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Posts published in January 2018

Pro-Trump, annotated


On the 17th, the New York Times did an excellent service, turning over its editorial page to backers of President Donald Trump. That offered a useful counterpoint to the Times' own views, which have run deeply in opposition to the president over the last year, and prior.

Those of us who have asked over the last year, "What can they be thinking?" when it comes to Trump support got some answers here, as a page-worth of letters to the editor pitched the Trump case. They offer up a clear picture of what their side of the argument looks like.

One noted, for example, "Some of the many positive results of his policies are a booming economy, low unemployment (record low for black Americans), soaring stock market, lower taxes, the repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage." You can read the whole thing at the Times site.

Those arguments can be broken down to 10 core, frequently-made points (and I'll throw in a peripheral, less-mentioned extra), noted here in no particular order. But each of them also cries out for an annotation, which is also here.

1. "The economy is up ... low unemployment (record low for black Americans), soaring stock market ..." The economy is in fact doing well - now. It is doing almost exactly the same as it did a year ago, in the last year of Barack Obama's administration, and in the years before that, which is to say that nothing much has changed. The point has been made that the stock market made better progress in the early Obama Administration (after a severe crash at the end of the Bush Administration), and the point could be made that a high stock market these days often has more to do with stock buybacks and employee layoffs than it does actual national productivity or prosperity. But the larger point is that many of the same conditions which led us to the 2008 crash are now - blindly - being brought back as policy choices. You say the economy is doing well today? Great. Stay tuned. We'll see how long it lasts.

2. "foreign tyrants are afraid ... putting real pressure on North Korea and Iran ... stronger plans to prevent North Korea and Iran from using nuclear weapons." Here we move into fantasy. Whatever else they are, the leaders of Iran and North Korea seem to be not in the slightest intimidated; they're seeing, to the contrary, a president who can be manipulated with astounding ease.

3. "has largely defeated ISIS in Iraq." The ISIS news out of Iraq is indeed excellent, but this is much like the situation with the economy: The military pattern from 2016 - which involved United States military backup, but not a primary combat role - was in general continued through 2017, with similar results; this was a matter simply of leaving a reasonable policy to run on autopilot. Almost any president likely would have done something similar. You can fairly credit Trump for not trashing it, but that's about as much credit as is reasonable to give.

4. "the repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage." Well thank God we're not required to get health insurance! Who knows what that might lead to? What this provision, slipped in at the last moment (without, God forbid, any hearings or study of impact) likely will do is destabilize the insurance marketplace for us all - which would mean higher prices and reduced coverage. The point of the mandate is to spread risk widely; spreading risk is the point of insurance, period. The ACA may be flawed, but many of its critics seem not to understand even in the most general terms what insurance is or how it works. They should educate themselves about that.

5. "our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem." There are arguments to be made, and some people have made them for decades, about why this might be a good idea; those seem to be heavily outnumbered by the arguments for why it seems more likely to exacerbate tension and conflict in the Middle East. But my point here goes to none of that. It is: How does the location of an embassy in another country benefit us Americans at all? What's the benefit for us? Why is this something for us to celebrate?

6. "tax reform is accomplished." This - the massive bill passed in December - is a fraud. It is not tax "reform"; to call it that is an abuse of the word. When passed, it was so haphazardly put together that even the legislators voting on it did not know what was in it, and there was no time for public exposure or comment. (If there had been, the bill surely would have died.) Beyond that, this comment from conservative commenter Jennifer Rubin: "A tax cut that grows the deficit and gives disproportionate benefits to the rich is a 'win' and 'conservative' because, because … why?" And those recent reports of worker bonuses and the like? Call it a diversionary tactic.

Update: The makers of Kleenex announce layoffs in late January of more than 5,000 nationally. And (in a tweet the next day): "Toys R Us closing 180 stores, Sears closing 63 stores, Kmart closing 45 stores, Macy's closing 68 stores, Sam's Club 63 stores closing, JP Morgan closing several branches." I don't blame any of that on Trump. But don't bother telling me about the job-creating wonders of this tax bill.

