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Posts published in November 2017

Notes . . .

notes

Mostly, media companies will run political ads excepting in the most extreme cases, involving distasteful imagery, potential libel and so forth. None of that excuses the reported failure by a billboard firm to refuse a tastefully-designed and clearly pertinent billboard aimed at Senate candidate Roy Moore.

(Of course, this isn't the first time Moore has been at the center of a billboard controversy, either. And be it noted: I've seen a specific reference as to what company has denied the billboard placement, or what its side of this might be.)

A Tweet reposted the image (seen here) and commented, "It would be a shame if god-forbid it went viral on social media and was seen by even more people than the actual billboard would have been." Wouldn't it, though . . .
 

Values in the tax fight

trahant

There is no better way for any legislature -- be it a tribal council, a state assembly, or a Congress -- to telegraph what’s most important to a society than through tax policy. How a government collects revenue says what constituent groups are seen to matter. And, conversely, what groups and issues are insignificant. And, that of course, is Indian Country.

As Adrian Sinclair wrote in Cronkite News: “Indian Country once again does not have a seat at the table.” Tribes “aren’t treated the same as state and local governments across the board on a whole series of issues,” John Dossett, general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, said after the hearing. “Tribes are … either ignored or they’re an afterthought.” He said there are many cases where state governments have more power than tribal governments, like the federal Adoption Tax Credit, which gives a credit to parents who adopt a child with special needs. But the credit only applies when a state court, not a tribal court, rules that a child has special needs.

So Indian Country is a perfect illustration for my larger point: A country’s tax policy shows what it values. The key to this idea is simple when a nation wants more of something, then taxes it less. And, other hand, if a nation wants less of something? Tax it more.

All interest was deductible when the first income tax was created in 1894. Why? Because Americans did not like to borrow. It was almost immoral. As a writer for Harper’s Weekly warned a man in debt “must smile on those he hates, he must extend his hand where he would strike, he must speak pleasantly with a curse in his throat … He wears dependence like a yoke."

But Congress made debt a better deal. You could borrow money for that new farm, or especially a home, and the government would subsidize the loan by making it a tax deductible transaction. By the 1920s car loans were the bigger deal. Americans were borrowing, buying and deducting. Congress created a monster with that policy and today debt is one of America’s great loves. Then in 1986 Congress switched gears: Today individuals can only deduct mortgage interest. But even that single benefit was generous. You could buy a big house. A bigger house. A ginormous house. And deduct 100 percent of the interest up to the cost up to $1.1 million of debt. And that tax deal includes second homes.

So as a policy the Congress was telling we the people buy bigger houses. And go ahead, get that second house in the woods or on the lake.

That’s what tax reform is, setting parameters for what the elected leaders think important for a national policy. So, if it becomes law, this tax reform will change the way we consumers spend money. Perhaps we'll buy and build smaller houses and rent a cabin on the lake instead of purchasing one. This might be a good outcome for all of us. This is actually a pro-climate policy (please don’t tell Congress.)

This same priority process is true for renewable energy. Congress created incentives for wind, solar and other renewable energy. But, now the Republican plan is to reverse course, and reward oil, gas, and especially coal. Tax policy will favor fossil fuel development and renewable energy will therefore cost more. But will companies still invest? Who knows? We do know the calculations will be way more complicated. And, did I mention, renewable energy will cost more. . . .

Congress wants to wrap up this debate before the end of the year and begin the provisions in the new tax year.

One more thing about values. The two tax bills define what’s important to a society. Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski was a champion on health care and was a key vote to stop the last Affordable Care Act repeal effort in the Senate. But this time there are competing values. She has also been a longtime supporter of opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. That’s in the bill. It's her provision. So is she willing to give up on health care for more oil? And what about climate change? Murkowski was eloquent at the Alaska Federation of Natives saying that she is witnessing first-hand the impact in northern communities. This tax bill gives fossil fuels a boost - at the expense of the climate.

