Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in July 2018

The mess in Yemen


The New York Times reported on July 26 that U.S. allies have killed thousands of civilians in the Yemen civil war. Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirati pilots, flying U.S.-supplied planes and dropping U.S.-supplied bombs, have been the major contributor to more than 16,000 civilian casualties in that conflict.

It is an unfortunate fact that war often results in unintended civilian casualties. But, combatants have the responsibility to keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Our partners in that war have not done so. Reports out of Yemen repeatedly demonstrate indiscriminate bombing by Saudi and UAE forces, such as the 22 villagers killed at a wedding last April.

Why should we care? The U.S. is aiding and abetting this unnecessary toll of death and destruction. It does not serve our national interest to be a party to the indiscriminate killing of innocent bystanders. It is morally wrong! And, you can’t win the hearts and minds of a population (or of the world in general) when you take part in killing their families and kinfolk. You also uproot survivors, who flee for safety to refugee camps.

There may be some valid reasons for helping the Saudis and Emiratis, although I am skeptical about that. However, we should make it clear to them that we will not permit loose rules of engagement that result in civilian casualties. And, we should not provide weapons like cluster munitions that kill indiscriminately.

I have never liked cluster munitions. In 1969, I was serving as an artillery spotter in Vietnam when a cluster shell was first available for use. It was called a “firecracker” round, a 200 pound shell that held about 100 grenade-type explosive devices. The round would explode several hundred feet above the ground, spreading the grenades over a wide area. I did not use them because they did not have the accuracy or explosive power of a regular high explosive round. Plus, I was told that many of the small explosive devices would not detonate, creating a hazard for anyone who might later be walking around the area. It just didn’t seem like a good idea. Some of those little bomblets still populate the terrain in Vietnam to this day, causing war-related casualties, mostly among curious children. They are indiscriminate killers and we ought to quit using and providing them to others.

I have doubts about our support for this war and would like for the U.S. to opt out of it. At a minimum, we should insist that our allies immediately implement tighter rules of engagement and stop the slaughter of civilians. We also should recognize our complicity in the war and the serious refugee crisis it has caused in Yemen.

And, while we are thinking of refugee crises (plural, in case anyone missed it), we should recognize that the U.S. has caused or contributed to the flood of refugees from any number of countries in that region. We started an unnecessary war in Iraq that created a tremendous refugee crisis in that country. Our Iraq war helped to get the conflict going in Syria, resulting in a catastrophic flood of refugees from that country. Our actions in Libya and Somalia have created a flow of refugees from those countries.

Yet, after having been a primary creator of these massive refugee flows, we have essentially washed our hands of the whole thing and walked away from all responsibility. These countries are all on our travel ban and the refugees are left high, dry and on their own. We have dumped the old rule about “you broke it, you fix it,” not to mention the admonishment in Zechariah 7:9 to “show kindness and mercy to one another.”

Our driver-less traffic


Our neighborhood of 29,000 seniors is part of a cheek-by-jowl complex of three such Southwest Arizona communities. So, the total local 55+ interlocking neighborhood is about 92,000 souls. And many of us are well into the plus side.

Since no one without physical infirmities has to take written or performance tests to get a driver’s license hereabouts, the local roadways are a continual dance of off-the-track bumper cars. Good drivers must not only “drive defensively” but develop quick-as-a-rabbit reflexes.

Now, speeding along beside us on our roadways, we have an entirely new - and I believe “not-ready-for-prime time” - hazard out there. Driver-less cars. We’ve got ‘em all over the place. Chandler, Mesa, Surprise, Peoria and Phoenix.

Tech and auto companies from coast-to-coast have selected our retirement haven for a couple of reasons. Most of our arterials are three-lanes or more. And there’s a lot of ‘em.

But I think the prime reason is Arizona - at least our overheated part of it - is flat. You can stand at the city limits and see from Tuesday to Thursday. In all directions. “The Valley of the Sun” is just one big flat hotplate. While communities put up signs so you’ll know which one you’re in at the moment, they all look just about the same. Right, left and straight ahead but no hills to climb or descend.

So, Tesla, Toyota, GM, Ford, BMW and others have put their latest technology on our roads and highways. Yes, we’ve had some wrecks. And, at least one local fataliy in which the car “saw” a woman in a crosswalk and decided to ignore her. She died right there.

