Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in October 2017

A win against their customers

jones

With the help of Idaho’s two Senators, the U.S. Senate voted on October 24 to kill a rule allowing mistreated bank customers to band together to seek redress in court. The vote allows banks to force their customers into often one-sided arbitration of grievances against the banks.

Forced arbitration clauses prevent bank customers from bringing group lawsuits to recover for improper banking practices. And, they deprive bank customers of resort to the judicial system where they can get a fair shake.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a rule in July that prevented financial institutions from requiring customers to arbitrate disputes with their banks, rather than going to court. Mandatory arbitration clauses are written into the fine print of hundreds of millions of lengthy consumer financial service contracts. The CFPB rule would have allowed consumers to join together to sue banks for their misconduct. It was good public policy and supported by the polling data. An American Future Fund poll showed 67% support for the rule, including 64% of Republicans polled.

In announcing the rule, CFPB Director Richard Cordray noted that “when Wells Fargo opened millions of deposit and credit card accounts without the knowledge or consent of customers, arbitration clauses in existing account contracts blocked their customers from bringing group lawsuits for the unauthorized account openings.” The rule was designed to protect bank customers from this type of misconduct in the future, and to give them a realistic chance of recovering their damages if it does happen.

It is impractical for an individual to arbitrate a small dollar dispute with his or her bank. If the bank has manipulated the processing of checks on an account to substantially increase the overdraft fees, resulting in an excessive charge of several hundred dollars, the cost and time consumed in arbitration is practically prohibitive. The banks know this and that is why they slip arbitration clauses into their mind-numbing consumer contracts. And, that is why very few people arbitrate their banking disputes.

If mistreated customers can aggregate their claims and join together to sue in court for banker misconduct, they have a substantially greater chance of being made whole for their losses. Going after claims of several hundred dollars for each of thousands of cheated customers makes a joint recovery feasible. Court proceeding are not weighted in favor of an economically powerful party, like arbitration can be, and those cheated can have the benefit of trial by jury.

Arbitration is a good alternative for resolving commercial disputes where large amounts are at issue and the parties stand on relatively equal ground. It is not a reasonable alternative where a weaker party is unwittingly forced into it and only a small dollar amount is involved. The more powerful parties in such disputes know that many of the arbitrators are inclined in their favor in hopes of getting repeat business. The weak party with a single small claim will not provide repeat business.

The banks lobbied hard for their win against consumers on this issue and succeeded in making it difficult to discourage mistreatment of bank customers. The vote to repeal the CFPB rule was 50-50 in the Senate, with the Vice President breaking the tie. The U.S. House of Representatives had already voted for repeal on July 25, hardly allowing the ink to dry on the July 10 rule. Both of our Congressmen voted for repeal. Too bad the bank customers did not have a lobbying arm working for them.

Dangerous and unacceptable change

rainey

I’ve always been amused at the old saw “change is constant.” Seems to me an oxymoron with “change” meaning evolving or moving and “constant” something that doesn’t evolve or move.

One of the major life issues for older persons is to either accept change and deal with it in its many forms or remain “constant” which will eventually leave you more and more alone.

Sometimes, though, change can be so vast while being so subtle, so slow, that you don’t sense it and deal with it, which will lead to confusion and uncertainty. For several decades, we’ve been experiencing a slow evolution affecting all our lives and our world. It’s becoming increasingly clear we aren’t dealing with it very well. Individually or as a nation.

For many reasons, including computer technology, education and lifestyle, constant and irrevocable change has been going on all around us. Some good. Some bad. But it’s changing everyone of us almost without notice.

Examples are many. Fraternal, business, civic and religious institutions are disappearing. Makes no difference if you’re talking about the local Rotary club, the church down the street or the chamber of commerce. Participation is waning and they’re in danger of being irrelevant or gone. Possibly not in our lifetimes but statistics are telling the sad story. We’re losing community connectedness.

The two main political parties are suffering the same lack of participation and have become less influential. They’re becoming irrelevant. Where votes have historically been their basis of clout, now it’s money from billionaires. Democrats nationally are still fighting the internal Clinton/Sanders split of 2016 and are badly divided. Significant gains in 2018 are very unlikely.

Republicans have seen their party structure disintegrate - becoming splinter groups unwilling to work together toward a common goal, fractured by religious zealots, big money, character assassination with cowardly majorities in Congress. Independent and splinter “parties” add to eroding the political power of the past for all.

Our increasing national lack of societal and political civility have overcome comity and reason. Coarseness defines our national nature. Outrageous behavior in sports, entertainment, politics and even religion have replaced common sense, caring and norms that have defied centuries of previous assault.

Kids are more violently rebelling against authority - schools are unable to cope much less educate; more children are killing themselves - and others; drugs-of-choice are used more openly - and universally- by kids and adults; outright police violence versus civil disrespect for authority; corporations are cheating customers with more concern for profits at any cost; celebrity is based on deviant behavior rather than talent; our monetary world is rife with practices abusing/cheating consumers.

There’s also a national ignorance of far too many citizens about how their government operates, i.e. what it is, how it’s run, how laws are created or abolished, the role of government in their lives and their responsibilities to it. Stunning ignorance which has resulted in intellectually vacant officeholders dreaming of lifetimes of employment rather than conducting the public’s business - if they even know of - care - what that is.

