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Posts published in December 2017

Hubris

carlson

There’s an old expression, “pride cometh before the fall.” Ancient Greek dramatists wrote great theatrics around this all too common human foible. In these tragedies they wrote about hubris, the excessive pride many people in power possess though they falter at fair exercising of this power.

The Greeks had another expression: “Those the gods rise up they then lay low.” It doesn’t take a fortune teller looking into a crystal ball to see that Tommy Ahlquist, the doctor/developer running for Idaho governor and pledging to spend whatever it takes for him to win, is headed for a classic fall.

Whether it happens soon enough for him to recover remains to be seen. As the one with the deepest pockets his recent announcement that he was launching an “attack website” is rather ironic. Its an attempt to pre-empt his opponents by attacking their records before they start attacking his non-record.

Its right out of the Republican advertising/media-spinning playbook that says first spend a lot of money giving your biographical story, preferably one which portrays you overcoming adversity and triumphing over obstacles placed in your way.

Ahlquist followed this to a tee during this past summer and fall, saturating the Boise television market with his “rags to riches” narrative. The game plan then in phase two calls for you to go negative with sometimes questionable charges that negatively define your opponent.

The goal is to put your opponent on the defensive and to keep him there always responding to you. Former President Lyndon Baines Johnson early in his political career was an aide to a Texas congressman. He once asked his boss why on the campaign trail he kept repeating a totally bogus negative charge. The congressman simply smiled and said “let him deny it.” In denying the charge he would have to repeat the negative. Think, for example, about the infamous headline in which Richard Nixon stated “I Am Not a Crook!” Johnson never forgot the lesson and it has become a staple of modern campaigning.

Phase three is when the candidate, about four to six weeks before the election, comes back with flight after flight of positive advertising emphasizing his personal characteristics and his positive policy agenda.The last flight just before the election usually has the candidate looking into the camera radiating sincerity and asking for your vote.

In modern times Idahoans have never voted into the governorship someone who has no previous political experience and has not been vetted by an electorate. They recognize the governorship is no place for on the job training.

When asked about this at a small town hall meeting in St. Maries Ahlquist was quick to dismiss it citing the fact that 13 current state governors had been elected with no prior elective experience.
He then let slip that he had stopped by a Republican governors meeting in Chicago in September to introduce himself to his (in his mind) future colleagues.

He indicated in particular he wanted to discuss the looming crisis in the nation’s health care challenges. Some may admire the chutzpah of such a presumption. Others might see it as an act of sheer arrogance and an egregious taking of the Idaho voters for granted. You can decide which.

Calls to the campaign office and to his campaign manager asking whether Ahlquist had also flown to Austin, Texas in November to attend the formal national meeting of the Republican Governor’s Association were not returned.

Over the weekend the three major Republican candidates for governor (Lt. Governor Brad Little, First District Congressman Raul Labrador and Ahlquist), all submitted statements to the Coeur d’Alene Press about their candidacy and why they each believe they can lead the state into a better future.

Only one though used the royal or imperial “we” - as in “we announced,” “we know better,” “we know it’s time,” and “we will get things done.” You want to guess which one?

Hubris, pure hubris and pure balderdash.

Caveat emptor.
 

To bake a cake

stapiluslogo1

In the hotly-contested Colorado wedding cake case - in which the issue is whether a baker should be constitutionally allowed to discriminate and not create a cake for a same-sex wedding - the Supreme Court may be arguing toward a useful dividing line.

It has just heard oral arguments in the case, which probably is months off from a decision. But the justices' questions were, as often, indicative of where their thinking was heading.

The New York Times reported on it, "The more liberal justices probed whether all sorts of artisans — tailors, hair stylists, makeup artists, chefs — could refuse to supply goods and services for same-sex weddings. Conservative justices considered whether artists can be required to convey messages with which they profoundly disagree."

Justice Stephen Breyer asked, “Where is the line? That is what everyone is trying to get at.”

Let's take a stab at it.