7. "has named a number of solid conservative judges." If you're philosophically conservative, I'll give you this one (which would have gone to any Republican elected president). But bear in mind that for a whole lot of Americans, this is a bug, not a feature. Whether this is good or bad depends solely on where you sit, and for a lot of Americans the verdict is not positive.

8. "has prioritized American citizens over illegal immigrants." In terms of rhetoric, Trump has done this, in his fashion. But his approach has had the larger effect of setting Americans against each other. Many Americans have views nothing like the hard-anti-immigrant attitude at much of the core of the Trump base. And much of what we're seeing from that core, egged on by Trump, is cruel and heartless. America has had, since before our nationhood, an ambivalent feeling about its immigrants, but never a president who has whipped up that feeling the way this one has. Actual changes in border crossings, actual practical on-the-ground effects (apart from instilling lots of fear among millions of people) have moved hardly at all in the last year. The emotional climate in the country has changed much more, and not for the better.

9. "has gotten us out of several bad international agreements ... getting out of biased United Nations organizations." Um, no, with the main exception of the Paris climate change accord (which imposed no hard requirements on the United States at all) and to some extent the Pacific trade agreement, he hasn't. We're still in the United Nations. And not much else by way of international trade has much changed. Foreign policy analyst Daniel Drezner points out, "In his first year, Trump can point to no new alliances, trade deals or favorable basing agreements. Trump obsesses (wrongly) about trade deficits, but they increased with both China and Mexico in 2017." And, "The United States is losing its global standing because the world hates Donald Trump. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something."

10. "has removed a number of wasteful regulations." We hear a lot about "wasteful regulations" but remarkably little about which regulations, exactly, those are. Of course there are regulations that impose needless cost or imposition, and we ought to be targeting and getting rid of them. But that takes effort, time and expertise, none of which have been in evidence over the last year. What we seem to be seeing is a mindless meat-axe, the results of which will come home to roost when we start to discover why those regs were crafted in the first place. Rubin again: "It is not conservative to favor reversing everything President Barack Obama did without regard to changed circumstances or alternatives. That doesn’t make Obama’s political legacy wonderful; it makes those advocating blind destruction without reasoned alternatives anything but conservative."

A bonus argument: "and respect for the flag and the rule of law." Sigh. Respect for the rule of law? Does this really even require a response? Really?

A brief but useful comprehensive rebuttal to all this comes from TV host Joe Scarborough. It's worth a read.

Now as for the list of arguments against Trump, I'm afraid we'd need a list much longer than a top 10 . . .

Character matters


My senior year of high school, I served as a page for the Idaho House of Representatives. I was also a member of the Lewiston High School chapter of the National Honor Society. The NHS recognizes scholarship, service, leadership, and character, and four graduating seniors were tapped to address these topics at the year’s end initiation ceremony. I was assigned to speak on character.

In preparing my remarks, I took advantage of my access to key legislators in Boise and interviewed several leaders from both parties to elicit their views on the importance of character in the legislative process.

The interview I most remember is the one I had with Sen. Richard (Dick) High who represented a district in Twin Falls and later served with distinction on the Idaho Public Utilities Commission. Sen. High, a Republican, was universally respected by his colleagues on both sides of the political aisle.

“What role does character play in legislative success?” I asked the senator.

“Character makes all the difference,” he replied. “A man’s word is his bond. If you give your word and break your word, you are finished here.”

Sen. High went on to explain why trust, once broken, is so very hard to regain. He acknowledged that legislators will occasionally have good reason to change their minds but, when they do, they should give their reasons and inform those to whom they earlier made a commitment. He emphasized that anything less would be dishonorable.

I incorporated Sen. High’s comments, with attribution of course, into my speech on character, noting that the cornerstone of character is honesty, fair dealing, and keeping one’s word.

Last weekend as negotiations to keep the government open spiraled downward, I was again reminded of the importance of trust among players in the legislative process and the age-old truth that the ability to rely on one’s word is critical, that trust, once broken, is very hard to regain.

President Trump promised to sign DACA legislation that had garnered bipartisan support. He promised to “take the heat.” He promised not to second guess the senators. He promised not to require changes. And, then – in the blink of any eye – he broke each and every promise.

When Senators Graham and Durbin, a Republican and Democrat, met with the president to present their agreed upon proposal, Trump flipped and he flopped – and he broke his word.

