Writings and observations

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Members of the United States House of Representatives like to point to a distinction particular to their chamber: They are the only federal entity, and one of the few anywhere in government, whose members have gotten there exclusively by election. Not a single one, in all these more than 200 years, in any other way.

The vast majority of these representatives has been elected in regular even-year elections, but some got there in special elections when a member resigned or died. Several of these elections are planned around the country (one in Montana, for example) this year on occasion of the representative quitting to take a job in the Trump Administration, a common reason for a vacancy.

Idaho has never had a special election for a U.S. representative. (I refuse the word “congressman.” As a high school teacher of mine, a one-time Capitol Hill staffer, pointed out, there is no such job title.) No House member from Idaho ever has resigned during a term. Just one – ironically, a Democrat named Thomas Coffin, in 1934 – died in office; his seat remained unfilled until the next general election a few months later.

There is a procedure for a special House election in Idaho, however, and a bill aimed at adjusting it has drawn a rare veto from Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. It also happened to be a bill opposed on the legislative floor only by Democrats, and this is not a coincidence.

The rule has been that special elections for House members were exempt from the general limitations on the number of elections during a year: A governor could call one by proclamation. The new bill would change that to limit the special election to one of the four standard election days during the year, and split it into two elections, a primary and a general. As it is now, the election is a “jungle” election, with the overall top vote-getter prevailing and winning the seat.

Neither approach is particularly sacred; various states handle it in each way. But there are implications, political and otherwise, to these decisions.

Otter (a former U.S. House member himself) said in his veto statement that “while I appreciate the desire to establish an orderly process for conducting a special election for filling a vacancy in one of Idaho’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, this legislation unnecessarily sacrifices timeliness for structure. … The governor now has discretion to set such elections, which should be conducted as soon as reasonably possible to ensure that Idaho’s congressional representation is not diminished for any longer than necessary. H197 could leave the state without a way of filling a U.S. House vacancy for six months or longer. That is simply unacceptable.” That’s a reasonable objection.

The current law also has another potential effect that some legislators may have considered, and not liked. Holding a primary election first, to settle on party nominees before sending them to the general election, is a way of resolving things within the party, of making the results somewhat more predictable. With Idaho’s current, single, winner-take-all election a “jungle” contest, things get unpredictable quickly. Imagine an election featuring five Republican candidates and one Democrat: even in Idaho, the Democrat would win. Or you might wind up with a Republican candidate who might not survive later for long. (Remember what happened the last time Idaho had a really big Republican primary for the U.S. House, in 2006, won by one-term Representative Bill Sali.)

Structure makes for political results, too.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

schmidt

The Idaho legislature is tied in knots at the end of a do-nothing session. They got their budgets filled out with very small exceptions to the governor’s recommendations and want to head out of town.

But the Idaho House, where all revenue bills must start wants to cut taxes. And the Idaho Senate wants to fix our roads, but they can’t write a revenue bill, so they propose borrowing money based on future federal gas tax payments (GARVEE). And in the mean time we citizens better all slow down, swerve around the potholes, fix our blow tires and replace our bent rims.

Idaho has known about the road funding deficit for years. Maybe Trump’s infrastructure promise will bail us out, but he’s also trumpeting tax cuts and a border wall. Why can’t we step up and solve our own problems? It’s courage folks, not asphalt we lack.

This winter exposed some real weakness, but it really didn’t happen with the rain and snow. It’s happened because we haven’t had the courage to confront our problems. How bad is it? You can’t get from Plummer to St. Maries along State Highway 5 now, it’s slumped and impassable. And that county elected a state senator that thought “Idaho roads are just fine”; he campaigned that the gas tax increase was “stealing money out of your pocket”. I 84 between Boise and Nampa was one lane this winter due to deep potholes, even closed for a few days. House representatives staged a little press conference to say “something needs to be done!” but their spokesman and 5 others in the gaggle voted against the gas tax increase in 2015. So what are your suggestions, elected leaders?

Our governor had the courage and insight to commission a poll a few years back to ask the voters what their solutions might be. Guess what? Voters wanted the roads fixed, but they didn’t want to pay for the job. I want my house fixed up too, but I understand I should pay for it. But then, I own my house. Do Idahoans think they are renting this state? Do they expect some landlord to step up and fix it?

In so many areas Idahoans say they want the Federal government to back off, leave us alone. So why would we trust the feds to bail out our crumbling roads? Idaho leaders are listening to you, their constituents, and that is their job. We the people need to tell our leaders we accept the responsibility of ownership. Shared ownership is still ownership. And we want to share in the costs to maintain what we own.

