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Posts published in October 2019

Family values criminals

rainey

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen many Republican politicians arrested, charged, found guilty and hauled off to jail. So many, in fact, it makes one wonder why.

Oh, there’s an occasional Democrat here and there. But, the majority of the felonious miscreants come from the GOP. So, again, why?

Here in our Arizona desert desolation, we have a doozy. The guy’s name is Paul Petersen. He’s our Maricopa County Assessor - at least that’s his day job. Maricopa County is some 4-million souls. But, Petersen has not been around much lately. A check of the pass for his private spot in the Maricopa County parking lot shows its been used only 59 days this year.

Republican Peterson is now hidden in a federal slammer somewhere looking at 60 felony charges in three states - Arizona, Utah and Arkansas.

The litany of charges reads like this: smuggling 70 women from the Marshall Islands to the above states for private financial gain; aiding and abetting the same; wire fraud; committing federal visa fraud and money laundering. And, he charged each of the women $40,000 for his services!

As I said, county assessor seems to be only his day job.

By education, Peterson is an attorney. So, too, was his father, David. We’ll get to David shortly.

In sum, the 62 counts arise from Paul’s apparent scheme of finding pregnant women in the Marshalls, convincing them to come to the states ( charging $40,000 each), having babies and putting them up for adoption. Then, he charged the parents-to-be a separate fee which, according to indictments, brought his take to several million dollars.

He had a couple of women accomplices; one in the Marshalls to do the scouting and lining up the mothers-to-be and another, stateside, to make medical admissions in the three states and find applicants for the baby sales. We’re told the pregnant women were kept in private houses under very crowded and unsanitary conditions. Near as the feds can tell, this has been going on for about nine years!

Then, there’s David Peterson, the pater. David, another Republican, got himself into the Arizona State Senate, representing Mesa in the ‘90's and rose to the rank of majority whip for a term or two. But, his day job was running a non-profit called Family Services Committee which sponsored - wait for it - adoptions. David even got several bills passed into law that speeded up the Arizona adoption process and got taxpayer dollars to recruit adoptive families.

Then, David was elected State Treasurer. He sent his son, Paul, to college to get his law degree and Paul decided his specialty would be - wait for it again - adoption law.

Father David was also running Arizona Communities of Character Council and Arizona Character Council Foundation where he managed to secure more taxpayer dollars, according to the state’s largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic.

David fielded calls and faxes from his State Treasurer’s office and clocked many hundreds of miles for what he called “community updates” representing his non-profits mixed with some legitimate state treasurer’s business. He kept his personal involvement in the “non-profit” business a closely guarded secret. The Republic described him as a “ pitchman who didn’t understand boundaries between state and personal business.”

After several years, David Petersen’s double life leaked out and he was forced to resign from public office.

Meantime, son Paul became a fixture in state GOP politics, holding several positions before running for - and winning - the Maricopa County Assessor’s office. And he, too, had this “little non-profit business” on the side. Also, “unknown to nearly everyone,” we’re told.

Martha McSally, one of our current U.S. Senators also had run-ins with legal authorities when, in the Arizona Legislature, she messed around with campaign funds for something other than campaigns. She lost her race for the Senate but our GOP Governor appointed her to fill in the remainder of the late John McCain’s term, regardless of the previous voter rejection.

Current U.S. GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, was re-elected in 2018 despite several federal indictments for using campaign dollars for lavish living. Chris Collins, a House member from New York, also was re-elected in 2018 regardless of his guilty plea to insider stock trading. He resigned just before going to jail.

There are other Republicans who’ve been charged with felonies or have otherwise been forced from federal or state offices. As previously noted, there’s been a Democrat or two but the GOP is way ahead in miscreant body count.

It’s also worth noting the national GOPer’s in or headed to the hoosegow. Manafort and Ryan are only the best known of the convicted. There are others. Some have served their sentences. Others await the judge’s decision. Looks like Rudy G. may possibly be headed to involuntary confinement, too. Along with a couple of his co-workers in this country and abroad.

And, who can forget our President. The top Republican himself may be headed the same way. Hard to tell these days with so many details breaking so quickly. The next few weeks and months will largely determine his fate.

Meantime, the federal lockup where Paul Petersen is being kept is a law enforcement secret, I’m told David still resides in the Mesa area. Might be worth one of your famous phone calls, DT. Professional courtesy.
 