The anti-discrimination provisions in the law are intended to keep people from being shut out of society - especially the commercial side. Suppose it were legal for an electric company to deny service to some category of people its chief executive didn't like? That alone would make a mockery of the idea of all of us living together in a cooperative society. That instance may be a made-up-case, but the Jim Crow years in this country, and not just in the South, did lead to bars to blacks and other citizens across a range of businesses where ordinary convenience and even health and safety were at stake. If you had the wrong skin color (or was in an otherwise disliked category), you could forget about eating at many restaurants, staying at many motels, getting served in a grocery or some other stores or even finding a rest room or a place to get a drink of water. That's what the non-discrimination laws in "public accommodations" - in services generally open to the people - were intended to address.

Those kinds of goods and services, though, were not distinctive (or didn't have to be) according to some category of person. Whether you were black or white, a motel room is a motel room, and a burger is a burger. If a business supplied you such things, you were being supplied the same kind of goods or services as everyone else gets. In other words, you weren't asking for something particularized or unique, just a standard good or service.

Now on to the wedding cake.

The bakers involved is open to and says it serves the public. It may be a less-essential "accommodation" than a motel or restaurant but it seems to, at least loosely, fit the standard; members of the public ought to be able to expect to receive general relevant services there if they're willing to pay for them.

Presumably, the shop offers various kinds of wedding cakes. Some may be relatively standard-issue, usable at almost any ceremony. Others may be special in design or in written message, particular to a specific ceremony and its participants.

One of the bakers said in the case that "he should not be forced to use his talents to convey a message of support for same-sex marriage." There's a point here: Should a person in effect be compelled under law to present and make attractive a message with which one disagrees?

But: What about simply agreeing to sell a cake, a generally usable wedding cake, while reserving the right to agree, or not agree, to contribute any specialized design or message - so that the baker would not be in a position of being forced to create a design or statement that he would not agree with?

There may be, in other words, room for a compromise here. It often happens in a society where everyone has rights that people don't get everything they want. But the Supreme Court probably could, in a case like this, give the parties involved - and other cases to come - what they need.
 

The harm in Muslim-bashing

jones

The President’s statements, tweets and retweets that demean, vilify or ridicule Muslims are harmful to American interests in a number of ways. Whether he is denigrating a Muslim Gold Star family or retweeting anti-Muslim video clips spewed out by a British hate group, it is dangerous for our nation.

Since 9-11, the U.S. has been engaged in an international conflict with radicals who espouse a perverted version of Islam. These people constitute a tiny minority of the world’s Muslims. Islam is the second-largest religion on earth, with about 1.8 billion members. We are allies with many Muslim-majority nations and we count on those countries for assistance in combating terrorist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda.

The U.S. is currently involved in armed conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, all of which are Muslim-majority nations. We have troops in many other Muslim nations in the Middle East and northern Africa. It is essential to the safety of our people in harm’s way that we maintain mutual respect with the people of those countries. When our President is generally characterizing people of the Islamic faith as common terrorists, it is not only a false narrative but it is dangerous for our service personnel on the ground.

Grateful beneficiaries of the President’s anti-Muslim activities are the very terrorist groups we are fighting. They seek to gain followers by claiming America is waging war against Islam. The President has played into that narrative with his words and actions, giving the terrorist groups ammunition to use against us in their propaganda work, not to mention the boost it gives to their recruitment efforts.

Incidentally, the anti-Muslim actions, such as the Muslim travel ban and the recent Twitter activity, are also music to the ears of American neo-nazis. David Duke is loving all of it. In response to the President’s retweet of the British hate-group videos, Duke rejoiced, “Thank God for Trump.” I’m not so sure God would want to claim credit.

The British, our closest allies, were obviously not pleased with the high profile the retweets gave the ultra-nationalist British First group. They could not be faulted for asking why the retweets were necessary--what valid U.S. interest was served by redistributing this harmful garbage.
Of course, the United States has about 3.45 million citizens who are members of the Islamic faith. I have met many here in Idaho and they are wonderful people who love this country, their country. When people in positions of responsibility make broad generalizations casting Muslims in an an unfavorable or menacing light, it is a form of undeserved religious bigotry. There is no place for that in a country that prides itself on religious freedom.