These companies load up their test platforms with all the latest gadgets and turn ‘em loose. Most have humans behind-the-wheel. Most. Not all.

I’ve seen a couple of these driver-less wonders in the neighborhood but most operate in smaller towns with less surrounding traffic. So far, at least in our family, so good.

But, we have something new in nearby Chandler. Walmart - yes, Walmart - is offering driver-less cars to customers for grocery shopping. Pick up the phone, set an appointment and you’ll get picked up by a new, air conditioned Chrysler Pacifica - sans driver - and taken to a Walton family outlet.

Walmart appears to have created a list of “exclusive” customers to use the service. Not sure who or on what basis such were selected. I didn’t make the cut.

This pilot program - I prefer to think of it as “pilotless” - also includes special deals on groceries as an incentive to risk your life. Walmart, apparently, pays for everything. Even hospitalization, I guess, if things don’t work as engineered.

Tom Ward is VP of “e-Commerce Operations” for the company. He says “The purpose of all this is for the Walmart folks to learn if people will accept the technology.”
We’ll see. Given the mishaps - read crashes - we hear about locally, I don’t think much of the senior set will be using the service. If any made the “exclusive” list.

The self-driving car is probably an eventuality we’re all going to live with. But, development of this species of transportation is a much larger step than the one that took us out of horse-drawn conveyances. We had to train only ourselves to use cars. This “advance” is trying to teach us we don’t have to “use” cars. They’ll do everything themselves. Maybe.

I’ve developed some notions why living in this part of the world is not entirely a blessing. Now, I can add a new one: daily living on a driver-less test track.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – July 30

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 9. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

This was the week wildfires flared up in a big way around Idaho, from the Panhandle to the southeast, in many cases near substantial population areas. The list of wildfires in this issue is much longer than up to this point in this year. Elsewhere, political campaigns remained mostly relatively quiet, and several pieces of favorable economic news were reported.

The Board of Ada County Commissioners was made aware this morning that Ada County Treasurer Vicky McIntyre was charged with seven felony counts of Misuse of Public Funds.

The Bonneville Power Administration is preparing to meet increased electricity demand as the region braces for temperatures nearing the century mark over the next three days. Power use by BPA customers rose to record highs nearly a year ago, when temperatures climbed above 100 degrees on Aug. 2, 2017. At that time, Northwest energy consumers used 8,226 megawatts. For reference, just one MW can power an estimated 700 Northwest homes; 1,200 MW can power an entire city the size of Seattle.

Access to national laboratory research collaborations just got a little easier for three companies that won grants to work with Idaho National Laboratory experts. The three firms collaborating with INL have been slated to receive Phase I grants through the U.S. government’s Small Business Innovation Research program, which helps support promising new ideas that still might be too risky to attract investment from the private sector.

Idaho State Police applied for and has now received several federal grants that will be used to improve how sexual assault evidence is collected and processed throughout our state. We know that collection of sexual assault evidence is not performed in a standardized manner around Idaho.

Representative Mike Simpson joined a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress to introduce the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act.

State regulators have approved a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for Rocky Mountain Power to build three new wind projects and associated transmission facilities.

IMAGE This one started north of the Rainbow Bridge on the north fork of the Payette River. A number of agencies, and the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association, have been at work on containing it. (photo/Idaho Department of Lands)

Favoring business over citizens?


Our top researcher and reader, “Clancy,” gets credit for dredging up an old GUARDIAN story and a Cynthia Sewell Statesman piece from 2011 calling into question the decision to lease the Boise Library warehouse and parking area to a private company, even though future library plans were well known.

Some seven years ago the GUARDIAN let readers know of the city’s plans to severely limit any ability to expand the library, even though we citizens already owned the building and land at 705 S. 8th.

At the time we said, “The city can legally avoid the bid process through land swaps and leases, but it is a shameful practice which smells of insider trading and results in commercial use of public assets–just like in China and other communist states.”

The STATESMAN STORY was more detailed, but no less questioning. Team Dave ignored us and forged ahead with their land speculation scheme. It was ramrodded by John Brunell who worked for the mayor and is now head of CCDC.

BioMark pays no property taxes on the city-owned public property used for private purposes. Public records show they have personal property valued at a little over $100 thousand.

No value is placed on city-owned properties, but we have it on good authority the Biomark property is easily worth between $2-$3 million. Using typical levy rates that means Biomark would have to pay $34,000 to $51,000 in taxes. Their lease payments to the city alone wouldn’t even touch the tax bill.