Good leaders are barely felt; it’s like we all want something and it gets done as if by our own will. But leaders can set the tone; they say things over and over, giving us ear worms, and sometimes we come to believe these phrases. We have elected local leaders who sing the song of less government, less taxes. We can’t fix roads without paying for it.

I’m asking for a little help from our leaders. But we need to let them know we are ready to be responsible.

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Schmidt

carlson

One of my cardinal rules about politics is there are seldom any coincidences. There may be coincidences, however, of time, place, and especially, of people. Our lives during the Biblical three score and ten will intersect with many different people. This has led demographers and social scientists to refer to the six degrees of separation – go back six generations and you will discover the Pope and you are related – in theory.

Over the years I’ve been surprised at the number of people my path has crossed who, like me, were born in Shoshone county, either in Kellogg or Wallace. For a county with fewer than 4000 people, I could quickly name a dozen, most of whom were serving or had served their home state with honor and brought distinction to the native county.

All merit mention, but space limits dictate just a few. This is my saying thank you for your assistance.

Tim and Julie Olson. High scphool sweethearts who married while Olson was attending Idaho State in the mid-60s having led Kellogg to its last state basketball championship in 1964. Tim retired two years ago as the vice president for Blue Shield of Idaho, but has continued to lobby the Idaho Legislature. We always gather at their summer place on Rose Lake for a good old fashioned patriotic 4th of July and he allows me to sing “Here We Have Idaho.”

Mike Blackbird. A former state senator who would have been a great governor had he stayed in Idaho. I assisted him in doing a wonderful book about his brother, Jerry, also a state senator, entitled One Flaming Hour.

Kenton Bird. Currently the head of general education at the University of Idaho, a former director of the School of Journalism at the University of Idaho, and a former journalist, he was terrificly helpful to me in bringing back to public attention the fine novels penned by a former Idaho poli-sci teacher, Syd Duncombe.

Art and Sherry Krulitz; Leo Krulitz. I knew Art’s cousin, Leo, long before I knew Shoshone County Commissioner Sherry and her husband. One could say they are easily the “power couple” of the county. Sherry was a popular commissioner and could still be if she wanted to be. She still works Facebook and the pictures of her flowers and garden are terrific.

Leo, like Art, grew up in Mullan. He attended Stanford, graduating with honors, then attended and graduated from Harvard Law. While still in his 20s and an active Democrat he became a stalwart supporter of then State Senator Cecil Andrus’ gubernatorial ambitions. He served as the campaign manager for Andrus’ first run in 1966. I still tease him about the campaign slogan he came up with for Andrus: “My kind of man.” Leo went on to become general counsel for the Cummins Engine Corporation until Andrus lured him into government service as his Solicitor at the Department of the Interior from 1977 to 1981.

David Fisher. First met “Fish” when he was working for First InterState bank. He went on to work for one of America’s great innovative corporations, Intel, the master builder of ever smaller but ever increasing capacity microchips, the wafers all made from the same material assembled in anti-septic environments and the guts of your computer. Fisher deftly handled the competition between northwest states for Intel’s major fabrication facility that located near Portland.
Chuck Malloy. One of few editorial writers who has covered Idaho politics extensively for over 30 years and has an institutional memory. He hails from Kellogg and though he has worked at times for the Idaho Republican party, he is a fine journalist and a great observer of the scene.

The late Harry and Collen Magnuson and their sons, Jim, John and Tom. Selected by Governor Andrus to run the 1990 Idaho Centennial Commission, and the man who saved Gonzaga University from bankruptcy, Harry was synonymous with the county. He and his sons also saved the hometown of Wallace by turning it into the snowmobile capitol of the world.

When all is said and done, my old rule regarding no coincidences in politics still holds true. Either that, or there is something in the water we all drink up here in north Idaho. I know I am better for having our trails cross. All of these people were the kind of folks dedicated to leaving the old camp site in better shape than they found it.

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Carlson

rainey

If you’ve spent a goodly portion of life reporting/commiserating about politicians, you probably have some little hidden quirk about the species. I’ve got one. Mine is thoroughly enjoying the self-created angst as they stick a foot in a bear trap when what was called for was “mind your own damned business.”

If you watch a lot of Republicans recently – especially the subspecies of “born agains” – such enjoyable hoist-on-your-own petard moments are not hard to find. Especially in Texas.