It is no wonder that hate crimes against Muslims increased over 19% from 2015 to 2016. Muslims constitute about 1% of the U.S. population but suffer 4% of the hate crimes. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center disclosed that half of the Muslims polled say it has become more difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. in recent years.

It is wrong to make a segment of the American religious community fearful for their everyday safety and well-being. It violates one of the bedrock principles upon which this great nation was founded. Let’s stand up and demand that our public officials recognize and support religious freedom for all Americans, regardless of their faith or beliefs.
 

Winston

rainey

That’s Winston. An 18-year-old Rat Terrier. If you can remember the old RCA Victor logo of a dog and a gramophone, that was a Rat Terrier. Very popular in the first third of the century. Now, they’re coming back.

But not Winston. Last night, we had to say our last “Goodbye.” Things just suddenly started to fail and we were not left with other choices. The moment of decision and relief from his struggle was upon him. And us.

We found Winston in a cage in a store in Nampa, Idaho, 18 years ago. He’s been our constant companion every day since. Not a mean bone in his body. Liked everyone he met. Traveled like a pro in RVs or car. Jumped into the middle of every experience.

Hard to say who loved who more. When we were happy, he seemed to rejoice right along with us. When we hurt, there was always the paw on your leg, extra attention paid and snuggling. He sensed our moods in ways we still don’t understand.

And, we often sensed his. Some days, he was quiet and seemed extra grateful for a scratch of his ears or a tummy rub. Other times, he’d be frisky and wanting to go for a walk at any moment. And there were the quiet times, when he just wanted some extra “loves” and was content to sleep the day away.

Many people don’t care for dogs. Some folks have allergies that keep them from knowing the quiet companionship of a loving animal. Maybe they know - and maybe not - but I think their lives are incomplete. As we humans search for attention and love, we never quite fully achieve either without a dog. Without a Winston. Without the constant support that comes from having a cold nose rub your arm or “that look” from bright brown eyes. No matter when. No matter where.

While needing regular feeding, exercise, an occasional bath and nail trim, we got more from him in repayment - and then some- for those little chores. Even if he just snuggled into his small, sheepskin basket across the room, we felt over-paid - and quietly, a bit more loved - knowing he felt safe enough and loved enough to let us be his constant security. When an animal - or a person - can trust you enough that they can override their natural sense of self-preservation, you feel loved and needed by someone outside yourself.

We romanticize our pets much the same way we do people who’re close to us. We give them special names and feel gratified when we can do some little thing that make them feel good or loved. We remember them on birthdays or at Christmas with some little trinket to renew the bonds between us. We hurt when they hurt. We share their joys when they celebrate.

But, if we have a “Winston,” we tend to forget they react in much the same way. They share our successes and failures with extra tail wags or being extra close to comfort us as needed. They recognize and respond to our moods. They become family. We at the table. Them under it.

In their last days - no matter what the age - they look to us to take charge and make that final decision that’ll physically separate us forever. Even as he lay semi-sedated and waiting for that final needle, Winston quietly looked at us and seemed to be saying, “Go ahead. Let me go. Stop my pain. I love you.”

And we did.

We’re grieving now. We’ll continue to do so for awhile. We don’t know how long. But, I think it will continue until that moment - days, months or even years away - that moment when we realize the deep feelings of joy, love and completeness he brought us will continue even if he’s not physically with us. They’ll continue even if we can’t reach out and touch. That moment we realize we carried out our final responsibility to do what was best - what needed to be done - for his sake. Not ours.

Our hearts may be filled with sadness today. But our lives have been enriched - enriched forever - because there was Winston. His pain is over. Ours will end, too. Someday.

Goodnight, Winston. You’re well-loved.
 

Water Digest – December

Water rights weekly report for July 17. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The Bureau of Reclamation has released two funding opportunities for fiscal year 2018 through its Drought Response Program, which is part of the Department of the Interior’s WaterSMART program. These funding opportunities are available for entities to develop drought contingency plans and build long-term solutions to drought.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Brenda Burman as the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner. She is the first woman to ever lead the Bureau.