“So, Rainey,” you say. “A lot of that has been around for centuries and we’ve survived. What’s different?”

Yep, you’re right. But, something we’ve never had access to until the last 40 years or so has created a more dangerous threat to our world: computer technology. While all these things have truly been around in one form or another, computers have linked the shunned, the powerless, the outright crazies and given them voices of power and influence they’ve never had in our history.

A doped up guy in a Cleveland garage can access today’s wizardry to represent him and his delusions to the masses. Some folks have used it to talk their friends into suicides. Once personal details of our lives can now be stolen regularly to do lasting damage to otherwise upstanding people. National electrical systems can be brought down. Crackpot ideologies made to sound mainstream with millions of “adherents.” Military power can be hijacked or neutralized by a single person. World markets can be destroyed by someone with the right technology. And much, much more.

No, these words are not the result of some paranoia. They are the result of watching the evening news, reading several daily newspapers, doing some internet research. Living four score years and being observant.

Ours is an angry nation. An unforgiving nation. An out-of-control nation. The Civil War divided the country over the issue of slavery. Today, with the unlimited power of technology, we’re a fractured nation being assailed by huge pressures on every side. Better we should be split by some large single issue we can tackle and solve. As it is, we’re left to struggle individually with everything from violent children to nuclear war.

Our sense of community has disappeared. The patriotism and faith in something larger than ourselves, in too many instances, have been replaced with anxieties and a lack of national purpose.

“Change is constant.” So is the disassembling of a nation. For the old. For the young.

Idaho Briefing – October 30

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 30. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Enrollment seems to be up, a bit, at most of Idaho’s colleges and universities. And several of them are reporting some striking projects - from homeless analysis to avalanche warnings - around the state.

The Idaho State Tax Commission has published the latest tax burden study, which compares Idaho’s state and local taxes with those of other states and the District of Columbia. Alan Dornfest, the Tax Commission’s property tax policy bureau chief, conducted the annual study based on data from fiscal year (FY) 2015, the latest year for which U.S. Census Bureau figures are available.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest, Sawtooth National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management Idaho Falls District are providing another opportunity for the public to review and comment on the refined wilderness management plans and environmental analysis associated with the Hemingway-Boulders, White Clouds and Jim McClure-Jerry Peak wilderness areas.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter significantly restructured the State’s Workforce Development Council on October 26, seeking to close the gap between the training and education that Idaho job seekers have and the skills that Idaho employers need.

Rocky Mountain Power and the city of Idaho Falls have requested approval of an agreement that would help resolve transfers of service among existing customers in areas annexed by the city.

PHOTO Boise State University celebrated the opening of the new Honors College and Sawtooth Hall with a dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 24. Home to 656 students, the new five-story, $40 million building includes Honors-dedicated living and learning spaces, as well as housing for other students, a dining venue, classrooms and spaces designed to boost the student experience on campus. The 236,000-square-foot building is located in the center of campus on University Drive across the street from the Student Union Building. (Boise State University)

Absolute truth

stapiluslogo1

Through most of the last generation you could find much of the edgy fringe of Idaho politics in Kootenai County, and pieces of a recent article about politics there helps locate one of the reasons things have gotten so worked up.

The article by Anne Helen Petersen on the site Buzzfeed is called “Here’s what happens when Republicans have no one to fight” (it is at https://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/wackadoodles-north-idaho). It describes in detail the evolution over the last half-century or so of local Republican politics, especially the relatively recent splintering between sundry pachyderms, Reagan Republicans, redoubters and others.

The most central current figure in the article is Brent Regan, chair of the Kootenai Republican Party Central Committee, where at meetings “people come to him, as if before a ruler, or a king.”

He apparently is not shy about expressing himself, writer Peterson said, and “when I asked him to help refine my understanding of liberty-minded conservative beliefs, Regan protested my use of ‘beliefs,’ which infers that they are, in fact, decisions — instead of ‘immutable truths.’”

The article quoted an email from Regan: “There is a right and a wrong, good and evil, and beneficial and detrimental. Society cannot thrive under Cartesian Relativism because it devolves into a muddle of conflicting ‘truths.’ The truths are that American Exceptionalism is the product of Judeo-Christian morality (The Ten Commandments) and of Logos (try to speak Truth), Greco-Roman philosophy (democracy and the idea that nature can be understood) and Anglo-Saxon Law (Magna Carta, the laws apply to all, even the King). The result is articulated in the most powerful political statement in history, the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution is a covenant between the states to create a federal government. The Bill of Rights does not grant rights, it forbids the government from infringing on those rights which “are endowed by their Creator.”

No.

I reject his premise: These are not immutable truths. These are interpretations, analyses - ideas, opinions, which may have merit or not, but most certainly are not facts. Facts and opinions are different things. It’s a fact that Regan was quoted in the article as the last paragraph indicates. This column is opinion and analysis, and so is the quote from the Regan email.

Some of what Regan says here is just silly. American exceptionalism is the outgrowth of the Ten Commandments? Really? Other parts seem more sensible. I would agree that the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence is among the most powerful political statements ever, but how is that contention fact and not opinion?