The jig is up

richardson

With a possible few exceptions, Republicans in the House and Senate have known from the get-go that Trump is a walking time bomb, a well-lit fuse that could explode at any time on any given day.

But the ubiquitous polls told them Trump had an iron grip on his base. So they pretended otherwise. They may have pretended so well that they actually convinced themselves.

No matter. The jig is up.

In the aftermath of a single phone call with Turkey strongman Erdogan, Trump abruptly announced that the U.S. would be leaving town, abandoning the Kurds who -- in the thousands -- had died to help us defeat ISIS. Never mind that the Kurds had trusted us, that we had promised to protect them in exchange for their sacrifice, and that we were leaving them defenseless, vulnerable to almost certain slaughter.

Trump walked away from our allies as easily as if he were stiffing a room full of building contractors.

Trump has repeatedly bragged that he is a "very stable genius," who knows more about everything than anyone. Someone with his “great and unmatched wisdom” didn't need to consult with anyone at the Departments of State or Defense, or leadership of germane congressional committees, or our international allies. He could do what he damn well pleased. And it pleased him to make Erdogan and Putin happy.

But the bull in the china shop routine proved disastrous, and now Trump’s enablers in Congress are clutching their pearls and acting aghast at the unfolding tragedy in Syria. These folks need a big dose of reality; something like this was always on the verge of happening in Trump world; it was only a matter of time.

Now Mike Pence, with his practiced look of wounded pride, tells us that the Trump Administration did not "green light" Turkey's attack on the Kurds. The hell it didn't.

The Republicans in the House and Senate crossed their fingers and hoped against hope that they could get through Trump's first term without a foreign policy catastrophe. They can uncross their fingers; their hope was to no avail.

The only silver lining to this foreign policy mess was that Trump’s foolhardy trust-my-gut and go-it-alone action didn’t involve the nuclear option – at least not this time, at least not yet.
 

Blood on the floor

johnson

On April 6, 2017 President Donald Trump ordered a cruise missile strike on airfields in Syria in response to Syrian dictator Basher al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Idaho Senator Jim Risch immediately praised Trump’s action as “a game changer” that signaled a new American approach to the entire Middle East and would impress the international community.

“The airstrikes of April 6 were a good first step,” Risch wrote the next day in piece in TIME, “but the United States must go further to push back against Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran. This will require a more comprehensive strategy toward Syria.”

Risch went on: “We also need to build and support a coalition that can effectively ensure the safety of Syrians at home and ensure neither Assad nor the Islamic State can destabilize the country. This would include working with our Turkish allies and Syrian opposition, and supporting Kurdish forces fighting on the ground against both the Islamic State and Assad’s forces.”

The senator, now the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, assured us that the “Trump Administration has proven to the people of Syria, and the world, that the United States is once again willing to confront growing instability and inhumanity.”

Of course, Risch could not have been more wrong as events of the last week gruesomely prove. In fact Risch has displayed a stunning combination of ignorance and arrogance over the last two and half years in his unconditional support for the administration’s persistently failing foreign policy.

Not only has Risch been wrong about Syria, but also about Iran, North Korea, China and a dozen other places where the chaotic and feckless Trump foreign policy has produced one disaster after another, fracturing what is left of U.S. global leadership, strengthening Russia, creating the opening for a revived ISSI, weakening NATO and leaving America increasingly without dependable friends in the world.

Perhaps never before in Idaho political history has one member of the state’s congressional delegation been in such a position of potential power and influence at such a perilous time and squandered it all in subservience to a failed president. It is simply a shocking display of political and moral misconduct.

Risch has made much of his access to the president, regularly bragging about his phone calls, briefings and ability to influence Trump. As Risch told the Idaho Press’s Betsy Russell recently he intends to maintain influence with Trump by never uttering a public criticism. Well, if Risch’s logic is correct and he is only able to exert influence over U.S. foreign policy by not exercising independent leadership then he also owns the outcome of Trump’s disastrous policy.

We should assume that Risch is in the group that David Sanger, the New York Times national security correspondent, wrote about this week. “Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave.”

Among the many Trumpian disasters arising from the precipitous decision to cut a run on the Kurds in Syria is the opportunity it affords Vladimir Putin to obtain what every Russian leader since Stalin has desired – a lead role in the Middle East.

“Putin continues to get whatever he wants and generally doesn’t even have to do much,” said a NATO official quoted by the Washington Post. “He got to sit back and watch the Turks and the Americans unravel five years of success and not only did it not cost him anything, he didn’t even have to try to make it happen. Small wonder he’d interfere on Trump’s side in an election.”