Parking for the proposed new library has been discussed for “somewhere west of 9th Street,” away from the existing site.

We also offer the inside memo on the LEASE DEAL.

Summer legislating


You may think of state lawmaking - the work most visibly done by legislators in their formal sessions, which in Idaho mostly run in January through March - as a winter time activity.

But that’s not all, by a long shot. Lawmaking is going on now, even without factoring in initiatives like the Medicaid expansion measure just approved for the ballot.

There is also state administrative rulemaking, which goes on around the year, mostly when legislators aren’t in session. Summer is a relatively busy time.

State Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, mentioned this in a recent constituent email. She wrote, “Remember that administrative rules are developed by bureaucrats and lobbyists on a monthly basis throughout the year and are required by law to take into consideration all public input and comments received. Citizens can even request public hearings in their communities to get additional information.”

She went on to sound a bit alarmist about some of it, noting that the state rules often incorporate language from federal or other sources outside Idaho. (That’s done so that Idaho can coordinate and cooperate with other states in commerce and other ways.) But she’s correct that rulemaking is substantial in scale, and in urging citizens to get more involved. Most are neither aware nor active enough about it.

Generally, state law (which legislators mostly work on) is intended to state a policy and general guidelines, but administrative rules fill in the gaps, provide the details the legislators didn’t address. Often new state laws specifically instruct state agencies to develop rules to carry out the law. The agency rules can become extremely detailed; the state administrative code, covering rules for most agencies, is many thousands of pages long.

Fortunately, it is available online (at, and updates appear in a regular place, the Idaho Administrative Bulletin, which is published toward the beginning of each month. The updates can be significant all by themselves; July’s is more than 200 pages long, which is not unusual for this time of year. (It goes relatively quiet while the legislature is meeting.)

Scott listed in her email some of the items covered in the most recent one, from the rules covering accountants, electrical inspections, pharmacist licensing, school math test requirements, examinations for professional engineers, small employer health reinsurance programs, sales tax provisions covering out of state sellers, sales tax refunds, permit fee prices at the Department of Parks and Recreation . . .

. . . temporary vehicle permits, government license plates, changing the funding rules for career technical schools, water quality standards in certain areas, property tax exemptions during construction, exemptions involving research and development at the Idaho National Laboratory, library grant requirements, commercial filming in state parks . . .

And a good deal more.

All of this is wide open to public comment and participation. Few people from the public actually do get involved. Scott is correct in noting that state agencies and interest groups (often represented by lobbyists) are most active and tend to determine how the rules are written. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This may seem like dry stuff. But look through the rules and bulletin sometime. You may find some that affect you, and then it’ll seem dry no longer.

Silence is unacceptable


From the outset, Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin was a recipe for disaster. Now Trump has made the situation much worse by refusing to reveal what was discussed at that meeting. In the meantime, the Russian media is having a field day spilling selected beans – information regarding Syria and arms control for instance.

Recently, the Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said that Trump and Putin had entered into “important verbal agreements.” No one this side of the pond knows what these alleged agreements entail. Even the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker, has admitted he hasn’t a clue what Antonov is talking about.

The president does not have a blank check to do as he pleases in the realm of foreign affairs. Our founders very purposefully divided responsibility for foreign relations between the executive and legislative branches. They had ousted one king and were not about to live under the rule of another.

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution enumerates congressional powers including regulating commerce with foreign nations, declaring war, raising and supporting armies, providing and maintaining a navy, and making rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces. Congress also has the authority to lay and collect taxes. Article 2 grants the president command of the military. The president also is empowered to make treaties and appoint diplomats, but only with the approval of the Senate.

Thus, the congressional role in shaping and implementing our nation’s foreign policy is substantive and substantial. The president has no right to usurp it. Our allies shouldn’t be forced to guess at what Trump might have agreed to at the summit. Neither should Congress. Neither should the American people.

This charade has to stop. In an utter abnegation of responsibility, Congressional Republicans shut down Democratic efforts to subpoena the American translator, the only other American in the Trump-Putin meeting. Their cowardice and submission to Trump is exceeded only by Trump’s cowardice and submission to Putin.

There is a widespread and growing belief that our president got played in Helsinki. In response, Republicans have ducked for cover and run. Among those are the members of Idaho’s congressional delegation. After the president's shameful capitulation to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Republican senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch issued woefully anemic statements. Each merely acknowledged that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election and observed that Russia is no friend of the United States.