This is not mere philosophical hair-splitting. The inability to discern between fact and opinion is subtle but also one of the most serious real political problems we have these days, and it’s getting worse.

A big part of what we as Americans suffer from is an inability to compromise - which is another way of saying, the ability of the widely varied 323 million or so of us to get along and to work together. A society made up of people convinced of their own absolute, unquestioning rightness, the lack of any need to learn anything new - much less about their fellow citizens - can keep our country from functioning. It can blow a society apart.

You want to turn America into an updated version of the 90s-era Balkans? Evidently, you can find a prescription for that kind of future up in Kootenai County.

No slogans

schmidt

I want to applaud Director Cameron and former Director Armstrong for their creative and courageous work to bring down health care costs for all Idahoans and bring more of our neighbors out from under the threat of medical bankruptcy.

If more of us would pay attention to this critical problem that all of us face maybe we could get past the slogans and sound bites and do some work for the common good. It shouldn’t be about Democrats or Republicans, because we are all in this mess together.

The Medicaid expansion I fought for under the Affordable Care Act was not a final solution. No, it would have been a simple first step: get all Idahoans covered by some health insurance plan. No more Catastrophic Fund tax burdens, no more liens filed on weak assets and medical bankruptcy ensured. Unburden our low wage workers from this threat. But that didn’t happen. Maybe the voters will consider the initiative and it could move forward. But their path is steep.

If Idaho would have (or chooses to) expand Medicaid coverage, the next step for all insurers (Medicaid is an insurance) would have been exactly what Armstrong and Cameron have proposed. Managing the most expensive patients is the holy grail for lowering health care costs. Fifty percent of all health care costs can be attributed to 10 percent of the population.

Can private insurance companies do this better, or a government program, such as the Directors have proposed? I believe the market could have answered this. Whether Medicaid or private insurers had better success, the voters could have decided where these patients are best served, on the exchange, or on Medicaid. I would hope in such a consideration the voting public would consider the justice of such a program, not just what it would mean to their own pocketbook.

Medicaid already cares for many disabled and expensive care patients. Private insurers see these folks as outliers in their actuarial calculations. Before the ACA, these patients would have been denied coverage. No, a couple dozen expensive medical conditions in a small insurance pool will drive up costs for all. I can imagine the insurance industry would gladly welcome the Armstrong/ Cameron proposal. Will Idaho taxpayers commit to support folks with these expensive conditions when the next economic downturn hits and revenues drop? Will budget writers cut schools, or expensive cancer patients?

Their proposal means we will sort sick people for insurance by their diagnosis and prognosis. Does this remind you of the slogan of a former Vice-Presidential candidate? I am trying to avoid slogans. I ask the careful reader to consider what it means to sort people in such a way. Does such a law, such a program fit your sense of justice? It doesn’t fit mine.

The inscription carved in marble above the US Supreme Court pillars reads: “Equal Justice Under Law”. I can think of no higher ideal.

All people deserve access to appropriate health care. We can afford it. We already spend twice as much per capita on health care as other developed counties. We just have to think more of the common good.

Immortality

carlson

October 8th was the sixty-first anniversary of one of the great sports events of all time: Don Larsen, pitching game five of the 1956 World Series, threw the only perfect game in series history. Twenty-seven Brooklyn Dodgers came to the plate, and 27 walked back to the dugout as Larsen led the New York Yankees to a 2-0 win.

Most baseball fans have seen the famous picture of the joyous Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra, rushing the mound to jump into Larsen’s arms. While there have been regular season no hitters pitched since then and even another Divisional play-off no hitter, there never has been another perfect game and some baseball pundits don’t believe there will ever be another.

The last survivor of those who played in that historic game is none other than Larsen himself. Since he and his spouse, Corrine, retired 23 years ago, the Larsens have lived quietly at Hayden Lake. He makes occasional appearances at Yankee Old-Timer events and signs a baseball now and then.

Otherwise he enjoys fishing on various Idaho lakes and streams. A few days before the anniversary a mutual friend arranged for my wife and I to have lunch with Don and Corrine. It was one of the most delightful two hour lunches I’ve spent in years.

My first surprise was how tall he still is, easily 6’5”, still slim, still ramrod straight and his mind and memory were still sharp. Not bad for one who turned 88 in August. Born in Indiana, the fmaily moved to San Diego when he was 14 where he attended Point Loma H.S. and was known more for his basketball skills (my second surprise) than his pitching talent.

His senior year he was named to the first team all-Southern California High School basketball team but he turned down basketball scholarship offers from St. Mary’s and Oregon. While playing baseball he caught the eye of a scout for the St. Louis Browns who signed him for a signing bonus of $850 (about $10,000 in today’s dollars) and in June of 1947 reported to his first minor league team. He rose steadily but in early 1951 was drafted into the Army and served for two years during the Korean War before being honorably discharged in early 1953.

During the spring he made the major league roster of the St. Louis Browns and made his major league debut on April 18, 1953. That winter the Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Orioles. Larsen struggled during the 1954 season, winning three and losing 21 games.