That arrogant, too often mindless subspecies was on display from Austin to Chugwater regularly. There appears to be a sizeable cell of ‘em in Frisco, Texas. Frisco is a smallish burg of about 161,000 that stradles Collin and Denton counties, about 40 miles outside Dallas. It was the fastest growing city in the nation from 2000-2009.

Frisco, thanks to a high school principal with some smarts, is the site of my latest enjoyment of watching a completely off-base pol getting cut off at the mental pass. Actually, several pols.

Several years ago, teachers told Frisco’s Liberty High School Principal Scott Warstler Muslim students were missing several hours of class daily. Just getting up and walking out of classes a few minutes before noon and not getting back till after one. Warstler checked and ‘twas so.

What he found was the Muslim kids were going home or to mosque for midday prayers. In either case, they were traveling several miles going and coming. Warstler, ever resourceful, started thinking.

He remembered Room C112. It was a small, spare classroom that had been used for all sorts of other things for years. Teachers spent time there grading papers when they had a break. And Buddhist kids did their meditation in C112. Why not Muslims?

He did some checking. Kids were OK with that. So, C112 soon added another world religion and Muslim kids – and Catholics and Presbyterians and anybody with a faith claim – worked out a schedule with the Muslims and the Buddhists. Everybody happy!

Until a born again parent got wind of it and contacted the Texas Attorney Generals’ office. Not the principal. Not the school district. The ultra-right, GOP AG. And an overzealous deputy therein fired off a letter. He said “It appears the prayer room is dedicated to the needs of (only) some students.” He later admitted those “some students” were Muslim.

The Texas AG, already running for governor and anxious to slay a liberal, surefire vote-getting dragon, also sent out a news release to the media the same day the letter was written. He denounced the “prayer room for excluding other faiths.” “Texas Constitutional violation,” he publically opined. It wasn’t.

All this without any Texas AG legal eagle journeying from Austin to Frisco to check things out. “Fact finding,” as it were. Had a few hours been spent on the four-lane, he/she and the ultra-conservative “friends” would have known what the hell was going on. Not to be.

Oh, one more tidbit. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott – something of a loon himself – quickly responding to that same fringe group, firing off a very public tweet quoting his deputy’s letter and echoing the same Constitutional B.S. Again, no checking. I call it “Trump Tweeting.” Hang the subject – then have a trial.

Frisco School Supt. Jeremy Lyon did some research, then a little media work of his own. “The ‘press release’ appears to be a publicity stunt by the Attorney General to politicize a nonissue,” he wrote in HIS media update. “The Frisco District is greatly concerned this type of inflammatory rhetoric in the current climate may place the District, students, staff and community in danger of unnecessary disruption.” Period.

The plain fact is Room C112 is open to all students of any religion – as it had been from the get-go – for any purpose whatsoever. Pray. Meditate. Study. Read a Bible or a Koran. Do a religious crossword. And the state “investigation” didn’t start until two weeks after a story about the success of the “prayer room” appeared in the school newspaper.

Frisco administration is still trying to figure out what the hell the AG’s office was all excited about, what real information it had (if any) and who the “concerned citizens” were (if any). A letter to the AG went unanswered. Well, imagine that.

Frisco District Spokesman Chris Moore says the district still doesn’t know what all the fuss was about. “We hadn’t been contacted by any right-wing groups, left-wing groups or in-between groups so getting the questions from the attorney general was surprising.”

Whatever. Moore says Room C112 will be open for prayers as usual come Monday. Just as it has been for years. Until that little school newspaper story about its success caused a hubbub.

Don’t you just love it when some publicity-hungry politicians get caught with their shorts in a lock? And their clay feet are exposed up to that hole in their chest where most of us have a heart?

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Rainey

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for March 20. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Acting Governor Brad Little has declared a State of Emergency for Idaho and Lewis Counties. Idaho stands ready to support and partner with the counties once the county commissioners declare emergencies.

Fish need water, and Idaho’s mountains are full of water in the form of a giant snowpack. According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, mountain ranges throughout the state in early March had snowpacks ranging from a 90 percent of average in the Couer d’Alene and Priest drainages to 175 percent of average in the Big Wood drainage. Most areas were running between 120 and 160 percent of normal.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February held steady at 3.6 percent while the state continued to lead the nation in over-the-year job growth for the sixth consecutive month.

The Bureau of Land Management Pocatello Field Office is seeking public comment on a proposed new phosphate mine near Soda Springs.

Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo with David Perdue (R-GA) introduced the Prevent Labor Union Slowdowns Act, legislation that would protect local businesses and ensure they can continue importing and exporting goods during maritime labor union disputes.

PHOTO Up to 60,000 snow geese, white-fronted geese and other waterfowl use the Fort Boise Wildlife Management Area as a stop over on their northern flights. The birds typically leave warmer climes ranging from Baja Mexico to northern California and follow the snow line north. With southwest Idaho sitting at the base of Central Idaho’s snow-packed mountains, the birds rest and wait for about six weeks before continuing north and heading as far as Siberia. (photo/Roger Phillips, Idaho Department of Fish & Game)

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Digests

mckee

Three huge questions remain after Trump’s signature objective of repealing and replacing Obamacare imploded with a resounding fizzle last week.

First, will the Democratic center stop strutting and cackling and get down to the business of repairing the Affordable Care Act?

Second, will the Republican center stop griping and blaming each other, and get busy working something out with the Democrats?

Third, if reason and common sense finally prevails, and Congress demonstrates an ability to actually govern by passing a true coalition bill that patches up the problems and gets the ACA on its feet in all areas, all tuned up and ready to perform as promised – will Trump sign the bill so we can get on with it?

The Freedom Caucus hard-liners on the extreme right are already beginning to fold their arms and declare their intention to do nothing, in the expectation that Obamacare is about to collapse. Yet, despite what the Republican mantra has been, the overwhelming evidence is that the ACA is not in any danger of imploding or blowing up, and is not in any semblance of a death spiral. Enrollment is up, premiums are up some, but not nearly as bad over-all as the Republicans have claimed, and by most economic measures and in most areas, the act is stronger this year than last. While there are serious problems in some areas, and the problems area are more likely to get worse unless something is done, the predictions generally are that overall, the program is more likely to continue to improve. There is simply no serious question that the ACA is here to stay.

The notion that Trump and the hard liners can just wait for the end to arrive on its own means disappointment for everybody all around. The pockets and neglected areas will suffer, and some of these are good sized areas – a few whole states, for example. If this continues, when the counting-up time comes, the Republicans will get the blame if they sit on their hands and refuse to help, since they are the ones with their hands on the levers.

On the other hand, the left edge has suddenly come to life and has begun to promote the virtues of government sponsored and financed single payer – the concept of Medicare for everybody. They point with sincere enthusiasm to all of Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, where health care is considered a fundamental right, a responsibility of the government, and otherwise free to all. Every other country uses some form of government sponsored, single payer except us. And we even use it for our most precious – our children, our elders and our injured warriors. Senator Bernie is already on the stump, and others are beginning to rumble. If a groundswell gets started, and the gals in their funny hats decide to climb aboard, it may be difficult to redirect the effort.

The Democrats could not get single payer, or Medicare for everybody, or government sponsored health care, even out the starting blocks the last time this subject was on the table, eight years ago when the ACA was actually adopted, and when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency. They barely got the ACA adopted, and had to use the ruse of budget reconciliation to get that done. It would seem the height of political naiveté to believe that now, just because the right wing got dumped for being too far right, that there is some momentum to look at a far left solution. By everything that is real and practical, the solution has to come from the middle.

This being said, there are still plenty in Congress – both houses – who march in the vicinity of the middle and who, if their leadership will get out of the way, could pull off a deal with no more consternation than a walk in the spring rain. The measures needed to improve the ACA are well known. Some were actually included in the Republican bill. If deals are honored, if markups are constructive rather than tactical sabotage, if the House drops the Hastert rule and the Senate suspends the filibuster rule – no problem.

Actually, all that really has to happen is for both sides to give up ownership of the fix and of the right to blame. Just make it a true coalition effort.

Pies in the sky? Probably, unfortunately. One drumbeat of the Freedom Caucus, for example, has been to get the federal government out of the picture and leave it to the states. Look at our own Idaho legislature; it has completely bottled up every single effort by anybody to address the issue of healthcare for the uninsured in Idaho. It has refused to go along with the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, and has thereby lost hundreds of millions of dollars to Idaho. Our Congressional delegation stands in a tight circle right in the center of it all, resolute, eyes tight shut, with dueling pistols at the ready, pointed inward. The politics may simply be insurmountable.

And then, even if it did happen over all this hoopla, the $64 thousand final question would still have to be, will the Old Fool sign the damn thing? Any bets? Any predictions?

Anybody holding their breath?

