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Posts published in October 2017

Entitlement?

carlson

Tommy Ahlquist, the 49-year-old medical doctor turned fabulously wealthy developer who wants to be Idaho’s next governor, lacks neither passion nor raw ambition nor confidence that he’s got the answers and should be Idaho’s governor.

He’s got all the answers, just ask him. He’s charming, articulate, intelligent. He’s also terribly arrogant and naïve about what it is to govern a state. He thinks it just takes leadership and a plan, sort of a blue print for progress. He could use a strong dose of humility.

He was peddling his formula like an old snake oil salesman last week in St. Maries as part of his “Visit all 44 Idaho counties in 44 days” tour. Let’s start with the fact that he has stated flatly he will spend whatever it takes of his fortune to be governor---“one dollar more than is necessary to win.”

That one you can take to the bank. He has already spent thousands of dollars on tv advertising in the Treasure Valley (the great state of Ada as he likes to say when outside the largest county). He has signs up everywhere, has hired top-notch staff, has sophisticated polling and intends to buy the govrnorship.

His basic pitch is he has ideas and the leadership ability to lead Idaho through improvements in education without costing more, achieving an Idaho based solutions to health care challenges, taking care of small business and oh yes tax reform. So he throws out simple solutions to complex challenges and while his tour is supposedly a listening tour he clearly isn’t listening much, he already has the answers, so just elect him.

Unfortunately, rather than provide real specifics, he loves to use gimmicks, such as 44 counties in 44 days or claiming that in the first100 days he’ll find $100 million of pork in the state budget that he’ll cut out. Count on it.

Another gimmick---he promised to disclose his wealth and makes much of demanding other candidates follow suit. Trouble is he’s too cute by half. Instead of truly disclosing how much he is worth or who his partners are in some of his ventures, he released the names of 25 businesses he owns and 29 investments he has. His disclosure was to say they are all worth more than $5000.

Somehow one suspects most Idahoans won’t see that as true transparency. As the AP pointed out, he also did not list his liabilities therefore it is impossible to determine his net worth.

Another gimmick is his trite phrase regarding education reform. He says he will create a “line of sight between Idaho kids and Idaho jobs.” What the heck does that mean? He talks about goals for education, about abolishing the department of education, and says it can be done by spending less money.

He fails to see that part of the problem is Idaho’s system of education is failing to produce enough graduates that have a real work ethic. Ask any job recruiter and they’ll tell you how hard it is to find kids today who know they have to be to work on time and to work hard. He said not a word about how he would instill such a work ethic. And of course he does not support the Common Core initiative---you know, that pesky interference by the Feds to usurp local control and try to measure how well our students will compete with the rest of the world.

He also pitched tax reform at the state level, though Idaho businesses appear fairly comfortable with Idaho’s pretty predictable balancd three-legged stool (income, sales and property taxes). He also conceded that until one knows what will happen with tax reform at the fedeal level it will be difficult to effect state reforms.

While he talked knowledgably about the challenges of health care and its reform (he is after all an m.d.), until asked about the role of the constantly rising costs of pharmaceuticals and the role they play in driving costs, he had not said a word. Reminded by the question he denounced the industry (to his credit) but admitted he had no answer.

Saying he didn’t necessarily have an answer was the most refreshing thing he said for it did show he has an inkling that there are some challenges that don’t have simple solutions.

The biggest challenge for Tommy Ahlquist when all is said and done is he has to overcome his own thinly disguised sense of entitlement to be crowned governor. After all he has invested $300 million in Idaho and the least Idahoans can do to show their apppreciation is to hand the governorship to him. Don’t bet on it, Tommy.

Tillerson and the way out

mckee

Tillerson is an enigma. Most of the comment, from both sides of the aisle and all of the media, is that he is proving to be the least skilled and most ineffective Secretary of State in history. He has an inadequate staff and little support from those within his own department. He has developed no reliable connections in Congress. He has completely isolated himself, by his own choice, from the press. And he has more recently managed to wall himself into a corner with the White House.

In any ordinary times, his resignation would be inevitable. If General Kelly were not insisting that Trump make no more major staff changes until next year, he would probably be gone by now.

