufficiency” there. “We take care of our own.”

I learned a new word from the Bureau folks - “rurality.” Take that, Spell Check. Best I can tell, it means small counties with no major city. Like Moro in Oregon or Lewis in Idaho. Rurality. Keep that around for your next word game.

As we embark on this new year, a lot of us do so with a large sense of political dread - uncertain where we’re headed and what affects there will certainly be on our lives. We’re in a time of national flux in political, social and economic conditions. A record high percentage of us has little to no respect for government and private institutions that have been our bedrock since the nation’s founding. We’re distrustful, suspicious and anxious. All in all, we’re suffering national angst.

In such times, it can be comforting to linger over some statistics that show we’re still this big, lumbering democracy we’ve always been. Folks in our cities continue to operate in their own rushed environment, seeming to ignore those out in the “hinterlands” who march to a different cadence. Out in those “hinterlands,” the pace is slower, security seems easier to attain - and keep - lives seem to rest on the same bedrock our forebearers knew.

I’m as filled with angst as the next guy. But, knowing we’re still growing and that other peoples of the world still seek us out as a better place for them and their families than where they were, gives me hope we’ll survive the coming trials. All 324,310,011 of us.