Seniority in water rights is in many places a precious asset, but not a guarantee that the right won’t be taken away. That may happen in the case of Martha Carr, who lives in Burbank, California but owns property in South Dakota. He was the eventual inheritor of Robert Wittke, a settler who had filed for the right at French Creek near Custer in 1878.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has held off until at least mid-December intervention in a water use battle over the San Saba River, where are landowners say that upstream farmers have been over-pumping water.
They maintain the upstream users have been pumping in excess of their permitted water rights, and have asked for a watermaster to control that use.

The Bureau of Reclamation and State of Utah are initiating negotiations for a water exchange contract, which proposes exchanging the state’s assigned Green River water right for use of Colorado River Storage Project water released from Flaming Gorge Dam. The negotiation meeting is scheduled for Monday, December 4, 2017, at 1:00 p.m. at the Dixie Convention Center, 1835 South Convention Center Drive, St. George, Utah.

Will the Governor’s Drought Interagency Coordinating Group recommend to Governor Ducey that he add the approaching “water year” to the State’s lengthy string of official drought years? Or will the panel recommend that the official dry spell designation end in Arizona, thus following in the footsteps of California, where that state’s drought designation was lifted in the wake of its extraordinarily wet winter? Considering that much of Arizona remains in the same long-term state of drought it has experienced since the mid-1990s, the ICG’s recommendation for maintaining the declaration was not the toughest of calls, as it turned out.
 

Idaho Briefing – December 4

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for December 4. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Representative Mike Simpson discussed the issue of fire borrowing during a House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee hearing with Chief of the Forest Service, Tony Took. Specifically, Simpson emphasized the need to fund wildfires like other natural disasters.

Finding strange, non-native creatures living in the Boise River has nearly become a tradition, or at least, a recurring incident, and Idaho Fish and Game would like to see it end. In a recent case, Fish and Game crews surveying the Boise River near Warm Springs Golf Course discovered a freshwater shrimp commonly known as “grass” or “ghost” shrimp that are native to the lower Mississippi River.

Essential services like hospitals and water treatment depend on energy distribution to ensure reliable and continuous operations. As the power grid evolves, becoming more connected and responsive, those new, smart devices can introduce greater cyber vulnerabilities. To address this challenge, the power grid test bed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory has been transitioned to a more adaptive architecture.

Governor C.L. “Butch”Otter on November 27 said that Chief Operating Officer Bobbi-Jo Meuleman will become director of the Idaho Department of Commerce on January 1 when Director Megan Ronk departs to lead business development efforts for Idaho Power Co.

Avista Corporation said on November 21 the preliminary results of a special meeting of shareholders to approve the proposed acquisition of the company by Hydro One Limited.

Twin Falls on December 1 held the grand opening of the new Twin Falls City Hall with guided tours, building dedication, and Tree Lighting.

PHOTO Winter season at Lolo Pass Visitor Center, located on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests along Highway 12 at the Idaho–Montana state line, will begin Saturday, December 2. (Photo: Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests)
 

How about listening (for a change)?

mckee

North Korea’s budding developments in nuclear weaponry coupled with its belligerent intransigence to world pressures for non-proliferation presents a significant risk to the entire world. These are not happy times, and most desperately hope that something can be done.

But mislabeling this tiny nation as a terrorist state is the wrong way to go.

Our President has already exacerbated the unfolding situation by an inexplicable stream of insults and derisive comments aimed at Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s dictator. He has confused the developing situation even worse by causing inconsistent and confusing diplomatic declarations to emanate from the Whitehouse, the Department of State, and the Department of the Defense. It does not appear that there is any coordination by President Trump or any of his Whitehouse spokespersons with either Secretary Mattis or Secretary Tillerson, as Trump repeatedly contradicts statements emanating from both.

He has deliberately cut the legs out from under Secretary Tillerson every time Tillerson appeared to be attempting to open channels for diplomatic discussions with North Korea, despite this being where the solution has to be found and despite this being what China’s Xi Jinping is advocating.