And here is Martin Indyk, a two-time U.S. ambassador to Israel, writing this week in Foreign Policy: “The Trump administration likes to see itself as clear-eyed and tough-minded, a confronter of the hard truths others refuse to acknowledge. In fact, it understands so little about how the Middle East actually works that its bungling efforts have been a failure across the board. As so often in the past, the cynical locals are manipulating a clueless outsider, advancing their personal agendas at the naive Americans’ expense.”

“So, Turkey and the Kurds have been fighting for hundreds of years,” Trump said this week. “We are out of there.” That may well turn out to be “the Trump Doctrine.”

For days the junior senator from Idaho said exactly nothing beyond an innocuous, boilerplate statement of “serious concern” about Turkey’s invasion of Syria in the wake of U.S. troop departures. By week’s end he was promising to introduce “soon” legislation to sanction Turkey, but without acknowledgment that the president himself had made such legislation necessary.

Meanwhile, daily revelations about Ukraine continue, a scandal that one commentator reduced to its essence: “The president’s personal lawyer was paid by crooked businessmen from a foreign country, and then the president gave him authority over American policy toward that country. This is precisely what the founders meant by ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” Risch has not answered a demand from Democratic members of his committee that he hold hearings on this debacle and he dodges questions about his views.

When Boise State Public Radio reporter Heath Druzin attempted last week to ask Risch about the appropriateness of an American president asking a foreign leader to gin up dirt on a political opponent, Risch refused to engage. “I’m not going there,” he said before walking away and then adding “Don’t do that again.”

In a subsequent interview with KBOI Radio’s Nate Shelman, a venue where conservatives comfortably expect to be offered up softballs, Risch fell back on the oldest and most discredited line in American politics. Shelman asked Risch if pulling U.S. troops and green lighting Turkish attacks on the Kurds was correct. “I’m not in the position right now to criticize,” Risch said, “what I want to do is get behind our troops and get behind our commander, and where we are right now and get us to a better place.”

Trump has facilitated a wholesale disaster in Syria that will ripple and roll across the region for years. American credibility has never been lower or our security so abruptly and catastrophically threatened.

But politically Jim Risch relies up on the same thing Donald Trump counts on – the credulity and partisanship of supporters, each man hoping they can get away with fomenting a catastrophe because, well, in the name of Trump they can do anything.

Little wonder Risch wants to avoid answering legitimate questions about the president. He’s like a guy caught at the scene of a crime that wants you to believe he’s had nothing to do with all the blood on the floor.

—–0—–

(Note: Since this piece was written a “cease fire” was agreed to by the Turkish government. Senator Risch applauded that move – without referring to the president – and said the situation remains “very fluid.” But as Eric Schmidt and David Sanger wrote in the Times: “The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.”)
 

The sensible and the difficult

stapiluslogo1

We may see soon where excellent intentions and well-crafted proposals run up against the wall of Idaho politics. Or will those intentions this time blast through it?

The story leading up to this began in mid-April, when the on-line East Idaho News published a series of articles on collection of medical debt in the area, under headlines such as “Medical debt nightmare: Why a local woman could end up paying over $5,550 for her $294 doctor’s visit” and “Medical debt, collections and the fees you’ve probably never heard of.” The stories were detailed and apparently well reported and, while not especially surprising to many people who have been snagged in the medical debt system, they may have shocked a number of people less familiar with the situation.

The report wasn’t wholly negative; some people reported good experiences in working with collectors structuring payments on what they owed. The articles focused on a local company called Medical Recovery Services, which it said differed from many of its counterparts in its approach to supplemental attorneys’ fees. These are fees beyond basic court costs which the debtor often already is on the hook for. One article noted, “Once the debt and prejudgment fees are paid off, you may think that would be the end of it, but that’s not always the case. Idaho Code 12-120 allows attorneys to continue seeking post-judgment or supplemental attorney fees to pay for continued efforts by attorneys to pursue a debt. And these requested fees are typically much higher than prejudgment fees.” And the can mean the costs of appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The articles got the attention of Frank VanderSloot, chief executive of Melaleuca at Idaho Falls and reported to be the wealthiest man in Idaho. One reported case involved a Melaleuca employee who owed a medical debt of $294 but then - after MRS got into the case - was socked with $5,864.25 in legal fees.

