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Posts published in February 2018

There’s NO nuke button

rainey

I’ve been mentally wrestling with something for, oh, a year or more. Something I’ve not seen the national media explain ‘cause they probably don’t know. You won’t hear it from the Oval Office, either, ‘cause he certainly doesn’t know.

So, looks like it’s coming down to Ridenbaugh Press: a burden we didn’t ask for but have been given nonetheless. Here it is. As straightforward as it can be said.

There’s NO DAMNED NUCLEAR BUTTON. On Trump’s desk or in the entire White House! No! None! Zero! Zip! Nada! Never has been! PERIOD! His little fingers can’t push it ‘cause there’s nothing there to push! He cannot - repeat - CANNOT unilaterally order up a nuclear conflagration.

I spent a few cold war years about three-feet from where the button would have been if there had been a button to push if a nuclear button needed to be - pushed. And it wasn’t there, either! Never was! The damned thing has never existed!

So, without a “button,” what’s a guy “push” when we need to launch all the things in our far-flung nuclear arsenal? Well, therein lies a tale that needs some background.

Ever notice when a President travels away from the White House there’s always - ALWAYS - a field grade officer lurking nearby, carrying what looks like the president’s personal luggage? Always there. Always carrying. He’s one of a small cadre, holding the topmost security clearances, who have no other job but carrying that “luggage” for the Commander-In Chief.

The “luggage” is euphemistically called “the Football.” The best description of it I’ve ever seen - and of what’s inside - is an old Washington Post piece. To wit:

“The Football is a metal Zero Halliburton briefcase carried in a black leather "jacket" weighing about 45 pounds. A small antenna protrudes from the bag near the handle.

“There are four things in the Football. The Black Book containing retaliatory options; a book listing classified site locations; a manila folder with eight or ten pages stapled together giving a description of procedures for the Emergency Alert System; a three-by-five inch card with authentication codes.

“The Black Book is about 9 by 12 inches and has 75 loose-leaf pages printed in black and red. The book with classified site locations is about the same size as the Black Book and contains information on sites around the country where the president could be taken in an emergency.” End quote.

If someone in the Pentagon War Room sends a signal to the “Football,” it will be opened and the President will be in immediate contact. He’ll be given a very short update on what’s happening and will quickly be given options for military response - if any - previously developed and updated by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

What happens from that point is highly classified. But we do know the approximate steps. The President can choose any option. Or decline. But, if the option to launch is made, he must read a long series of coded numbers aloud to the War Room listener - most likely the Secretary of Defense. The numbers and sequences must be verified by responder and he must read aloud his own code series.

Others in strategic military locations around the world should be listening by this time, having been alerted after the initial presidential call. Once a decision is made, more codes in more sequences will be sent to field commanders to which they have to immediately respond with confirmation codes. If all checks are positive, those military commanders will issue the direct orders to the force. All forces with nukes must acknowledge and transmit their own codes.

Not the President. No “nuclear button.”

And there’s this. It’s within the purview of the Secretary, the Joint Chiefs and - theoretically - a force commander to refuse to obey if they believe the “go-to-war” order is illegal. So, just because the order is given, there’s no basis to believe it will be blindly followed.

The President can’t unilaterally send our military to war. There are too many checks and cross-checks. As there should be. And there’s NO DAMNED BUTTON!

Anyone got an email address for CNN and the rest?
 

The fork already taken

stapiluslogo1

This column originally appeared in the News-Register of McMinnville, Oregon, on February 2.

This year’s Oregon legislative session, which begins today, took its biggest fork in the road well before it even convened, on January 23.

That was when voters across the state passed, by a landslide, Measure 101, upholding the taxes approved last year which helped underwrite a big chunk of Oregon Medicaid costs. The measure was a tax increase, of .7 percent on large hospitals and 1.5 percent on most health insurance policies. This plan was supported by the health industry in the state, which recognized that the income from matching federal payments would amount to more than would be paid in taxes (much of which could be passed on to consumers).

