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Posts published in June 2018

Why punish and traumatize?


One of my earliest memories in life was an event where I was separated from my parents for a short time. I was about four years old and being babysat at my parents’ home just west of Eden. The babysitter, who was the daughter of a hired hand, decided to go to her parents’ home several miles away. I had never been separated from home like that and became fearful that I might not get back to my Mom and Dad.

By the time we got to the babysitter’s family home, I was scared and crying. I remember asking several times to be taken home. It turned out to be a fairly minor event but it left an impression on my memory. It came back to mind 70 years later when the Trump administration started separating kids from their parents at the Mexican border.

It is hard to imagine the very real fear and trauma suffered by the children of migrants fleeing for their lives from violence in Central American countries. Even though they may have been subjected to traumatic events at home, or on the long trek to the U.S. border, at least the kids had the comfort of being with their parents. Think of the added fear and trauma of being taken from their parents when they got to our border to ask for asylum. Everything in their detention is unfamiliar—the language, the people, the customs, the food, and the living conditions.

It wss disgraceful for our great country to take kids from their parents and send them to old Walmarts, or tent cities that have just sprung up in the desert, to spend weeks or months not knowing where their parents are or whether they will ever see them again. How low can we go? Isn’t this the country that professes to support fair play and family values?

The detention facility personnel are prohibited from touching the children so they can’t give comfort when the children are crying in distress. Some kids could end up like those children who were locked away in state orphanages during the Soviet era, deprived of human warmth and contact. Those kids ended up later in life being unable to relate to society. At least the boys in the converted Walmart are let out of confinement for two hours a day so they can see the outside world, just like inmates in our prisons.

If the parents were charged with felonies, like drug trafficking or aggravated battery, there would be grounds to incarcerate the parents and put the kids in foster care. But, most of the parents are only being charged with misdemeanors. Nevertheless, their kids were being ripped away and trundled off to who knows where. It would be like the State of Idaho taking away the kids of people charged with misdemeanor traffic offenses.

It is not a policy that the administration was forced by law to adopt. It was an optional policy specifically designed to discourage and punish asylum seekers. Targeting the children of people who are running for their lives to protect those kids from gang violence at home must have seemed like a master strategy. Hit them where it really hurts. Show them how ruthless the U.S. can be. No wonder 20,000 asylum seekers fled to Canada from our country last year. Whoever thought we would see so many people trying to escape from America?

The President has been shamed into making us believe that he has backtracked on his policy. But the executive order has lots of holes. The administration policy going forward deserves close scrutiny.

To merge or not?


Don’t look now but a huge fly just landed in the middle of the ointment that has dogged Avista Utilities proposed sale to the Canadian owned and operated HydroOne headquartered in Toronto, Ontario.

The fly with the big stick comes in the form of the newly designated Premier, Doug Ford, the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, which won the June 7th election to run Canada’s largest, most populous province. A provential premier is the equivalent of an American state governor and Ontario is to Canada what California is to the U.S.A.

The 53-year old Canadian businessman takes power on June 29th and the future of the proposed merger lies in his hands. He is considered by many to be their version of the mercurial Donald Trump. Part of his pitch in the recent elections was to say, as soon as he takes office he intends to fire the CEO of HydroOne, Mayo Schmidt, and he will also replace the entire board.

He is obviously unhappy with the direction of the corporation, is outraged by the high salaries the top executives receive and believes the “hydro rate” charged consumers is too high. The fact is though the utility has nothing to do with the setting of the charge to the consumer.
Over 60% of the power used annually in Ontario comes from nuclear generation, but that generation is owned by others.

The HydroOne CEO made $6.2 million last year, leading Ford to dub him “the six million dollar man” on the campaign trail and pledge to fire him.

Last week about fifty Idahoans showed up at an Idaho Public Utilities Commission hearing in Sandpoint on the proposed merger. A slight majority appeared opposed to the merger. Unlike Ford, their issue was not Avista’s CEO Scott Morris’ salary and bonus, which on average is considerably less than Schmidt’s, their issue is foreign ownership of the the Spokane-based utility.

