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Posts published in December 2018

Dancing with despots


The United States is showing a new face to the world and it isn’t a pretty one. No more Mr. Nice Guy trying to show the manifest benefits of democracy. No more of this nonsense about a free and unfettered press: Vladie Putin has demonstrated how to deal with them. And, selling death-dealing equipment to autocrats takes a much higher priority than calling them out for their vicious butchery.

Just because the Prince of Saudi Arabia sent a hit squad to a foreign country to make hamburger out of a journalist who had been peacefully and lawfully living in the United States is no reason to get all up in arms. It was just one guy and he was making himself a nuisance to the Prince by urging him to treat his subjects decently.

Besides, we can’t say with absolute certainty that the dear Prince ordered the drawing and quartering. Just because the guys in the hit squad knew from the Prince’s track record that they would be in a world of hurt if they did not follow his instructions to the tee, does not mean he gave them explicit instructions to slice and dice the fellow.

The Central Intelligence Agency concluded with a high degree of certainty that the Prince was behind the killing, but what do they know? They also claimed with that same degree of certainty that the Russians attacked our elections and just look where that went.

Everyone in the press is making such a big deal of the fact that the hit squad contained a doctor who routinely cut up bodies for autopsies and that he brought his bone saw to the event. What else would you expect him to take on a pleasure trip. He probably was only following that old motto, “Be prepared.”

Even if the hit was not the proper way to conduct business, we have to think about the economic aspects. The Saudis have agreed to buy about $14.5 billion dollars’ worth of military equipment from U.S. arms makers. That’s a lot of cabbage, especially if you round up the amount to $450 billion. It is just a dollars and cents proposition. You can’t let morality stand in the way of raking in the dough in this dangerous world.

Besides, the Saudis desperately need those weapons to kill people in Yemen. We have been giving them a hand in that enterprise and we can’t very well let them do it on their own. Where else are they going to get their cluster bombs? Most countries, at least 107, have gotten soft-hearted and signed a treaty to quit making or using them. The Saudis might be able to replenish their supply from Russia, China or some of the other autocratic countries, but why should we give up this lucrative business?

It is unfortunate that the war being conducted in Yemen by the Prince has resulted in the starvation of about 85,000 children to date but we have to understand that he is reforming his government. The President’s son-in-law gets along great with the Prince and that counts for something.

Bottom line, the old soft-headed America is out of date for these times. There will be no more preaching to dictators about the need to be nice and not brutalize their people. That gets in the way of making money and from now on it is profit over principle in this country, which was formerly respected for justice, dignity and moral courage.



Here are a couple of questions for you. Name the capitol of Afghanistan. Got it? What’s the answer? Here’s the second. Name two other cities. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Most people can’t name the capitol. Kabul. No one I know can name two other cities. And I’ve asked a few. Herat and Kandahar are a couple. There are many more.

Yet, young Americans have been fighting and dying there for 17 years. Seventeen years! And the vast majority of us couldn’t find the place on a map and know next to nothing about the nation or its people.

We have about 16,000 military there at the moment - down from 100,000 a couple of years ago. Our young people have died there for 17 years. The Pentagon won’t say how many. Thousands and thousands of wounded? Same non-response.

The financial cost to we taxpayers? Well, Randall Shriver is the top guy for the Defense Department in Asia. His numbers? About $5-billion a year for Afghan forces. Another $13-billion every 12 months for the U.S. military. And about $780-million more for “economic aid.” Whatever the hell that is.

When you ring up the total, adding what the military calls “miscellaneous costs,” we shelled out - in just the last year - $45-billion. Give or take a million or two. Put another way, we’ve been spending about $170-million a day!

Why? What are we doing there? To what end? To what goal? What will “peace” look like? The “peace” that seemingly will never come. How many more young Americans will have to die or be permanently scarred before “victory?” How many more trillions of dollars are we willing to throw down that Asian rat hole? This is the longest war our nation has ever fought. Why do we continue?

In recent months, an ambulance bomb killed 95 civilians. Fifty more killed at a wedding. More than 50 clerics have died ina single attack. Hundreds of other terrorist killings. And, at least a dozen American military murdered by Afghans wearing uniforms we gave them, using our rifles we taught them how to shoot. All just this year.

