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Posts published in June 2021

Stability, where art thou?

rainey

Maybe it’s the heat - several days of 117-degrees on our Arizona back porch - maybe it’s the age - more than four score - maybe it’s just life.

In a quiet moment this week, I’ve been thinking about stability in that life. No, it’s more like trying to find stability in our world. Still, more than that, it’s a search for honesty, integrity, accepting responsibility, personal values and the sort of continuity of life as we’ve known it.

Honesty and integrity. Can those be ascribed to many of the members of our national Congress? Not to my thinking. The political give-and-take of past years is gone. The comity. The collegiality. The overall desire to work together for the common good.

Day after day, we see members lying in public statements. And they know they’re lying. They know it! But, that doesn’t seem to matter to them. The January attack on the nation’s capitol. Pictures of the violence, the weapons, the Trump flags, members of Congress running for their lives. All of that is ingrained in our minds. We’ve seen it - witnessed it - been shocked and saddened by it.

But, still, with all that, we daily hear mostly Republican members saying it didn’t happen - nobody died - there was no theat - there was no personal danger. They look at the camera. And lie. Just plain, damned lies!

One political party has completely divorced itself from the duties of office by declaring none of the opposing party’s legislation efforts will be passed. None. Vital, necessary legislation is dying because one party refuses to accept the responsibilities of the oath each member has taken. Before we constituents. And the final words of that oath - “... so help me, God.”

Many communities are grappling with law-and-order issues. Americans - Black Americans - are dying in our streets at the hands of law enforcement out-of-control. We’re witnessing destruction, vandalism, killings on those same streets. In our community a week ago, a guy drove on several of our streets, firing randomly at cars and pedestrians. The tally - after a long chase - one dead and 12 injured.

Even our schools are under attack. State legislatures are creating laws to control school curriculums - bypassing traditional local control. We create a national holiday in remembrance of the end of slavery while - at the same time - we have people trying to stop our schools from teaching the truth about that same slavery. More instability.

Millions of people in this country have no access to health care - to housing - to vital services that should be the right of every American. The concrete sidewalks and alleys of our nation’s streets are the “beds” on which thousands upon thousands sleep each night. When extreme heat or cold keep most of us inside, they live with the elements day and night. Their very suffering causes instability in our society.

Our international relationships with many nations are unstable. Our interdependence on others for many of our needs makes us vulnerable to whatever the political “climate” is currently somewhere else. Our requirements in the marketplace rise and fall at the whims of other nations - even dictators. Access or denial can change quickly, causing instability.

Many of our financial institutions are under attack. Cyber attack. Even business, education and most forms of commerce are openly vulnerable to criminal, international hackers who can bring them to their knees with computer systems used as weapons. The dangers may come from a sophisticated foreign intelligence operation or some teen in a basement bedroom in Portland. How vulnerable is our national power grid?

Even traditional climate and the seasons are unstable. Global warming? Yes. The parched landscape of the American West lies before us - ample evidence alone of the instability that can do heavy damage to our economy.
Whether its coral reefs in the Southern oceans or rapidly dissolving ice caps threatening the world’s shoreline - evidence is everywhere. Coastal cities at home and abroad are threatened. We’re seeing islands off the Louisiana coastline disappearing, forcing residents to move inland.

Religion. Almost always in a state of flux. Last week saw Southern Baptists elect a moderate as president. We also saw the hierarchy of the American branch of the Catholic Church begin proceedings to deny the rite of communion to adult Catholics approving of abortion - even an American President because of his public acceptance of the practice, despite his personal disapproval.

Also in religion, new polling showing less than 25% of Americans identify with a specific religion. The number keeps going down. At the same time, attendance at one religious “service” or another is creeping up. Stability? No. And, it’s possible, the definition of “church” may be changing as well.

Housing? Another basic “need.” The markets - regardless of where you live - have gone crazy, pricing many people out. So called “moderate income housing” is just plain gone. Many of those markets are in a housing “bubble.” When it breaks, even more people will be hurt by conditions.

Economics, politics, commerce, religion, housing, education. You name it. We’re a nation - a world - of instability. For those of us used to a stable environment in our lives, it can be a difficult time. Sure, change is constant and inevitable. But, given Covid and other recent calamities, change seems to have accelerated and, with it, more unstable conditions with which to contend. More pressures to adjust - to accept - to change. More demands on us causing more upset in our lives.

Stability and daily comfort are in short supply these days. And, as individuals, even as a whole society, we are unable to calm daily conditions. We’re swept along in the societal currents.

