Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in May 2017

Simpson breaks rank

richardson

Almost all Republican members of Congress resist the idea of an independent commission to investigate the web of spy craft that undermined the integrity of the 2016 election. They argue that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are up to the task.

They are wrong. However well-intentioned individual members, these committees cannot do the job.

One of the few Republicans to break ranks is Idaho’s Mike Simpson who has publicly advocated for a truly independent commission. The Washington Post and The Hill report that Simpson thinks members of the Intelligence Committees are “too involved” to do a proper job. He wisely suggests that we learn from history, observing that – in the early 1970s – many politicians were too quick to dismiss the notion that Nixon had done anything wrong.

I share the anger of others who are profoundly disappointed in Simpson’s vote to repeal the ACA and replace it with “Trumpcare” and his inclination to support the rest of the Trump agenda. But unlike other members of Idaho’s all GOP congressional delegation, Simpson will, on occasion, put country before party. This is such a time, and it is significant.

We must understand all ramifications of foreign interference in the 2016 election so that we can prepare to address new threats and make sure this never happens again. The appointment of a special counsel was a critical first step in the process. But a prosecutor's focus is, necessarily, on past conduct. In order to prepare to thwart future meddling, an independent commission is needed. Creating such a commission will be a very heavy lift. It requires legislation – a bill passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

Several polls show that a large majority of the American public supports creation of an independent commission. But Democrats alone don't have the numbers to pass a bill. Only if enough Republicans summon the courage to follow Mike Simpson’s lead and join the Democratic minority will a bill establishing this commission pass in the House and Senate.

If and when that bill lands on his desk, there will be tremendous pressure on the president to sign it into law. If he vetoes the bill, we can reasonably conclude that he wants to bury the truth, that he has a lot to hide, and that he is unwilling to address the escalating threats going forward. Should the president veto such a bill, it would help confirm what a growing body of evidence strongly suggests – that he is, indeed, Russia's errand boy.

But if Congress acts to establish an independent commission, it will be because a handful of Republicans, like Mike Simpson, finally stepped up to break the partisan log jam. Regardless of my adverse views on much of Simpson’s record, I acknowledge and applaud his leadership on this extremely serious matter.

But now it is time for Simpson’s actions to match his words. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, has introduced a bill that would create a bipartisan, 12-member panel in the mold of the 9/11 Commission. Simpson should join his Republican colleagues Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina as co-sponsors of Swalwell’s bill.

Last week, the Republican majority in the House blocked a move to bring Swalwell’s bill to a vote. Democrats are now gathering signatures on a discharge petition, which would trigger a floor vote if a majority of Congress signs on. That means they need 23 Republican signatures.

This is where the rubber meets the road for Mike Simpson. If Simpson co-sponsors Swalwell’s bill and signs the discharge petition, we will know that his show of independence is more than lip service. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Organizing the disaffected

rainey

At the moment, our country suffers many ills. National anger, resentment, a sense of lethargy, lost direction and distrust of government and other traditional institutions. Poll after poll after endless poll confirm the national despair. It’s real. It’s palpable. It’s weighing us down and sapping energies like nothing in my lifetime.

Some pundits lay blame for all this at the feet of one D. Trump. Not totally so, I think. The symptoms and feelings, existed years before he got the political bug and became the darling of a too-willing media. At best, it seems he can be charged with brutishly using all this as a basis for a deeply flawed - but successful - candidacy. He turned them into tools with which he played to suspicions, pumped up fear, posited lies as truths, offered false hope of change and a return to some mythical country that never existed. He even created a fictional D. Trump. He’s still doing it. And will continue.

Those who believe he’ll lead this nation to some sort of political nirvana have always been with us. But two things have changed - they’ve found someone to lead them who has international access - and the Internet.

I’ve known some of these disparagers of America all my life; successfully avoiding them mostly because they appeared singly or in small groups. Remember the John Birch Society? Or the Liberty Lobby? But it’s been the I-Net that’s given voice and a realization there are others with whom they can connect. And they have.

Proof of this personal theory can be found on your own little computer machine daily. In large measure. Someone invents a name or website - bleedingpatriotsforamerica.com - and suddenly others, eager for affirmation of their flawed beliefs, copy and paste what was only the raving of a drunken individual at two in the morning in a Michigan basement. Then, someone you don’t even know - but who’s a “friend-of-a-friend” on some “social” media site - splashes it on your screen and the lie spreads like rippling water. You don’t have to be Breitbart or Drudge or Beck. You just need the I-net and a keyboard.