There was no condemnation of the president’s fawning over Putin, not a peep of outrage over his defense of the Russian attack on our country, or even a passing nod to their oaths to defend our nation against all enemies foreign and domestic. Republican strategist Rick Wilson calls this kind of pathetic response on the part of GOP office holders, the "furrowed brow and deep concern act." And it is totally inadequate to the moment.

For some time, many have wondered what Putin is holding over the president to make him behave in such a subservient and unprincipled manner, seemingly selling out his country to curry favor with the Russian dictator.

Now that same concern should also apply to members of the Republican majority in Congress. In the utter absence of bipartisan action, it falls to congressional Democrats to use every tool in their toolbox to demand transparency and accountability from this president. Their minority status makes the task daunting. But they must force the issue. Faithfulness to the Constitution requires nothing less.

Notes . . .


It's been a long time since I've a full biography of Abraham Lincoln - much less can I be sure which one that was, there being so many of them - but A. Lincoln by Ronald White now repays the read quite well.

It wasn't a perfect or ideal Lincoln bio, but it puts the pieces together nicely. Maybe reading it in our present situation gives it some extra flavor.

It seemed to me the second-best White biography of the period; I preferred the too-overlooked U.S. Grant life American Ulysses for its finer-grain detail and willingness to stretch. (I even prefer it over the more recent and hotly acclaimed Chernow book, though that's no criticism of it, either.)

If I have some quibbles with this Lincoln book, it's in two areas. White skims over some areas and subjects that, a number of other writers probably would argue, merit a little closer look. (The Ann Rutledge aftermath and Lincoln's bouts of depression come to mind.) In some other places, White seems to be a little too determined on agenda, notably in the area of Lincoln and religion, which is an ambiguous area where some ambiguity is best probably let alone.

It's a recommended read, though, for putting Lincoln into context in his time. The political and military context is neatly lined out, in some cases in ways I'd not seen before. The story of his first run for the U.S. Senate is more neatly told than usual, and his relationship with the emerging Republican Party, from which he at first wanted to keep at arm's length, is nicely clarified.

It is not an emotional work, and the writing is direct rather than overwrought (something easily done in Lincoln's case). If you've not read a full biography of Lincoln or done so in a long time, the time may be right, and A. Lincoln would be a sound choice. - rs

‘Cap the money, limit the time’


Here’s a “fictional” example of how the game starts in D.C. An attorney from a prestigious law firm, like perhaps Akin, Gump, is walking down Pennsylvania Ave. and he or she runs into Washington state 5th District congresswoman, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers. They exchange plesantries and promise to meet for lunch sometime.

That is it. Elapsed time is two or three minutes.

The attorney turns around and rushes back to the office and sends a memo to the managing partner saying he or she had just come from a “meeting” with the congresswoman who by implication (since she gave the lawyer/lobbyist the time of day) reaffirmed her support for many of the firm’s clients.

This is called “maintaining the relationship” and since Ms. McMorris-Rodgers is a member of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s leadership team, this also calls for “time-value billing,” not the usual percentage of the attorney’ hourly rate of $800. The rationale is that if you solve a client’s problem with one 15 minute call that saves the client thousands of dollars, a portion of the value derived from the call is included.

Thus, the monthly bill only reads $1000 for a “meeting with Cathy McMorris-Rodgers.” Most firms today prefer the even more lucrative “retainer agreement” in which the client pays a flat fee for your services whether one uses them or not. The monthly bill then says $5000 “for services provided.”

And then the lawyer bills ALL the firm’s 15 clients because they indirectly derive benefit from the firm’s connections and stature. This is pure greed by any other name. Others may call it fraud.

And of course Ms. McMorris-Rodgers knows her name is being used but looks the other way because the law firm’s Political Action Committee as well as their client’s PAC’s, will all pony up $5000 contributions come election time. It’s called “pay to play.”

To her credit, former State Senator and Majority Leader Lisa Brown, who is running dead even in the polls with Ms. McMorris-Rodgers, refuses to accept corporate PAC money. The incumbent is of course raking in the dollars.

This unholy alliance between the lawyer/lobbyists on K Street and members of Congress is one of many things that have to change if one is serious about “draining the swamp.”