A search for stability seems to be “a fool’s errand.”
 

Stronger with allies

jones

The optics of the G-7 meeting are encouraging. President Biden was warmly received by our closest allies and plans were laid to forge a joint strategy to confront China, our principal geopolitical adversary. The U.S. has dropped its go-it-alone policy and returned to its post-WWII alliance-based strategy of supporting democracies and opposing tyrannical regimes.

In the wake of WWII, the U.S. worked hard to build democracies in Germany, Japan and other autocratic countries that had been our enemies. We figured it would make America safer and stronger, as democracies would be less likely to rise up against us. The strategy greatly exceeded our expectations. Over the many years since, our Atlantic and Pacific alliances have strengthened our hand in dealing with the enemies of peace, most notably in bringing about the downfall of the Soviet Union.

During the last four years, our relations with traditional allies, both in Europe and Asia, suffered grave damage. It was more common to see the U.S. insulting our allies, than to see effective action being taken to counter the malign activity of the despots. The dysfunction in American government--a flailing, ineffective response to the pandemic, the proliferation of conspiracy-theory politics, and coddling of dictators--led many of our allies to question the viability of the American experiment.

A recent Pew Research Center poll of the people of 13 friendly nations found a remarkable jump in their favorability rating of the United States from 2020 to 2021, increasing 33% in Germany, 30% in Japan, and 26% in Canada. The return to an alliance-based foreign policy played a significant part in putting our country back on track.

However, there are lingering concerns by our allies. Polling across 16 populations found that 17% regarded the U.S. as a good example to follow. However, 57% of respondents said the U.S. “used to be a good example, but has not been in recent years.”

The upshot of the Pew poll is that our friends want to see us back as the leading nation, but they have been severely shaken by the chaos of the last four years. Especially in light of the January 6 insurrection and continuing false claims of election fraud, our friends in the world want to see us pull our nation out of the dismal swamp we have inhabited in the last few years.

This is not just a popularity contest. We inhabit a complicated world and are no longer able to go it alone. We are stronger and more resilient when we are able to count on trusted allies. We are weaker when we lose the trust of their people.

The signs are encouraging that the United States will again become the beacon that shines hope into the dark corners of the Earth. It will take hard work and steady commitment. Not everyone has to agree with every policy the new administration implements to strengthen our ties with friendly nations, but unwarranted, partisan obstruction won’t help.

An example of a positive contribution arrived in the form of a June 13 op-ed in the Washington Post, authored by Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.).

They point to Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) as a “move that brought economic uncertainty, damaged U.S. credibility among trading partners and ceded to China hard-fought economic ground in the Asia-Pacific.” They assert that we must regain our leadership in the Pacific by working hard to join the CPTTP, the trading agreement that our former partners put together following our withdrawal from the TTP. They are absolutely correct.

By embracing this positive move the Biden Administration could show the world that we are truly back in the game, that we are one with our Pacific allies and that we are ready, willing and able to compete head to head with China.
 

Listening

meador

A small drama unfolded the other day in a series of comments on a post in a popular local Facebook group. Actually, it only started as a drama — it played out as a timely and necessary conversation. And it only started as a drama because I misread an important remark.

A group member made a post asking if there were any Black-owned businesses in the area that he could support. Predictably, the conversation almost immediately got defensive, prompting me to write an essay on legitimate reasons why a white person might wish to support a merchant of color. I said when we live in a town where 86 percent of the population is white, it stands to reason that the overwhelming majority of local merchants are also white. There are many long-term reasons why white people might wish to support businesses owned by Black people. Most of these reasons involve closing the wealth gap or strengthening the economies of Black communities. But a white person might also intentionally seek out a merchant of color just to show support and solidarity with a group that might not enjoy the same enthusiasm among broad groups of (mostly white) consumers, an advantage that an average white-owned business might have. Sometimes, seeking out a merchant of color is just a nice gesture, considering the disturbing number of white people who actively avoid using minority-owned businesses as a protest against affirmative action or worse. Occasionally, a white person might even wish to expand his or her horizons by visiting a merchant of an unfamiliar culture.

A local professional who identifies as Mexican politely and succinctly pointed out several problematic points in my essay. Jes Dimas is a clinical social worker and therapist in McMinnville, Oregon. He holds multiple credentials in his field — he treats everything from anxiety and depression to identity issues. When Jes pointed put my errors, I immediately overreacted.