Insiders in a position to know say there were preliminary discussions with three other firms but only one proceeded into the due diligence stage. Thus, only one proposal went to Avista’s board.

Opponents, though, just don’t think it is right. Letters and comments are reportedly running 20 to one against the merger, which is hard for the IPUC to ignore as well as political office holders and whomever is elected governor in November.

It also reflects Avista’s failure to have developed and implemented a strategic plan to sell the merger in advance to key audiences. Some, for example, may question Morris’ salary and bonus. What they and Premier Ford should know is for years Morris has donated all his bonus to Gonzaga University, the board of trustees of which he chairs. A couple years back he outright gifted $3 million to Gonzaga.

Someone will have to tell Ford that factoid. Just like Trump, Ford never reads reports or memos. He goes with his gut.

Ford also will find out he cannot fire the CEO, only the board can do that. He can call for a new board election but cannot stack the ballot with just his backers. Others who meet the criteria may ran so Ford doesn’t even control the board. Where he stands on the merger is not known. What is known is that the contracts provide for penalties of up to $103 million for the party that abrogates the agreement.

That should give cause for pause even for Doug Ford.

Everything is supposed to be signed, sealed and delivered by mid-September. Smart bettors and investors (HydroOne is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and reportedly is seeking a listing on the New York Stock Exchange) might just sit this one out for awhile because it may be headed for the courts on both Canada and the U.S. side. You see Doug Ford really is Donald Trump Lite.



When our ethically bankrupt president declared that Kim Jong Un “loves his people,” and that “his people love him,” I was reminded of a Party slogan in George Orwell’s novel “1984” – “War is peace/freedom is slavery/ignorance is strength.”

In “1984,” the Party manipulated people by conditioning them to believe it possible to accept two mutually opposing, contradictory beliefs.

This is exactly what Trump now asks of us. He would have us accept the proposition that total repression and violence is love, that people who have been cowed into complete submission love the man who terrorizes them.

Is it an act of love to rape? Is it an act of love to torture? Is it an act of love to force a woman against her will to have an abortion? Is it an act of love to imprison and enslave? Is it an act of love to exterminate? Is it an act of love to starve people to death?

Is mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people an act of love?

Of course none of these atrocities are acts of love. They are the very opposite. And these are the acts by which Kim Jong Un terrorizes his people and demands absolute and unquestioning devotion. Loyalty born of fear isn’t real. It’s a twisted terror-stricken distortion of loyalty, and it certainly isn’t love.

“Double-speak” is a form of propaganda that is both illogical and irrational; it contradicts empirical evidence and buries the truth. It enables a dictator to control the people by stripping them of their humanity, to maintain power in perpetuity by destroying the capacity for independent thought.

If Trump can sell us the absurd notion that Kim Jong Un loves his people when his regime routinely oppresses, tortures, and murders them, then he can sell us anything.

For instance, he can make us believe that he, Trump, “loves” the children forcibly taken from their parents’ arms at our southern border and warehoused like animals in cages; or he can make us believe that he “loves” the victims of gun violence even as his policies ensure that there will be many more such victims.

He wants us to disbelieve the evidence of our own senses – from the trivial (e.g. the size of the crowd at his Inauguration) to the critical (the collective consensus of the scientific community on climate change).

Many of our fellow citizens have succumbed to Trump’s unrelenting propaganda campaign. They believe the lies. And the more lies they hear, the bigger the lies they are told, the more they believe.

Resistance requires mental toughness. Every time you hear a Trump lie, register it as a lie. Call it by its name. Accept the fact that this battle for truth, for norms, for our country’s very soul is not a 50 yard sprint; it’s a marathon.

We must remain mentally tough. We must never acquiesce to double-speak. And we must never conflate hate with love.