After the articles ran, VanderSloot wrote in an open letter that he and his wife, “decided that we simply cannot stand by and allow our neighbors to go through the kind of financial duress and emotional pain that is apparently being perpetrated by MRS.” He backed that up with $500,000 toward a defense fund aimed at helping the medically indebted. Costs in this area being what they are, that money burned through quickly, and VanderSloot recently added another $500,000 to the cause.

That’s been a fine public service and no doubt has helped quite a few people. But VanderSloot also evidently recognized that one person’s (even one wealthy person’s) contribution isn’t enough to solve the problem. So this month, at a gathering of well-connected Eastern Idaho leaders (including a large share of the Idaho Legislature), VanderSloot said he was backing legislation to change medical debt collection law in Idaho.

The measure would, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported, “put limits on attorneys’ fees in medical debt cases; to require health care providers to send out bills and notify patients of services rendered within 30 days; and to require, within another 30 days after that, that a hospital or other health care facility send a patient a consolidated notice containing the names and contact information of all health care providers that are billing them.”

It reads like an injection of simple fairness into the system.

But then VanderSloot said: “I can’t imagine very much objection to this, given every single family is affected by this one way or the other.” Though he’s of course right about the given, objections likely will be there nonetheless. This is the kind of consumer regulation action that for years has had a hard time gaining traction in the Idaho Legislature.

And that’s not all. MRS is tightly associated with and represented by the law firm, Smith, Driscoll & Associates; the top name partner is Bryan Smith, a former candidate for Congress who has been deeply active in the upper reaches of Idaho Republican politics. One of the attorneys in that firm, and MRS’ registered agent, is Bryan Zollinger, a state representative. MRS, in other words, is pretty well connected too.

Remember: The income streams of a number of people are at stake here. What looks like sensible and humane reform to many (likely most) people will look like a threat to others.

VanderSloot may prevail at the Statehouse. But when he arrives he should be ready for a battle, because he’ll likely get one.
 

Social studies homework

schmidt

“You ready?” Blanche called back to Dennis. “C’mon, I want to get to Walmart. Bring your homework, you can do it there.”

Dennis came out in his sweatshirt and ball cap. He grabbed his school backpack as he passed the kitchen table.

On the way into town Blanche asked him, “You know what you’re supposed to do?”

“Yeah, remember, I told you last night. You even had me practice on you.”

“I didn’t know nothing, did I?” Blanche and Dennis laughed.

“No, you didn’t. But at least you didn’t yell at me.”

“So that’s what’s got you worried. Now if you are polite and talk to people straight, not mumble people will be polite to you. Oh, and always remember to smile.”

Dennis still seemed worried. Blanche thought it was a pretty odd homework assignment. She asked, “You know all the answers to them questions?”

He nodded. “I got an “A” on the test.”

Blanche whistled. “Ain’t you something.”

They parked in the Walmart parking lot and the early Saturday shoppers were in full force. “You know,” Blanche offered, “You could offer to help them out with their groceries and ask them the questions then.”

Dennis nodded. Blanche clapped him on his shoulder. “Well, you get at it. I’ll go shopping.”

Blanche went in the doors and Dennis got out his clipboard.

“Excuse me sir, can I ask you some questions? I have a homework assignment.”

The grey-haired man grinned as he slowly pushed his cart into the lot.

“I won’t be getting you in trouble if I help you with your homework, will I?”

“No sir, you see, that’s the assignment, to ask you some questions. It’s for my social studies class.”

“Well you go right ahead.”

Dennis started reading from his clip board, pencil in hand. “Do you live in Latah County?”

“Yup” Dennis checked a box.

“Do you vote?”

“Always” Dennis checked another box.

“Do you know who represents you in the Idaho legislature?”

“That’s a tough one. I think it’s that Risch guy and maybe there’s a new guy, I think it’s Fullmer.”

Dennis frowned and studied his sheet.

“How about who the Governor of Idaho is.”

“Oh, that’s easy, Butch.”

Dennis frowned again, not sure what to write. “Is that his last name?”

“No sonny, it’s Otter, Butch Otter.” The old man grinned. “He’s been for a long time, you know that.”

“OK, thanks. Can I help you with those bags?”

Dennis had a sheet of paper for each interview, so he slid out a new one as he approached the mom with three small kids. She was frowning so he smiled, then she did too. “Can I ask you some questions for my homework?”

“What kind of questions?”

“It’s for social studies.”

“Well, you go ahead.”