If the measure had lost, a huge revenue gap would have opened, along with the risk of health insurance loss for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, and dealing with that immediately would have become the major and almost only topic for the short session. As it is, an opening for more subjects has appeared. [[referred portions of the law account for between $210 million and $320 million in state revenue, the loss of which could have resulted in possible reduction of federal funds by between $630 million and $960 million. ]]

Not that the cost of health care will vanish from the lawmaking scene. Complaints about last year’s Medicaid funding bill focused more on the tax structure than the need to pay, so adjustments to the formula might still be proposed. Voters almost surely were expressing more a desire to keep the insurance system alive than they were the specific tax plan.

And House Minority Leader Mike McLane said in a statement after the vote, “We must now shift our focus to improving efficiencies within the Oregon Health Authority and in the administration of the Oregon Health Plan. I hope legislators on both sides of the aisle will make it a priority to safeguard and protect the investment in our state government that Oregon taxpayers have affirmed.” That will likely become a subject for discussion.

As will the next Medicaid-related shortfall, which is expected in another couple of years, and many legislators may want to begin planning for that this year.

Short sessions usually have a lot to do with budget numbers, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, was quoted as saying, “Our budget focus must now shift to the February forecast and the effects federal tax changes will have on state revenue.”

Some participants in the session may try to take another crack at long-running budget issues. Mark Johnson, until last year a state representative and now the new president of the Oregon Business and Industry group, noted in one commentary that, “the costs associated with funding the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) will continue to consume ever-larger chunks of the state budget until action is taken, and that means less money for classrooms and vital services.” He indicated that may be a focus for his group, though it has proven a stubborn issue for years on end, including in longer sessions.

More than budgeting will come up this session.

A good bet for the top non-budget issue, which already has lots of lobbying to back it up, is talk about a state “cap and trade” (or “cap and invest”) system.

Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, already have been prepared and released as “legislative concepts”. The whole of the system is complex, but the core of it would involve a limit on greenhouse gas emissions with mandates that large producers buy “allowances” - in a sense, a kind of greenhouse gas marketplace. Payments would be involved, and those would be used to cover efficiencies, help with consumer costs and shore up communities hit by global warming. The hope is that over the years, emissions would be reduced gradually through a system of incentives.

The concept at least has backing from Governor Kate Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek.

A good deal of money could be at stake, so the basis for intense lobbying is clear. And strongly-worded arguments on both sides already are shaping the debate.

There will be more. Affordable housing has become an increasingly heated subject, especially in the Portland area but elsewhere too, and some effort to deal with it may come up.

In education several legislators (including Democratic Representatives Brian Clem of Salem and Margaret Doherty of Tigard) are suggesting requiring that class sizes be included in labor contract negotiations.

One lobbyist noted that as coordinated care organizations (for regional health care) look ahead to negotiating new service contracts, they may look to the legislature for adjustments in how they are financed.

The recent federal action on solar panel tariffs could lead to some state response on that subject, in a state where solar energy has become increasingly important.

All of this will be happening in a context of something institutionalized - by calendar - and something unusual:

The normal and unavoidable part is that the 2018 session will happen quickly - it will last only about a month - and in an election year. That normally is a prescription for dealing with necessities and emergencies, mainly of a financial nature, and not a lot else.

And there’s an unusual factor: the large number of new people involved, or people who have been around the statehouse but are moving to new positions. An especially large number of legislative personnel changes happened in recent months, including a new Senate minority leader and a new Senate chair on budget.

On top of that, the legislature’s revenue officer, who has held the job for two decades, retired last year.

Sometimes those personnel shifts kick loose legislation that doesn’t ordinarily see the light of day. The odds are this will be a mostly quiet session, with one or two big policy subjects. But then, 2018 may be an unusual political year.
 

Idaho Briefing – February 5

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for February 5. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The news web site Politico reported on January 31 that, with the retirement of Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-New Jersey, Idaho Representative Mike Simpson may put in a bid for the chairmanship of the House Appropriations Committee.

