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Posts published in July 2019

It’s the racism, stupid …

johnson

It is hardly news that in the space of less than a week 28 hard right Republican members of the Idaho House of Representatives publicly went after diversity programs at the state’s largest university, while their moral and spiritual leader once again confirmed his racism in all its shameful detail.

This is the modern Republican Party: embracing white supremacy, attacking any notion that diversity in a nation of immigrants is to be celebrated and trotting out once again the age-old chestnut that Americans outside the dominant white culture really aren’t Americans.

Donald Trump doesn’t bother with dog whistles or code words; he’s an open and unapologetic hater. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” Trump said of four Democratic members of Congress, all women of color, all American citizens.

“In many ways, this is the most insidious kind of racial demagoguery,” said Douglas A. Blackmon, whose book on the treatment of African-Americans after the Civil War won a Pulitzer Prize in 2008. “The president has moved beyond invoking the obvious racial slanders of 50 years ago — clichés like black neighborhoods ‘on fire’ — and is now invoking the white supremacist mentality of the early 1900s, when anyone who looked ‘not white’ could be labeled as unwelcome in America.”

The wing nut caucus of the Idaho House at least tried to dandy up the language of its racism, even if the intent shines like a beacon. “This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture [at Boise State University] becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students,” the legislators said in a letter to new BSU president Marlene Tromp.

The Republicans, led by Rep. Barbara Ehardt of Idaho Falls and including many members of the Education Committee (a misnomer if ever there was one) and Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Eagle, have some how concluded that creating a welcoming, inclusive campus is driving tuition increases. Someone needs to tell these experts in higher education that puny state financial support for colleges and universities is what is driving tuition increases.

Boise State’s efforts, it’s worth noting, have the laudable objective of trying to expand the diversity of both students and faculty, a goal that ought to be embraced not condemned. The university remains overwhelmingly white, with Hispanic students making up about 13% of the student body. Every major employer in Idaho, including Micron, Hewlett-Packard, the state’s largest hospitals, the Idaho National Laboratory and on and on will tell you of the vital importance to attracting and retaining a diverse work force. These businesses can’t have that work force unless the state’s universities are working to attract diverse students.

Yet, if your idea of politics and public policy is to always find new ways to divide and incite anger, while scratching the old itch of resentment against “others,” you can willingly ignore the real world, as Trump and his Idaho acolytes do. After all, racial resentment is valuable red meat for “the base.”

Some political analysts have suggested there is a cunning re-election strategy behind Trump’s latest racist comments. By playing on white nationalist themes, fear of immigrants and resentment against women of color, so the theory goes, he stokes the fever swamp of the Republican base, the only possible path Trump has to re-election. It’s a good theory and if it is true that Trump is both a racist and a cynic then what he is doing is even more reprehensible. The arrogant white privilege exhibited by the gang of 28 Idaho Republicans is no better.

Was the letter to the new BSU president really intended for her or was the real audience the alt right fringe that increasingly defines the Idaho Republican Party? It’s hardly a coincidence that the mendacious Idaho Freedom Foundation, a “dark money” funded collection of anti-government cranks with a remarkable record of losing lawsuits, has been peddling the same anti-diversity story. The Freedom Foundation’s president, Wayne Hoffman, wrote recently that he found Marlene Tromp’s commitment to “social justice” alarming. Only in Trump’s America would a commitment to social justice be anything other than normal.

“The agenda of Republicans has always favored white people,” says Kurt Bardella, a former top aide to California Republican Darrell Issa, “and now for the first time in contemporary times they have a leader who is willing to ascribe words to that agenda.”

Trump’s Republican Party, and that of his Idaho followers, is increasingly not really conservative, but reactionary in the same way that Barry Goldwater and his followers in the 1960s wanted to turn back the clock. It’s a new “America, love it or leave it” moment. And for good measure Trump and his reactionary enablers salt in a bit of Joe McCarthy nostalgia, invoking a fear of “socialists” and “communists” and equating dissent with a lack of patriotism.