In my defense, I had absorbed Jes’ remarks in their sum total, not quite what he intended. After several hours of reflection following my initial horror that I’d gotten it so wrong, I took another look at Jes’ words. This time, I deconstructed his comments. I read his remarks literally, assigning any value judgment he mentioned only to whatever specific point he’d tied that judgment — not viewing his critique as an overall condemnation. Once I calmed down, I realized Jes was right. As in totally right. Now, as a white man, it’s not my place to tell Jes whether he’s right or wrong on matters of race — matters he’s lived and felt but I can only imagine. But the coolest part about it was, once I’d calmed and revisited Jes’ remarks, I agreed with him unreservedly. The logician in my head and my basic instinct agreed: I needed this lesson. But the whole affair brought a larger question to the forefront.

Can white people talk about race?

More specifically, can a white guy like me address race in a forum like this? Does my voice add value to the discussion? Am I causing more harm than good by speaking up?

I am intensely uncomfortable writing about race. I never set out to be a white guy writing about race but several circumstances came together to point me in this direction. I came to realize very quickly that I need to be uncomfortable — in fact, the moment I get comfortable writing about race is the moment I need to stop writing about race.

I knew immediately I could never speak for a person of color. But maybe just as crucially, I cannot speak TO a person of color. Huh? Think about it. I cannot talk or lecture a person of color on matters of race. Dictionary.com defines the term “whitesplaining” as “the act of a white person explaining topics to people of color, often in an obliviously condescending manner, and especially regarding race- or injustice-related issues.” The Urban Dictionary defines it similarly, as a white person lecturing on matters of race to a person of color. There is a reason both of those resources list this word: too many people are guilty of the act of whitesplaining.

Anyone who reads my words can get anything they want from doing so but it’s important I make it clear I am speaking neither for nor to any person of color. In my essay on supporting Black-owned businesses, I did not make that clear. I’ve said it so often, I assume people know it. But I need to make it clear every time.

So who is it I’m trying to reach as a white guy talking about race? There are people who will listen to me because I am white — people who might dismiss a voice of color. Often, these people do not consciously or intentionally ignore voices of color, but they may give my words more weight just because of my skin color. If I can convince a handful of these people to look at things from a different perspective, then my voice has value in this conversation.

The answer to whether white people can talk about race is complicated. The big take-away from this entire event was one of crucial importance and one I am emphasizing today. White people need to sit back and listen for a change. We’ve been telling the world how to be ever since we departed Europe and “discovered” distant shores. It’s time we calm down and earnestly listen to the voices of people of color. I mean really listen — hear with an open heart and quiet humility. This is neither a round condemnation nor a damning of white people as evil, guilty, horrible, awful, mean-spirited devils. But it is a suggestion that we have collectively not been very good at listening to the voices of people who do not look like us. I promise you you’re in for a mind-blowing experience if you humbly hear the stories people of color have to tell.

I have two people very close to me who are Black. These very close decades-long relationships do not give me any special right to address matters of race but they have maybe given me a long-term sensitivity to how people of different hues are treated. I try to minimize my mention of them because I do not wish to wear my friends of color like some sort of white merit badges. I see smug white people do this all the time. “Well, I have some nephews and nieces who are Hispanic,” they say, using a term easy to misuse. “And I have a good friend who is Black.” They seem to believe these merit-badge minorities somehow give them permission to speak for people of color.

To keep me accountable in speaking on matters of race, I consult regularly with people of color. The same people also vet what I write. I realize not everyone’s experience is the same — there are broad spectra of opinion throughout communities of color. But I believe it’s my duty to make sure what I say is as close as possible to the collective experienced truth of those I am trying to support.

I am grateful Jes Dimas had the courage to gently correct me when I got something wrong. I am thankful we had a dialogue — Jes helped me be accountable when I erred. Respectful conversations like these are desperately needed these days.
 

Political depravity

johnson

Many of the same congressional Republicans who recently opposed creation of an independent commission charged with investigating the deadly January attack on the U.S. Capitol voted this week against a proposal to award Congressional Gold Medals to the police officers who literally protected their lives.

Think about that for a moment. And think about the depravity of that for even longer. And then think about what it means for our democracy.

Twenty-one House Republicans, including many identified most closely with militia and anti-government groups and, not incidentally, with the last Republican president, refused to honor law enforcement personal, including many who were beaten, assaulted and scarred by a mob of dead-end Donald Trump inspired insurrectionists.