But these are not ordinary times. The world is on the brink of nuclear disaster unlike any presented since the height of the cold war, brought to a head by an ongoing volley of insults between Trump and the dictator of North Korea. Tillerson, alone in the Trump administration, advocates a diplomatic solution. He has expressly declared that a military solution would not be tolerable. His efforts are not, however, in line with the tenor of comment coming from the Whitehouse and elsewhere.

Trump, and the cabal of sycophants he has surrounded himself with, are far more inept and ill qualified to meet the international challenges than is Tillerson, as inept as he may be. Of all of the other voices within the administration weighing in on this matter, the most reliable sounds come from three hard edge military generals, who can only see military solutions to any problem, and a former hill-billy governor, who is trying hard but is already in way over her head.

The military solution does have a seductive appeal. So long as China stays out of it, the U.S. would probably prevail in any conventional military action on the Korean Peninsula, albeit at a horrible cost. Unless China comes to its aid, which it has said it will not do, North Korea does not have the economic capacity or the industrial substructure to sustain extended, full scale warfare. In the long run, this would mean success under the military approach, but a cost of potentially millions of lives in South Korea and perhaps Japan and Guam. Most objective commentators see this cost as too great to warrant the risk. Also, despite its promise, there is no guarantee that China would stay out, which would dramatically change all odds.

A diplomatic solution is not an off-the-wall pie-in-the-sky. North Korea was a full party to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty from 1984 to 2003. Kim Jong-il, then dictator of North Korea, walked away from the treaty obligations following the hostile remarks of President George W. Bush, who lumped North Korea in with Iran and Iraq in what he termed the “axis of evil.” When Bush launched the U.S. attack against Sadam Hussain and invaded Iraq, Kim Jong-Il disappeared into hiding for over two months, convinced that the U.S. intended to pursue him and invade North Korea next.

Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il and currently the dictator in sole control of the North Korean regime, has repeatedly stated that his buildup of nuclear and missile arms is for defense only, intended to prevent outside influences from attempting to overthrow his government. He is convinced that the United States intends to oust him from office, collapse the North Korean government, and bring about a reunification of the Korean Peninsula. This fear is neither surprising nor unreasonable, for this is exactly what every President from Dwight Eisenhower forward has declared to be the United States’ policy objectives for North Korea.

In response to world efforts to convince North Korea to return to the non-proliferation movement, the North Korean leaders have repeatedly stated five requests to be considered at any such discussion: (1) that the West stop promoting regime change or regime collapse; (2) that the West stop advocating reunification of the peninsula; (3) that the U.S. withdraw all forces from South Korea; (4) that the economic sanctions against North Korea be extinguished; and (5) the U.S. and its allies complete and ratify a formal peace treaty to formally end the Korean Conflict of the 1950s.

Up to now, the United States has refused even to discuss any of these requests. Instead, the U.S. has established what it terms is a non-negotiable, non-debatable condition that before any discussion of any issue with North Korea can occur, North Korea must first and immediately surrender all of its nuclear weapons. The United States insists that North Korea capitulate to this demand in its entirety before any discussion on any other topic will even be considered.

Every expert who has studied the issues and is familiar with Far Eastern cultures has expressed the view that this demand makes any accord impossible; no Far Eastern leader would willingly accept the loss of face and mark of disrespect that the capitulation demanded by the United States would entail.

Currently, Tillerson is the only voice actually advocating diplomacy. As long as he can hang on and weather the firestorm swirling around him, there exists the Pollyanna hope that he may prove to be the shining knight, due to arrive in the nick of time with a true solution. While Trump and Kim Jong-un are continuing to exchange insults and accelerate threats of disastrous consequences, Tillerson, according to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, is quietly working in backchannels, silently and away from the spotlight, to craft a broad diplomatic strategy to resolve the crisis. His plan is aimed at persuading China to take charge and lead a multi-national conference on the issue.

Most experts believe that for any diplomatic solution to succeed, participation by China is essential. China has a strong economic interest in sustaining a peaceful, diplomatic solution, as it has a common border with North Korea of almost 900 miles, shares a cultural history with the Korean people going back thousands of years, and has no desire to be dragged into a land war on the Asian Continent. The deep and long standing relationships between the two countries put the Chinese well positioned to understand, draw out, develop and implement the cultural underpinnings necessary to the success of any diplomatic resolution with the North Koreans – something the United States has repeatedly proven itself incapable of accomplishing, even with competent leaders running the show.