What’s really important? We are about to find out.
 

State and district

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On his Facebook stream, first district congressional candidate Russ Fulcher, of Meridian, has posted an item noting he has always lived in that district. And: “Fun Fact: Russ Fulcher’s family has lived in what is now Idaho’s first Congressional District since 1886, four years before Idaho became a state.”

He is making more than a biographical point. His chief opponent, former attorney general and lieutenant governor David Leroy, currently lives outside the district. Leroy is not far from it; he lives in Boise, just not the portion now carved into the first. He has lived in the first before, and has said he plans to maintain a residence inside the first.

But from Fulcher’s implicit point - I’m a resident of the district, and he isn’t - two ideas emerge.

The first is, you don’t have to live in the CD to represent it. You do have to live in the same state. The U.S. Constitution, which sets only a few requirements for serving in the House (at least 25 years old and a United States citizen for seven years) does require a person to “be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” State yes, but being in the same district, no.

The issue came up this spring in the high-profile House race for an open seat in Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff famously lived several miles outside his suburban Atlanta district. No one charged he couldn’t legally serve, but the point about his living elsewhere was hammered around persistently through the campaign.

Several months ago, the Washington Post researched congressional residences and found 20 incumbent members of Congress who live outside their districts. In some cases a member originally elected from a district where he was a resident, saw the district boundaries shifting away, and opted not to run in the district which now included his house. In some cases it becomes no big issue, and in others candidates have lost races at least partly because of it. Specifics matter.

The newest member of the House from Washington state, Pramila Jayapal, lived about two miles outside the district she was running to represent when she was elected; it wasn’t a big issue there. Then there was Oregon’s Delia Lopez, a resident of the small rural community of Oakland, about 150 miles south of Portland. She was running to represent Oregon’s third district, which mostly is central urban Portland, about two hours by freeway from her house. She lost overwhelmingly, though the fact that she was a Republican in a district even more Democratic than Idaho is Republican, also had a lot to do with it.

Lopez’ case was like, in Idaho terms, someone living in Arco running for the first district, which runs along the west side of the state from Canada to Nevada. There’s not much connection.

Leroy’s case is a little different. Boise, in whole or in part, has been within the Idaho first congressional district for half a century. Boiseans are legally divided between the districts but as a more practical matter they have a foot in each of them. Leroy’s first district credentials are in reasonable order: He grew up in Lewiston, attended the University of Idaho at Moscow and has lived in the 1st at various points through his decades of residence in Boise. And he ran for the 1st district seat once before, in 1994 (when he lost the Republican nomination to Helen Chenoweth).

Of course, in a thinly divided and closely contested contest, as this one is shaping up to be, every issue matters. Including the matter of ten or fifteen minutes travel time.

Thanks at Thanksgiving

carlson

Twelve years ago, the week before Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroendocrine cancer and told I had the proverbial six months left at best. As my former boss, the late Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, would on occasion say, “there’s nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus one’s attention.” I focused fast.

This was of course stunning not the least reason being that my neurologist who had diagnosed five years earlier my Parkinson’s Disease, had told me a silver lining was that those with PD seldom contract cancer. One of my first calls was to him to let him know what a rare bird this patient was.

Like many couples and families do when receiving such news, we (My wife was trained as a Registered Nurse) read up as much as we could find of the literature on this form of cancer and on the facilities noted for the best practices in treating this always fatal disease.

Turned out that the best place to seek treatment was Houston’s M. D. Anderson Hospital. I drafted a note and enclosed copies of blood tests, MRI’s, PET scans, whole body scans, CT’s and cardiovascular work. I was absolutely floored when they declined to see me saying that the disease was too far along and there was nothing that could be done but to stay home and make my final preparations.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to bring this inexplicable denial to the facility’s attention. To their credit they looked into it, wrote me an apology, revised their admission protocol and even had the CEO send me a personal note.