We need to admit that the United States House of Representatives has always been a refuge for a certain number of cranks, loonies, crackpots and losers. So there is that.

Montana once sent a doctor to Congress who owned also owned a nudist colony in Butte. If you’ve been to Butte you might not automatically think “nudist colony.” The Gentleman from Montana was a one-termer who filled the Congressional Record with pro-Nazi propaganda and then, thankfully, disappeared into history.

Louisiana sent a Democrat to Congress some years ago who was caught accepting bribes. Not a big surprise in the land of Huey Long, perhaps, but the novelty of his corruption was singular. The FBI found a cool $100,000 in cash in the congressman’s freezer. Bribes on ice. There is no vaccine for stupid, it seems. and corruption is a bipartisan characteristic.

Clearly, we don’t always send our best people to Congress. (See: History, First District of Idaho.)

But these crazy no votes on awarding the Congressional Gold Medal transcend old style mundane crazy. We are in a whole new territory here. Until recently these votes – votes against law enforcement, against common decency – would have simply been unthinkable. Now, for many on the political right this kind of vote is an affirmation of American values.

These twenty-one votes are a profoundly un-American, anti-democratic statement of nihilism and anarchy. The fact that these people inhabit the heart of the modern Republican Party is a harsh indictment of a political movement that slips daily toward a post-Trump American authoritarianism that gnaws at the very foundation of democracy.

If you aren’t worried about where these people are taking half of the country you’re either OK with their direction or you’re simply not paying attention.

Montana’s Republican Congressman Matt Rosendale was one of the 21. He hardly even tried to justify his no vote, just offered up a word salad of nonsense about how it was all Nancy Pelosi’s fault. At one level these are profoundly unserious people. No policy, just performance. No patriotism, just pique.

American democracy is teetering on the edge. Guys like Rosendale – and Idaho’s Russ Fulcher, who almost certainly would have voted with the seditious 21 were it not for a newspaper like this one to hold him to some account – have become the grave diggers of our democracy. Fulcher, let it never be forgotten, signed on to the now well documented Trump effort to overturn a free, fair and fairly won presidential election. Fulcher spends most of his time as a member of Congress performatively calling out Pelosi, pushing some hot button social issue and living in the lala land of the House Freedom Caucus. His last original idea was when he filed for Congress.

Fulcher has made a virtue of refusing appropriations to enhance highways and bridges in his First District. His conservative Idaho colleague, Mike Simpson, has appealed for $17 million in projects in five southern Idaho communities, including a stormwater system in Pocatello and public transit enhancement in Boise. “It is important to note that eliminating any one of those projects would not have reduced federal spending by one penny,” Simpson said, justifying his utilization of what we call earmarks. “In the end, I can either seek these projects for Idaho or allow the funding to go to another state,” he said.

Fulcher opted to let funding that might have benefited his constituents to go to another state. Of course, Fulcher’s constituents will almost certainly return him to Congress next year, because, well, we don’t always send the best people.

This level of political incoherence and, in the case of recognition for Capitol Police officers, depraved incoherence is, at the most basic level mere stupidity. At a higher level – or is it at a baser level – it is a mark of wholesale abandonment of politics as the means by which we organize society.

So, while many of us can unite to condemn the craziest of the loons, we generally ignore the larger implications of their behavior, and the behavior of those who continue to enable, tolerate and use them to keep political power.

We learned this week one more piece of the January 6 puzzle. Donald Trump, according to records of his communication immediately after the presidential election, pressured the Justice Department to help him steal an election he lost. In other words he perverted the legal system to attempt a political coup. That his attempted failed is not remarkable, that it was tried is.

Even more remarkable has been the lack of outrage from conservatives who are sworn to uphold the Constitution. Given the disintegration and degradation of American conservatism over the last decade or so it is no surprise that people like Fulcher and Rosendale have ascended and people who know better like Idaho’s Mike Simpson and Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rogers have gone silent. These craven enablers clearly crave their political sinecures more than they care about democracy.

Here’s the bottom line: We are slouching toward an apocalypse. Fantasies about January 6th being “a peaceful protest” are widely embraced in conservative media. Lies about election irregularities have led to draconian restrictions on voting in many states. A strong majority of conservatives seem predisposed to accept any destruction of democratic norms if the trashing will help defeat their opponents. And Republicans seem poised to win control of the House next year and perhaps the Senate, as well.

The first coup failed. It’s not likely the next one will.

Population loggerheads

stapiluslogo1

Please pardon another statistics-heavy column, but the latest census numbers for Idaho cities and counties, covering the last decade, really are worth a little dwelling on.