Importance of context


“In one week, Trump embraced a dictator, started a trade war with China and complicated the immigration debate.” - CNN, 6/16/18

I’ve written thousands of stories over the years in print and broadcast media. With only the occasional case of “writer’s block” that hits all professionals at times. Starting off with a lead paragraph, followed by details of the story, has never been a problem. Until now.

Each day, the “liar-in-chief” and a feckless GOP Congress conduct a reign of catastrophic acts. They’re conducting ceaseless attacks on the guts of our Republic, on the institutions of government that undergird this nation’s liberties and are now sponsoring the terrible destruction of innocent families.

In the past, stories were reported and days or weeks would pass as the facts settled in and reporters could turn attention to new happenings. No more. Now, the tragic news from Washington just keeps piling up. Investigations, crimes, attacks on the citizenry and our former allies and the lies - especially the lies - just keep coming. The quote above from CNN is exhibit “A.”

It’s virtually impossible to capture the full extent of what each daily calamity means before there’s another - and another - and another. As the catastrophic politics continue to spin, yesterday’s facts seems like ancient history.

We - and it seems the rest of the world - are under attack. On one hand, it’s a do-nothing Republican congress without the cojones to fulfill its constitutional role of a separate - but equal - power of government. Internecine wars have split the GOP into ungovernable fragments. Elected “leadership” in the House is unable to govern because 30-40 right wing cretins continue to fight any sensible political steps to get nearly anything done. In the Senate, a dictatorial majority leader has strangled both decorum and legitimate legislation.

On the other hand, given his constitutional duties, plus all the powers abrogated by that neutered Congress, an immoral, unhinged, lying President is emulating every tin hat, demagogue he’s ever heard of. He’s ignoring - and destroying - centuries of treaties, compacts, agreements and collaborative relationships this nation has ever produced. Suddenly, our friends are enemies and our enemies are “friends.”

Our defense budget is greater than the next six countries combined. But, current reckless conduct in dealing with other countries is making us more vulnerable than we’ve ever been. An oversupply of nukes, subs, bombers and warheads is being proven no match for protecting our nation’s computerized infrastructure. We can’t even vote - our most basic and cherished franchise - and know the election outcome is accurate. We’re truly in an electronic war unrecognized by many in public office and others who refuse to act.

Even established religions are being perverted. Evangelicals - that portion of our religious spectrum normally quick to call attention to public immoralities - have mostly turned a blind eye to our immoral President. Or, in statements by it’s leaders, has supported many of the lies and illegal activities emanating from both Capitol Hill and the White House.

Quite possibly the lowest point of human decency in our history is the inhumane act of splintering immigrant families. And, even there, many Evangelicals and other religious folks - in government and out - are using the Bible to support the terrorist act of destroying immigrant families.

Our Attorney General - a man not noted for an even-handed approach to enforcement of our laws - has joined the far right by quoting an out-of-context paragraph of Romans 31 to “justify” this terrible, racist tragedy. Something about using the powers of government to maintain order.

I would, instead, not-so-respectfully, direct him to an entirely “in context” entry in Second John, Chapter 11, Verse 31. In full, it simply reads, “Jesus wept.”

Certainly, so should we.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – June 18

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for June 18. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

Summer news has quieted, as politics enters a seasonal quiescence (to be briefly interrupted in a week by the two major party state conventions) and much governmental activity as well. Wildfires keep threatening to become a bigger story, however.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stayed steady at 2.9 percent in May, continuing a nine-month streak of 3 percent or lower. The state’s labor force – the total number of people 16 years of age and older working or looking for work – continued to increase, gaining 1,222 people from April to May for a total of 850,605.

Representative Mike Simpson released the following statement after U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army announced they will be sending a proposed ‘Step 2” rule that would define ‘waters of the United States to the Office of Management and Budget for interagency review.