In those months of the worst presidential contest of a lifetime, it was Trump who had the keyboard. He didn’t invent the anger and malaise - he just organized it. He called it a presidential campaign, captured a national media of sycophants willing to act as his unpaid campaign team/ad agency, regurgitated all the angry bile of the disaffected, added some of his own and played sucker donors out of dollars to be paid to his own companies to cover his expenses.

I’ve said for months the guy doesn’t want to be president. Why would he? Money? Fame? Power? He has all those in spades. “Make America Great Again?” How? Is he saying or proposing things to reshape the country in a positive, world leadership role? Is he talking like a leader? Thinking like a leader? Acting like a leader?

Then there’s the issue of his businesses and financial affairs. The guy has proven himself to be someone who has to be - MUST BE - in charge of everything around him. Did he truly put all that in a blind trust? Did he give access to his personal/business fortunes to anyone else? Anyone? Would he actually give up “control?”

The only thing we do know is he’s a pain in the national political ass. He’s coalescing his angry followers and continues to feed the anger and division we now contend with.

Our familiar, traditional national political base has radically changed in these past 20 months. That’ll continue. Both parties are losing members. More and more people think of themselves as independents or unaffiliated. Minority voters are growing at an unprecedented rate and studies repeatedly show they want to be politically active. Voters - and major donors - are turning to state politics. Congress - proving itself ineffective and rife with partisanship - is becoming less of a factor in how this nation deals with its problems.

This all makes for a national malaise of uncertainty. Uncertainty can scare people. It can disappoint. It can disaffect and alienate countries around the world with whom we have to work. It can be a breeding ground for bad decision-making. If it continues long enough, it can alter the course of a nation.

No, D. Trump didn’t bring us to this trying time. We’ve done it to ourselves in many ways. But, he’s been clever enough, loud enough and manipulative enough to take full advantage of the situation. More than it ever should, where we go from here depends - in great measure - on how we deal with this guy. That’s a national problem we must fix. Quickly.

Water Digest – May 22

Water rights weekly report for May 22. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

From U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, a perspective piece on water rights: "Too often, issues like forest management and water rights don’t make it into the news, but they have profound impacts on Coloradans. I remain committed to ensuring voices from the West are heard in the policy discussions happening in Washington."

The Montana Farm Bureau on May 19 released a statement supporting the Water Rights Protection Act, which would eliminate a requirement that certain grazing water rights be released to federal agencies in return for permissions to graze.

At the Oroville Dam in northern California: "The flood control spillway flow is currently at 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Inflow is approximately 12,946 cfs. Current lake elevation is at 829.98 feet. Hyatt Powerplant is currently discharging 5,000 cfs. Total Feather River flow is 19,550 cfs."

An ambitious Nevada water management bill, Assembly Bill 298, appears to have ground to a halt in the Nevada legislative process for this year.
It did pass the state Assembly on April 26 by a vote of 26-16, but may have run aground in the Senate.

PHOTO Spillway from the Oroville Dam in California (from the California Department of Water Resources)

Idaho Digest – May 22

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for May 22. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Idaho Falls will be getting a full community college after the election last week, when the voters of Bonneville County decisively approved the proposal.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little – in his capacity as acting governor – on May 19 signed an executive order today directing a sweeping review of Idaho’s occupational licensing requirements.

Significant drops in the number of unemployed Idahoans and people looking for work pushed the state’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down to 3.4 percent in April, narrowing an already tight labor market even further.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on May 18 announced that President Donald J. Trump signed a Presidential Disaster Declaration today for eight northern and north-central Idaho counties, triggering the release of federal funds to help communities recover from flooding that occurred March 6-28.

Snake River flows below Minidoka and Milner dams will be decreasing from today through May 18, to end flow passing Milner Dam. The Idaho Water Resource Board suspended Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer recharge operations on May 18, effective immediately.

Anglers should soon know the fate of the 2017 spring Chinook run, and how much longer the spring fishing season will continue. Fisheries managers plan to re-evaluate the season after seeing how many chinook cross Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, which is the first dam the fish cross that are bound for Idaho.

PHOTO A group of activists stand at the Grove Convention Center in Boise. (photo/United Vision for Idaho)

The conspiracy problem

stapiluslogo1

Fictional dramas and thrillers employ conspiracies regularly - they’re a good device - but actual, significant, real and successful conspiracies are a rare thing.

In American history, only a few have managed to achieve their purpose, even a limited purpose, before coming unspun. The Lincoln assassination conspiracy was one; the 9-11 conspiracy was another. Most others you might think of either weren’t really conspiracies, or very significant, or didn’t work out. And the Lincoln conspiracy only halfway succeeded; most of the targets were just injured or hurt not at all.