Here’s one: The amount of population increase can be accounted for by very few places.

Ada County and Canyon County, which compose the biggest metro area in the state, but still make up just 40 percent of Idaho’s population overall, did account for about 58 percent of the state’s population increase. If Idaho’s population this year had been enough to account for a third congressional district, those two counties alone (out of the state’s 44) would have been far more than enough to populate more than a single congressional district. (In political terms, that means if the districts were artfully cut, the Ada-Can district could have been politically competitive between the parties. As it is … maybe in 2030.)

If we add in the population increase in Kootenai and Bonneville counties, those four counties account for 77 percent of the increase Idaho saw overall. The other 40 counties in the state contributed only a small sliver.

And not all of them contributed to the increase. Five counties - Butte, Clark, Custer, Fremont, Power - saw declines in population. More additional counties barely stayed on the plus side of the ledger.

You won’t have missed that the big population increases come in counties that are among the state’s largest, and the declines or static levels came in smaller population areas. The single most startling population increase anywhere in the state was in Meridian, in top-population Ada County, which went from 75,092 people a decade ago to 121,182 last year - an increase massive in both raw numbers (an increase that equals about a quarter of Idaho’s overall) and as a percentage (61.4 percent). The percentage growth in Eagle and Kuna were nearly as high.

But there are some complexities to the picture.

The numbers also show some curious population increases outside city limits, even in small population counties, even in regions that generally seem not to be growing much.

Look at small and away-from-the-metros Bear Lake County, which overall grew by 2.6 percent. Its five cities are all relatively small and grew just a little, but outside of them, population grew by 8.5 percent - close to four times as strongly as the county overall.

The population of Fairfield, the one city in Camas County, shrank over the last decade. But the rural area outside of town grew, by enough that the county in total registered a small population increase.

The rural areas in Caribou County grew close to three times as fast as the county overall. And so on.

Unincorporated areas around Idaho, in smaller and even some of the larger counties, outperformed their county overall in county after county: Adams, Bannock, Bingham, Boise, Bonneville, Boundary. Cassia, Gem, Gooding, Jefferson, Latah, Lincoln, Nez Perce, Jefferson, Oneida, Teton, Washington. (You’ll notice that Ada, Canyon and Kootenai counties, the most urban and suburban parts of the state, are not on this list.)

This looks like growth in a population of people who really don’t want to be around cities or suburbs. These look like people trying to get away from it all. It would be oversimplifying to suggest that there’s a significant amount of the Redoubt viewpoint in many of these places that have been picking up population. But probably there would be some truth in the idea.

So here’s something you might reasonably draw from the 2020 census in Idaho:

The urban and suburban population of the state is growing rapidly, and that will have, over time, an impact on the state’s politics.

But that growth appears to be countered, to a smaller but still significant degree, by the growth in many of the remote and unincorporated parts of the state.

Whose growth will be prevailing in the years to come?
 

Going out

schmidt

My wife and I have had this discussion multiple times. Should we wear a mask in a store now that we are both-dose vaccinated? It seems some people still wear masks; some aren’t and maybe never did.

We went out and had a beer last Friday night at a local pub with some friends. It was great to catch up. Their lives are ongoing, as are ours. We need to check in with our neighbors and friends and this pandemic has made that hard. We are social animals.

I’ve dropped the mask. I realize if I’m exposed to an active case, I could carry the virus a bit, but the number of cases has dropped. Besides, the folks who want to be immunized probably are by now. So, the risk I might pose when unmasked is to someone who has chosen to run the risk.

Lots of Idahoans over 65 have gotten immunized. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Data Dashboard, about 72% of folks over 65 are fully immunized. Mainly, we’re the ones who died from the disease; 80% of mortalities were in the over 65 age group. It makes sense we’d go out and get the shot.

Not that Idaho ever wants to be compared to any other state, but we’re lagging the national pace. We’re down with Mississippi and Alabama, with a statewide rate of 34% fully vaccinated. And of note, the rate of vaccinations has slowed both nationally and here in Idaho. Last week, about 23,000 Idaho pulled up their sleeves, the lowest number since last winter when the shots first came out.

Now, I know these hold outs aren’t just Republicans, though, statistically, it’s possible. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in Idaho 4:1, and Unaffiliated voters 2:1. Despite what some will tell you, there are no “Independents” in Idaho; it’s not a recognized party. You may consider yourself “independent”, which is noble, but the Secretary of State will list you as “unaffiliated” unless you pick a party to belong to. Indeed, one small survey in Twin Falls found Republicans more reticent about getting shots. Can’t we explain everybody’s behavior these days on party affiliation?