In the aftermath of Trump’s abrupt reversal, Mitch McConnell tried mightily to pin the blame for the ensuing government shutdown on the Democrats, but try as he might, his words rang hollow.

Senator Schumer, observing that negotiating with the president was like negotiating with Jello, directly called-out the elephant in the room. Schumer said, in no uncertain terms, that the president had reneged on his promise. Schumer made clear his view, based on experience, that the occupant of the Oval Office could not be trusted.

While Schumer spoke, McConnell maintained his game face, keeping up the pretense that the president was blameless. But McConnell knew better. Just the previous day, McConnell himself had publicly complained that he felt paralyzed in moving forward not knowing what legislation the president would accept. McConnell knew that his GOP caucus, no less than Schumer’s Democrats, could not rely on the president to keep his word.

It seems that Trump has stiffed employees, contractors and others his entire adult life. His businesses have seen repeated bankruptcies. American banks so devalued his credit that he couldn’t get a loan, so he turned to Russian banks to bail him out.

Always, it seems, he moved on.

But he is beginning to find out that, as president, there is no moving on. There is no other Congress to which he can turn. Neither party trusts him, though the Republicans will pretend they do. But at the end of the day, his credit is worthless.

Dick High was right. And character still matters.

A Congress that cannot govern


This federal shutdown fight has been brewing for years. And it's complicated because there are several different Congressional factions; think of them as mini-political parties, that have different goals in the budget process.

Remember this: The Republicans are in charge. This process could have been resolved within the caucus -- if the GOP leadership had the votes. And that's the main problem. There is not enough votes for an affirmative solution. So much easier to say "no." (The House did pass their version with the support of the so-called Freedom Caucus. But several Senators in the Republican camp are still not on board because the solution doesn't send enough money to the military while others are not happy with another Continuing Resolution or any additional spending.

Democrats have not had much say in the government since the election of Donald J. Trump as president. Senate leaders have used budget rules designed to pass legislation with 51 votes. But this short-term spending bill does not qualify. So for once, Democrats have a say. There are three things on their "must" list. They want domestic spending protected (remember, one GOP faction wants deep cuts into government spending). They have been successful doing this with every Continuing Resolution so far because the alternative is the Budget Control Act and that would require deep cuts to the military (as well as domestic programs). Democrats also want funding for the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP. That is a huge program for Indian Country (along with Medicaid) pays the health care costs for more than half of all American Indian and Alaska Native children in the Indian health care system.

The CHIP program is in the House Continuing Resolution. But, as the National Indian Health Board posted yesterday, the House bill "does contain a 6-year reauthorization for the Children's Health Insurance Program but does not include the Special Diabetes Program for Indians. This is a huge miss. The Special Diabetes for Program for Indians expires March 31. The ideal solution would be for the Senate to include both CHIP and the diabetes program in any deal that's made with the White House.

The final sticking point for the Democrats is protecting the people who brought to this country as children. The Trump administration wants a solution to include money for a wall -- even full funding for that project -- as well as an increase in enforcement. Tough sell.

But as I mentioned all of this has been brewing. Instead of having a full debate about these divisions, Congress has been saying it will deal with it later. This is later. (And even then don't be surprised if a deal just moves this down the road.)

Ideally this will force the Congress into a real debate. Big picture stuff. Yeah, right. I know, but I had to write it anyway.

Of course Indian Country (and the economy) will be hit hard if this shutdown lasts very long. Lots of families, both government employees and contractors, could lose a paycheck.

The problem is we really don't know exactly how the Trump administration will manage this particular closure.

During the last government shutdown, 21-days that started on December 16, 1995, and continued to January 6, 1996, all 13,500 Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs employees were furloughed; general assistance payments for basic needs to 53,000 BIA benefit recipients were delayed; and estimated 25,000 American Indians did not receive timely payment of oil and gas royalties," according to the Congressional Research Service. The last time around furloughed employees were eventually paid. Eventually.

All told Standard & Poor's estimated the U.S. economy lost $24 billion last time around.

The Indian Health Service and the Department of Interior posted planning memos in September about what is expected to happen. Basically: Many BIA employees will be furloughed, except for those that work in public safety or who are managers. However the Bureau of Indian Education will largely continue working, especially those who work with schools and children.