The casual Idaho Republican embrace of racism and nativism embodied in the BSU affair amounts, as Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson says, “to collaboration — perhaps ‘collusion’ is a better word — with the president’s assault on diversity and pluralism.” And, of course, the Idaho congressional delegation fully accepts the collusion, a particularly shameful display of gutlessness given the state’s long struggles with neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

“Go back where you came from” is among the oldest and worst racist tropes, a leap beyond questioning a president’s birth certificate or condemning a Mexican-American judge because of his ethnicity. Almost as old is the trick of condemning your opponents as un-American. Dividing Americans by their skin color, their heritage, their religion, and their beliefs is from the playbook of a demagogue. Trump owns that playbook now and Republicans have handed their party to a hateful, petty, racist leader who they follow blindly and meekly.

Trump was asked this week if he was concerned that he was using the language of white supremacy. “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he said. The president doesn’t say much that is true, but he’s correct about that. Unfortunately a bunch of those people serve in the legislature and represent Idaho in Congress.
 

The Idaho Way of Inclusiveness

stapiluslogo1

That recent high-profile legislative letter about university inclusiveness used this as a sort of moral cornerstone:

“As Governor Brad Little has stated on numerous occasions: We need to do things the ‘Idaho way!’”

So what is the Idaho Way when it comes to welcoming people - that is, people who may not look, sound or believe the same as a majority of Idahoans do?

Back in the days when the Aryan Nations planted their overtly racist headquarters in the Idaho panhandle, the Way seemed to refer to what state officials and other leading Idahoans made certain to tell whoever would listen: We welcome people here, whoever they may be; the Aryans’ attitudes are nothing like ours.

Fast forward ...

The July 9 letter from Representative Barbara Dee Erhardt of Idaho Falls, co-signed by 27 fellow House Republicans (notice for clarity: Little was not among the signatories), bore a thin fig leaf but in practice made clear that many Idahoans, some in the Statehouse, who really don’t want people who aren’t like those in the Idaho majority to come here. Those words weren’t on the surface, but you don’t have to dig hard to get there.

The letter was directed to the new president of Boise State University, its subject the institution’s programs on inclusiveness: “This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students. These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now - and that BSU should redress these grievances.” It goes on to suggest that money spent on inclusiveness-related programs could be better spent on keeping down the ever-higher cost of tuition for students.

Those rationales aren’t even good window dressing. None of the programs referenced either separate or segregate students (not legal in any event). Nor is their cost more than a sliver of university spending; if they all ended tomorrow students wouldn’t see any improvement in their cost structure. If the legislators were serious about helping with tuition costs they could start with better funding the state colleges and universities, which badly need it; but then, these same legislators have built careers out of keeping university budgets as paltry as possible.

No sale: This letter was simply an Idaho entry in the national culture wars, a softer regional version of the Donald Trump call for four members of Congress, whose races and politics were other than his, to be sent somewhere else (never minding that three of them were born in the United States, and the fourth also is a citizen), reflected in his crowds’ chant, “Send her back!”

In recent years BSU has touted itself, reasonably, as a metropolitan research institution, and its growth is linked to that identity. A “metropolitan research” university, anywhere, gets that way by bringing in and fostering learning and research among a wide range of people, not just within a state or even the nation, but worldwide.

Learning tends to take off when you put together people with a wide range of backgrounds, skills, knowledge and perspectives. It’s why congresses and legislatures were intended to include scores of people, not just three or four - the hope being that a wide range of view and perspective will bring a deeper understanding. (Of course, the Idaho Legislature isn’t exactly broad in scope ...) Such universities, and the United States has many, are a big piece of the reason this country has grown, learned, advanced and prospered in the last century. Locally, BSU has for years developed large, and growing, economic and social impact.

It may be easy for people in homogenous communities, as many around Idaho are, to forget, but there is a difference and there are challenges for people coming into new places where there aren’t many people like you; the ability to connect with people like yourself, and see some reflection of yourself, can be reassuring and even necessary. Too, people who are a little different from the majority sometimes face maltreatment, and effort often is needed to remediate that.