Afghans - who’ve been at war since the first one stood upright many centuries ago - wouldn’t know peace if it suddenly descended on them. They’ve been at war with each other - and one nation or another - since their inception. I can’t think of another country occupied more often by nation-after-invading-nation. And not one - not even one - left the soil of Afghanistan in victory and with honor.
Even our “Commander-In Chief” hasn’t dared venture there in two years in office. Nor, incidentally - to his shame - has he visited any of the other dozens of war zones where our troops are under fire.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley is one politician who complains about our seemingly endless involvement in that far-off sinkhole. He notes every couple of years, one U.S. administration after another claims “a corner is being turned” and “the end is in sight.” Then he lists the corruption, government dysfunction and the repeated failures of the Afghan security forces.

The fact of the matter is, Merkley says, U.S. hopes of using military force to compel the Taliban to reach a political settlement are - and have been for years - unrealistic. He notes the Taliban now controls more territory than it did in 2001.

Sen. Rand Paul, also a vocal critic, says “Tens of billions are being thrown down the hatch in Afghanistan” and he calls it “an impossible situation for which there is no hope.”

Other congressional voices mutter and complain. But, as a body, having war-making and war-ending powers, there’s absolutely no action to put an end to the tragic waste. In a heartbeat, Congress could shut off the money spigot. There’s never been a congressional declaration of war for Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria or any other of the dozens of hot spots where we’re spending lives and treasure.

Congress, alone, we’re told, could end all of it by denying spending. Trump could holler, threaten and lie till he chokes, but he doesn’t control spending. The whole sad, tragic and tremendously costly “war” could be stopped. And, as so many other nations have done, we could get the hell out of there.

Imagine what we could have done for our infrastructure, our public education system, needs of our veterans, our real national defense, repairing our urgent environmental problems, health care, homelessness and so much more with the trillions we’ve wasted in undeclared wars.

Again, no voice has described “victory” in Afghanistan. Not one. Because there is none. There never has been. There never will be.

Here’s another question for you. Would you want your son or daughter on some Afghanistan battlefield?

Why can’t we learn? Why?

Idaho Weekly Briefing – December 3

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for December 3. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at

Winter hit much of Idaho last week as the state moved into holiday mode, and governmental activity settled. The Idaho Supreme Court of Court of Appeals did get new jurists. And state legislators are however preparing for their organizational session next week.

Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter announced the appointment today of a veteran Judge and a seasoned trial court attorney to serve on the Idaho Supreme Court and the Idaho Court of Appeals respectively. Seventh District Judge Gregory Moeller, of Rexburg was picked to fill the Idaho Supreme Court vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Joel Horton. Attorney Amanda Brailsford, of Garden City was appointed by Otter to the Idaho Court of Appeals to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Sergio Gutierrez.

Citing the importance of the Secure Rural Schools program, Senator Mike Crapo and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden on November 28 led a bipartisan call with 23 of their Senate colleagues calling for a one-year reauthorization of the program in any year-end funding measures.

Senator Jim Risch, a member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, joined his colleagues in advancing Dr. Rita Baranwal’s nomination for Assistant Secretary for Nuclear Energy at the Department of Energy to the Senate floor.

December 3 at 8:00 a.m., the Ada County Elections Office will begin recounting all ballots cast in Ada County during the 2018 General Election for Legislative District 15 State Senate race and the College of Western Idaho Plant Facilities Reserve Fund Levy.

Two years after launching, the Idaho Policy Institute in Boise State University’s School of Public Service has completed more than three dozen projects encompassing every geographic region of the state, and has grown its staff from three to eight full-time employees and two graduate students.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is seeking public comment on the annual update to the Site Treatment Plan for the Idaho National Laboratory.

Beginning in 2019, Pickles Butte Sanitary Landfill will charge customers an additional $50 fee for vehicles or trailers that have uncovered/unsecured loads.

IMAGE Idaho State University researcher Chris Tennant researches snowpack levels around the western states. Here, he is engaged in field work. (image/Idaho State University)

Truth decays under Trump


In his famous Harper's magazine essay about American politics, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: "One of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen."