Two of his three wins though were against the Yankees and their manager, Casey Stengal, insisted Larsen be included in a large swap of players in 1955. Stengal saw something no one else did for there is virtually nothing in Larsen’s early career that hinted he had a date with destiny and baseball immortality. On that October day though even Larsen admits he had incredible control of his pitches.

Larsen was not aware that the 27th and last out against pinch-hitter Dale Mitchell has become the subject of some college philosophy classes on life’s ambiguity. Mitchell had a ball one, two strike count when Larsen let loose with his 97th pitch. Mitchell, started to swing then he claims checked his swing because he thought it would be ball three. The home plate umpire called it strike three and the game was over.

To his dying day Mitchell insisted it was a ball. The umpire retired after the game and never spoke about it again. At this lunch, Larsen growled “he swung and it was strike three. Game over.”

Asked who was the toughest out in the Dodger line-up, Larsen growled again,”they were all tough outs. These were the Dodgers after all.”

My third surprise was learning that Larsen “on his way down” as he put it, pitched in Spokane against the Spokane Indians while a member of the 1966 Phoenix Giants. He also pitched in Tacoma early in the 1967 season. His last major leaue appearance came with the Cubs on July 7th, 1967. He retired shortly thereafter.

His final record was 81 wins and 91 losses, an earned run average of 3.78 and 869 strike outs. It appears to be an average record for someone who spent 15 seasons in the majors. Packed in there though is that one magic October day when he pitched the only perfect World Series game.

For that he was named the World Series MVP and garnered baseball immortality. Understandably he is proud of that incredible achievement, but he has handled the ensuing years, which had both ups and downs, with dignity and grace.

Before leaving he signed a baseball for me and wrote on it “a perfect Dad.” I’ll treasure it as long as I live, undeserved though it is.

Drug company greed kills

jones

CBS’ 60 Minutes and the Washington Post are to be commended for derailing the President’s appointment of a shill for the drug industry as the nation’s drug czar.

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) withdrew his nomination when it was revealed that he had engineered passage of a bill in 2016 that hamstrung the ability of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to stop drug sales fueling the opioid epidemic. He had raked in about $100,000 from the pharmaceutical industry for his efforts. While a swamp creature bit the dust, there is more to the story of drug company greed.

When I was Idaho Attorney General in the late 1980s, it was known that hydrocodone and oxycodone were effective pain relievers, but highly addictive. At that time, the use of these opioids was generally limited to severe pain cases because of their addictive properties. However, in the 1990s some opioid makers saw gold in them thar hills and started aggressively marketing opioids, such as Purdue Pharma’s Oxycontin, as a general remedy for pain. Endo Pharmaceuticals and Johnson & Johnson joined in to peddle their opioids for wide use.

Advertisements in reputable medical journals hyped the use of opioid products as safe and effective pain relievers. Pharmaceutical companies reached into continuing education courses for doctors and medical school curricula to promote the widespread use of opioids. Attractive drug representatives assured doctors there was no need to be concerned that patients would become addicted to opioids. Lobbyists were employed to smooth the way for marketing these addictive painkillers without regulatory interference.

The drug companies obviously knew that these products were addictive and that many people who used them would become hooked, but the bright side was massive profits. The chances of being criminally prosecuted were remote, so they went full steam ahead.

As disclosed in the CBS/Post report, the major drug distributors got in on the act, making massive sales of opioid pills to pill-mill pharmacies that were obviously selling them to drug addicts. The DEA took note and began targeting suspicious drug shipments, which led to passage of the bill neutering the DEA’s enforcement effort. Rep. Marino was also able in the process to get rid of the DEA agent who was trying to stop the distributors’ drug trafficking. This occurred at the height of the opioid crisis when tens of thousands of Americans were dying of opioid overdoses each year (almost 65,000 in 2016). Nevertheless, both houses of Congress passed the Marino bill last year with nary a whimper. Talk about Congress being asleep at the switch. Perhaps some of the slumbers were aided by the millions of dollars of drug industry money pouring into congressional campaign coffers.

It seems to me that companies which sell a product, knowing that it is being abused and that it is killing people, should have to answer under the criminal law.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to prosecute low-level drug dealers and subject them to mandatory minimum sentences. Shouldn’t he focus some enforcement effort against high-level drug company executives whose greed drives them to carelessly pedal addiction and death to the public?

The Idaho congressional delegation can help by working to overturn the 2016 legislation and demanding that the Justice Department go after the corporate drug pushers.

Fear and the presidency

rainey

My father - born in 1904 - used to tell me he was lucky to have seen the “best years” of mankind’s development. He’d cite invention of radio and television, development of flight, automobiles and other inventions for the masses, computers, the booming years of industry, space travel, etc. He saw ‘em all.

But, there’s one thing he didn’t see and never, never imagined: a President of the United States of America - with malice of forethought and by deliberate action on his part - cause terrible hardship for millions of his fellow citizens. He never saw a President set out to destroy whole departments of our federal government by filling his Cabinet with totally unqualified zealots holding personal contempt for various official responsibilities given them.