Here’s the core of the BSU Statement of Diversity and Inclusivity from February 2017: “We recognize that our success is dependent on how well we value, engage, include, and utilize the rich diversity of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We believe that prejudice, oppression, and discrimination are detrimental to human dignity, and that a vibrant and diverse campus community enhances the learning environment of the populations that we serve.”

So in this context, what is the “Idaho Way”? As debate over that goes on, students at a university in Idaho, some a little different in background than the majority of Idahoans, continue to learn and teach and research and hope the state’s politics doesn’t sometime soon come crashing down on their heads.
 

Blanche and Skip on health insurance

schmidt

It was Wednesday and Blanche was already aching. Her back hurt when she bent down to put the roasts in the oven, her ankles and knees ached as she stood and chopped, her shoulders were sore when she reached up for the big pots stored up high. She’d finished lunch and the hashers were gone, so it was just her making the dinner for the 45 fraternity boys.

Dennis had seemed worried as she left him this morning. “What’s bothering you grandson?” He’d make his lunch and catch the bus after she left, but they always had breakfast together.

“I got a rash and it hurts.”

“Let me see.”

He pulled up his shirt exposing a pink raised band across his ribs.

Blanche had never seen anything like it. “We’ll keep an eye on it. Don’t rub it.”

She left the trailer and got in her old sedan and drove to work. But the worry added to her ache.

The young man Skip came into the kitchen all chipper. “You got any apples? I want to take one for this long afternoon. I got lab until 6.”

“Over there in that bowl.” Blanche was chopping celery.

“How you doing Blanche?” Skip had apologized to her before and seemed to be a kind young man.

“Oh, my grandson has a rash and I can’t afford to take him to the doctor.”

Skip frowned. “You don’t have health insurance?”

“No, we don’t. Can’t afford it.”

Skip frowned. “We could Google it.” Blanche chuckled and shook her head.

“No, really, it’s great. Let’s look.” Skip whipped out his laptop. “Tell me about the rash.”

“He says it hurts and it’s on his rib area. Just started.”

Skip typed and scrolled and frowned, then showed Blanche the screen. “Does it look like this?”

“No, it’s just on one side and doesn’t have those black spots.”

Skip typed some more and scrolled. After a couple more tries he closed the laptop and said, “Sorry. Sounds like he needs to see a doctor.”

“Yeah.” Blanche shook her head again.

“Well, come this January you can get him and you on Medicaid. Idaho has expanded Medicaid so more people can have health insurance.”

“Medicaid? Really? But I’m working.” Blanche protested.

“It’s based on how much you earn. Lots of folks don’t get insurance through their work and don’t make enough to buy health insurance on the state exchange.”

“Yeah, that’s us. I looked into that exchange thing a few years ago but I didn’t qualify. Made too little.”

Skip frowned. “But this new lawsuit might throw all that out the window. The Republicans want to get rid of Obamacare so they sued that it is unconstitutional.”

Blanche stared at him like he was speaking a foreign language. “I’m sure glad you are paying such attention to this stuff.”

Skip got animated. “Yeah, the Republicans have fought Obamacare for years now. They couldn’t get it repealed in Congress, though that’s what Trump promised. Now they are about to get it over turned by a court decision.”

“So, I won’t be getting health insurance in January?”

Skip frowned. “I don’t know. Could be. Lots of things could change.” He tapped his computer. “Come to think of it, I could lose my coverage too. I’m still on my parent’s health insurance coverage; that was part of Obamacare.”

Blanche looked at the young healthy man. “Why do you need insurance? You’re young.”

Skip laughed. “Blanche, everybody ought to have health insurance.”

Blanche shook her head and chopped some more celery. “Too many people think doctors or pills will solve all their problems.”

“You got that right, Blanche. But when people get really sick, they need insurance. I just read an article how most people go bankrupt paying for their cancer care.”

Blanche frowned. Could Dennis have cancer?

Skip hoisted his backpack. “Let me know about your grandson’s rash. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Blanche ached even more while she cooked that afternoon.
 

Neo-con

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Neo-cons (the word is an abbreviation of neoconservatism, and does not relate to a conference called NeoCon) have been around a while, long enough that the Rolling Stones cut a late-career sarcastic song about them around the start of the millennium. But this currency still circulates.