The upshot here is that circumstances in North Korea continue to appear unstable, and our action of unilaterally listing it as a terrorist state will not be helpful.

Shortly before setting out on his trip recent trip through Asia, Trump finally declared that he intended to allow China’s Xi Jinping to take the lead in working out a solution to the North Korea situation. This is a step that most experts in Asia affairs believe essential if any long term solution is to be found. Most noted with interest that once Trump made this declaration, the provocative actions and messages emanating from North Korea appeared to slow to a crawl. There were no tests or threats of tests of either missiles or weapons for some time, and no provocative tweets from the leader, Kim Jong-un. It is as if Kim was watching to see what China would propose and how Trump would respond, and was giving it all a chance by his inaction.

Trump, however, could not keep his mouth shut and has not kept out of Xi Jinping’s way. Our President continues to deride Kim Jong-un personally in in tweets and in speeches throughout his Asian tour. He continues to pressure Xi Jinping to impose harsher economic sanctions upon its neighbor. Finally, Trump recently announced that the United States would return North Korea to its list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” thereby paving the way for harsher economic sanctions to be imposed unilaterally by the United States.

By this action, the United States links North Korea with Syria, Iran and the Sudan, all notorious hot beds of radical Islam, fostering terrorist activities by al Qaeda and ISIS and their offshoots. There is no evidence that North Korea has any interest in radical Islam, or any connection to the activities of al Qaeda or ISIS.

To many knowledgeable students of Asian affairs, listing North Korea as a terrorist nation is a huge mistake. Although North Korea is a brutal dictatorship with few if any saving characteristics, it does not fit the description of a sovereign state sponsor of terrorism, and mislabeling the country will make diplomatic resolution of the problems that are actually presented that much harder. Trump has repeatedly expressed the importance of other nations demonstrating “respect” for the United States, but he has no understanding of the importance of the United States reciprocating with a demonstration of respect for others.

In particular, Trump clearly has no comprehension of the importance of “face” to the Asian culture. North Korea was insulted when George Bush lumped it together with the problem countries of the middle-east, referring to them all in an address to Congress as the “Axis of Evil.” The insult sabotaged efforts then to re-open negotiations towards nuclear non-proliferation. Trump’s actions today re-ignites the same insult, and may have the same result.

North Korea got itself put on the terrorist list once, for the 1987 incident of blowing a civilian South Korean airliner out of the sky, killing all aboard. It had also been selling weapons to known terrorist groups and harboring known terrorists who had fled to North Korea and sought sanctuary. North Korea renounced all terrorist activities shortly after being placed on the list, and kept itself out of this caldron of trouble until finally, in 2008, then-President George W. Bush de-listed it. This was as part of some attempts by the U.S. to move North Korea back into the non-proliferation pact nations, and was in exchange for North Korea’s agreement to dismantle a nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Although further attempts to get North Korea under the non-proliferation pact were unsuccessful, Bush did not renege on his agreement to de-list North Korea from the terrorists list.

Throughout all of Obama’s term, the United States repeatedly considered requests to put North Korea back on the list, but declined. The episodes raised as grounds for re-listing the country as a terrorist nation were considered military actions, not terrorist, or not sufficiently connected to terrorists activities. The decision of who to add to the list is exclusively that of the United States; this is not an international list in which any other country participates. The terms are not defined. The United States can do what it wants.

Kim Jong-un has consistently repeated the same explanation offered by his father and grandfather for building and maintaining a nuclear weapon capability: that he is not a terrorist but only intends to defend his country and the Kim legacy from being overrun by the West. It is plain wrong-headed diplomacy to lump North Korea in with al Qaeda, ISIS and the Arab nations supporting radical Islam, or with ISIS directly in the sponsorship of terrorist activities. The world’s particular immediate problem with North Korea is centered exclusively on its potential for developing a working nuclear weapon delivery system and the potential for a thermonuclear disaster. This is universally considered to be a military threat by a nation at war, not a potential terrorist activity.