Maybe. But some heavily Republican states are ahead of us in this. Look at Utah, ten points up and just as red. But that group of states in the back of the pack with us, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Wyoming are pretty darn red.

Some of those folks already immunized in this conservative state just have to be Republicans. There are so many of them. Let’s do the math:

Idaho total population 1,873,681

Total Registered Voters: 983,333

Total Registered Republicans: 524,722

Total Registered Other: 458,311

Total Immunized: 416,619

So, it’s possible that all those shots went into “Other” arms. Statistically very unlikely, but possible. If the car you drive, the hat you wear, and the church you go to all tell us something about your political persuasion, why not immunization status?

Of course, the question arises, whenever talking about Republicans in Idaho, just what kind of Republican?

Maybe this is the new loyalty test the party could consider at the upcoming state convention. Lots of legislators in the statehouse declared their “courage” in the face of the “China Virus” by not wearing masks or social distancing. Did they sneak out and get a shot when no one was looking? Or are they loyal to the hydroxychloroquine, Ivermectin party line?

It would be simple to test for antibodies at the convention. But some might claim they were “naturally immunized”. I’m sure there’s a lab somewhere that could sort that out.

Finally, Idaho Republicans can know the truth about each other. No loyalty oath to sign, just do the test.

Of course, the true Democrats will just keep wearing masks even if immunized. We are such tribal creatures, even in the face of a viral pandemic.
 

Dammit Dems

rainey

An especially loud order for Democrats in the U.S. Senate: DAMMIT, DO SOMETHING!!!

The circular firing squad - known in some quarters as the Democrat Party - is operating as expected. As believed in some circles, “Republicans are incapable of running government and Democrats won’t.”

I have no idea what “Majority leader” Schumer’s long game is. Maybe he doesn’t either. But, currently, Minority leader McConnell has more control even though he’s on the short end of things. McConnell, aided by a couple of recalcitrant Dems, is forcing House-passed legislation - good legislation - to be kept in Schumer’s closet.

If there’s anything Schumer is noted for it’s trying to work in a bi-partisan manner. Get the other side involved and solve issues “together.” Well, six-months into the year, the other side ain’t gonna work “together.” The evidence is overwhelming. They just ain’t gonna do it!!!

In the House, Dems have formed their usual circles and are dividing up the turf they won in 2020. AOC and “the group” are over here. The Black Caucus is over there. Southern Dems have staked out still another corner. And, some just can’t work with anybody.

In the Senate, Senators Sinema and Manchin are ignoring the ”caucus call” and wandering very close to the Republican herd. They’ve become the lynchpin holding up progress and showing no signs of responding to the increasing pressure from their fund-raisers or their campaign work crews that - in Sinema’s case - worked the streets and neighborhoods in the 118-degree Arizona summer. Neither obstructionist is living up to the hopes of what the voters sent them to the Senate to do.

You don’t have to go far on an Arizona street to hear a conversation about dissatisfaction with our purple-haired, tattooed lady in the Senate. Several local Party committees have notified Sinema of their disappointment in her conduct and have reminded her that she’s a Democrat. Her biggest fund-raiser has publically told her to “get in line, do the job or come home.” I suspect Manchin is hearing much the same from Dems in West-by-God-Virginia.

The legislative club Democrats in the Senate hold is the “budget reconciliation act.” It allows them to bundle up a package of legislation and unilaterally push it through to the President’s desk. But, they have to have all 50 Dems with Senate President Pro Tem Harris sitting on the dais and voting with them. 51-50 as it were.

It’s a “hell-of-a-way-to-run-a-railroad” but it’s doable to break up the log jam currently stopping anything important from being done.

The other significant action Dems need to take is killing - and burying for all time - the filibuster. The Senate adopted the filibuster - with its racist background - during the mid-1800's. It used to force Senators, opposing certain bills, to talk on the floor for hours. Even days. Now, the required talking is gone and simply saying you’re invoking it seems to be enough to stop everything from moving.

The damned thing should die! It’s become nothing more than any one Senator’s devious action to control what happens to certain bills he/she doesn’t like. Rand Paul has used it for years.