Columnist Max Boot cited – early in 2019 – headlines including “How the neocons captured Donald Trump.” “The continuing lunacy of the neocons.” “Return of the neocons!” He goes on to suggest, fairly enough, that “‘Neoconservatism’ once had a real meaning – back in the 1970s. But the label has now become meaningless. With many of those who are described as neocons, including me, fleeing the Trumpified right, the term’s sell-by date has passed. There are more ex-cons than neocons by this point.”

The Conservapedia took a crack at it, though: “in American politics [it] is someone presented as a ‘conservative’ but who actually favors big government, globalism, interventionism, and a hostility to religion in politics and government. The word means ‘newly conservative,’ and thus formerly liberal. A neocon is a RINO Backer, and like RINOs does not accept most of the important principles in the Republican Party platform. Neocons do not participate in the March for Life, nor stand up for traditional marriage, advocate other conservative social values, or emphasize putting America first. Neocons support attacking and even overthrowing foreign governments, despite how that often results in more persecution of Christians. Some neocons (like Dick Cheney) have profited immensely from the military-industrial complex. Many neocons are globalists and support the War on Sovereignty.”

Any number of actual neo-cons may quibble with much of that; as people who mostly came to their views more or less one by one rather than in a mass movement, many individual differences may be apparent.

The term started picking up significant usage in the 1970s (neo-liberal would follow soon after) to describe people whose background was in Franklin Roosevelt-style liberalism but who felt that many of their allies had become “soft” in opposing communism, meaning that a hawkish perspective on defense was a key part of their world view.

What did pre-existing conservatives think of them? The Conservapedia offers, “Paleoconservatives, who dislike Neoconservatism intensely, have argued that it emerged from Trotskyite theories, especially the notion of permanent revolution. There are four fundamental flaws in the paleoconservatives’ attack: most of the neoconservatives were never Trotskyites; none of them ever subscribed to the right-wing Socialism of Max Shachtman; the assertion that neoconservatives subscribe to “inverted Trotskyism” is misleading; and neoconservatives advocate democratic globalism, not permanent revolution.”

Neo-cons accounted for many – by no means all – of the early and leading advocates of the 2003 Iraq war, and as that wore on, and as the Obama Adninistration sidelined them, the term fell into less frequent usage.
In the Trump Administration, neo-cons have seen some resurgence. Its current (at this writing) national security advisor, John Bolton, has been described as “one of the key figures of neoconservatism.”

Writer Caitlin Johnstone argued4 that “You can trace a straight line from the endless US military expansionism we’ve been seeing since 9/11 back to the rise of neoconservatism, so paying attention to this dynamic is important for diagnosing and curing the disease.”
 

Undermining the rule of law

jones

Ever since William Barr was sworn in as U.S. Attorney General, he has failed to honor the sacred oath he recited to “faithfully discharge the duties” of that high office. Among other things, he has shown a higher allegiance to the President than to the law, has knowingly allowed his departmental attorneys to make specious arguments in court, and has disregarded his responsibility to uphold the rule of law.

The United States Attorney General is not the personal attorney of the President. He represents the American people and is to be guided in doing so by the U.S. Constitution and the other laws of this great land. The AG is responsible for seeing that the laws are carried out impartially and that law enforcement is independent of political influence.

I served as attorney general of Idaho for eight years and understand the need for the top legal officer of a governmental entity to stand up for the rule of law. A person fulfilling that role is often pressured or implored to do the bidding of his or her party but doing so is ethically and legally wrong. When the AG acts in a partisan manner it seriously erodes public confidence is our legal system.

Right from the start, Barr violated his ethical responsibility to recuse himself from all aspects of the Mueller investigation. Even though Jeff Sessions had many serious failings as attorney general, he understood that he was too closely aligned with the President to oversee that investigation. Barr telegraphed how he viewed that proceeding before his appointment, likely got appointed precisely because of that, and has acted as the President’s chief cheerleader ever since.