Former Indian Health Service Director former IHS director Dr. Michael Trujillo told Congress that the government closure “caused considerable hardship within Indian communities. One result of staff furloughs was difficulty in processing funds for direct services and to contracting and compacting tribes so the delivery of health services could continue. Those staff that continued providing health services were not paid on time. Threats to shut off utilities to our health facilities and even to stop food deliveries were endured. We reached a point where some private sector providers indicated that they might not accept patients who were referred from Indian Health facilities because of the Federal shutdown.”

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Whither thou, Democrat?


Has anyone seen a national Democrat who’d make an excellent president? Does anyone know of such - someone harboring the thought who’s ready to file petitions and start raising millions for the race? Anyone? Anywhere?

No? Well, how about someone who would be a likely candidate for vice president? Have you seen one of them? Someone out in the hustings on the rubber chicken dinner circuit? Someone helping raise funds for a local or state or national Democrat candidate for something and earning I-O-U’s?

No? Well, what HAVE you seen? Elizabeth? Bernie? Joe? Kamala? Oprah? OPRAH? Are you kidding me???

You do know, of course, it takes three-four years of advance work, raising money, setting up state-by-state connections, creating a technology network, getting local committees of workers up and running, shmoozing big donors, You know that, don’t you, Mr. And Mrs. Democrat?

So, let’s ask again. Which Democrats are out there doing those things? Who’s got those petitions ready to file? Who’s ready to “hit-the-ground-running?” Walking? Crawling? Breathing?

The uniform answer to such queries seems to be “No one.” Since Tom Perez became National Democrat Chairman, what passes for national candidate recruitment has apparently been taking place underground in deep secrecy. I can’t come up with a single serious name being floated or even whispered. OPRAH? Are you kidding?

Hillary has said - more or less - she won’t run for office again. Good. Bernie won’t make such a statement and is letting backers ramp up the chant. Bad. Elizabeth and Kamala don’t have the chops. Joe’s age, three years hence, disqualifies him. No potential 2020 candidates there.

It’s not like the Dems don’t have some fine, highly qualified folk. Check the U.S. Senate: Mark Warner (VA), Patti Murray (WA), Sherrod Brown (OH), Amy Klobuchar (MI,) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). If you liked Joe Biden, you’d love Whitehouse. He was Biden’s top staffer for years and is just as familiar with foreign heads-of-state and diplomacy as Joe.

Over in the House, Joaquin Castro (Tx). Smart, experienced, able to gain election majorities - even in Texas. Or Chris Van Hollen (MD), Jackie Speir or Eric Swalwell of California or Adam Schiff (Ca) from the House Intelligence Committee. Several state houses could produce some good names as well.

Nationally, Dems have always had three serious problems. First, they normally have no “bench team” - a cadre of skilled/experienced people to get out on the playing field, ready-to-go as first-class candidates. Second, they’re not good at letting the last, lost election go to turn their focus on the next race. Internecine battles continue. Hillary and Bernie backers big time.

And, third, when they do get a good one in office, they tend to sit on their butts instead of grooming a good second team - ready to get in the game when the time comes. The Bill Clinton years come to mind.

Nationally, Democrats have some top-notch talent. They do! But, no one is currently carrying on a national dialogue, floating names or even openly promoting the necessary candidate search. It’s likely there’s a lot of commotion below the surface. But the clock’s ticking. The threshold for launching a national campaign is bearing down. Time to get going on some of the all-important name recognition. And work.

About the only national Dem chatter I hear is the continued bitching between Hillary and Bernie supporters. That’s got to STOP! Again, Hillary ain’t running and Bernie shouldn’t. Knock off the arguing and get behind someone else. Anyone else. Put that useless chatter and wasted energy into a candidate that would appreciate the added help. When you can find one.

This far out from November, 2020, it’s hard to know where Trump - or Pence - will be. Impeached. Sitting in a cell. Beaten in a nasty GOP national primary. Ready to run again. But, Democrats can be warned of one thing. In or out of office, Trump will be a larger-than-life figure in that election. His dwindling base will make it so. Faux Neus and Breitbart will make it so. Trump will make it so.