Governor C.L. “Butch”Otter signed the first bill sent to him this year by the Idaho Legislature today, immediately reducing unemployment insurance tax rates and saving Idaho employers about $115 million over the next three years.

The Idaho Water Resource Board may set a new record for recharging Snake River flows into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) in the winter of 2017-18, potentially going as high as 370,000 acre-feet, officials said.

Idaho State Police Forensic Services posted the annual Toxicology Trends Report on the ISPFS website. This report contains statistics related to drug and alcohol impaired driving in Idaho.

Fish and Game will continue managing Priest Lake as primarily a lake trout fishery while also protecting native cutthroat trout and bull trout in Upper Priest Lake.

The Idaho State University College of Business is now accepting applications for the state’s first Master of Healthcare Administration program, scheduled to begin August 2018.

The Federal grazing fee for 2018 will be $1.41 per animal unit month (AUM) for public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management and $1.41 per head month (HM) for lands managed by the USDA Forest Service. The 2017 public land grazing fee was $1.87.

PHOTO Boise State University President Bob Kustra spoke to all 475 students at Payette High School Thursday, urging them to consider going on for more education after graduation. Idaho has one of the lowest “go on” rates in the nation of students starting college right after high school, but the state, its K-12 system and its public universities are working to improve that pathway — estimates show that as jobs become more technical and Baby Boomers retire, more and more people in Idaho’s workforce will need education beyond high school. (photo/Boise State University)
 

Disconnection

richardson

For many years, it has been a staple of State of the Union speeches for presidents to populate the House gallery with heroic or sympathetic guests to introduce in connection with various policy initiatives. That Donald Trump, who so often ignores political norms and traditions, repeatedly used this technique in his first State of the Union address does not come as a surprise. The device enables a president – particularly one whose presidency is flailing – to bask in reflected glory.

But, as I listened to the president attempt to weave a coherent narrative in which such introductions aligned with his performance, I perceived a yawning gap between the guest’s actions, for which they were being recognized, and the policies of this administration. I’ll illustrate with a couple examples:

Noting that the past year called upon Americans to recover from floods, fires and storms, Trump lauded a Coast Guard petty officer who endured 18 hours of wind and rain, braving live power lines and deep water, to save 40 lives after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. No doubt the petty officer merited such recognition. But the evidence does not support Trump’s associated comments that the nation has been with all our citizens recovering from natural disasters.

After Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico, Trump made a cameo appearance in San Juan, tossing rolls of paper towels, like boxes of cracker jacks at a baseball game, to people whose lives had been devastated. He suggested that Maria wasn’t “a real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina and complained about how much money it cost the federal government to respond to the crisis. His comments reflected a cavalier indifference to a ravaged people. And then he left town.

Alexia Fernandez Campbell, writing for Vox, described the dire situation confronting the more than 3 million US citizens living in Puerto Rico. Observing that the lack of basic services has “fueled a mass exodus from the island,” she wrote that “[g]oing to school, having clean drinking water, and even getting regular trash services remains a daily challenge four months after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island.” And Puerto Rico continues to experience the longest blackout in US history with almost 1 million Puerto Ricans still without power.

So, when President Trump, intoned “[t]o everyone still recovering . . . we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together,” the people of Puerto Rico have every reason to respond with anger and disbelief. Trump has spectacularly failed Puerto Rico, and his words ring hollow.

Another area in which there was a ginned up connection between Trump’s introduction of gallery guests and his administration’s policies was in the area of immigration reform. Trump began his call for immigration reform by introducing two sets of grieving parents whose teenage daughters were brutally murdered on Long Island. Members of the MS-13 gang have been charged with those murders. Trump claimed that “these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors,” and he attempted to use this terrible tragedy to link those gang members with young immigrants who came to this country illegally at a young age.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris of California called out the president’s exploitation of the parents' grief explaining: “MS-13 is an example of some of the worst of criminal gang behavior. To equate that with Dreamers and DACA was completely irresponsible and it was scapegoating and it was fear mongering and it was wrong.” She justifiably observed “We’re not supposed to convince the American public of policy because we make them afraid. And that’s what the president apparently thinks he needs to do . . . .”