The huge problem Tillerson faces is convincing foreign officials that he speaks with any authority in light of the barrage of contradictory statements and twitter messages emanating from the Whitehouse, and Trumps’ demonstrated penchant for cutting the legs from under his cabinet officers. While Trump initially appeared to support allowing China to lead in the search for a diplomatic solution with North Korea, he almost immediately clouded the issue by first criticizing Xi Zenping in the manner of his approach and then threatening to impose sanctions upon China, because Trump did not believe Xi was acting swiftly enough. Trump appears to be incapable of keeping his nose out of it, but insists on continuing to direct and criticize, even when the outcome is in the control of others.

Tillerson, in his discussions being held behind the scenes with both Chinese and Russian resources, has indicated an interest in at least opening discussions with North Korea along any lines, just to get talks started. He is looking for China or Russia to broker and manage the beginning of any discussions, with the United States staying out of the way. He seems to indicate an understanding that any solution with North Korea will have to afford an acceptable degree of respect for the regime and its leader, and will have to be structured to allow Kim Jong-un the opportunity to save face.

An appropriate response to these proposals seems obvious to many onlookers: why not? Get the players around a table somewhere and get the talks open. See where it goes. Listen to the other side. Find out what they want. There is no necessity for an extensive pre-condition to just opening talks. No deal will happen without everyone’s agreement, but that agreement does not have to be pre-ordained to make the conference productive.

So far, Trump’s provocative tweets, and the formal statements emanating from the generals and others to explain Trump’s tweets, have all looked towards the military solution. Nevertheless, despite the firestorm of bad press, Tillerson is still at it, and has recently declared that he has no intention of quitting. Trump has declared that he has complete faith in Tillerson, and no intention of firing him. If this latter part is true, and Tillerson can keep from getting his rear end fired, he just might be able to find the way out.

He will, of course, have to stop calling Trump a fucking moron.

Fire the lot of ’em

rainey

Bolstered by a series of recent events, I’ve come to a new theory about where this nation went wrong - politically speaking. That was when employment in Congress was allowed to become full-time.

Over the years, many events pointed to this fact. Created some thought. Created some talk. But the Las Vegas massacre- and the absolutely blank stare coming out of Washington in its aftermath - really drove it home.

While even the NRA felt moved to say SOMETHING post-Vegas, congressional Democrats - damned near all of ‘em - have kept their collective mouth shut. The best the Republicans have come up with is “Now is not the time to discuss this.” “NOT THE TIME?”

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, was our political response “Now is not the time” to talk about our new “relationship” with the Japanese empire? When London was bombed in ‘39-40 did Churchill say “Now is not the time to discuss it?”

With the streets of Vegas still wet with blood and the cries of the wounded filling the air, there was no better time. The Vegas mass killing was not the first in the last 50 years. Or even the 40th or the 105th or any number up to about 600. To most members of Congress, it was - ho hum - just another bad day on the streets. Pure B.S.

When those guys in Philly in 1776 were writing our most important founding document, they were “part-timers.” A lot of’ em had to take some occasional time off to go home and tend the crops or do store inventories or see if the church flock was still O.K.. They all had full-time responsibilities at home while sitting in a sweltering meeting room arguing about taxes and slavery. They intended the next Congress be part-time as well. And the Congress after that. And the next. And the next. Legislating was supposed to be something you did for a short time each year. Volunteer, as it were.

No more. For far too many years - far too many decades - the first concern of members has been job security. Not the needs of the country. Not dealing with the issue(s) de jour. Not tending to the real needs of the constituency. No. The topmost concern and the reason behind nearly every action taken - or inaction - has been continued employment.

I’ve fought tooth-and-toenail for years against term limits. And I’ve backed up that strident opposition with hard facts about the dangers of such a monumental shift in governance. I believe - with all my heart - service by anyone of no more than eight years in D.C. would open us to a whole new set of problems.

BUT....................

If we continue with this open-ended employment, we are going to further inbreed the political species with even less concern - much less contact - with the constituent. Us!