The Idaho Department of Lands on June 15 auctioned nine state-owned lots at Payette Lake for deeded ownership during a public, oral auction in Boise. The land sales generated $3,870,000 for the endowment funds that support State Hospital South, Idaho State University, and Lewis-Clark State College.

Kristin Collum, Idaho Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor, exited today from a successful career as a tech leader to engage in full-time pursuit of the state office.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on June 15 announced a $100 million settlement with Citibank for fraudulent conduct involving the manipulation of LIBOR.

The Department of Fish and Game will accept controlled hunt applications for a 2018 grizzly bear tag June 15 through July 15. The drawing is limited to Idaho residents with a valid Idaho hunting license.

PHOTO A shot of Idaho Falls, along the Snake River not far from downtown, used to illustrate the city in Wikipedia. Its author is labeled as “Twunchy.” It was originally uploaded in October 2007.

A gubernatorial complication


Independent Party Co-Chairperson and election law expert Dan Meek says the Independent Party status as a major party could make the anticipated Governor debates Buehler/Brown debates problematic.

According to Meek, under Oregon law, all major party candidates – including the Independent Party nominee for Governor, Patrick Starnes – must be invited to a debate, or the event is considered a campaign contribution to the candidates who are invited. In such case all expenses related to the debate must be reported on ORESTAR as in-kind contributions to the participating candidates. Even advertisements touting such a debate campaign contributions and must be reported on ORESTAR, according to Meek.

The statute Meek points to only excludes from reportable contributions “A candidate debate or forum for a state office, or a communication publicizing a candidate debate or forum for a state office, when all major political party candidates for the state office have been invited to participate in the candidate debate or forum.”

In addition, Meek says that since some types of organizations that typically sponsor debates are not allowed by law or by their own bylaws to make campaign contributions, they could not sponsor, hold, advertise or broadcast any debates, unless the Independent candidates were invited to participate along with the Democratic and Republican nominees. This could exclude as sponsors organizations such as Oregon Public Broadcasting, the City Club of Portland, the Oregon League of Women Voters, and all charitable or educational organizations certified under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3), which are forbidden by federal law from making political campaign contributions to candidates for public office.

While the Governors debates are currently in the news, the law applies equally to debates for any State Legislative race where there is an Independent Party Candidate in addition to a Republican and/or a Democrat.

This law doesn’t prevent a two-person Governor debate; it simply means that not for profit organizations may not be able to sponsor them and that all sponsors will need to report their expenditures for the event (and for advertising it) on ORESTAR, Oregon’s campaign finance reporting system.

The other law that Meek believes will come into play with three major parties is the federal Equal Time rule, which requires that all TV and radio broadcasters provide major party candidates with air time equal to that provided to the other major candidates, on the same terms. For example, if KGW does a half-hour interview with Brown or Buehler, KGW has to broadcast a half-hour interview with the IPO nominee Patrick Starnes at such time as it receives equivalent viewership.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. In 2014 radio stations that broadcasted Democratic State Senator Betsy Johnson’s Saturday radio show had to provide the Independent Party Candidate – Drew Kaza – with an equal amount of radio time on the same terms.

Historically, non-Republican/Democratic candidates have not fully exercised these rights for financial and tactical reasons, though leaders of the IPO have been aware of the rules. However, this years Oregon Governor race may be different, as Starnes plans to run on the central issue of campaign finance reform. And what better way to illustrate Oregon’s lack of campaign finance reform laws and how political operatives and donors seek to avoid what few laws exist than by demanding 100% compliance with existing laws?

The politics of Idaho Medicaid


The most significant political question of the year in the Gem State may involve not the identity of its next governor or member of Congress but a question of policy - one with implications nationwide.

The political statistics web site FiveThirtyEight looked into it last month with an article headlined this way: “Does Medicaid expansion have a shot in a state as red as Idaho?”