In the all too life-like television series, House of Cards, Congressman on the rise Frank Underwood, in the first episode does an aside. He is talking about his press secretary who is leaving to become a well-paid lobbyist.

Underwood looks into the camera and says his press secretary had a choice between money and power: “He chose money over power - in this town, a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the Mc-mansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”

The key to power in D.C. is a pernicious seniority system which rewards longevity but not necessarily competence. Elected public service was never envisioned by the Founding Fathers (Who favored a system of checks and balances) to be a life-time sinecure.

They understood well the siren song and that absolute power not only would corrupt absolutely but would be the end of the Republic’s embrace of democracy. The answer to this one is term limits, but not just for elected officials, for the top tier career civil service also.

One will know an Administration is serious about true change when they see the following:

1. A “wage and price control board” set up to enforce a ceiling on a lobbyists’ hourly rate and an annual cap on retainer agreements and fees, along with the elimination of success fees;
2. A five-year “no contact” rule adopted whereby a top civil servant cannot lobby their old department or agency;
3. A prohibition for former members of Congress on representing foreign governments;
4. A limit on gifts of $25;
5. No three-martini lunches nor expensive dinners; everyone pays for their own meal.
6. No bundling of charges to all clients.
7. No billing the client for billing time.

As for term limits, the following:

1. Twelve years maximum in any major elected federal office and twelve years max in any statewide office.
2. Same restrictions for elected officials as for lobbyists.
3. On political contributions by individuals as well as corporate PACs a cap of $250 per person per candidate whether given as part of a PAC’s contribution or personally. Personal contribution is credited to person signing the check---no spouse-splitting.
4. For senior civil servants, (up to Senior Executive Service—GS-14 and above) if selected, another twelve years allowed.

These suggestions would indicate a serious effort to drain the swamp because they limit the money and hopefully reduce the greed.

Russia wins again


Thanks to Russian interference, the United States failed in an effort to strike a blow against mothers’ milk at a United Nations conference this spring.

The New York Times reported on July 8 that the U.S. delegation to a World Health Assembly meeting tried unsuccessfully to water down a resolution supporting breast-feeding.

Our delegation was apparently concerned that if mothers fed their babies breast milk it would cut down on sales of good old-fashioned formula made from the finest chemicals in America. So, our representatives tried to strike resolution language urging governments to “protect, promote and support breast-feeding.” Them were obviously fightin’ words.

Just because a long string of U.S. Presidents has supported U.N. breast-feeding resolutions, does not mean that our country should not re-examine this issue, as we have almost every other health and foreign policy issue in the last few months. We may find that mom’s milk, and even apple pie, are no longer good for America. After all, if we now expect American agriculture to stand by while its industry is devastated by destructive trade wars, can’t we expect our infants to contribute to American superiority by consuming factory-made food?

There was some resistance to our move so we had to get tough. Ecuador was the culprit promoting the resolution in support of the milk of human kindness, so we had to put the kibosh on that little pipsqueak country. According to the Times, we told them that if they did not drop the resolution, the U.S. “would unleash punishing trade measures and withdraw crucial military aid.” Hey, if we can kick Canada’s fanny for our favorable trade surplus with that country, we can certainly beat up on a country whose location most Americans don’t even know. Ecuador dropped the resolution like a hot potato.

About a dozen other nations, including some African sh__hole countries, were afraid to step forward to push the resolution for fear of retaliation. That shows we can bully these little dots on the map into submission.

Some of the delegates whined that mothers’ milk provides infants with nutrients essential for their development, as well as hormones and antibodies that protect them from infectious diseases. They pointed to a British study which concluded that universal breast-feeding would prevent 800,000 child deaths a year around the world. Mixing formula with contaminated water in under-developed countries can kill infants. Our representatives were not swayed. They knew that the $70 billion baby food industry brings in more dollars than any number of mothers, and that our drug makers are more than happy to take care of all those diseases.

When it looked like the resolution was in trouble, the supporters brought in the big gun, the kryptonite to our Superman—Vladimir Putin. The Russians stepped forward to sponsor the resolution, we grudgingly submitted, and it passed with overwhelming support. A Russian delegate was quoted as saying, “We’re not trying to be a hero here, but we feel that it is wrong when a big country tries to push around some very small countries, especially on an issue that is really important for the rest of the world.”

Well said, Ivan.

I hope Putin does not give our leader a tongue-lashing over this.