To the current denizen of the marble halls, lobbyists and billionaires have become THE “constituent.” Indeed, some members of Congress flat out refuse to meet with the folks at home. If you can’t flash a big check, many won’t even answer the phone. And, if your combination of cash and clout are large enough - say the NRA for the purposes of this discussion - no one at home who cast a ballot in the last election will even get a conscious thought. The “continued employment” autopilot will take over.

There is currently no issue - up to and including fulfilling the legal responsibility for declaring war - that can get the legally required attention of enough members to get the issue to the floor. We’re now in at least three undeclared wars without the constitutionally-required congressional authority. One of ‘em goes back 15 years!

Yes, there are still a few members who think and speak for themselves without the hands of a lobbyist up their backside. Good folks trying to do good jobs against an overwhelming tide of self-service. To suddenly go to term limits would certainly mean throwing out both the bath water and the baby. Damned shame.

But, if we don’t get control of this situation, continued electoral inbreeding will result in ever-distant governance and a “ruling class” with little to no concern for those ruled. Congress will become a self-perpetuating, intellectually vacant body from which voters will be separated.

I’ve been wrong on this issue. The time has come to apologize to the bathing youngster, open the nearest window and give a large heave ho.

Idaho Briefing – October 9

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 9. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the appointment today of Deputy Attorney General Jessica Marie Lorello of Meridian to the Idaho Court of Appeals vacancy created by the June 30 retirement of Judge John Melanson.

The Pioneer News Group Co. on October 5 announced that it is selling its media division assets to family-owned Adams Publishing Group, including several major properties in Idaho. The sale will include 22 daily and weekly newspapers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah along with a newspaper and commercial print facility, various shoppers and websites. The sale is expected to be finalized on November 1.

Justice Warren E. Jones announced he will be retiring from the Idaho Supreme Court, effective December 31, due to personal and family health circumstances.

Following numerous discussions among Western Senators Mike Crapo, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Jim Risch, and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), and Administration leadership and agency officials, initial federal funding to begin fixing shortages in fire-fighting efforts known as “fire borrowing” are now being included in hurricane disaster budget recommendations.

Jayco®, Inc., a subsidiary of Thor Industries, Inc., said on October 3 that it has decided to expand their manufacturing footprint in Twin Falls.

PHOTO The Idaho Museum of Natural History on the campus of Idaho State University will open its “BISON” exhibit on October 14. “BISON” is a traveling exhibit exploring the past, present and future of this great North American mammal. The exhibit creates an interactive environment that combines history, artifacts and hands-on activities to bring to life the story of this great North American mammal. The exhibit is made possible by National Buffalo Foundation and the Kauffman Museum. “BISON” is available to museums across the United States and Canada to tell the tragic history of this majestic animal, its rescue from near extinction, and the story of people across North America working to preserve the bison as a vibrant part of our future. The museum will also host Spirits & Skeletons, Oct. 13. (Idaho State University)

Hells shoe

stapiluslogo1

Circle October 11 on your calendar. It may be a critical date in Idaho’s economic future, because that is when Idaho Power Company’s Hells Canyon Dam relicensure settlement conference is scheduled at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

It may not seem notably critical at first. The three Idaho Power dams on the Idaho-Oregon border, in Hells Canyon, have been operating and supplying an immense amount of power for a very long time, almost unnoticed (out of sight, out of mind) for many Idahoans. They were the subject of fierce controversy back in the 50s, but since have been recognized as one of the big drivers of Idaho Power’s tremendous growth in the mid-twentieth century, and through it a lot of the explosive growth of the Boise area. The dams have kept electric power reliable and cheap, no small factor in business development over the years.

When the dams were first built they were constructed under a 50-year license, which expired a dozen years ago. Today they’re running on what amounts to extensions of extensions (no one wants to shut the dams down), and work on formal relicensure continues.

That’s not a comfortable position for Idaho Power or for a lot of regional power users. But this is a matter as much of dilemma as of frustration. Idaho Power remains an independent local power company, based in Boise (albeit that its stock is publicly traded). It long has provided some of the lowest power rates in the country.