It’s a live question. Many states around the country have expanded Medicaid availability under terms of the Affordable Care Act. (In Idaho, the estimate is that 78,000 people would get health insurance coverage who do not have it now.) Though the proposal has been vigorously pushed in Idaho for a half-dozen years, the legislature has refused to go along. Now, Idaho is one of four states (Utah is another) where activists are trying to use a ballot issue to change the law and expand access. If its advocates have luck there, more efforts may be tried elsewhere.

Ballot status isn’t yet assured in Idaho; elections officials have until July 5 to determine if the petition signatures turned in are enough to meet the tough ballot requirements. This is one of those “don’t count the unhatched chickens” kinds of situations, but the odds at present look good.

So suppose the proposal to expand Medicaid’s reach does hit the ballot: Will it pass?

You can make credible arguments either direction.

There is, after all, a political reason the Idaho Legislature hasn’t touched the proposal: A lot of Idahoans, especially in the Republican base, really hate the Affordable Care Act, and the expansion is a key part of it. A Boise State University survey in December turned up 58.8 percent opposed to the ACA compared to 35.2 percent in favor, though the “strong opposed” sub-category outnumbered the strongly in-favor group by well over two to one. (Nationally, the ACA is more popular than not.)

The question gets much more subtle and complicated when you get to Medicaid specifically, because Medicaid itself seems to be mostly popular, even in Idaho.

So what will Idaho think about expanding Medicaid: Might that idea be popular in Idaho even if the ACA still is not?

FiveThirtyEight, after evaluating all the significant numbers it found, suggested this: “Depends on how you ask them. In December of last year, a Boise State University poll of Idaho adults alerted respondents to the 78,000 low-income people who don’t have health insurance in Idaho, people who mostly fall in the Medicaid gap — too poor to qualify for subsidies on the health insurance marketplaces but too rich to qualify for Medicaid under current state rules. It did so, however, without ever mentioning the word Medicaid. It then asked, ‘Would you favor or oppose the governor and state legislature taking action to provide them with access to quality health care?’- Three-quarters of respondents said they would favor the move.”

And there was this: “In 2015, Dan Jones & Associates asked registered voters, “Do you support or oppose an expansion of federal Medicaid coverage in Idaho?” Sixty-one percent said they supported it. After the Republican-controlled Legislature declined to expand the program in 2016, 64 percent of Idahoans said they disagreed with the decision, including 49 percent of Republicans.”

If the issue is clearly and narrowly described when the campaign nears its end this fall, the odds of passage may be pretty good. If it is cast within a framework of the ACA, and of support for Trump or Obama, the result could be quite different.

As is so often the case, depends on how you define what’s in front of you.

Fan boy in chief


There’s an old saying that goes “show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.” Increasingly, our president is showing us who his friends are – and aren’t. And in the process, we’re learning ever more about the infantile narcissist who occupies the Oval Office.

In the aftermath of the Singapore summit between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, I envisioned the follow-up letter Mr. Trump might send the dictator of the most oppressive regime on the planet. It might read something like this:
Dear Mr. Chairman,

I was so honored to meet you!

Some of my nervous Nelly advisors told me we would have little in common, but – boy – were they ever wrong.

I was especially impressed to learn of your execution of your Deputy Premier for Education for having a disrespectful posture in a meeting. The NFL owners sure could learn something from you.

And you rightly consider Christianity a threat to your regime. You are wise to bar its practice in North Korea. (Let’s keep this between us. Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson might not understand.)

To your great credit you have set new standards for sexual violence. (I’m embarrassed to say that my compulsion to “grab ‘em by the pussy,” pales in comparison.)

You might be a rough guy, but you are the very model of an inclusive leader. Your willingness to torture, enslave, starve and murder hundreds of thousands of your countrymen on political, religious, racial and gender grounds is really something, top drawer all the way.

And it turns out we're both anti-choice. I don't think women should have control over their bodies and neither do you. We're sort of on different sides of the same coin. I think we should punish women who have abortions. You force women to have abortions. Either way, we get to tell women what to do with their bodies.