The basic logistical requirements and the technical demands of sophisticated nuclear weaponry take any real threat of thermonuclear weaponry out of the realm of the terrorist entities. It is conceivable that terrorist groups might make use of nuclear devices that are less sophisticated – the so-called dirty bombs that might fit in a suitcase – but this technology is already widespread and not particularly exclusive to North Korea. There is no actual evidence that has been made available to the public that North Korea has any significant interest in these low-level terrorist activities. The world generally does not consider North Korea to be a threat through support of radical Islam, nor from any sudden and unexpected participation in terrorist activities there. From all appearances, its entire effort has been towards the development of thermonuclear devices and intercontinental delivery systems capable of reaching the entire world – which by definition and practical application is considered to be a national military endeavor.

It is time to overhaul our thinking in this area from the ground up. Get a big table set up and invite Kim Jong-un to come sit at it. Give Kim the stature and recognition he requests as a world leader on the nuclear stage. Consider, with the interests of China and Russia in mind, conditions under which North Korea may continue to control its arsenal of weapons for purposes of national defense. Examine the potential for economic development of North Korea, rather than economic oppression, as a more productive force for encouraging change. Leave the issue of reunification alone, to be dealt with over time by the people of the peninsula working independently and without external pressures.

Finally, after over 63 years, replace the general’s truce and get a peace treaty up to end the damn war. Then we can bring the tiny and unnecessary token combat force we have stationed over there home.

Maybe it’s time to take our foot off Kim’s neck and our thumb out of his eye and actually listen to him for a change.
 

The don’t knows

stapiluslogo1

If I were managing the campaign of one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates - or of those in the first congressional district - I’d be heavily concerned about what the polls aren’t showing.

Which is to say, the people who haven’t yet decided.

Start with how long these campaigns have been going on already: A long time.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little announced a year and a half ago, in June 2016. Developer Tommy Ahlquist announced in February of this year - about 10 months ago. Representative Raul Labrador announced in May, about half a year ago, but he was widely thought likely to run well before that, and long considered kind of a candidate-in-waiting alongside the others.

Over most of this year, the candidates have been campaigning as if election day were two weeks away. Between town meetings, candidate forums, advertising and more, this is a lot like the kind of campaigning you’d expect to see just before the season is winding up (instead of still half a year yet to go). And not only that: They have had the field to themselves. These candidates haven’t had to compete with attention for candidates for president or Congress. All the political oxygen has gone to them.

Point being, these candidates have had an ideal opportunity to soak up as much support as possible in these last few months. If politically-interested Idahoans haven’t made up their minds about them by now … well, just what are they waiting for?

That’s the leadup to the new poll from Idaho Politics Weekly (of Zions Bank) which shows Little getting 21 percent support, Labrador 17 percent and Ahlquist 14 percent. Those numbers taken by themselves simply indicate a competitive race. But all three are far behind the top-runner: Don’t Know, which pulls 36 percent support.

If I were campaign manager for any of these candidates, I’d be devoting a lot of thought to answering the question of what exactly these people need to know to let loose of their support.

The situation in the first congressional district, where Labrador is leaving an open seat and room for a pile of candidates, is a little different but similar enough to draw some related conclusions.

There, former Lieutenant Governor David Leroy announced in May (about as soon as Labrador shifted to the governor’s race), and former legislator Russell Fulcher entered the next month, but after having spent the months since August 2016 running for governor. Legislator Luke Malek joined the contest in August, and others have been in for a while too. Idahoans certainly have had plenty of opportunity by now, in December, to figure out who these guys are.

In a mid-October poll (also from Idaho Politics Weekly), though, few had. The number broke at 17 percent for Leroy, nine percent for Fulcher and seven percent for Malek - but that meant more than two-thirds were undecided. (Could that have influenced the recent entry of Canyon County legislator Christy Perry?)

What does this mass of undecideds translate to? Might it be as simple as: “Ain’t time yet to vote, so don’t bother me”? Unexcitement about the candidates? Actual lack of needed information?

That last doesn’t seem likely. But figuring out the answer to who wins the primary may co0me out of figuring out the right cause of all those undecideds.