While lots of other utilities in recent decades have been gobbled by bigger corporate fish, Idaho Power has not. And evidently, one of the big reasons is that renewal of the licenses has remained unsettled. Much could change in southern Idaho if Idaho Power is bought. Usually in such cases low power rates tend to be jacked up after a purchase - sometimes jacked up a great deal.

There’s not one single reason the relicensure has stalled, but one seems to be a disagreement between the states of Idaho and Oregon, both of which have to sign off for major dam activity, over fish runs in the area.

An Associated Press story on the situation summarized, “Oregon officials are refusing to agree to the re-licensing until salmon and steelhead can access four Oregon tributaries that feed into the Hells Canyon Complex, as required by Oregon law for the re-licensing. But Idaho lawmakers have prohibited moving federally protected salmon and steelhead upstream of the dams, which could force restoration work on Idaho’s environmentally degraded middle section of the Snake River.”

This seems to be the primary relicensure hangup right now.

If Oregon’s requests are agreed to, significant changes could be required, and ratepayers might be stuck with paying another $220 million for the work. On top of other possible increases. On top of, if the company were taken over, higher rates otherwise down the road.

When I’ve been asked what economic risks Idaho faces in upcoming years, I’ve generally mentioned the Hells Canyon dams situation as one of two or three to watch out for.

On October 11, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission will hold a conference on what do next. What it does could be among the most important decisions the PUC has made in a generation.

We’re not learning

jones

Now that Ken Burns and Lynn Novick have told the Vietnam story from their viewpoint, I’d like to add my two bits.

I thought the PBS series was very well done, particularly the taped quotes of the Presidents and others in charge of the war. I had been aware of it before, but it was extremely distressing to hear the cynicism pouring from the mouths of President Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Their war decisions were based on politics, not upon honesty. They were willing to dump South Vietnam like a hot rock without letting that country know what they were up to.

I certainly didn’t disagree with the withdrawal of American troops, but we should have clearly advised the South Vietnamese that we would not provide combat air support to repel a future North Vietnamese attack. Indeed, Nixon told them we would have their back. It is hard to tell how many South Vietnamese soldiers, interpreters, and others who worked with American forces lost their lives or spent years in brutal “re-education camps” because they trusted us and believed Nixon’s words. I believe some of my friends were among them. Had we been honest, many of those people might have chosen to leave the country and we should have offered them safe harbor in America.

When the communist forces were moving on Saigon in April of 1975, U.S. intelligence knew the country was on the verge of falling and urged that we organize an evacuation of those who had helped us and were in danger of retribution. We did not act until it was too late and then we were slow to open our doors to the many thousands of South Vietnamese who risked their lives in flimsy boats, seeking refuge in America. It was a sad chapter in our history.

Now, there are about 50,000 Iraqis who stuck their necks out by helping U.S. forces in the Iraq war and who are awaiting entrance into our country as refugees. They rightfully believed we would provide them protection from retribution for helping us. Many Afghans are in the same boat, although they still have the benefit of a special visa program. We destabilized the Middle East with our unnecessary invasion of Iraq, contributing to the massive refugee crisis, but seem to think we have no responsibility to give comfort to the refugees we helped to create.

The President has now capped refugee admissions to 45,000 for the coming year, the lowest level in decades. This is a massive evasion of responsibility. We were a major cause of the refugee problem but are unwilling to make a meaningful effort to solve it. So much for owning up to our moral responsibility. Both Admiral Michael Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael Chertoff, George W. Bush’s Secretary of Homeland Security, have recently stated that a larger refugee ceiling is in America’s national security interests and they are absolutely right.

These things do not happen in a vacuum. Our unwillingness to shoulder our responsibility plays out in front of the world community. Governmental leaders of many nations, including our close allies, see how the U.S. either meets or shirks its moral duties. If we are not willing to own up to what we are honor-bound to do, which countries are going to be inclined to help America when we may need them? America needs to be a country that owns up to its responsibilities, that honors its commitments, and that acts as a moral beacon to the world. We can’t be great if we are not good.

Of mountain goats and burros

carlson

The National Park Service (NPS), one of the few loved and admired federal agencies, is cruising for a black eye. Set aside that nine months into the Trump Administration the President and his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, have yet to name a director for this venerable agency.