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McKee

Water rights weekly report for March 20. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

What would happen if a river was given legal standing, recognized as a ‘person’ before the court? That scenario is being played out now in New Zealand, following a landmark decision in 2012 which gave the Whanganui River the right to be represented in court by legal guardians in a bid to protect its ecosystem’s health.

A group of 13 Marylanders on March 16 protested and were arrested at the State House in Annapolis and were arrested in an act of peaceful civil disobedience while demanding that state Senate leaders support a ban on fracking.

The Oklahoma Water Resources Board voted unanimously on to March 22 name Julie Cunningham as the agency’s next executive director. Cunningham had been serving as the interim executive director since October 2016 following the departure of J.D. Strong to lead the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The State Water Resources Control Board, in consultation with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, is required to adopt principles and guidelines for the diversion and use of water for cannabis cultivation.

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Digests

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I stopped in for a check-up this week at my doctor’s office and, as I stood in the waiting area, I surveyed the patients and wondered which of them – which of us – will be able to afford a visit a year from now. When I talked with the doctor later, he seemed to wonder too.

In the last few years the portion of uninsured Americans slid to record lows, another way of saying that health care has become available to more of us – many more than a decade ago. The system is not perfect or cheap, but insured care is more affordable. The new bill being wrangled over in the U.S. House, planned for a vote this last week, would put insurance – health care – out of reach for tens of millions of Americans, and weaken or make more expensive coverage for tens of millions more.

This has gotten lots of attention around the country, but less, it seems, in debates and discussions in Congress. How are Idaho’s two House members – participants in the battle underway (as this was written Thursday evening) – framing the talk about it?

In different ways.

Raul Labrador released this (lightly edited here) as his position statement on March 8:

“Six years ago, I promised the people of Idaho that I would do everything I could to fully repeal and replace Obamacare with a healthcare system that focused on people, not programs. One built around successful health outcomes, not the bottom line of insurance companies. … I have spent the last two days studying the American Health Care Act, and unfortunately, it is not that bill. Upon its release, President Trump signaled his willingness to negotiate. I’m eager to take him up on this offer. All good legislative solutions must go through rigorous debate, and I’m willing to work with the leadership in the House, and the President, to find a solution to this critical problem. What I won’t do is break the pledge I made to the people of Idaho who sent me here to fix this. I am hopeful we can have an open and honest debate on this issue. We owe it to the people of Idaho and the nation to get it right.”

What does “get it right” mean? Right for who? What insurance would people have when they get sick? No specifics are on offer.

As of Thursday evening, Labrador said he remained opposed to the new bill, as well as the ACA. What he would rather have is unclear. Others in the “Freedom Caucus” (of which he’s a member) seem to want a simple ACA repeal, or something close to it: a return to 2009 which would, like the current bill, throw tens of millions off insurance, end coverage guarantees and return to higher increases in premiums. Would Labrador go along with that?

Mike Simpson, by profession a dentist before joining Congress, is not clearer. He like Labrador has repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but as to the specifics of what should follow … He’s not released a general statement on the new proposal by House Speaker Paul Ryan as Labrador has, though a spokesman said, “it is impossible to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because changes are currently being made and we haven’t seen the final bill.” True; the terms of the bill seem continually up for grabs, and a House vote may happen before many of them even are analyzed. But as with Labrador, we haven’t heard much about specifics.

Simpson, who has been close to House leadership for some years, also was quoted by National Public Radio: “One of the reasons I don’t want this bill to fail is I don’t want Paul to fail.”

I doubt that the people in physician waiting rooms in Idaho Falls and Nampa next year will much care about Paul Ryan’s political stature. They’re more likely to be concerned about whether, or not, they can afford the health care they need.

That may be the subject of a lot of questions, for both Labrador and Simpson, in months to come.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

frazier

Boise’s City Council deferred action on funding a PR campaign toy get the F-35 fighter jet based in Boise.

Prior to the 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting the GUARDIAN learned the proposed resolution to spend up to $100,000 with a Washington, D.C. firm to attract the F-35 fighter to Boise had been put off until April 4.

We talked to a City Councilor who told the GUARDIAN, “We needed to get more information.” Kudos to the council for deferring the request and seeking more details.

In the interest of citizen assistance, we offer the following information from the MANTA website:
“Kiley & Associates, LLC is a privately held company in Washington, DC and is a Single Location business. Categorized under Business Management Consultants. Our records show it was established in 2009 and incorporated in District of Columbia. Current estimates show this company has an annual revenue of $260,000 and employs a staff of approximately 1.” The same info appears on multiple websites.