Conspiracies are hard, because they rely on total secrecy (you know what happens when you start sharing your secrets), a good plan, a short time frame, discipline and a tight organization. And other things. The elements seldom come together, and hardly ever when more than a very few people are involved. Conspiracies involving large groups spun out over a long time hardly ever work. When they’re tried, they usually collapse and fail. If someone tries to sell you such a thing, be highly skeptical.

Turning now to the saga of Alex Jones and Chobani.

Jones is the host of the program Infowars - the title always struck me as an unwitting acknowledgement it is waging war on actual information - which peddles conspiracy theories. Most are national and many explicitly political, but Jones ran into problems when he zeroed in on Twin Falls and one of the food processing companies with operations there, Chobani.

Chobani, which makes yogurt, was founded in New York by businessman Hamdi Ulukaya. The name Chobani descends from Turkish and Persian antecedents. Ulukaya himself is a Turkish immigrant and has spoken out about refugee problems. He has followed up with meaningful action, employing more than 300 refugees as employees. (And he and Chobani have been honored for their efforts.)

For people of a certain persuasion, all this may be enough for a bit of a side-eye.

All this also was, naturally, grist for the conspiracy-minded. In April, Infowars reported: “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists” and said its employees had led to a “500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.” A big conspiracy was afoot.

And Jones said he would come to Idaho for a reckoning, for reporting that would, “show the Islamists getting off of the planes.” Challenged on all this in a lawsuit filed by Chobani, Jones declared stoutly, “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die. I’m not backing down. I’m never giving up. I love this.”

Yeah. Well. That was so last month. Here’s what he said, in settling a Chobani defamation lawsuit, this week:

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees, and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

From what I’ve seen, Ulukaya and the Chobani people have too much class to gloat. At least in public.

So allow me, right here, to do that on their behalf. And offer the reminder that in the real world, actual attempts at conspiracy tend to come undone, in ungainly ways, all on their own, without any help from Alex Jones.

Sentencing regression

jones

Despite the fact that the number of persons incarcerated in federal prisons is at a ten-year low, in February U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Justice Department policy of phasing out the government’s use of private prisons.

Sessions claimed the use of for-profit prisons was necessary “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” This was news to the law enforcement community because the federal prison population has been on the decline since 2013. There are presently about 189,000 federal prisoners, of which around 21,000 are in private prisons.

Federal experience with private prisons has been much like that experienced by Idaho. That is,for-profit facilities have had more safety and security problems than government facilities. Let’s not forget the “gladiator school” scandal at the Idaho prison formerly operated by Corrections Corporation of America (now, CoreCivic, which is one of the federal contractors). The Idaho prison was understaffed and time-keeping records were substantially inflated. However, the company did not scrimp on campaign contributions. In sum, the private prison was a bad experience for our good state.

Perhaps Sessions’ rationale for embracing privately run prisons comes into better focus in light of his May 12 directive to federal prosecutors to throw the book at criminal defendants. His view is that mandatory minimum sentences should be levied against even low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, a policy that has been discredited in Idaho and a majority of other states. It resulted in ballooning prison populations and expenditures, without making communities safer.

I have to admit that I supported mandatory minimum sentences for drug kingpins during my tenure as Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s.

However, Idaho and other states have come to realize that long mandatory sentences are not appropriate for every offender. They tie the hands of judges who are best positioned to tailor the appropriate punishment for the crimes committed by a particular defendant. And, while they do not reduce recidivism, they do needlessly inflict damage on the families of low-risk offenders. In 2014, Idaho adopted the Justice Reinvestment Act to provide for earlier release of low-level offenders, to provide greater supervision of those individuals to ensure their success, to reduce the number of repeat offenders, and to reduce the cost of Idaho’s prison program. The legislation had broad-based support and holds out great promise for success.

During the last Congress, bipartisan support was developing to implement similar sentencing reform on the federal level until then-Senator Sessions helped to derail the effort. Even our own Congressman Raul Labrador spoke in favor of reform. Now, it appears that AG Sessions intends to take us back to the bad old days of mass incarceration.

This may be a boon to the private prison companies but it will be no favor to taxpayers. The new federal policy will not affect Idaho’s prison system directly but it may plant the idea that states need to follow the federal leader back to discredited incarceration practices.

Pandering meets stupidity

carlson

One of the worst things too many politicians do is pander to their constituents, telling them what they want to hear, not what they should hear. It is endemic and it is epidemic not to mention also insulting to the intelligence of the voter.