Despite Mueller’s disclosure of strong evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice, including the President’s directive to White House counsel Don McGhan to commit the felony offense of lying to federal investigators, Barr improperly exonerated the President. It is no wonder that over a thousand former federal prosecutors signed a statement saying that Mueller had made a powerful case for Trump’s indictment on obstruction charges.

Barr’s disregard of ethical standards has been on full display during the unfolding scandal over the citizenship question on the 2020 census. It was clear from the start that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was lying about the reason for wanting the question. It was for raw political purposes. Three federal district courts found Ross to have lied, as did the appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. Barr forced his attorneys to repeatedly lie as to the source and reason for the question, knowing that it was not in keeping with the Constitution’s directive for the census.

Rather than fessing up for his department’s frequent repetition of the lies to numerous federal judges, Barr has been trying to come up with additional contrived excuses for trying to corrupt the census. It is like the police officer who pulls over a speeder only to hear numerous alternate reasons for why the car was going too fast--being chased, new tires, medical emergency, bad speedometer, yada, yada, yada.

Despite knowing the law requires young asylum seekers to be provided safe and sanitary living conditions, Barr’s attorneys tried to convince a panel of federal judges that imprisoned migrant kids did not need soap, toothbrushes and sleep. The judges were all dumbfounded as to how that constituted proper care, as all of the rest of us should be. The AG has a moral and legal obligation to comply with the law rather than to try to justify its breach.

Our AG has turned out to be a political lap dog, rather than an advocate for the rule of law, which has made our legal system the envy of the world. With Barr in charge, the luster is wearing off fast.
 

A nod to the Birchers

rainey

One of the professional pleasures I’ve enjoyed in broadcasting and writing opinion journalism has been the freedom to occasionally chew on the nut cases of the far right. That enjoyment has been especially heightened when one or more ”targets” gets all outraged and feels personally persecuted.

That was especially true in the late 1960's when the targets were often the Birchers and Liberty Lobby as they railed against “Communists-behind-every-tree” and “big government taking away our freedoms.” They made an awful noise.

While I still enjoy targeting those “paranoid patriots,” I’ve lately begun to feel some of their pain. My pain, however, has a more solid basis in fact than those conspiracy believers.

We’re seeing more and more evidence that government, at all levels, has taken on the role of master rather than constitutional servant. It’s happening along the Potomac and it’s happening - in spades - in Idaho.

Case in point: the legally protected right of the people to make laws by referendum and to do so freely.

The traditional Idaho Republican-controlled legislature tried to make future public petition efforts nearly impossible. In plain language, to stop the public from exercising a constitutional guarantee so legislators can do their work without “interference.”

The basis for Republican efforts to castrate the public referendum process was in response to the overwhelming 2018 success of a petition drive to expand Medicaid coverage. But, with petitions still warm on the desk, Republicans quickly moved to kill the idea. And, to clamp down on future petition drives to make sure John and Jane Q. Public would face more hurdles trying again. On anything.

Gov. Little vetoed one bill but for the wrong reason. He agreed with content but feared expensive court challenges - and high defense costs sure to come - challenges that would likely be successful as they have been in other states. Little tried to mollify both Republican legislative friends and the public. Most Idahoans wanted the referendum bills killed. So, the GOPers in the Statehouse went back to work, rewriting for another try.

Little signed a Medicaid expansion bill which tries to add work requirements. Even if the feds approve, there’ll be a court fight on that one, too. More tax dollars down the rat hole. Little didn’t seem to care how high the legal bills will be on that one. Wonder why.

Utah and several other states have been involved in similar efforts to mute public input and kill attempts to expand Medicaid in their locales, even after similar overwhelming public support.

One can sense the deformed hand of the American Legislative Exchange Council in all this. ALEC. Funded by billionaires and large corporations, ALEC works with state legislatures and Congress - and some local governments - creating and passing out copies of “master” bills to do this-and-that. Nearly always something for the “fat cats” at the expense of the public.

ALEC has positioned itself as a sort of another level of government. I’d guess most of the public would be strongly opposed to ALEC if it knew ALEC existed and why. But, most folks don’t.