Lack of leadership is indeed a problem but the black eye is going to come the Park Service’s way when the public realizes the Park Service has decided the best way to overcome an over-population of mountain goats in Olympic National Park is to start shooting them.

Many Americans have a soft spot for warm and fuzzy animals that look cuddly to them, whether it be mountain goats, wild burros and horses, buffaloes, lynx, wolves or even grizzly bears. Rational thinking goes out the window.

The problem is the goats are consuming too much of the flora and fauna within the park, and are particularly attracted to the salt a person carries around whether it be in the urine discharged next to the trail or the sweat soaked handle of a hiking stick.

Despite their benign look goats can be dangerous also. Attacks on humans are extremely rare but in 2010 a goat gored a 63-year old male severing an artery and then would not allow others to try to assist the hiker who did bleed to death.

The Park Service closed comments on a voluminous Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on September 26, 2017. The document appears to favor darting goats from a helicopter, landing the chopper while the goat is tranquilized and moving them across Puget Sound and releasing them in the similar habitat of the North Cascades. However, the plan also allows the NPS to shoot to kill problem goats or those in difficult terrain.

Part of the justification is the fact that the NPS does not believe the goats are natives. They cite stories pointing to the introduction of 12 goats into the park in the 1920s by a hunting group. By the 1990s the goats had grown into the thousands and an open hunting season drew the goat population down to the more sustainable 300 or so. Last year the population was 623 and has been growing at 8% per year. Thus, the goal is to again reduce the number to 300.

A decision is expected in support of the preferred alternative by spring.

Don’t be surprised though if the fuzzy, furry loving Fund for Animals, founded by Cleveland Amory in the early 1970s, doesn’t file suit and seek a temporary restraining order (TRO) that will suspend the program pending a hearing and possible trial.

In 1979 a similar problem existed in the Grand Canyon National Park and at New Mexico’s Bandolier National Monument. The guilty party though was wild burros which had a penchant for finding native American artifacts such as priceless mixing bowls and then stomping them to bits, as well as munching on most of the native grasses.

Since this was the early days of producing impact statements the Park Service did a fairly cursory one to justify its plans to shoot a number of burros. The Fund for Animals filed suit which temporarily stalled the plans. The Park Service then acted on advice from the then Interior Secretary’s office, that it separate out Bandolier, quickly do another EIS, figuring on it escaping notice, and commence shooting the offending burros in Bandolier.

By the time the Fund for Animals realized what had happened the desired number of burros was achieved. This success in Bandolier stands in marked contrast to the Grand Canyon which still is dealing with the burro problem today.

Americans also love birds, even those that are not endangered. Even pigeons that sully statues and are basically an unclean scavenger have a constituency. I found this out the hard way when as Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus’ press secretary I sanctioned and orchestrated a highly visible reintroduction of peregrine falcons into the nation’s capital.

Nests were set up on the Interior Department Building’s roof and a picture of Secretary Andrus holding a peregrine chick with its mother carefully watching while perched on his shoulder made the front page of the Washington Post.

Peregrines of course feast on pigeons. Instead of letters praising the department for the reintroduction of a bird that would help control the pigeon population my office was inundated by angry letters from the pigeon lovers of the world.

Now it’s the turn of the goat lovers. I hope the Park Service is ready.

Adopt Doug Jones

richardson

Tuesday night, Alabama Republicans chose Roy Moore, an extreme rightwing demagogue, as their nominee for the U.S. Senate in the special election to be held this December.

Some pundits assume - I think incorrectly - that Moore will be a shoe-in in the general election because he has an "R" after his name and Alabama is a very red state.

Here's why I think the shoe-in theory is pretty shaky. Alabama Democrats had the good sense to choose as their nominee an exceptional candidate - former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. I got to know Doug when I was the U.S. Attorney for Idaho, and can attest to the fact that he is smart and tough and principled. And, tempting though it might be, Jones isn’t making the race about Donald Trump. He knows that Trump remains popular in much of Alabama and is focusing on the issues – the economy, jobs, health care, women’s rights and the environment. On each and every issue, Moore is to the right of just about anybody, Genghis Khan included.