The councilor was evasive when we asked about spending $100K for an ad agency. The councilor said it was not an ad agency. We said, “OK, a PR firm.” The councilor said it wasn’t a PR firm (and they needed to get more information before approving the Mayor’s request to make a $100,000 payment to Gregory Kiley who appears –at least on internet sites– to be a one man band with no “associates”).

We applaud the council for NOT approving the expenditure of $100,000 to attract the F-35. It crossed our mind that there is a major problem in one or both of the following rhetorical questions:

–Would the United States Air Force actually decide to base the F-35 in Boise using information provided by a one man ad agent-PR guy-lobbyist-consult?

–If the answer is NO, then wouldn’t it be foolish or at least suspect for the City to spend $100,000 hoping to use public relations to influence the defense of our nation?

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Frazier

carlson

If you think someone is watching or listening to you, odds are pretty high you’re partially correct. For sure you are not paranoid because it is almost a certainty that in this digital age you are being recorded.

The proliferation of sensors and digital cameras has been simply breathtaking. The amount of data being accumulated about individuals, their buying habits, recreation preferences, medical condition is stunning. Google yourself. You’ll be bowled over by high much is known about you.

Many folks have a false sense of security that their personal
information, income status, health history and credit record are safe. Balderdash. If there is one lesson folks should indelibly imprint on their brain it is that there is nothing a professional hacker cannot hack into. A basic rule one should keep in mind is this: The more connected one is the more vulnerable he is.

I garnered an inkling of what was coming during the presidential election of 2004. We kept getting a call from the county Republican campaign headquarters asking our presidential preference. Whether my wife answered or I answered each time we politely told them there was no way we would vote to re-elect President George W. Bush. Still, they kept calling.

Explaining all this to a good Republican friend drew a laugh. He gleefully explained the GOP (as well as the Democrats) had a sophisticated voter analysis program that developed profiles of solid Republican voters. I fit the profile yet was blowing their model.

Their data showed I had voted for Bush in 2000 (Could not stand Al Gore), was the co-owner of a successful small business, had purchased a flaming red Cadillac, had purchased a new shot gun for trap shooting, had a concealed weapons permit, had for a time belonged to the NRA, attended Mass at least once a week, sent my children to a private Catholic high school – in short, I appeared to be an almost perfect Bush voter, but I wasn’t.

One had the feeling they thought their entire model would collapse.

Fast forward now to 2017, and the amazing proliferation of even more technological developments, from iphones and ipads to kindles to gps chips in everything that moves and sensors that record reams of data instantly. All this and much more is explained in the one book everyone should read this year – Thank You for Being Late by the New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman.

His thesis is that there are three major forces inexorably shaping our future. Furthermore they are accelerating at an exponential pace that is outpacing human ability to understand and keep up let alone shape and control.

This ought to scare the hell out of a normal person because the day is not far off when society will have robots with artificial intelligence performing many mundane tasks. Think though about the implications of AI advancing beyond its inventor.

Perhaps you may recall that great scene in the Stanley Kubrick movie 2001. Hal, the on board computer, decides Dave, the space vehicle’s pilot, and his co-pilot are threats to the all-consuming mission to Jupiter.

While the co-pilot is outside the ship Hal cuts the tether and there goes the co-pilot spinning off into space. Hal then refuses to open the airlock that will permit Dave back onto the ship. Dave nonetheless figures out a way and the next scene is Dave, still in his space suit walking into the guts of the super computer to dismantle it.

The dialogue between Hal and Dave is one of the show’s highlights. The only thing Kubrick gets wrong is the size of the computer. Friedman explains how “Moore’s Law” has driven technology in the last 50 years to ever smaller, ever more powerful computer chips at ever more cheap to produce costs. The super computer in 2001 would fit into today’s lap top.

Friedman contends that what is so discomforting to so many is the simultaneous explosive acceleration in technology coupled with forces driving globalization and compounded by global warming and habitat loss.

He outlines how this incredible pace is impacting politics,
geopolitics, ethics, the workplace and communities. The implications of computer chips coupled with sensors, digital cameras, storage capacity and search engines to make a billion calculations in one second makes for an easy leap to recognizing that somewhere,someplace there are recordings of our coming and goings, of our phone conversations and who they are with. The search engine just needs a key word to find it.

What makes this book a cause for hope rather than despair is a quote Friedman cites at the beginning from the famous French scientist, Madame Marie Curie: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” Amen.

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Carlson