There are many cases in which our national government actively works against the interests of most of us. Though reliable public polling may show large majorities supporting a national issue like needing immediate action on climate change, Congress - especially the Senate - ignores it. If we overwhelmingly oppose something like the Kavanaugh SCOTUS nomination - they’ll do it anyway.

Members of Congress - especially many Republicans - have sealed themselves off from voters. Try to get Idaho Senators Risch or Crapo on the phone. Even harder, to meet with them face-to-face. When’s the last time they took questions at a constituent meeting? Or, even had a legitimate constituent meeting? Same in Utah with Lee and Romney.

Many elected officials - especially federal - have separated themselves from citizens. You see more and more instances of the “servant” becoming the “master.” Rather than responding to issues and concerns of the populace, we see governments - especially the elected portions thereof - going their own way while ignoring our input.

Added to this, we have a racist, narcissistic, chronic liar in the Oval Office hellbent on destroying any parts of government he doesn’t like. Which is most of it. And, he’s telling various authorities of that government to lie and ignore federal laws - even subpoenas - to get done whatever he wants done.

In the ‘50's and ‘60's, the Birchers and others were wrong. At the top of their voices. We’ve not been devoured by Communism, we haven’t needed the gold standard and their hero, Joe McCarthy, was a sick, loud-mouthed drunk who enjoyed destroying people.

But, they may have been onto something with their fear of government turning on the people and challenging some of our freedoms.

I’ll give ‘em that. But, that’s all.
 

Championing Trump’s new world order

johnson

Sometimes, what appears to be a minor change in political direction turns out to be a historic turning point.

Did most Americans in 1933 realize that the slew of legislation that flew through Congress in the first 100 days of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency would shape the American political environment for decades? The New Deal was a marketing slogan, but the legislation behind the words continues to define the Democratic Party.

Did most Americans know that an obscure Supreme Court decision in January 1976 involving little understood aspects of campaign finance law — Buckley v. Valeo — would become the triggering event that transformed American politics, leading eventually to “dark money” and vast amounts of unregulated cash perverting democracy?

Political change rarely comes quickly or decisively, but most often plays out over time in fits and starts. The Age of Trump may be an exception to that rule.

Will historians look back on President Donald Trump’s tenure as a blip or a head spinning turning point? In one area — foreign policy — I’d bet on chaotic turning point. And Idahoans have, if they choose to pay attention, a front row seat to this turning point with their junior senator now chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Yet, Jim Risch seems wholly content to get along and go along with the chaos in American foreign policy rather than make even a feeble effort to shape the direction.

As proof that we have arrived at a historic point rather than a one-off deviation from norm, consider the fact that the party of “tear down this wall,” Ronald Reagan’s famous challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, has transformed itself into a party that not only tolerates, but meekly acquiesces to the former KGB operative who seeks to re-establish the Russian empire. And a Republican president willingly helps him.

Beyond the stunning and unequivocal conclusions of the Mueller report regarding Russian election interference, including the widespread distribution of disinformation designed to sow discord and help elect Trump, there is other growing evidence of Vladimir Putin’s “grand strategy” to reassert Russian influence in a host of ways.

A new analysis prepared for the U.S. military reads like something Reagan would have reacted to: “Contrary to conventional analysis, after two decades under Putin, Russia represents an ideological challenge to the West, not just a political and military rivalry. Although NATO continues to possess impressive overmatch against Moscow, that edge is dwindling, and Western vulnerabilities in certain military areas are alarming. Moreover, the unwillingness of Western experts and governments to confront the ideological — as well as political and military — aspects of our rivalry with Putinism means that the threat of significant armed conflict is rising.”

The key phrase there is “the unwillingness . . . to confront.” Trump this week verbally assaulted the British prime minister and the UK’s ambassador to Washington for the handling of Brexit, the still pending UK withdrawal from the European Union, and for a leaked series of British assessments of Trump and his administration. But there has never been even a mild rebuke from the president for Russian actions. Instead, Trump recently joked with Putin about not again interfering in an American election and, of course, Putin favors anything weakening European unity.