She said she didn’t vote but it turned out she knew two out of the three state legislators and three of the four Idaho congressmen. “Hope you get a good grade,” she called to him as she belted in a toddler. “You sure are brave to be out here asking questions.”

“Yes ma’am. Thank you.”

He ran into some folks from Washington so he had to excuse himself. Then he asked the older woman with a near empty cart. He offered to help her and she agreed to answer his questions.

“Oh yes, I vote, always vote straight Democrat.” She smiled absently. She couldn’t name a single representative at the state level or in Congress, but it didn’t bother her a bit. “I don’t read the paper anymore, I just watch the TV. Can you believe that Trump character?” Dennis helped her put the bags in the trunk.

Blanche asked him on the way home, “What did you learn?”

Dennis frowned. He wasn’t sure how he was going to write his report.

“It seems to me some of the folks who vote shouldn’t, and some of the folks who don’t ought to.”
 

Blame-shifting

politicalwords

Just a joke? Sounds like gaslighting to me.
► internet meme

A Google search results for blame-shifting also brings up the phrase “blame-shifting and gaslighting,” which suggested that an opening word about gaslighting also is in order.

It entered our common vocabulary in 1944 with the movie Gaslight, a thriller in which a treasure hunter who has committed murder is at risk of being found out by his bride – who he attempts to manipulate by adjusting her perception of reality to the point that she begins to doubt her own sanity. (The “gaslight” here is a reference to his ploy of turning up or down the light, then denying it had happened, leading the bride to think she was misunderstanding reality.)

Wikipedia lists these as the most common strategies a gaslighter may use:

“Hiding: The abuser may hide things from the victim and cover up what they have done. Instead of feeling ashamed, the abuser may convince the victim to doubt their own beliefs about the situation and turn the blame on themselves. Changing: The abuser feels the need to change something about the victim. Whether it be the way the victim dresses or acts, they want the victim to mold into their fantasy. If the victim does not comply, the abuser may convince the victim that he or she is in fact not good enough. Control: The abuser may want to fully control and have power over the victim. In doing so, the abuser will try to seclude them from other friends and family so only they can influence the victim’s thoughts and actions.”

The concept has been richly mined over the years, mostly in fiction (it was even turned into an episode of the old Dick Van Dyke Show), but it has become a significant factor in politics. As an article in Vox explained, “The term ‘gaslighting’ has gotten thrown around a lot over the past year, mostly in reference to political campaign tactics – when candidates claimed something had (or hadn’t) happened, and refused, when confronted with contradictory evidence, to acknowledge otherwise. Lauren Duca most famously wrote about the term for Teen Vogue in a piece titled ‘Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America,’ for which she caught some heat and also raised the profile of Teen Vogue.”

Blame-shifting, an age-old device in human personal relationships, adds a small twist into the concept.

In this version, the viewpoint of the victim (or observer) is changed not only to disorient, but to shift guilt from the actual perpetrator to someone else – often the victim. This too increasingly has come to the fore in politics. A definition (from the psychopathfree.com) on the personal level: “Blame-shifting is when a person does something wrong or inappropriate, and then dumps the blame on someone else to avoid taking responsibility for their own behavior.” The article lists five techniques – tactics for this mental jujitsu – including playing victim, minimizing feelings, arguing about the argument, telling self-pitying stories and “the stink bomb” (a major, loaded, counter-accusation).

All of this has clear political application; look around many ideological web sites and you’ll find larger or smaller examples of it.

One such case was raised by Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, after the Senate hearing for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, when his accuser Christine Blasey Ford fielded criticism from Kavanaugh’s defenders:

“Right-wing male politicians such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) have the audacity to declare that Ford has been victimized … by Democrats. (Maybe ask her?) Even if you thought that, why would anyone say such a stunningly condescending thing? Telling someone who has said she is the victim of a sexual assault whom she should and should not hold responsible for her pain represents a new low in Senate Republicans’ twisted exercise in blame-shifting.”

On any given day, check the political news out of Washington and count the instances of blame-shifting. You may be surprised at the number. (Warning: Don’t try this as a drinking game.)
 

Courage and patriotism in the Senate majority?

jones

Senator Jim Risch has come around to thinking that climate change is a “very, very troubling problem.” Risch told a BSU audience on September 13 he “thinks” climate change is “a very valid theory, that it’s caused by human emissions,” and “the world’s in a very precarious situation, if that’s the case.” He agreed with a Pentagon assessment that climate change is a national security threat. This certainly indicates that we ought to take action.