Somebody’s got to jerk the national Dems off their butts and out onto the playing field. The need for all-out, flat-out action has never been more necessary. Or, they can just continue to grumble and watch Trump and his minions tear our government to pieces.

C’mon. Make some noise!

Idaho Briefing – January 22

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 15. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

The Idaho Legislature is grinding into action, as is Congress (though the activity in Congress, as of late last week, was much more suspenseful). Education issues appeared to dominate a good deal of discussion during the week.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate held at 2.9 percent in December for the third consecutive month after reaching its record low of 2.8 percent in September. The state’s labor force - the aggregate of people 16 years of age and older working or looking for work - continued to grow from November to December by 6,464, or 0.8 percent, to 842,429.

The 366th Surgical Operations Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base was officially put into inactive status during an inactivation ceremony on January 12. The inactivation of the squadron's 24/7 facility was part of the 366th Medical Group's transition to out-patient care.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission recently accepted a 795-acre parcel of important wildlife habitat in the Hailey area donated by long-time Wood River Valley resident and developer Harry Rinker.

The College of Idaho spent roughly two hours on lockdown Monday after a student reported being threatened with a gun by two individuals in a campus parking lot adjacent to the J.A. Albertson Activities Center.

The Bureau of Land Management will hold 14 public meetings in six western states to identify issues and receive public comments.

Pocatello Regional Transit is looking for your help in planning the future of public transportation in the community. On January 24 at the Senior Activity Center, 427 N. 6th Avenue, PRT will be hosting an open house and looking for input on the service’s draft master transit plan. The document shows three different service plans for PRT’s future operations.

PHOTO Representative Raul Labrador speaks to a group in Meridian on immigration, a hot subject in Washington as well as Idaho. (photo/Representative Labrador)

Where’s the leverage?


Idaho leaders are considering plans to carve up the health care market to save you money. You better be sure which side of the health and wealth teeter totter you fall on, because this could be great news for you or catastrophic. Blue Cross of Idaho is already on board. Should you be?

Do you know if you are going to be hit by a drunk driver? Will you have cancer next month? Or will your wife have a baby too early? I’m a doctor, I studied predisposing conditions, risks and genetics, and I can’t say I knew the answers to these questions. Sometimes I did, but it was usually long after any enrollment period. Insurance companies are multibillion dollar financial betting organizations; they have experts to answer these questions. And they have a bottom line to meet. I figure they know a good deal when they see one. They don’t want expensive patients, and you don’t want expensive patients in your insurance plan.

The fundamental premise of insurance is to pool risk. Before the Affordable Care Act, if insurance companies saw your risk as too great, they could refuse you; no more. They got more customers with the (now repealed) mandate to buy insurance, but they gave up denying folks with preexisting conditions.

The ACA tried to get people to be good shoppers; you would assess your risk, and then chose on the exchange from comparable plans that would suit your needs. It’s been pretty popular here in Idaho, with record enrollments, year after year. Before the ACA, if you wanted to shop for individual plans, it was worse than shopping for jeans that made you look good, with no changing room.

True, the ACA mandated there should be a minimum level of benefits, and limited the range of benefits (Gold, Silver, Lead), but this was to make the marketplace press the insurance companies to cut health care costs. They have barely made a dent, even though Medicare and Medicaid have been effective at containing costs in the last six years. They have leverage. Private insurers have not been able to leverage health care providers, or consumers (YOU) to decrease consumption, improve efficiency, and thus lower costs. So now the white knights arrive.

Cameron and Otter suggest more choice; more slices of the insurance pie will lower costs. Well, they will for you if you don’t get hit by a bus or get cancer and you have chosen the right plan that covers such events. If not, then what? Then somebody else pays.

No, these guys embrace the Wild West solution to the health care conundrum. You get to look at the cards in your hand and make a bet. And if you go bust, the county takes your horse and saddle and your neighbors insurance rates go up.

We need leverage folks, and leverage is in numbers. Splitting us up, as Cameron and Otter propose just weakens our leverage. It is no mystery that the leading employer in most Idaho counties is a health care institution. It is a huge industry, a huge sector of our economy. If we don’t like how it’s working, we can try to organize and get the leverage to solve the problem. That’s what our leaders should be doing.