As for the Brit ambassador who reported to London that stories of chaos in the Trump White House were mostly true and that Washington has become an unreliable ally, the president Tweeted: “The wacky Ambassador that the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we are thrilled with, a very stupid guy.”

After Trump repeatedly praised Putin before his election as “a strong leader” and someone he could make great deals with, Trump dismissed all the U.S. intelligence agency’s belief that Russia interfered in his election. “I have President Putin here,” Trump said in that surreal moment in Helsinki in July 2018. “He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be. ... ”

Trump recently questioned the long-standing U.S.-Japan mutual defense agreement and he has repeatedly diminished the NATO alliance that has kept the peace in Europe for 75 years. He has shredded relations with France, Canada and even Australia. Yet after North Korea’s murdering dictator called Trump mentally deranged, a dotard, a gangster and a frightened dog, the president chose to coo over the “love letters” between the two, while angling for yet another face-to-face meeting.

In almost all of the post-war period, the Republican Party has claimed the mantle of being strong on national security and the GOP language about protecting American interests often put Democrats on the defensive. Republicans routinely assaulted their opponents for opposing expensive weapons systems. Republican Steve Symms made hay with such issues when he defeated Democrat Frank Church in 1980 in the most celebrated Idaho Senate race ever.

Yet, the challenge presented by Putin and his fellow autocrats must be countered with more than military might, as the new Pentagon report makes profoundly clear. “Political objectives matter to the Kremlin in a zero-sum worldview,” the report asserts. “For Russia to win, the U.S. has to lose.”

Or as the writer Philip Rotner wrote recently: “Trump’s retreat from the values that defined the post-World War II era of American exceptionalism has immediate negative consequences, above and beyond the long-term damage it does to America’s unique place in the world (as if that weren’t enough).

“It’s a gift to the tyrants of the world. It gives them the one thing they most covet: Impunity.”

So where is Idaho’s Risch during this historic transformation of U.S. foreign policy? I’ll remind you, again, that he said recently that “Russia is the most overrated country in the world.” Putin must love to hear a conservative Republican in the foreign policy establishment say such things because the Russian knows where he wants to go even if the senator does not.

Risch has explicitly rejected the kind of activist role in shaping foreign policy that marked Church’s long career, as well as that of Idaho’s William Borah in the interwar period. He has the title of chairman, but he is clearly a figurehead, content to win re-election next year by embracing all things Trumpian.

History will not treat either of them well.
 

Bill Roden

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Bill Roden’s obituary told a story about him I can’t recall ever having heard, certainly not from him, and it may explain a lot about who he was and why he had the effect on people he did.

During World War II, internment camps were set up around the American west to hold large numbers of Japanese-Americans. Roden’s parents, then federal employees, were among those assigned to manage the camps - first one in Topaz, Utah, then at Hunt in Idaho - and their young boy came with them. Roden’s parents were deeply opposed to the internment, and in protest they moved in with the Japanese while working there, bringing their son with them. That was how Roden spent part of his childhood: Absorbing what happens when we treat people so abominably.

He didn’t forget. A quarter-century later, as a state senator in Idaho, he wrote and pushed through the state’s first civil rights law.

Roden, who died on July 8 at 90, has been known in more recent years for other things, such as being the most influential Idaho lobbyist of the last half-century. But to chat and drink coffee with him, as I have over the years, is to see the two aspects of the man as one.

Back in the 80s and early 90s I occasionally cobbled together lists of the most influential lobbyists, usually based on recommendations from legislators. The lists were always interesting to compile, but not because of any curiosity about whose name would be on top of the list. That was always Bill Roden. And it wasn’t because of his client roster or his deep contacts at the Statehouse; it had more to do with the sense you got of the integrity and decency of the man. The irony is that although he once was an elected official - a state senator, the last one elected by all of Ada County when it was a single legislative district - and a highly capable one at that, it’s what he did in the decades after that made him such a major figure in Idaho.

When Martin Peterson and I wrote a book about the 100 most influential Idahoans in the state’s history, he made that list too, at number 83 - one of the few people still living we allowed on the list. Roden would be on that list today, though no longer among the living.