Not so fast, though, because he also said that if it’s as bad as scientists say, “I don’t know that there’s anything anybody can do about it.” So, it’s bad but, golly gee wilikers, ain’t nothin’ can be done about it.

Risch did offer a solution of sorts to the students, however-- “You kids, we’re handing this off to you in not too long. So I hope you’ll study it, and I hope you’ll have the answer by the time we get there.” The picture that comes to mind is the Road Runner handing Wile E. Coyote a bomb with a short, burning fuse. Good luck, kids, it’s your problem, not those of us in a position to do something now.

When I was growing up in the Republican Party, it was considered a patriotic duty to vigorously attack existential problems confronting the country. When the Soviet Union got the hydrogen bomb in the 50s and seemed intent on taking over the world, Republicans did not cower down in their Washington offices, hoping the big bad Russians would go away. If they had, we’d all be speaking Russian now.

Presidents of both parties rallied bipartisan support in successive Congresses to appropriate billions of dollars (trillions in today’s values) to meet and eventually defeat the Soviets. At that time, we all thought there was nothing this country could not do once we set our mind to it. We have the technology now to slow global warming to the extent we can leave a habitable world to future generations of Americans. We can’t do it if we shrink back from fulfilling our patriotic responsibility to our children.

It is a colossal cop-out to say we can’t do anything to protect our kids or that they have to take care of the ticking time bomb we are handing them. American leadership can get the job done. It worked in defeating the Soviet Union and it worked in keeping the protective ozone layer at the Earth’s poles from being eroded by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are used in refrigeration. The U.S. banned CFCs in 1978 and eventually brought almost 200 countries onboard to eliminate the threat they posed to the planet. Slowing global warming will be an even bigger job, but we can do it if we can just muster the moral and political courage.

Like confronting the USSR and eliminating CFCs, the U.S. needs to work with other countries to solve this common threat. Risch and Crapo and their Republican colleagues need to speak out and educate the public as to the imminent danger. America should take the lead to build on the Paris Climate Accord, but this time with hard emission limits for each polluting nation.

The top ten polluting countries account for two-thirds of the CO2 emissions. They need to be the major focus of any agreement. Smaller polluting nations could be given targets enforced by a variety of carrots and sticks.

The hard limits for the top ten could be enforced by a variety of trade and tax provisions targeting violators. Those limits should be written into every trade agreement. For example, if a country wants to sell its goods or services in the U.S., it must be in compliance with its emission limits. The European Union is working on a variation that would tax goods brought in by a foreign firm that pollutes.

This should be accompanied by a Manhattan-style research effort for means to eliminate or sequester CO2 emissions, to store green energy and to find other solutions to fight climate change. It can be done, and it must be done before our kids are handed the job of cleaning up the mess we have created. It will then be too late. The time is now for Risch, Crapo and the Republican Senate majority to muster the courage and patriotism to protect America’s future. I’m fervently hoping those essential qualities have not gone AWOL from the Grand Old Party.
 

Keeping faith

rainey

With the possible exception of the Civil War, our nation now seems more divided, more acrimonious, more splintered and filled with outright hate than at anytime in our history.

The causes are many. Solutions seem few. Each day, it seems another dose of division is sewn into our nature and those divisions appear wider than ever. None of us can escape them. Nor should we if we’re ever to come out of this dark period intact.

But, one societal separation bothers me more than any other. And that’s the often stark divide between citizenry and law enforcement.

It’s not enough to say there’s fault on both sides. Which, of course, there is. Our suspicion of some of them and their suspicion, and on occasion, treatment of some of us seems to make the news daily.

What set this train of thought going for me was an incident that happened just down the road from our house the other day. Six local officers coordinated their morning break time to meet at a coffee shop for a latte or two. As they sat chatting, the manager came to the table and asked them to leave. Just go! Seems a customer had complained the presence of the officers was making him/her “uncomfortable.”

There’s so much wrong with this picture. Obviously the action of the manager was ridiculous. So, too, was the unreasonable request from the customer. The presence of half-a-dozen local officers was “disturbing?” Why? My first reaction to the story was what was in the customer’s mind - or background - that made him/her so “uncomfortable?” And the next thought: was the customer Black? A totally outrageous situation made worse because of the extreme ignorance of both the customer and the manager.