And talk about the rule of law. You’re as ruthless with children as you are with adults. Why cut them any slack? I’ll see if we can send some ICE agents to Pyongyang to pick up a few pointers.

Yes, I was so honored to meet you, Mr. Chairman, and I look forward to welcoming you with open arms to the White House.

In the meantime, I just want to reiterate my view that “there’s a special place in hell” for that whiner from Canada.

Your biggest fan boy,

Donald J. Trump

Bullying the neighbor


This past week’s clash between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump at the G7 Conference in Quebec has an historical context.

For some reason more than one American president has felt he could conduct himself boorishly towards a Canadian Prime Minister. Donald Trump is not the first nor will he be the last.

Lyndon Baines Johnson (1963-1969, the 36th president) still holds the prize for unpardonable behavior that went far beyond some insulting tweets.

During the mid-60s LBJ invited the then Prime Minister, Lester Pearson (1963-1968, the 19th Prime Minister), to be his weekend guest at Camp David. Just prior to their gathering Pearson had made some comments critical of an escalation in the Vietnam war effort undertaken by Johnson.

Pearson had barely left his helicopter to head to his assigned cabin when there came this loud voice alledgely yelling “Where is that little s.o.b.?” Johnson, who was literally a foot taller than Pearson, then walked up to Pearson and as a stunned staff and aides looked on¸ literally picked up Pearson by the lapel of his jacket, stuck his face into Pearson’s and yelled “How dare you ____ in my nest?

That has to be the nadir of the president/prime minister relationship.

Fast forward to today and Canada is America’s number one trading partner and over the years the two countries have enjoyed mutual prosperity brought on by items like the North American Free Trade Agreement. Despite this economic linkage few Americans can tell you one single fact about Canada except that it produces excellent hockey players.

Idaho shares a border with British Columbia of about 75 miles. You may think that we really don’t have a dog in any trade disputes with our neighbors to the north, but you would be wrong.

When the exchange rate is favorable many Canadians do their shopping in the Sandpoint-Coeur d’Alene-Spokane corridor. Those that grow impatient with waiting for needed surgeries under Canada’s “single-payer” health care sysem, and can afford it, come to the states for needed and timely medical procedures.

Right now there are two processes underway that all Idahoans should be following. One has to do with trade and the other with the renegotiation of the 1964 Columbia River treaty between Canada and the U.S.

After years of watching softwood timber from a subsidized forest industry in British Columbia undercut U.S.companies, the American industry sought a ruling from the Commerce Deparment that slapped a variable import duty of as much as 15% on some Canadian firms.

The Canadians immediately “challenged” the math and so the dispute is in the courts. Should the duty stay in place this willl level the playing field and should benefit firms like Idaho’s Idaho Forest Group.

Of even more importance to Idahoans is the start of renegotiations on the 1964 Coordination Agreement that has BPA working with BC Hydro to coordinate river flows and dam operations in both countries that result in maximized power sales. Of importance here are three reservoirs in Canada that all BPA customers and even private power interests bill their customers in order to pay Canada $250 to $350 million a year for access to the stored water when needed.

Americans think they are paying too much and Canadians think they are not paying enough for the access. Negotiators have many other issues to iron out, such as flow levels that would enhance salmon migration. They have until the current treaty’s expiration date of 2024.

My money is on Canada emerging with an even stronger hand simply because they control the upstream.

My money is also on Justin Trudeau’s cool and smarts prevailing over Trump’s bluster and ignorance. Trudeau will take a multifaceted team approach commensurate with the complexities of trade tariffs whereas Trump will remain a one man band.

Trudeau and company easily grasp the salient fact that both America’s and Canada’s economies are so closely integrated, and will grow ever more so, that attempts to levy tariffs by either side is tantamount to shooting yourself in your foot.

One other thing for sure: you won’t see Trump trying to pick up Trudeau by the lapel of his jacket. Trump and his boorish conduct probably guaranteed Trudeau’s re-election next year also.