My father’s lifelong respect for government was badly eroded when he learned of Richard Nixon’s ruthless lying, racism and outright anti-Semitism. Those were traits my well-educated father just never would have imagined in anyone elected President of this country. While I was living in Washington D.C. late in his life, and watching Watergate unfold, he was a pillar of his small community in Central Oregon - Masonic bodies, church, successful small business, etc.. But Richard Nixon destroyed my father’s near-blind faith in the goodness and honesty of the presidency.

I regularly give thanks he didn’t see much worse - that he never knew of Donald J. Trump.

It’s no exaggeration to write in this space that I fear for our country and for our collective futures. The man is an ignorant fool, unwilling to learn or listen. He’s like a destructive child wanting to break all his toys in fits of anger. His election buffoonery has turned to unbridled rage at the President who preceded him and he’s carrying out a child-like tantrum to destroy anything with Barack Obama’s name attached. He has shown himself to be a vile, treacherous human being.

His outrageous attack on the ACA - Obamacare - will not only result in the loss of heath care for millions of Americans, it will assuredly result in the death of many. Children with life-long, pre-existing conditions, adults needing specialized medical attention, seniors who can’t afford prescriptions, anyone whose needs exceed their ability to pay- all will be left to uncertain futures. And, again, even death.

The nearly unanimous voices of health care professionals - and their institutions of healing - said “NO.” Americans by the hundreds of millions said “NO.” Even the insurance industry said “NO.” But he shunned all and uprooted the foundations of America’s health systems which will, eventually, affect just about anyone in the country.

He’s undertaken other destructive acts against the government and the governed. But the most destructive of all was to name a Cabinet of zealots dedicated to undermining - and in some cases - destroying the very agencies they oversee.

Justice, Health & Human Services, Treasury, EPA and the rest are being ransacked while Trump keeps everyone’s attention with his outrageousness. Professionals necessary to carry out missions are resigning by the thousands. Trump spies have been inserted in all agencies. Regulations designed to protect are being shredded. Hundreds of attempts are underway to privatize everything from the post office to air traffic control. Even the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration ( NOAA). Just about any service or government support role.

You can add his deliberate verbal attacks on our European and other international allies. He’s severely undermined American’s role as a world leader. Our nation is now looked upon as unreliable in our treaties, our promises of aid and our military protection should those become necessary. We are regarded with universal suspicion and anger.

He’s threatened to abandon an American protectorate following a massive hurricane which has left the entire population in danger. He is ignorant of our laws regarding our responsibilities to citizens of such countries and has been petulant about coming to their aid and assistance.

Finally, he’s playing “nuclear chicken” with another madman. I’ve come to pray each night there’ll be a world to wake up to in the morning. He talks of “nuclear war” with absolute disregard of the accompanying nuclear devastation. His childlike belligerence in such verbosity is frightening people all over the world. Even his fellow Republicans have openly expressed the hope there are enough “adults” around Trump to keep him from starting a nuclear conflagration.

Yes, I’m glad Dad never met “President” Donald J. Trump. I’m also sorry that, as a solid middle class American in the first years of the 20th Century, he had to come to the late realization that honesty, sincerity and service-above-self, didn’t always describe an American President.

Trump just plain scares me to death!

Idaho Briefing – October 23

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 23. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

A familiar name on the ballot has entered the race against incumbent Republican 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson. Peter Rickards, a Twin Falls podiatrist, a long-time nuclear power critic and candidate for several offices over the years, said he will file for the seat held by Simpson since 1998.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest has spent the past several months documenting the current conditions and trends on the forest and in the surrounding communities. That assessment will soon be available in draft form. A series of public meetings November 6-14 will feature a chance to talk to the Salmon-Challis’ leadership and forest plan revision team about the findings.

Idaho’s September seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased for the seventh consecutive month to 2.8 percent — the lowest unemployment rate on record — dating back to January 1976. September’s decrease was due to a robust increase in the number of Idahoans working and a continued drop in the number of unemployed. Total employment grew by 4,154 in September — the largest monthly increase since July 1993 — driving the total number of people with jobs to 800,629.

Boise State University’s official enrollment for the fall 2017 semester is 24,154 — the highest in university history. Boise State served a total of more than 30,000 students over the course of the scholastic year last year, but the fall snapshot is the official enrollment for state and federal reporting purposes.

The city of Nampa has released an updated Snow and Ice Control Plan on its website, bracing for what has been forecasted another brutal winter.

PHOTO Elegant new entrance signs on U.S. 20 at the borders of the INL desert Site serve as an important branding and advertising tool for the thousands of passersby who cross the high desert each year. This sign is on the western border near Arco. (Idaho National Laboratory)

Why Ahlquist might win

stapiluslogo1

Last week, I ran through some of the reasons businessman Tommy Ahlquist, one of three major candidates for the Republican nomination for Idaho governor, might come in third when the votes are cast. They’re pretty good reasons.

But so fluid is this race that those points tell only part of the story. Ahlquist, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and Representative Raul Labrador each plausibly could come in first, second, or third. Let’s look now at why Ahlquist might win - reasons that shed light on some important factors in the race.

If you have three strong candidates (we’ll assume that none of them drastically flame out), little more than a third of the total vote may be needed to win. Move on to the probability (not certain but likely) that the 2018 primary may be a relatively low-turnout event.