Corporate greed and Alaska


Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, has accomplished one goal that no other Alaskan senator, despite incredible efforts, ever achieved. Not the longest serving Alaskan senator, the legendary “Uncle Ted” Stevens; not her own father, Frank, during his time in the Senate; not the egotistical and shameless Democrat, Mike Gravel; nor Alaska’s junior senator, Dan Sullivan; nor Alaska’s only other Democratic senator, Mark Begich.

Senator Murkowski delivered what is close in Alaska to a near unanimous bi-partisan supported issue: Obtaining legislation that allows the nation’s oil companies to conduct exploratory drilling in the heretofore sacrosanct 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the Alaska National Wildlife Range, referred to by it initials (ANWR) and pronounced “An-war.”

It has been a long dispute over what may be a small resource, much smaller than Prudhoe Bay, according to the U.S. Geological Survey which estimates there might be enough petroleum product that Americans would consume in six months. Consensus estimates zero in on about 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable product.

In the meantime, wildlife biologists worry that the pipeline would interfere with the 200,000 member Porcupine Caribou herd’s historic migration route in addition to posing a threat to declining numbers of Polar bears.

Alaskans basically don’t care. They believe there’s lots oil underneath the refuge and it can be drilled in an environmentally safe manner and then fed into the existing pipeline without any problems. This also means additional revenue into the Permanent Savings Fund from which each Alaska citizen receives a check based on their length of residency, drawn on the interest from the fund.

The declining price of oil in recent years coupled with breakthroughs in technology that have placed the United States in a position of world leadership due to new extensive reserves has seen payouts decline.

Thus, Murkowski’s ability to successfully attach language to the new tax cut bill permitting exploratory drilling, even though President Obama put an overlay of wilderness designation on the refuge, was welcomed by most Alaskans.

Ever since President Carter signed the Alaska Lands legislation into law in 1980 the resource developers of the world have coveted this refuge. No matter how one dresses it, it is still a pig driven by greed There is no national need for the product, we’re awash in oil. Common sense says treat it like a Naval oil reserve, to be opened only if there is a national emergency.

Then there is an argument skillfully advanced by Carter’s Interior secretary, former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, in a speech to the annual meeting of the Sierra Club in 1979 in San Francisco. Call it “the last best place” argument. Behind him on the dais was a large map of North America.

Andrus began talking about all the oil and gas leases off-shore of the United States. He started off Maine, went down the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico, went up the Pacific coast to Alaska, went around the Alaskan coast to the far northeast corner of Alaska. He kept saying “we can drill here; we can drill there.”

He then asked the rhetorical question: “Must we have it all? Must we explore and exploit it all?” Can’t we say that all these other areas are enough? Can’t we say there is one area left where a pristine wilderness and an entire eco-system untouched is also a national priority, a value in and of itself that transcends mere dollars?”

He sat down to a thunderous standing ovation.

Senator Murkowski delivered the answer last week. “No, Cecil, you can’t. We want it all and we’ll explore it all and exploit it all. Money trumps everything.”

How sad. Some may say it was a blessing that Andrus, who passed away last August, did not live to see this travesty.

Why allow people from sh-thole countries?


The President recently posed the question of why people from, shall we politely say, crapper countries should be allowed into the U.S.

Before answering, I should disclose that my ancestors were all from crapper countries - Germany, Scotland, Wales and France. When proper citizens of Rome were lowering their bottoms onto indoor toilet seats, my ancestors were using the woods to do their business. I suspect they just squatted and pooed without the benefit of a hole. Julius Caesar considered my ancestors to be barbarians who were so ignorant they deserved to be slaughtered or enslaved. They certainly could not become citizens of Rome, at least until several hundred years later when they took over the place.

Apparently, the President’s query related to people from Africa and Haiti, as opposed to blond and blue-eyed Scandinavians. The short answer to his question is that people from crapper nations have proven to be good residents and citizens of this country.

0n January 10, the Statesman featured an insightful opinion piece on how the environment is enhanced by smart building codes. It was written by a bright young lady whose parents fled here from the Congo to escape horrible violence. They just wanted what we all want, a safe place to live and raise their family. That young lady will continue to be a caring, contributing person in the Idaho community.