This dustup may be isolated. But, there’s more at play here than just a citizen complaint. While conduct between most law enforcement and most citizens on a daily basis is routine, we’ve seen many instances when it’s not. The oft-photographed murder of unarmed Black men and teens springs to mind. The difference in treatment by law enforcement on the basis of race has been well-documented. And, whenever it happens - wherever it happens - it’s wrong.

And so is this: the dangerous decisions by lawmen in many parts of the country that they’ll enforce certain laws and ignore others. Our western sheriffs are often the most strident. In Washington, Idaho, Utah and Oregon, many have not only said they won’t enforce gun laws but will actually arrest federal officers who may try to do so. Sworn to uphold all laws, some have decided to be selective. Which is illegal and sends terribly mixed messages to citizens. When is a law right and when is a right law deemed wrong? That’s what courts are for. Not cops.

The relationship of law enforcers and law abiders is one of the most important basics in a civilization. The balance is best when there’s trust demonstrated by all participants. But, when officers become selective - when they become threats to unarmed citizens through words or actions - the results can be deadly.

Similarly, citizens can also alter that delicate balance by acting inappropriately or making unreasonable demands. Our local “uncomfortable” latte drinker is one such.

In younger days, I spent a lot of nighttime hours doing “ride-alongs” with cops. I became very familiar with some of the dangers they face each shift and some of the unreported good things they do just because they’re the right kinds of people. I have a healthy respect for what they do, how they do it and why. Often dangerous work. More often, thankless work.

We need them. They need us. It’s just that simple. We may live in difficult times. We may be surrounded by politically turbulent times. We may be victims - or perpetrators - of the hateful divisions faced daily or deluged by lies and disappointments in our national politics.

But, we must strive for - earnestly work for - a continuing respect for laws and the people who enforce them. If we lose that trust - that faith - that respect one for another - not much else matters.

Anti-trust

politicalwords

A century ago, “anti-trust” was a serious political subject, a crusade even, around which political careers – Theodore Roosevelt’s to name but one – were partly or wholly built.

Today, when the concept could use serious activation more than in generations, it has become a sad joke.

Here’s a semi-clear Google definition: “relating to legislation preventing or controlling trusts or other monopolies, with the intention of promoting competition in business.”

It’s semi-clear because it begs another question in the new millennium, which is: What’s that trust thing about? We sometimes hear about trusts in the sense of “living trusts,” a personal financial structure; or a “charitable trust”, an irrevocable organization to hold funds for charitable uses; or a “land trust” which does something similar for property; or else we think of it in the sense of having confidence or faith in someone or something else (as in trusting a friend to carry out a request).

The “trust” part of “anti-trust” came from something else altogether. An 1888 academic article, reflecting the sense of that time, said a trust is “one person holding the title of property, whether land or chattels, for the benefit of another, termed a beneficiary. Nothing can be more common or more useful. But the word is now loosely applied to a certain class, of commercial agreements and, by reason of a popular and unreasoning dread of their effect, the term itself has become contaminated. This is unfortunate, for it is difficult to find a substitute for it. There may, of course, be illegal trusts; but a trust in and by itself is not illegal: when resorted to for a proper purpose, it has been for centuries enforced by courts of justice, and is, in fact, the creature of a court of equity.”

Anti-trust, then, is opposition to monopoly, which is control of a business sector by a single person or interest. In that sense, it has also been defined as a rule intended “to make sure that businesses are competing fairly.”

The interest in trusts coincided with changes in business structure; those trusts so popular toward the end of the 1800s largely have been superseded by other forms of business structure. But “trust” in the older sense was the issue at hand when, in 1890, Senator John Sherman led passage of the federal anti-trust law that still bears his name, and he proclaimed, “If we will not endure a king as a political power we should not endure a king over the production, transportation, and sale of any of the necessaries of life.” It was intended as a tool for keeping monopolies from controlling the American economy, a (per the Federal Trade Commission) “comprehensive charter of economic liberty aimed at preserving free and unfettered competition as the rule of trade.”
The Sherman law, which contained criminal as well as civil components, held some sharp teeth, useful in the hands of regulators willing to employ them. The FTC description of the law says: “The Sherman Act outlaws ‘every contract, combination, or conspiracy in restraint of trade,’ and any ‘monopolization, attempted monopolization, or conspiracy or combination to monopolize.’”