Right now, Little and Labrador have clear and substantial bases of support - to over-simplify, many well-established organization and rank-and-file Republicans for Little, and many of the activist and erstwhile Tea Party backers for Labrador.

But large segments, some overlapping, remain unaccounted for.

The Latter Day Saint or Mormon vote, accounting for maybe half of the Republican primary vote, often sticks mostly together in races like this, and its inclinations are not clear yet. It probably will not back Little, although it might: Support for the establishment might have appeal. Labrador, as a brother in the faith, would have some appeal too. But he has several issues: He’s based over in the first district, his mode is more that of a firebrand (not a match for Mormon sensibilities) and he’s been a critic of the Idaho National Laboratory, a problem for voters in the Upper Snake.

Ahlquist, also LDS by faith, is another matter. He is a businessman, which suits well, and his language seems a match for the Mormon community. His relatively recent arrival in Idaho wouldn’t hurt him in the eastern Idaho LDS community either, because he has background in the Salt Lake City area - the second capital for many people in that area. (I may have overstated that and understated his Idaho background last week; no doubt the subject will continue to be discussed.) Quite a few Mormons in the east have been known to take cues from Idaho Falls businessman Frank Vandersloot, Idaho’s wealthiest resident. Vandersloot hasn’t stated a clear preference in the primary yet, and maybe he won’t. But it wouldn’t be hard at all to see him give the nod to Ahlquist. Backing from Utahn Mitt Romney doesn’t hurt either.

The second important up-for-grabs constituency is the strongly pro-Donald Trump contingent. Surely Labrador will appeal to a significant part of it. But much of the Trump appeal has to do with the perception of outsider status, and Labrador - while a rebel of sorts within the U.S. House - will nonetheless have been a member of the despised Congress for eight years when these voters vote. Ahlquist can run more obviously and simply as an outsider. And parts of his advertising and rhetoric sound clearly designed to appeal to these voters. Smart strategy.

Third, in parts of the central Boise area, Ahlquist may have pull simply because he actually has been a successful developer there, and on that basis if nothing else has impressed plenty of people.

There’s also the factor of too much familiarity. Enthusiasm matters enormously in low-turnout primaries, and newcomers have an easier time generating it than veteran candidates (see: many of our recent presidential elections). Ahlquist has an advantage if he can get himself well enough known, which he is in the process of doing.

All this easily could add up to enough votes to win a seriously contested primary.

You could run comparable scenarios for the other two candidates as well (if you’re a supporter of one of them, you may have done that while reading this). Point is: This is a seriously competitive race that right now could go any which way.

A medium that does not exist

trahant

It’s tempting to think of "news" as the business model for Indian Country Today. What are the stories? Does it represent an authentic voice (or voices) for Indian Country? Who are the great reporters? Where should they be? How much video? Text? Opinion? Is the story compelling? Does coverage match the experience of our readers? What’s on our digital front page? What stories do people want to read? What’s new?

These are great question for any editor. But they should be dismissed. For now. If Indian Country Today is to revive there are other questions that must be asked and answered. Starting with: Is there funding? Is Indian Country a viable market? If so, what does that look like? Where will the revenue come from? How much will it cost to produce? And how often? And, by the way, where is the money coming from?

There are really only two answers that need to be figured out: Where the money comes from and how that money is spent. Everything else is just detail.

When I first read that Indian Country Today lost (I’ll say invested) some $3 million in its last year, I thought, wow, that’s more than I lost running Navajo Times Today back in the day. Then I did the math. Uh oh. If you look at the value of a dollar now compared to 1987 then, well, let’s just say the total exceeds $5 million.

Problem: It costs a lot of money to produce news.

Then the media world is upside down. Today so many costs are a fraction of what they were in 1987. As a daily newspaper the Navajo Times Today, I still believe, needed about 4 years to break even and then would have been profitable. Our advertising projections were solid but what slowed us down was the costly nature of delivering the paper daily throughout the Navajo Nation. The internet has sharply reduced those costs - any organization can publish on the web for far less than what it cost us a generation ago. But, at the same time, advertising no longer works to pay the bills. (The funny thing: Had we been successful in 1987 ... the paper would still be in deep trouble because so many of the elements required for a successful daily newspaper have evaporated.)

The Navajo Times of today (owned by the tribe, but chartered and operated independently) is quite successful. It's a weekly and it still attracts significant advertising and readership. But the strength of those ads are regional, not national.

The challenge for Indian Country Today is that it generated a large readership, at least by Indian Country's standards, but not enough of a readership for a national advertising strategy which measures success by the millions. Most digital ads are sold using a measurement of cost per thousand or CPM. So if there are 100,000 readers and let's say 2 percent click the ad, that could generate about $2,000. So it would take a whole lot of those kinds of ads to fund a newsroom.

I don’t think a subscription model works for Indian Country either. The problem is that a few people will pay, but not enough to cover the costs, so you end up producing a publication for the elite. I almost went down this road a couple of years ago for Trahant Reports. I was thinking of turning into a paid newsletter that probably would have sold to a few law firms, lobbyists, and tribes particularly interested in public policy. Hell, I might have even made money at it. But true cost would have been high: I try to make public policy interesting for everyone. And those readers would have been gone. Fortunately a friend pointed this out to me - and I reversed course. My content remains free for readers and for other news organizations.