Last year, I met a young woman from Afghanistan whose family spent years as refugees in Pakistan and Russia to escape a war that we started in her country. She now has an engineering degree from BSU and a good job at a fast-growing tech company in Boise. She is and will continue to be a credit to this State.

After the U.S., with some justification, initiated the Afghan war, we veered off into an unnecessary war in Iraq, creating a new flood of refugees. Many of the people who sought refuge in this country as a result are doctors, engineers, IT experts, and the like. Some are still awaiting licenses to practice their professions, but working hard at other jobs to support their families in the meantime. It is shameful that about 50,000 Iraqis who risked their necks to help American forces, and are still in danger for having done so, are still awaiting entry into the U.S. I bet they wish they had known we would not stand behind them before they agreed to help us.

I am currently working with a young woman who was born in England to Nigerian parents, raised in Nigeria before returning to England, got several advanced degrees including one in law, and then immigrated to the U.S. We are putting together a program to help refugees and other immigrants adjust to the American legal system. She is dedicated to helping the wider community and works hard to make our State a better place for everyone.

The people in the immigrant community are like those who have come from other nations in the past-- to escape famine like the Irish, to escape religious persecution like the Pilgrims, or simply to find a better way of life, like my wife’s grandmother from Slovenia. The First Lady may also have come to America from Slovenia in search of a better life.

We are better than belittling people who come from war-torn and poverty-plagued countries. When those people take root in this land of opportunity, they start businesses at double the rate of home-grown Americans and they contribute their fair share and more to the economy of our State and country. They have much in common with those of us whose ancestors came to this nation of immigrants from formerly “sh__hole”

Reality betting


Here’s a really old-fashioned political battle - one centered around the idea of betting on horse races - that raises some questions for the future, about what is real and what is electronically simulated, and also about Idaho’s constitution.

It comes in the form of a new proposed ballot initiative, the Save Horse Racing in Idaho Act.

The background runs this way.

Idaho’s constitution contains a stringent no-no on the subject of gambling, which a few generations back was used to shut down a briefly thriving slot machine business in the state. It still explicitly bans “slot machines” and specifically “any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling.”

But gambling does have a way of poking its way back in. Voters chose to amend the constitution in 1986, for example, to allow for a state lottery, which still exists. The constitution now allows bingo-type games associated with charities. And it allows “Pari-mutuel betting if conducted in conformity with enabling legislation.”

The trick here is in the definitions. What exactly, for example, does “pari-mutuel betting” mean?

Strictly, it doesn’t mean what either the constitution or most people probably contemplate. It comes from a French term for “mutual betting” in which “a betting pool in which those who bet on competitors finishing in the first three places share the total amount bet minus a percentage for the management.” In effect, those bettors are to some extent betting against each other. Because that approach is common in betting on horse races (you bet on win, place or show), it’s loosely become a term of art for betting on horse races. You can see the language already is a little slippery here.

So we’re getting to: betting on horse races is okay under the constitution if done in compliance with state laws. And a ballot initiative, if passed, puts a state law in place.

But in its review of the initiative, the Idaho Attorney General’s office suggests this one may run afoul of the constitution anyway. And it has good reason to think so.

The initiative aims to legalize betting terminals, which are a lot like slot machines (depends, again, on how you define “slot machine”) which let gamblers place bets on random actual horse races from the past; it’s called “historical horse racing.” The legislature has at various times voted both to approve and disallow it. This would be betting undertaken by individuals, essentially against the machine (or the house), not against other bettors. At least not other actually, physical, live bettors, only theoretical ones, which turns the “pari-mutuel” element of this into a new kind of proposition.

The new initiative tries to elide some of this by proclaiming - defining - that the new terminals would be pari-mutuel gaming. But courts might look askance if they decide this is just an attempt to re-define a word. The point has come up in other states. In Wyoming, the Supreme Court said of something similar that, “we are not dealing with a new technology here, we are dealing with a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional pari-mutuel wagering. Although it may be a good try, we are not so easily beguiled.”

Still, there is some new technology involved: This is something new.
And awaiting a clear settlement.