I would also submit that, if the president were truly concerned about stopping violence in our country, he might more productively look to closing other loopholes in our laws – namely those that allow private citizens to buy and sell firearms at gun shows without conducting background checks that licensed firearms dealers must perform. This loophole allows felons, minors, and other prohibited individuals unfettered access to firearms. Closing the loophole would be consistent with the Second Amendment and put an end to what the Violence Policy Center has called “Tupperware Parties for Criminals.” Sadly, the president did not give even passing mention to the eleven school shootings that have taken place in our nation since the first of this year.

Elsewhere in his address, Trump introduced an Army staff sergeant who had rescued a fellow soldier severely wounded by an explosion in a booby-trapped building in Raqqa. Trump rightly observed that that “Terrorists who do things like place bombs in civilian hospitals are evil,” and noted that he had decided to keep open the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Here again, though, he might also have considered closing the gun show loophole. Unfortunately, his goal was not to take the broad view on identifying all responsive policies but to take the narrow approach that would appeal to his base. That said, he elicited our sympathy for a courageous soldier but never connected the dots as to why that soldier’s actions should require that Guantanamo Bay should remain open.

According to pundits who count these things, the president’s speech elicited applause 115 times. Most of the applause was not for the president but for people – everyday Americans – who found themselves in tragic circumstances and who rose, often heroically, to the occasion. We can and we must honor these individuals, but we should not attribute by association their courage, tenacity, and sacrifice to Donald Trump nor should we embrace for their benefit his policies which are not substantially related to their actions.
 

Lieutenant jumble

stapiluslogo1

Idaho may be a state where one party is overwhelmingly favored to win, but within that party, there’s a good deal of uncertainty.

Highly competitive races are afoot within the Republican Party for governor and the first district U.S. House seat. Those races, not especially predictable, have gotten the most attention.

The least predictable of the bunch might be the Republican contest for lieutenant governor.

That’s an office that actually gets a significant amount of attention when it does come open, as it was, sort of, in 2002. That year, the office was held by an incumbent (Jack Riggs) who was on the ballot, but he had just been appointed, and had no time to establish himself. A complex, multi-candidate primary, tightly competitive and hard to predict, ensued. (It was won by now-U.S. Senator Jim Risch.)

This year, incumbent Brad Little is trying to move up to governor, opening the post. Five serious contenders are in the field, and none qualifies as an obvious front-runner.

Over the last couple of weeks KIDO radio in Boise has run an online (and self-selecting) poll of the candidates. Here is how the candidates rated when I last checked -- in alphabetical order.

Marv Hagedorn, state senator from Meridian, 18.5%.

Janice McGeachin, former state representative from Idaho Falls, 32%.

Bob Nonini, state senator from Coeur d’Alene, 24.2%.

Kelley Packer, state representative from McCammon, 16.7%.

Steve Yates, of Idaho Falls, former state Republican chair, 8.5%.

I don’t mean to make much out of a self-selecting poll; candidates often encourage their backers to weigh in (and I saw a Facebook post from one of these candidates encouraging just that). My guess is that Yates’ percentage may be a little understated, because his contacts in the state party structure may be a little less visible now and come more into play later. All of the others, all current or former legislators, have built bases of support within the party, have (loosely) similar levels of political experience, and won election more than once in their home districts. If none of these candidates is an obvious front-runner, there are no clear also-rans either.

Their bases of support also would seem to overlap quite a bit. There could be some perception (not necessarily correct) that Yates and Packer hail a little more from the more establishment Republican side, and Hagedorn a little more from the activist-insurgent side, but even if true that’s not a point you could press very far. Listen to any of them, or check out their web sites, and while you might see somewhat varied emphases you won’t see a great deal of difference between the way they describe themselves. They aren’t describing themselves as champion of one wing or another of the party, or even of a specific group. Everybody is a “conservative” of course, but what else is new? (McGeachin’s site says, “Make Idaho conservative again.” The implication being that it’s a liberal place?)