The denial turned out to be a blessing in disguise for it created the opportunity for a friend of mine, Jay Shelledy, the then editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, to strongly recommend that I allow the relatively new Huntsman Cancer Center attached to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City to be my primary treatment provider.

Shelledy was familiar with the Huntsman family and good friends with Jon Huntsman, Jr., a future Utah governor. So I flew to Salt Lake, met with the hospital’s chief of staff and the team assigned to me. Together we worked out an attack strategy.

Somewhere in my body, most likely in the colon, exists a generating tumor that periodically starts to significantly increase the production of this rare form of cancer cells. It can attack one, two or three vital organs: the liver, the heart and the lungs. In my case it was the liver and heart.

The most immediate threat was to my liver, covered with lesions and tumors almost to the point they could not be treated because the risk of liver failure was too high. My tricuspid valve was also starting to deteiorate, but that would be the second point of attack, and for addressing that it was decided I would go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

During 2006 I underwent three chemoembolization procedures at Huntsman which shattered almost all the tumors. I then underwent an experimental procedure whereby Yrtrium 90 radioactive pellets were placed on the shattered tumors and this appeared to stop temporarily the cancer from spreading rapidly. For two weeks though I was a hot dude literally.

Since then there have been relapses but mostly I’ve been able to manage well. I’ve had 15 sessions of targeted radiation, a bland embolization procedure,and my monthly chemo is a 40 mls shot of Octreotide that the drug company charges $17,000 for a shot.

Bottom line, though, is I’m still here and each morning I thank the good Lord for another day of life. As I reflect this Thanksgiving I wish to send a special thanks to the many people who through modern medicine to good old fashioned prayer have helped keep me alive: Jay Shelledy and Pat Shea, who introduced me to Huntsman; Dr. James Carlisle, my interventional radiologist at Huntsman; Dr. Joseph Rubin, my oncologist at Mayo; Dr. Robert Gersh, Dr. Robert Laugen, Dr. Maryann Parvez, my oncologists at Cancer Care Northwest; Dr. Chris Lee, my interventional radiologist at CCNW; Dr. Mark Wilson, my interventional radiologist at Deaconess; Dr. David Greeley, my neurologist at Northwest Neurology;
Dr. Michael Kwasman, my cardiologist at Sacred Heart; and Dr. Scott Spence, my general practitioner at Benewah Community Hospital.

Also, my friend, pastor, and fishing bud, Father Steve Dublinski, who is so patient with me during our weekly stalking of the wily cutthroat on the St. Joe. He is but one of many fine friends too numerous to list who call, send notes and offer encouragement.

Last, but not least is a loving and supportive family led by my wife of 47 wonderful years, who along with our three daughters, son, spouses and two grandchildren sustain me simply out of love I don’t deserve but gratefully accept. To all who care accept my heartfelt thanks.

A blessed Thanksgiving to all, and all glory to the Almighty.
 

Enough sucking up to Putin

joneslogo1

During the President’s recent encounter with Vladimir Putin in Vietnam, he says he asked Putin whether Russia had meddled in the U.S. elections in 2016. He relates that Putin “is very, very strong in the fact that he didn’t do it. You have president Putin very strongly, vehemently, says he has nothing to do with that.”

The President also told reporters that Putin “said he absolutely did not meddle in our election” and that “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

My Vietnam experience was quite a bit different than the President’s. When I was in Vietnam in 1968-69, I represented defendants in about a dozen courts martial. My real job was coordinating artillery fire, but when the defendants learned I was a bono fide lawyer they often requested me as defense counsel. It did not take long to learn that accused individuals often lie about their guilt of wrongdoing.

And, it is not unusual for a guilty person to “vehemently” deny something. When dealing with an accomplished liar, like Putin, one should exercise great caution in believing anything he says.