So what models are there that might work? How can Indian Country serve readers as an independent news organization? And, just as important, how will that enterprise get started?

I won't explore the for-profit model here because it's not an option. But that mechanism does work for News from Indian Country, Native News Sun, and many other regional publications. It's also important to remember that there will be competition for resources and content. Any non-profit enterprise will compete for many of the same dollars raised by tribal radio stations, the Native Voice One network, Native Public Media, Native American Journalists Association, and on and on. The Indianz.com and Pechanga.net attract the same web readers with their content and aggregation. (See the Native Media Universe, an always unfinished database.)

Indian Country Today's next chapter is likely to be some kind of not-for-profit venture. The Oneida Nation of New York, the owner of Indian Country Today Media Network, donated the assets of the venture to the National Congress of American Indians. It’s now up to NCAI to figure out what will happen next (starting with many conversations at the annual convention next week in Milwaukee).

This is a bit complicated because NCAI is an advocacy organization for tribes and its members. Just imagine the first time a journalist writes a hard-hitting story that a senator on the Appropriations Committee does not like. Or a tribal leader.

But this is a problem that can be solved.

One of the best news operations in Washington is Kaiser Health News, owned by the Kaiser Family Foundation. They are both non-profits. Kaiser Health News is in the same building as the Kaiser Family Foundation, often uses that research, or speakers, or other resources. Yet operates independently and partners with existing mainstream media such as National Public Radio or The Washington Post. Another hybrid, Think Progress, operates independently of its sponsor, the Center for American Progress. There is another model -- a completely different approach -- that works in Seattle, the Sightline Institute. This organization focuses on actionable research about the Pacific Northwest region and its view of a sustainable future. This could be something that the NCAI Policy Research Center could do. It’s a smaller operation that builds on existing scholarship.

But Kaiser Health News and Think Progress do something else that’s essential: They employ dozens of journalists. Indian Country Today did that too. And that ought to be at the top of the list in terms of developing a “what’s next?” plan.

Two other non-profits that have a significant presence in Indian Country's media universe are Yes! Magazine and High Country News. Both publications treat Indian Country as an important beat and pay freelancers for coverage. High Country News also has a Native issues editor, currently Graham Lee Brewer, a member of the Cherokee Nation. Yes! invested significant resources into covering Standing Rock. Both of these non-profits have a long track record. High Country News began in Lander, Wyoming, in 1970. And Yes! started in 1997.

There is a newer model to consider, ProPublica. This is an independent, stand alone, news organization that’s funded by philanthropy. Imagine a bunch of journalists being hired with an agenda to do news. The work is done by professionals and then given away to other news organizations. There are several regional variations of ProPublica throughout the country that lay out a road map for the how to operate Indian Country Today as a non-profit enterprise.

That’s the money out. Spending it will be simple. There are a lot of talented people who would love the opportunity to keep doing what they’ve been doing, or better, to do more. The distribution of the news could be by web, a wire service, through other media, or all of the above. Technology has made distribution much easier.

A summary of the money out: The cost of a staff, buying freelance, travel, and some administrative costs. But how much money, who decides who gets the jobs, and how much will freelancers be paid?

The data is interesting. According to Pew Research, 73 percent of all non-profit news sites employ less than three people. Only 19 percent have between five and ten employees. "Small budgets tend to mean small staffs and that is the case for a large majority of the digital native news outlets," according to a Pew Research survey of nonprofit outlets.

What about the money in? As I have already written: I don’t believe there is a national market for advertising. Indian Country’s numbers are just too small for a mass market. There could be, from time to time, some ads. But nothing comprehensive and not in amounts that would make a difference. I also think a subscription model won’t work for the reasons I’ve already said.

So what does that leave?

I’d start with the public media model. It doesn’t matter who “owns” Indian Country Today. We all do. We have a stake in an intelligent account of the day's events in a context that gives them meaning.

So a public Indian Country Today could challenge us with semi-annual fundraisers, crowdfunding, and a call to action. Twice a year at least. And, like other public media, that means raising additional money from foundations, companies, tribes, basically, any group willing to write a check.

One recent Pew Research report estimated that roughly $150 million in philanthropy now goes to journalism annually.

And much of that comes from crowdfunding. Pew Research: "From April 28, 2009 to September 15, 2015, 658 journalism-related projects proposed on Kickstarter, one of the largest single hubs for crowdfunding journalism, received full – or more than full – funding, to the tune of nearly $6.3 million."

Then if that sounds like a lot of money, Pew also reports, "the journalism projects produced and revenue gained from these crowdfunded ventures is still a drop in the bucket compared with the original reporting output that occurs on any given day and the roughly $20 billion in revenue generated by newspaper ads alone."

But as a revenue stream - perhaps not the only one - crowd funding could be significant for Indian Country Today. If, the news operation is credible and compelling. If.

There is a lesson from ProPublica that ought to apply to any model (or blend of models) that eventually surfaces, and it raises another question, what business are you in? No, really?What business?