It added, “Long ago, the Supreme Court decided that the Sherman Act does not prohibit every restraint of trade, only those that are unreasonable. For instance, in some sense, an agreement between two individuals to form a partnership restrains trade, but it may not do so unreasonably, and so may be lawful under the antitrust laws. On the other hand, certain acts are considered so harmful to competition that they are almost always illegal. These include plain arrangements among competing individuals or businesses to fix prices, divide markets, or rig bids. These acts are per se violations of the Sherman Act; in other words, no defense or justification is allowed.”

The counter-argument from some business advocates is that the law is a restraint on business operations, and that when enforced it can be very costly for important businesses; both assertions are true. The counter to that is that the cost of unregulated monopoly, to consumers, fellow businesses, and the citizenry at large, can be much higher.

Anti-monopoly law was strengthened in 1914 with passage of two major laws in 1914 (the Clayton Anti-Trust Law and the Federal Trade Commission Law, setting up an enforcement agency). And there have been two more, largely strengthening, laws passed since then, Robinson-Patman in 1936 and the Cellar-Kefauver in 1950. That last was the most recent substantial legislative update on the subject.

You may have noticed a little slowdown here on the anti-monopoly front.
That slowdown has coincided with an explosion in the types of reach of business organizations and new varieties of financing and ownership. To say that federal law hasn’t kept up – most especially in the years since the rise of the internet – would be drastically undertelling the story.
That point from the Google definition about “promoting competition in business” ought to mark the law as inherently pro-free market, since the marketplace is supposed to depend and thrive on competition. In the real world, few business people relish competition unless they see a clear path to dominating or eliminating it. In the latter part of the 20th century, “anti-trust” law was steadily redefined from the pro-marketplace measure it was designed to be, to a description of a crippling regulator of business.

Chris Hughes, who co-founded Facebook, has said that anti-trust law should be used to break up that online megalith. In discussing how that law has been used less in recent years: “Starting in the 1970s, a small but dedicated group of economists, lawyers and policymakers sowed the seeds of our cynicism. Over the next 40 years, they financed a network of think tanks, journals, social clubs, academic centers and media outlets to teach an emerging generation that private interests should take precedence over public ones. Their gospel was simple: ‘Free’ markets are dynamic and productive, while government is bureaucratic and ineffective. By the mid-1980s, they had largely managed to relegate energetic antitrust enforcement to the history books. This shift, combined with business-friendly tax and regulatory policy, ushered in a period of mergers and acquisitions that created megacorporations. ... The results are a decline in entrepreneurship, stalled productivity growth, and higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.”

It can’t be said that the anti-trust – anti-monopoly, to put it more plainly – laws aren’t used at all. The Trump Administration, for example, did unveil the machinery in throwing a roadblock before the massive AT&T and Time-Warner merger (albeit that the motivations weren’t clearly centered around promoting competition).5 But that and a few other instances in recent decades are anthills compared to the mountainous mergers and combinations of recent generations – most of them excellent news for executives, insiders and some stockholders, and bad news for employees, vendors, vendors and almost everyone else.

Economist and former Clinton Administrator Labor Secretary Robert Reich warned (during the Obama Administration) that the weakness of anti-trust regulation was creating serious damage:

“Wall Street’s five largest banks now account for 44% of America’s banking assets – up from about 25% before the crash of 2008 and 10% in 1990. That means higher fees and interest rates on loans, as well as a greater risk of another “too-big-to-fail” bailout. But politicians don’t dare bust them up because Wall Street pays part of their campaign expenses,” he wrote. “Because U.S. airlines have consolidated into a handful of giant carriers that divide up routes and collude on fares. In 2005 the U.S. had nine major airlines. Now we have just four.”
And so on across the economy.

The implications of severe economic consolidation are much broader than that, and can turn frightening.

In 2018, writer Tim Wu noted, “We must not forget the economic origins of fascism, lest we risk repeating the most calamitous error of the 20th century. Postwar [World War II] observers like Senator Harley M. Kilgore of West Virginia argued that the German economic structure, which was dominated by monopolies and cartels, was essential to Hitler’s consolidation of power. Germany at the time, Mr. Kilgore explained, ‘built up a great series of industrial monopolies in steel, rubber, coal and other materials. The monopolies soon got control of Germany, brought Hitler to power and forced virtually the whole world into war.’ To suggest that any one cause accounted for the rise of fascism goes too far … [but] extreme economic concentration does create conditions ripe for dictatorship.”

Power combines are not an easy thing to stand up to. The last century of American history has been ample demonstration of that.