Here’s some of what we wrote about him in 2012:

“How to assess the influence of a lobbyist, who pursues not so much an individual, personal agenda, but rather that of an employer; and whose influence is filtered through that of the people he tries to influence? How to do it, moreover, when much of what that lobbyist does is far from visible, when his actions leave only subtle traces? There’s no perfect answer.”

But we argued that Bill Roden, a Boise attorney, and central figure in Idaho government and politics for half a century and more, clearly had enormous impact: “When it comes to persuading the Idaho legislature to do something, Roden has for decades been considered the top pick by far. That surely translates to placement on this list.”

Roden set the pattern and mold for lobbying in Idaho’s capital, which - owing in no small part to his influence - tends to be a good deal more straightforward and honorable than many Idahoans might suspect. But he also quietly advocated for many things and served in all kinds of civic roles. He was one of those people who helped to keep the peace when politics would get a little too ugly and intense.

We need more Bill Rodens around these days. We really need them.
 

Waiver season

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It’s summer, so it’s time for wilderness hikes, river floats, stream fishing and reading Medicaid waiver applications.

Many don’t believe it, but the Federal government is our partner in Medicaid. It is a Federal law, but states have a say. Heck, if Idaho wanted to we could withdraw from the whole program. We could thumb our noses at the $1.8 Billion Federal dollars we get every year to provide care for our severely disabled, aged poor and pregnant women. Many legislators vote against the budget. In fact, Idaho House Republicans split evenly this year on approving the Medicaid budget. If they really don’t want to participate in the program I’d like to see them come out and vote to end the partnership. But they haven’t been so bold.

Instead, they asked our state agencies, the Department of Insurance and the Department of Health and Welfare to work to modify the plan approved by voters, simple Medicaid Expansion. These proposed modifications will need approval of the Trump Administration, and they will need to be lawful, that is, follow the law of the land. Of course, the Trump Administration could approve an unlawful waiver request. Then someone would need to sue to get a judge to interpret the legality.

The first waiver application is “Idaho Coverage Choice”. The DOI has closed their comment period, but now the DHW has learned they must apply for a waiver for this program also, so their comment period is open. This modification to Simple Medicaid Expansion would allow folks between 100-138% of the Federal Poverty Level who currently have health insurance through the exchange to choose: either enroll in Medicaid or “keep your insurance” on the Idaho Exchange. It is estimated this would affect about 18,000 Idahoans.

I’m all for giving people choices. But this program would be very costly to our federal government. If you read the reports from DOI and DHW they claim a “savings” for the budget. But the savings claimed are reduced tax credits and subsidies when people go OFF the exchange and enroll in Medicaid. Doesn’t it make sense that the more people we moved that direction, the more we would save?

Their own figures claim an average “cost” of tax credits and subsidies for exchange enrollees Per Member Per Month between $430-$802. But they also estimate the cost of enrollment in Medicaid PMPM would range $212-$496. It’s pretty clear to me this proposed waiver would not be budget neutral for taxpayers.

There is no mention of other costs to those who choose to “keep their insurance”, like deductibles, copays, out of network fees that insurance companies use to try to keep their costs down and reduce “overuse”. I guess that’s because it comes out of their own pockets.

Why would conservative Idaho Republicans want to offer people the freedom of choice of more costly health insurance on the taxpayers’ dime? If the real reason for this “Idaho Coverage Choice” plan is to save some enrollees on the exchange, effort would be better placed to make plans more affordable for folks above 200% FPL who buy insurance on the exchange. They are going uninsured in droves. Can’t blame them; the subsidy and tax credit tables need a big adjustment. But that would take a congress that wants to fix the Affordable Care Act. Republicans won’t go there and Democrats are too busy wanting to abolish private insurance or promote “Medicare for All”.

It’s no mystery why Medicaid health insurance is cheaper than private plans. Medicaid and Medicare set what they pay. Providers either take the low payment or refuse to participate. Private insurers are stuck negotiating with providers. Moreover, reducing costs reduces their cash flow.

I appreciate the Idaho legislature trying to make some innovative changes to the health payment system. But choice, in this case, is too expensive.

There are many more waivers coming. Stay tuned.