So how will they differentiate - how will any one of these candidates say, in a compelling and gripping way, that you need to vote for me and not one of those other guys?

First one to figure that out might win.
 

Vietnam in the present day

jones

The Vietnamese are gearing up to celebrate Tet, the lunar new year, with happy new year signs wherever one looks.

It is also the 50-year celebration of the Tet Offensive, which is often cited as the turning point in the Vietnam War. When I returned from my tour of duty in August of 1969, I thought we were on our way to winning the war. It did not turn out that way and that still causes me great pain. However, I think Vietnam is moving on a positive track and has a bright future.

I lived among and worked with South Vietnamese soldiers during most of my tour of duty and got to know many civilians. They were wonderful people and I have fond memories of them. During two weeks in Vietnam these decades later, I have encountered many people just like them from Hanoi to Saigon and points in between. They have been friendly, welcoming and often go out of their way to make a visitor feel at home. When we had to catch an early flight from Dalat to Saigon, the hotel opened breakfast service early to accommodate us.

One of the remarkable things is the courtesy the people show to one another and to foreigners. For instance, the streets of the larger cities are swarming with motor bikes. You would think that a pedestrian would be risking his or her life by trying to cross a crowded street. But, if you can get up the nerve to cross through the traffic, riders will give way so that you feel like Moses must have when the Red Sea parted.

The food is great, the service is friendly and helpful and people are quick to show a genuine smile. My wife are I have enjoyed our interactions with the people of this country. We were in Hanoi when Vietnam beat Iraq in the soccer semi-finals. Young people took to the streets in a lengthy and noisy, flag-waving procession through the city streets to celebrate. When the team won their next game with Qatar during our visit to Hoi An, the same thing happened. They were proud of their country and we were cheering with them.

We watched the soccer final with Uzbekistan at our hotel in Dalat. There we met a bright young man who attributed his almost perfect English to having spent 3 high school years in Boston. He will go far. China is making a play for the affections of Vietnam and people like him. Because of a long history of thorny relations between those countries, Vietnam would like to strengthen its relationship with us. I hope America's recent inward turn does not push them away. We need friends is this region.

The country is not perfect because the people still are unable to exercise some of the freedoms that Americans take for granted. That does not take anything away from the people, who are genuine good folks. We certainly have reason to know that because the Vietnamese who came to the U.S. as refugees after the war have been great additions to the American landscape.

Saigon is a bustling city with lots of development happening. Hoi An is a charming city where my wife, Kelly, and I took Vietnamese cooking classes. Hue is an old imperial city. Hanoi is awakening from a development standpoint and full of friendly people. Our war with the Communists ended badly for us, but I think the outlook for friendship with Vietnam into the future is very positive, if we work to make it happen.
 

Notes . . .

notes

Purely local: Returning home from Portland yesterday, we drove the new Newberg-Dundee bypass in Yambill County. The long-awaited bypass. Compared for the travel available upt to now on Highway 99, it is an improvement. Here's hoping it can become more of one.

The new road - there aren't a lot of "new" roads these days, are there? - was good. It was an easy, pleasant drive of four to five miles, and it showed off some areas off to the side of Newberg and Dundee. Travel speeded up; all of it was traversed at highway speed.

And it will divide the traffic volume heading through the area, which alone will help diminish the periodic parking lot at Dundee.

But . . . the northeast-side entrance, coming in from the Sherwood area, is balky and clumsy; you have to do several lengthy twists and turns, some of them not intuitive, to get to the actual new road. It wouldn't surprise if some people miss the route or just say the hell with it.

And it falls a couple of miles short of connecting directly with the old, existing, Dayton bypass, which would help a great deal.

These may be projects for the future. Hopefully. - rs