The problem Schumer faces if he tries to banish the filibuster, he needs 60 senators to do it. Sixty votes. At the moment - because of the renegade actions of Manchin and Sinema - Schumer doesn’t even have 50 votes. It’s likely there are some Republicans who would support such an action. But, no one who follows political activities can is predicting the outcome of such an effort.

Schumer’s desire for bi-partisanship has, so far, been ineffective. With one trick or another, Ol’ Mitch has brought nearly all things to a halt. Legislation that’s passed the House is lingering - near death - in the Senate.

Repeated public polling has shown voters are far ahead of legislators on nearly every issue. Infrastructure. Voting rights. Efforts to alter the effects of climate change. Though the public significantly favors actions on those subjects - and more - the GOP is not moving. Republicans have shown solid resistance to pursuing legislative action on anything - even the formation of a bi-partisan commission to get to the bottom of the January attack on the Capitol.

It’s time - way past time - for Democrats in both houses to use their slim majorities to hammer some issues home. They’re in charge. Stop the infighting. Get back on the team. Pick up the “ball” and run with it.

At home, Democrats need to fill every vacant office on the ballot, regardless of past defeats. Nutcase Marjorie Taylor Greene won a Senate seat because no Democrat ran against her in the general election. No one.

Public polling is starting to show anger with both parties over the continued stalemate. But, some numbers are starting to improve for Democrats. Polling also shows public anger with Trump and the GOP which is badly split because of him and his continued support of “the big lie.” Estimates of the number of people - mostly Republicans - that still follow his divisive politics range from 15 to 20-million. They have little to no interest in moderation or even what happens to the Republican Party. His “cause” is their “cause.”

Democrats in Congress MUST act, must do everything they can to get things going. At home, there must be solid recruiting of good candidates for the 2022 ballot. Though common political wisdom is that the party of the President typically loses Congressional seats in off-year elections, we aren’t living in “typical times.” These are very “untypical” times.

Pelosi and Schumer need to get out the whips to do what they can. And, we voters need to pay attention and get involved. We need to change the rallying cry from “DAMMIT DEMS” to “GO GET ‘EM, DEMS.”
 

About the IFF

jones

Senator Chuck Winder had it right when he recently said the so-called Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) was “one of the biggest threats we have to our democracy in our state.” Winder, a Republican and President Pro Tem of the Idaho Senate, had just witnessed the disruptive role played by the IFF in one of the worst legislative sessions on record. He bemoaned the fact that so many legislators had followed the IFF’s lead in making it such a fiasco.

The IFF is a member of the State Policy Network, which supports operations like IFF in the 50 states with the objective of driving state governments ever further to the right. The IFF and its companion organizations and financial supporters conduct cultural warfare as a means of winning elections and growing their power.

IFF has established itself as one of the most powerful drivers of policy in the State of Idaho over the last several legislative sessions. Its acolytes in the Legislature regularly vote IFF’s party line on divisive issues. Some of the most disruptive legislators in the recent session have the highest scores on IFF’s Freedom Index.

One of the primary goals of IFF is to dismantle Idaho’s public education system. Its President, Wayne Hoffman, spelled out the group’s antipathy to public education in a February 2019 op-ed: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today.” He claimed Idaho teachers and students were “victims” of Idaho’s Constitution, which requires the State to maintain a “general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

Idaho’s public schools, guided by local school boards, have been responsible for properly educating Gem State children since statehood, even though they have been chronically underfunded in recent decades. Despite that fact, IFF and its cadre of legislators wreaked havoc on public education at all levels, from preschool to college, during the just-concluded legislative session.

Even though numerous studies have established the value of early childhood education, IFF was responsible for the State’s failure to accept a federal grant of $6 million for that worthy purpose. Hoffman crowed about rejecting the grant, falsely claiming it would have led to the indoctrination of babies and toddlers.

Even though the Legislature has failed for many years to carry out its constitutional responsibility to adequately fund public schools, IFF sought to divert public monies to fund private schools and students this year. The legislation passed the House but was narrowly defeated in the Senate. It is likely the IFF will be back with a similar proposal next year.

IFF falsely accused Idaho public schools and universities of indoctrinating students, which resulted in chaos with education funding bills. A jury-rigged bill, purportedly prohibiting the teaching of an undefined racial theory, was approved so that the funding bills could proceed. As a result of the IFF-caused chaos, Idaho’s universities were undeservedly deprived of $2.5 million of needed funds.