Hofstadter wrote about what he called "the paranoid style of American politics" in 1964 when another Republican, Barry Goldwater, was threatening to destroy his party with fanciful notions about winning nuclear wars and staging for adoring crowds at his rallies what the journalist Richard Rovere called "great carnivals of white supremacy."

The politically paranoid, the eminent historian argued, is a victim of his own lack of awareness where aversion to facts and his circumstances and experiences "deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him - and in any case he resists enlightenment."

A week ago, while many Americans were still in a turkey- and dressing-induced post-Thanksgiving food coma (or perhaps shopping at a big-box store on Black Friday), 13 agencies of the federal government released a 1,600-page report on our changing climate. The first sentence of the report stated its most important conclusion in clear and unusually stark terms: "Earth's climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities."

The report was purposely released on a holiday Friday in order to minimize the exposure of facts like this one: "Since the first National Climate Assessment was released (in 2000), the United States has endured 16 of the 17 warmest years on record, and the latest assessment paints a bleak picture of the future."

President Donald Trump, of course, dismissed the careful, factual work of scientists in four words. "I don't believe it," he said.

Such idiocy led Trevor Noah, the host of television's Comedy Central, to ask: "How can one man possess all the stupidity of mankind. It's like they edited his genes to give him superhuman stupidity."

In order to agree with our scientist-in-chief, you need to consciously discount the serious, detailed, principled work of 300 government and university scientists who drew upon the work of thousands of other scientists who have studied, analyzed and calculated what is happening to the climate.

This group includes two scientists I talked with this week who wrote chapters of the National Climate Assessment dealing with the Pacific Northwest. Philip Mote is the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington. Another author is Scott Lowe, the associate dean of the graduate school at Boise State University, a professor of environmental studies and a researcher on resource economics. He has his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Both scientists told me a key takeaway from the new climate report - the fourth such effort since 2000 - is that Pacific Northwest resource industries, including particularly timber, agricultural and fisheries, best get ready for an unpredictable new era of climate variability: more variability in stream flows, more low snowpack conditions, reduction in irrigation capability and more variability in growing seasons.

Here are just three sentences from the report on climate impacts in the Northwest:

"Forests in the interior Northwest are changing rapidly because of increasing wildfire and insect and disease damage, attributed largely to a changing climate."

"Impacts to the quality and quantity of forage will also likely impact farmers' economic viability as they may need to buy additional feed or wait longer for their livestock to put on weight, which affects the total price they receive per animal."

"Decreases in low- and mid-elevation snowpack and accompanying decreases in summer streamflow are projected to impact snow- and water-based recreation, such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, boating, rafting and fishing."

Mote, the Oregon State climate scientist, told me he recently went back and looked at the first national climate assessment. He described that effort as "educated speculation," but now he says we know in detail what has been happening to the climate over the past two decades and the conclusions to be drawn are more certain and more emphatic. As the report says, "observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations" for the amount of warming taking place. "Instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases as the dominant cause."

Trump is not alone, of course, in his denial of evidence starring us in the face. And while the dismissal of decades of science is an insult to the very notion of truth - Mote calls it a "raw denial of knowledge" - it is also flat out dangerous. The scientists stress that we do have the ability to adapt and deal with much of the impact of climate change, but denying the existence of what is happening - the dangerous part - paralyzes any meaningful action and the longer we wait the less likely we'll adapt well or at all.

Lowe, the Boise State researcher, says the rejection of fact-based science is frequently tied up with weird notions of a conspiracy theory that university and government scientists "have an agenda that is funded by someone." This is pure nonsense. They are scientists seeking facts. They volunteer their expertise.

In the Trump era, the very idea of truth is taking a beating, "truth decay" one recent report called it. Meanwhile, debasing expertise and knowledge gets us an administration stocked with a knucklehead who blames California wildfires on "radical environmentalists" and puts the president's son-in-law, a trust fund baby and New York real estate developer, in charge of crafting a Middle East peace plan.

Such folks not only seek no enlightenment; they are supremely comfortable in their ignorance.

As you shift the competing "truth" about climate change, ask yourself a simple question: Who are you going to believe - a bunch of scientists who have been studying an issue for decades and have their work double- and triple-checked by other scientists or a guy who bankrupted his casino?

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.