It is especially disgusting when the pandering politician knows it is just kabuki theater designed to keep their supporters mollified in the belief that their congressman or senator is looking out for their best interests.

A recent example was the introduction of a bill, S. 132, on January 3, 2017 by Idaho’s two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, that restricts the President’s ability to utilize the Antiquities Act to preserve special and in some cases, sacred lands deemed worthy of extra protection, The bill mandates “local approval” and congressional authorization for any new monument designations.

The bill effectively gives higher standing to the comments of those living in and adjacent to these national interest public lands. In doing so it illegally creates a second class of citizenship, with those living next to or inside the boundaries of these public lands having a greater say and sway with the federal land management agencies.

Such legislation panders to the myth, the mistaken belief that public lands in a state like Idaho, in which the government owns 61% of the state’s acreage, belong more to those making a living directly or indirectly from those lands.

Many Idahoans simply refuse to acknowledge that a condo dweller in upper Manhatten has as much interest in Idaho’s public lands as does any Idahoan. Bills such as the Crapo/Risch proposal¸ that require public hearings as well as a public vote before a president can act, serve only to perpetuate the myth of neighbor ownership.

Until recently one could remain philosophical about such proposals. After all it is hard to imagine any president deliberately signing legislation that would restrict his power. In what appears to be an incredibly stupid move, though, President Donald Trump appears about to prove how unsuited he is for the presidency.

He has ordered a review of 27 national monument designations made by his three immediate predecessors apparently with the idea he may actually try to rescind some by executive order and lessen the acreage of others. He thus is encouraging those who believe a president just might be dumb enough to give up some of his authority.

Here is what Senators Crapo and Risch don’t tell their constituents:

they don’t tell them that almost every national park had its beginnning as a national monument;

that almost all of these then national monuments were opposed at the time by the surrounding communities but today they are seen as the key to a clean thriving tourism economy---parks like Olympic, Grand Canyon, and Grand Teton were first national monuments.

That all but three presidents have created national monuments since 1906---the three non­-users were Ricard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush.

Utah is leading the charge to limit a president’s usuage of the Antiquities Act, yet four of the five national parks Utah advertises traveling to visit started as national monuments.

Critics clamor for more public hearings yet the Bear Ears National Monument had the most public process in history.

The largest national monument declaration ever was NOT the Alaska lands designation of 56 million acres, it was actually a declaration by George W. Bush of an oceanic national monument in the Pacific.

During the last government shut-down Utah felt so strongly about the importance of the national parks to its tourism economy that they agreed to pay the daily cost (some $167,000) out of state funds to keep them open.

Despite false claims of restricted access to national monument lands regarding alleged arbitrary restrictions on fishing, hiking, camping, and even some hunting in adjacent “preserves,” monuments are open for recreational multiple uses along with some grazing. Understandably, logging, oil and gas drilling, and mineral entries are deemed incompatible activities.

Creating national monuments is not a new federal land grab - the monuments are carved out of alreay existing public lands.

National interest lands - parks, monuments, fish and wildlife refuges, seashores and wilderness areas - are all part of a natural legacy belonging to all Americans. Left solely to Senators and Congressmen, most too heavily influenced by contributors, this wonderful national heritage belonging to all of us never would have happened.

Diagnostic babble

rainey

At the behest of a national media that knows no bounds when it comes to tastelessness and meaningless trivia, there’s a group of otherwise respected health professionals seemingly betraying its own code of ethics. I’m talking about psychiatrists and psychologists.

Day after day, you see them paraded on the vapid “talk” shows - all discussing the mental state of Donald Trump. Using the deeply clinical language of their professional calling, they sound so officious as they attach their psychiatric labels to a person they’re never met or whose medical records they’ve never read let alone had the opportunity do an in-person examination.

I’ve known and worked with a goodly number of mental health professionals over the years. Nearly all have been circumspect when it came to talking about clients. The real pros just don’t. They won’t violate the one-on-one relationships they specialize in.

But, daily and nightly, people with the title of “doctor” tied to their names, prattle on and on about D. Trump’s psychiatric state.

Now, some - or all - may be medically correct in their remote diagnoses. They may know exactly what lurks in Trump’s head. They may have the man pegged to a “T.” But their pronouncements have no place on national television or in the pages of some tabloid “newspaper.” Not even after a few drinks to lubricate their educated tongues down at Clancey’s just before closing.