The differences between Jones and Moore are stark – especially when it comes to respect for the rule of law. Doug Jones is a civil rights champion. He prosecuted the KKK. He believes in the rule of law. The same cannot be said of Moore, a former state court judge, who refused to follow a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument, which Moore had installed, from the courthouse. The federal court ruled that the monument violated the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. When Moore disobeyed the federal court, a state panel ruled that he had violated the judicial ethics code and removed him from the bench.

A few years later after being returned to the state bench by a narrow margin, Moore again thumbed his nose at the Constitution when the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling legalizing gay marriage. Moore ordered state judges to disregard the ruling and instead enforce the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. In response, a state court panel suspended Moore for the rest of his term.

And Moore is a conspiracy theorist. Most notably, he perpetuated the false “birtherism” narrative exploited by Donald Trump. Unlike Trump, Moore never conceded that “birtherism” was a lie. He defended it as recently as last December.

Alabama may be a red state, and Roy Moore may have an inherent advantage because he is a member of the dominant political party, but Doug Jones is no pushover, and this race will be aggressively contested. Yet, as I watch the national Democrats dither about whether to jump into the race with both feet, I have a troubling sense of deja-vu.

Time and time again, Democrats in Idaho and other red states have recruited capable challengers to Republican incumbents and been ignored by the "we know better" Beltway Democrats. We can have more than a little empathy for a great Democratic candidate running in a red state. This is especially true when some of us live in states, like Idaho, where we won’t have a chance to replace an incumbent GOP senator until 2020 or 2022.

Another Democrat in the U.S. Senate makes it more likely that the Trump-McConnell agenda, including the appointment of another far right justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, will not succeed. Moreover, this race will be decided in a little over two months. Reminded of the old saw, “Strike while the iron is hot,” I have to think the iron is about as hot as it’s going to get.

The Republicans have nominated a venal individual and, in so doing, have given Democrats an outside shot at winning this race. We can’t count on the national party to rally behind Jones. If Jones is going to garner the resources he needs to win, it will be up to the grassroots to provide them.

Rebuilding the right way

stapiluslogo1

The hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico, leaving most of the island with wreckage all over and electricity and running water in too few places, is an unqualified catastrophe.

That still doesn't mean something useful can't come from it.

One of the questions sure to arise there, as happened in New Orleans after the Katrina storm (and more recently in Houston and elsewhere) is: Why rebuild? The recent storm was surely not the last. Why reconstruct what will surely be knocked down sometime to come?

Somehow or another, of course, we have to rebuild. In the case of Puerto Rico, for example, what's the alternative: To tell three and a half million people to go,leave, for somewhere, and leave home behind? There have to be some better answers.

And there probably are. One of them comes courtesy of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who is suggesting (among other things) using renewable energy technology to work around the hazards of tropical storms.

The framework he outlines is this: “America’s energy grid is in need of an upgrade. These bills will promote a more flexible electricity grid that can respond to power disruptions from natural disasters and ensure reliable, low-cost electricity for consumers now and in the future. They will lower costs for energy storage technologies that make renewable energy more reliable and cost-effective, boost funding for cutting-edge research and reward state and private sector innovations.”

To that end he suggested a batch of bills, backed by a number of utility industry organizations. One of them would "create competitive, cost-share grant programs for new small-scale, grid-connected projects such as rooftop solar panels, hot water heaters, electric vehicles and modernized utility pricing technologies."

Another would "provide funding to the Department of Energy to research and develop ways to lower the cost of energy storage technologies, which make it possible for renewable energy to be used on a more reliable and affordable basis." And a third would help shift job training toward renewable energy methods.

The big advantage of renewables, in a storm context, is that many of those resources can be protected in case of disasters, and a loss in one places doesn't necessarily mean a mass outage. Solar is a great example; an island reliant mainly on solar energy would see significant damage, but not nearly enough to bring the whole area to a standstill.

And if you used that kind of technology to help rebuild Puerto Rico, you could take the lessons learned (and the economies of scale developed) onto the mainland, with back advantages accruing back in the States. It would truly be an investment that could logically pay off in a big way.

In the current Congress, the proposal may not go far. But if the idea gets some attention, it could wind up doing a lot of good down the road. Not that Puerto Rico couldn't benefit from it ... right now.