IFF’s most egregious act during the legislative session was to raise its unfounded indoctrination claim. It produced no credible evidence to support the claim. The fact that local school boards oversee the operations of their schools would indicate the falsity of the charges. We will probably never know whether IFF actually believed that its claims were valid. That was not likely the point of making them. The point was to smear public education in hopes of discrediting and weakening our education system. That is a direct threat to the economic and social well-being of our wonderful State.

The time has come to dispense with IFF’s legislative zealots in next year’s primary and general elections. The future of our State depends on culling the legislative herd.
 

What’s in it for Idaho?

hartgen

In May, another five counties in Oregon expressed at least some interest in separating from the state of Oregon and joining Idaho, bringing to seven counties there who want to at least consider the idea.

There are some people in Idaho who like the idea too, but that doesn’t mean Idaho should rush into a hasty marriage.

As with human relationships, early infatuations sometimes aren’t what they seem later on. Isn’t that what we signal to our kids and grandchildren when they first bring home a new beau? Take your time. Get to know your intended. Observe his/her ways of relating to others. Do you both – both, not just one of you – want the same things in life?

It's pretty clear why some rural Oregon counties would want to “escape” their state and join Idaho. Oregon has gone extreme “left” in its woke politics and urban culture, with drug legalization, city riots, anti-police municipal governments and various “alternative” lifestyles.

But mostly, it’s a cultural split, with Eastern Oregon rural areas feeling less and less connected to the state’s Democratic politics and social norms. So sure, they like what they see just across the Snake River. Why can’t we be more like Idaho, they ask? They long for grass that’s not as “green.” Better yet, why not join Idaho?

But Idaho should demure any immediate action and rather, do some careful, measured analysis of the pros and cons of such a union. Dozens of Idaho legislators listened to a pitch from Oregon’s break-away proponents this past session and some want to forge ahead immediately with a bill to bring the union about.

But that would be a shotgun wedding on many points. We simply don’t know enough to make an informed decision, nor do our legislators, who would have to vote on the issue.

The idea should at least get a complete a cost/benefit review. A legislative committee, perhaps over several years, should hear from every corner, including government agencies and entities from both states, community groups and churches, schools and universities, as well as federal entities like the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which control much of the geographic territory.

It should look at taxes, labor and human resources, health care and business friendliness, as well as natural resources and economic development. In short, examine as many perspectives as possible, not just those favoring the change.
A review of this depth would inevitably include political implications, party relationships and campaign impacts. That’s fine, but the decision shouldn’t be based on politics alone, tempting as it may be. The basic question should be, is this good for all of Idaho?

There are certainly pitfalls ahead if the merger idea advances. The Malheur Wildlife Area standoff, just outside of Burns in 2016, was a flashpoint for Ammon Bundy’s anarchist, anti-government efforts, since spilled over into Idaho, Bundy’s adopted new state.

Several Idaho legislators, including rightist firebrand Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, showed up in Bundy’s support. Other legislators, led by Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Challis, urged federal authorities to drop charges against Bundy, which was done. (Idaho Press, 12/7/17). But given Bundy’s Idaho disruptions since then, it’s fair to ask what kind of extremism in representation would follow an Oregon-Idaho union.

As with fanatics in much of history, Bundy’s anarchism only emboldened other malcontents and anti-law antics, such as those of gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, and others. Do we really want to give any more traction, much less support, to these Bundy-ites, his legislative supporters and this separatist movement? Idaho politics is already riven with conservative versus far-right discord. Do we want more of that? (AssociatedPress, 6/8).

There has been “secessionist” and “nullification” talk among Idaho rightists for years, and even an occasional bill. Wisely, we’ve not gone down that road. Despite the break-away sentiment of some, it would take a broader base of support than appears evident, except among the McGeachin rightists.

The splitting of states has happened only once in American history, when West Virginia broke away from the Confederacy during the Civil War to form a separate state in 1861-1862. Those were certainly unusual circumstances, and of not much use for a successionist effort by Eastern Oregon counties, much less by the Ammon Bundy mob and his sympathetic band of legislators.

Idaho GOP party chairman Tom Luna says Bundy isn’t welcome in the Idaho Republican Party,(GOP Statement, 6/4), but there are already plenty of Bundy-ites in this big elephant tent.

The Oregon-Join-Idaho movement is yet another place where internal party politics is already in play. Expect McGeachin, Bundy and others to try to exploit it. The Idaho-Oregon union may seem appealing, but the union would clearly add to the “break-away” mentality already simmering. We need to examine the question, “Is it good for Idaho, either for today or tomorrow?” We shouldn’t jump into this without a lot more answers.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com