If a network talking head wants to get into the mental speculation, fine. That’s apparently what they’re paid to do. But the “guests” who are mental health professionals - in my opinion - have no business prostituting their credentials by trying to use their training to titillate viewers who couldn’t tell a psychosis from an oil tanker.

No question there’s been a lot of speculation about Trump’s mental state. How could there not be? The constant lying. Ignorant descriptions of history and events that never happened. His admiration of world political figures who are dictators, killers or nut cases. His refusal to take nearly any advice and an unwillingness to educate himself about his duties and responsibilities. The tweets.

If I had the advanced mental health training of a psychiatrist or psychologist, I’d probably examine the clues of what’s on the public record and have some sort of opinion about the man’s mental condition. But that opinion - backed by that professional training - should not - and would not - be part of the 11 o’clock news.

Average viewers have no extended education in mental illness. They’re not equipped with the necessary technical information to fully understand the ramifications of what’s being discussed.

I’d like to see a legal ban on such interviews and an end to participation by licensed professionals in the public conversations.

You want to have a meaningful and informative discussion of Trump’s mental state? Fine. Meet me at Clancey’s just before last call.

From Russia with malice

jones

I’m having a hard time understanding the Republican Party that I joined back in the early 1960s. At that time, our main foreign adversary was the Soviet Union. It was bent on destruction of the American way of life. We engaged in an ugly decades-long struggle with the USSR, fighting proxy wars around the globe. Republicans were in the forefront of the fray, denouncing Russian imperialism while providing the war material to combat Russia’s ambitions. No more.

Many of the current Republican Members of Congress don’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Russia meddled in our elections last year, that Russian media regularly spews out fake news blaming the U.S. for practically all of the world’s ills, that Russia has gobbled up Crimea and is threatening our allies in Europe, that Russia is purposely bombing hospitals and U.S. allies in Syria, that Russia is likely providing arms to the Taliban much like it provided arms to the North Vietnamese to kill American troops in the 1960s, and that Russia is doing many other things to weaken and discredit the United States, both at home and abroad.

They don’t appear to be concerned that our President is seemingly infatuated with Vladimir Putin and cannot bring himself to speak ill of this vile person who has pillaged Russia and used deadly force to silence those who dare speak out against him. They seem to have no qualms about the fact that the President fired the FBI chief just as he was planning to ramp up the investigation of Russia’s efforts to disrupt America’s 2016 elections. And, the day after doing so, the President had a chummy meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the White House--a meeting that Putin had demanded in a recent phone call with the President. It was a nice propaganda coup for Putin that was memorialized by a Russian photographer because American journalists were excluded.

The Republican Party that I remember from years ago would be demanding a full-throated investigation of these activities because they pose a substantial threat to our country. The most some Republicans can muster is a shrug of their shoulders and comments such as, “well its history, let’s just move on.” Has the republican Party turned into such a hyper-partisan entity that it is not willing to get to the bottom of this alarming mess? Seems so.

We can’t rely on the Justice Department to act in an even-handed manner because the AG, after having recused himself from the Russian investigation, took part in getting rid of the FBI Director. It is essential that an independent commission, like the 9-11 Commission, or a special prosecutor be appointed to conduct a thorough investigation into what the Russians did, how they did it, and whether there was any involvement by U.S. citizens.

We must learn all we can about Russia’s cyber capabilities and how to combat them. The Congressional committees do not have the resources or staff to do an adequate job. If we let the Russians get away with their blatant interference with America’s sacred election process, they will do it again. Next time the target may be the Republicans, unless they continue their strange laissez-faire attitude toward Russian aggression.

We need to demand that the Idaho Congressional delegation stand up for America, rather than standing idly by while Putin tries to tear down the American dream.

Water digest – May 15

Water rights weekly report for May 15. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

Oklahoma state is facing a budget deficit. Should it sell some of its waster rights to thirsty Texas to help balance the books? The idea is coming up for discussion again partly because of proposals by former Oklahoma Governor David Walters.

A new study finds that when it comes to allocating water from the Upper Deschutes River for irrigation purposes, less is more. Findings indicate that the current system encourages inefficient use of water by senior water rights holders and very efficient use of water by junior water rights holders, resulting in higher crop yields and economic value on farms that have implemented practices to improve water use efficiency.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army sent a letter to governors today soliciting input from states on a new definition of protected waters that is in-line with a Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in the 2006 Rapanos v. United States case. Scalia’s definition explains that federal oversight should extend to “relatively permanent” waters and wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to large rivers and streams.

The governing board of trustees of the College of Southern Idaho at Twin Falls decided May 9 to buy water rights to Pristine Springs, a nearby geothermal aquifer.