Remember, President Putin denied having any involvement in the take-over of Crimea, the insurgency in Ukraine, and the downing of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine. All were gigantic whoppers. This former KGB officer is a master of deceit. Anyone who doubts it should read the meticulously documented book by Karen Dawisha, Putin’s Kleptocracy. It is hard to fathom the evil and dishonesty of this man.

It is also unwise to trust the protestations of a man who has been bent on challenging U.S. interests at practically every turn. He has worked very hard to break up a number of important western alliances, including NATO and the European Union. Mitt Romney correctly called Putin’s Russia our “number one geopolitical foe.” During my Vietnam service, I would not have been much inclined to trust the word of the Viet Cong and there is no reason to trust Putin. And, let’s not forget that Russia provided the sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons that shot down John McCain and so many other American pilots.

It is difficult to understand why one would place faith in the word of a known adversary, like Putin, that he did not meddle in our elections when our intelligence people caught him dead to rights. He has also done so in the elections of many of our allies. British Prime Minister Theresa May had the guts to call Putin out for spreading fake news and interfering in that country’s elections. She told Putin that Great Britain would “do what is necessary to protect ourselves, and work with our allies to do likewise.” I’m hoping she’ll help protect us because it does not appear we are doing much to protect ourselves.

The President says he needs to be nice to Putin to gain his help on various issues. Sucking up with an adversary in hopes of gaining favor is not a winning strategy. It is hard to picture Ronald Reagan meekly telling Gorbachev that, while your Berlin wall is attractive and quite effective in imprisoning millions of East Germans, wouldn’t you please consider some slight alterations? Instead, Reagan forcefully said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” President Reagan’s strength carried the day and the wall came down. We need that same kind of strength in dealing with Putin. Why ask Putin whether he did something we have proof that he did. Let’s follow the lead of PM May--tell Putin we have the goods on him and that he will rue the day if doesn’t bring it to a screeching halt.

Rather than disputing the indisputable, the U.S. should be vigorously building its cyber defenses and developing a tough offensive capability. We are at a juncture in the electronic era much like we found ourselves in during the infancy of the rocket age. The Russians caught our attention with the launch of the Sputnik, demonstrating they had the lead in a technology with military applications. We had to up our game in that arena.

Now, the Russians have shown their expertise in the offensive use of cyber systems and it is incumbent on this country to take steps to counter Russian cyber aggression, not to deny it.
 

Reasons for rejection

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The voter-elected official relationship is just another kind of relationship. And a lot of the same rules apply to it as to others. They're useful in considering questions like those emerging in recent days about what to do about people like Roy Moore (elect him? expel him?) or Al Franken (presumably, various options).

Consider romantic relationships. When dating, participants consider regularly whether this is something to continue or drop, and (cf. Seinfeld, for example) sometimes do that for very slight reasons. Once married, there's a tendency to cut a little more slack; promises for better and for worse were, after all, made, and the reality is that no one is perfect.

This actually relates to the Moore and Franken (and other) cases.

In the Alabama Senate election, Republican Moore has run into a swarm of charges related to his involvement with much younger women and girls; you've doubtless seen the reports so they won't be reiterated here. In this case, voters in a very Republican state are deciding between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones; the race is considered competitive in large part because of the recent charges.

Should they be a consideration? Of course they should. They relate to what kind of person this is who wants to represent a state in the United States Senate and become one of the highest-level elected officials in the country. (And to be clear, the accusations which are quite serious are more than just credible, and the news reports about them have been thoroughly sourced, and no meaningful rebuttal from the candidate or anyone else has appeared.) Is it the only reasonable consideration? Of course not. The consequences of such elections range far beyond the personal quirks and foibles of any one candidate - things like tax policy and health care, among many others, are in the balance - and the confliction of conservative Republican Alabamans is not in that sense unreasonable. (All of that is putting aside the merits of the policy and philosophical arguments involved, which is another story. In my view, on those grounds, the case against Moore was ironclad long before "the women" even were heard from.)