At a recent Google Hangout with the Online News Association, ProPublica’s Vice President of Business Development and ONA Board Member Celeste LeCompte drew parallels between the news industry and other enterprises. She said she visited a go-kart factory in China and she discovered they also made trampolines. Why? Because she said the company was “not a go-kart business. It was this crazy machine-bending, metal-piping, powder-coating and spring-attaching business. And that got me thinking about the ways in which companies make their money.”

That same principle applies to information. ProPublica, for example, collects a lot of data as part of its reporting. It then sells that data to other clients for other uses. “We are storytellers in this business,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking to do in the business side as well. When you’re creating real value for an audience, you probably have an opportunity to ask them to compensate you for that.”

What parallel market exists from information in Indian Country? And, what are the prospects and the ethics of marketing that information?

Of course the minute you have the answer, the rules change. One funder -- even a good one -- can keep an operation going for some time (as in the case of Indian Country Today) but what happens when priorities change? Is there a route to sustainability that includes lots of sponsors and supporters?

Answering these questions is difficult in the media world we all know. Newspapers. TV. A little web. Podcasting. The familiar. But that world is vibrant. And it's gone. The challenge is to invent a news ecosystem for Indian Country that builds on models that do not yet exist.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Disclosures: I have been working in Native media since 1975 -- so I have a long list of disclosures for this piece. I am currently a board member for Yes! magazine. I am a former board member of Sightline and a long time ago, High Country News. I was editor and publisher of the Navajo Times Today in the mid 1980s (and was fired from that job.) I had a fellowship with the Kaiser Family Foundation. And I am a former president of the Native American Journalists Association. And, finally, my weekly radio commentary is distributed via Native Voice One.

Too little, too late?

carlson

One of the many refreshing attributes of Pope Francis is “he tells it like it is,” even when he states the obvious. To a lay person it is astounding to hear a Pope who speaks clearly, non-judgmentally, with compassion, intelligence and common sense.

It reminds one of a saying uttered by another plain-speaking leader from an earlier era: President Harry Truman. While running against the “do-nothing’ Congress in 1948 he responded to the charge that he was giving them hell by saying “I just say the truth and they think it's hell.”

In late September Pope Francis met for the first time with members of an advisory commission he named in 2014 to look into the Church’s less than sterling response to the matter of priestly sexual abuse. In the course of the meeting with this panel of outside experts he acknowledged the Church’s initial response was late and the initial response of just moving pedophile priests from one parish to another was morally and legally wrong.

Some bishops responded quickly, recognizing the gravity of the issue, indeed the criminality of it, and instinctively knew that transparency was critical to maintaining confidence within the laity for the Church hierarhy. Others thought first that they had to protect the image of the Church and its leadership and tried to dodge the gravity by moving offending priests around and minimizing any adverse publicity.

For differing responses one need look no further than the Spokane diocese, where Bishop William Skylstad responded quickly and adroitly. This response contrasted greatly with Boise Bishop Michael Driscoll, who, while Vicar General to the Bishop of the Orange County California diocese, had knowingly moved several pedophile priests around to different parishes.

In Driscoll’s defense he subsequently acknowledged his error and apologized.

Skylstad’s response was comprehensive and should have been the model for all bishops.

He formed a panel to review all cases, whether new or old; he authorized immediate reporting to civil authorities; any priest against whom a charge was levied, if still alive, was suspended while charges were investigated. He ordered more comprehensive background checks for any new diocesan employees and all teachers in the parochial schools. He formed a special communications committee to advise how to best and most quickly respond; he met with victims and apologized to them; he was one of the few bishops in the nation to meet with all the nuns in his diocese and he heard an earful.

He was one of the leaders in the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in shaping the new protocals dictating a response from the Church that would clearly protect children.

Despite the extensive publicity, international as well as national, when the issue erupted into a mushroom cloud over the Vatican Pope John Paul II remained disturbingly quiet. His successor, Benedict XVI, did start authorizing bishops to identify and where possible, purge offending priests, but he too was largely silent.

The issue had to wait until Francis, the third Pope since this story broke, could look into it. Francis is finding out the truth in a saying of President Reagan’s: people can vote with their feet. This is especially true in the United States. Good “pray, pay and obey” Catholics have left or are leaving the church because of disgust with how many bishops handled his matter.

The fact is attendence is down as are contributions. There isn’t a parish or diocese in the country that isn’t engaged in some form of discussion and debate on how one should respond to a Church gone astray.

Even a Bishop as good as Skylstad realizes the Church has to pro-actively do more to win back victims as well as angry laity. It has to demonstrate that it has uncovered the why and taken steps to protect children to ensure it never happens again. It has to commit itself to working sessions with dissenters where it listens first.

It has to be creative in its outreach but show it knows it needs to reclaim lost members and reintegrate them into a more open, engaged and changing Church,

At the close of his meeting Francis spoke nailed the core of the issue:: “The consciousness of the church arrived a bit late, and when consciousness arrives late, the means to resolve the problem arrive late. Perhaps the old practice of moving people around and not confronting the problem kept consciousness asleep,’ he stated. No kidding, your Holiness.

Now lead the Church further along the path that lives what it preaches.