Suppose Moore is elected. Should he be expelled from the Senate, as some Republican senators have suggested? Sitting here now, I'd have to say no.

If the voters decide to elect a person, well informed of the case at stake, the Senate had better have an extremely high bar if it wants to overrule them. It had better have either important - shattering - evidence against Moore newly developed since the election, or else reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate, of which there's been no indication so far. After all, every Senator ever expelled in the nation's history, one in 1797 and the others in the Civil War, were ousted because of treason or rebellion against the nation. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has an excellent piece on the significance of expelling - and the dangers of opening the doors to it under any but the most extreme cases. The Moore case would be distasteful, ugly and politically embarrassing (and maybe harmful) for Republicans, but it doesn't seem likely to rise to the status of emergency.

In other words, once elected, an elected official has passed dating and gotten hitched. The standards for dissolution need to be a lot higher.

What to do about Franken, now involved in a sexual harassment case as well, then becomes a little clearer. It is true that the voters of Minnesota did not have the specifics of the newly-related harassment case, for which Franken has apologized, in front of them when they twice elected him to the Senate. But they had an ample opportunity to gauge what sort of person he was, and their choice should be given a good deal of deference.

But beyond that, Franken is - as Moore would be if elected - a member of the Senate, in effect "married", and the bar for a dissolution ought to be pretty high. In other words, as I said about Moore: Reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate. Of which there's no such evidence at hand.

That doesn't mean the Senate ethics panel shouldn't look into the case, or or decide that a reprimand of some kind shouldn't be handed out; maybe it should. But if (and I'd say this bearing in mind both Moore and Franken) that if we get into a practice of expelling or driving out of Congress every member who ever had a tawdry piece of their past exposed, we might soon be left with few members, and few really good members of the public who'd want to run for the job. Which already is something of a problem.

Yes, it'd worth knowing these things about our elected officials, and people who would become one of them. They're worth factoring into our decision-making. But as attention-getting as they are, and as character-insightful as they sometimes can be, they shouldn't overwhelm all else.
 

Notes . . .

notes

I never met Orval Hansen face to face; he was departing from Congress as a representative from Idaho just as I was arriving, about to begin my study of the state's politics. (I missed watching first-hand a fascinating political story that evolved with his departure, though I would learn a good deal about it later.) My direct communication was limited to a couple of phone calls, not extensive in length, years ago.

But I have read a good deal about his extensive public service and the high standard he stuck to when he pursued it. And I've met a number of members of his family (including, just today, his wife), several of them also elected officeholder, who have over the years given plenty of positive reflection of him.

Hansen's in-state event at the Idaho Statehouse Monday, which I attended, drew a considerable number of people, more than you might expect for someone last elected to from Idaho in 1972, and who hasn't lived in the state since (until the last three years, when the Hansens did move back to Boise). But then, he was remembered and remembered in a good way. How many of today's officeholders will be remembered, decades from now, with such acclaim?

New at RP: Idaho’s 200 Cities

Three new books arriving this week: The series of Idaho's 200 Cities, with one title each focused on the norther, southwestern and eastern parts of the state.

And more than that too: There are also three books of Idaho trivia, a challenge for anyone who thinks they know the state.

The books are the culmination of a decade of work by the Association of Idaho Cities, spearheaded by former legislator Hal Bunderson. The books were written in part by Bunderson and in part by people all over Idaho, in cities from Moyie Springs to St. Charles.

The detail is startling, and the insights often surprising - there's a lot more to these communities than almost anyone but locals know (and not all of them). One of the most useful parts of the books is the section on turning points, describing the developments and events that caused the city to grow and change, for better or worse, the way it has. A of lessons can be found there.

If Idaho is of interest - and if you live there it ought to be - then these books belong on your bookshelf. They're available now, and in both paperback and full color hardbound flavors. You can find out more about them, and order them, here. (They're also available at Amazon.com).