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The swamp

politicalwords

You know what it is when you talk about it, right?

But, well, who and what are part of the Swamp?

The “drain the swamp” formulation was one of the more clever linguistic developments of the 2016 election. It had been used before, such as by both Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi in 2006, but not as commonly. And it has some uses. Donald Trump used it often in his campaign that year, and the #DrainTheSwamp Twitter hashtag is highly popular. (It’s a busy Twitter handle as well.)

It caught fire and a lot of people adopted it because it had resonance. The idea of the political and economic centers of the country (even in the states) as a dank, sunken, corrupt place that does in the unwary and is full of “swamp things” is easy to get and even appreciate. And if you drain it, you get rid of disease-carrying insects and other unwanted pests. The metaphor is clear.

A John Kelley article in Slate points out that the phrase goes back much further, and was long used by the anti-capitalist left: “In a 1903 letter to the Daily Northwestern, Winfield R. Gaylord, state organizer of the Social Democratic Party, precursor to Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party of America, wrote: “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capittalist [sic] swamp; they want to drain the swamp.” So it has referred to the swamp of capitalism.

In 1983, Ronald Reagan spoke of “draining the swamp” that is the federal bureaucracy.

There is even some loose truth to it.

But be wary of this one. “The Swamp” sounds wonderfully specific and concrete, but it is neither. It evaporates the closer you look at it.

So what exactly is The Swamp?

While Washington, D.C., was built on lowlands by the Potomac River, and the area around the State Department long has been famously called Foggy Bottom, the fact is that the district (or at least nearly all of it) never has been, in its time of human habitation at least, swampland. Humid and mosquito-ridden, yes; swamp, no. So that direct link doesn’t work.

An Illinois group called American Transparency in 2017 issued a report called “Mapping the Swamp,” but that was simply an attention-getter: Its content consisted of budget reports (and employee compensation statistics) about federal administrative agencies. Is the swamp, then, federal administrative agencies, or does it cover much else?

Kelly’s stab at a definition, at least one for the 2010s: “Trump’s swamp isn’t just home to political cronies and crooks, whom the expression typically targets: The media, polling, leaders of his own political party, the abstract Establishment, and just about anything that challenges his view of the world, and himself, gets sucked into his vortex.”

Writers Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles suggested in an October 2017 New York Times article, “Donald Trump’s pledges to 'drain the swamp' of corruption in Washington attest to his genius for unintentional irony. Nepotism, egregious conflicts of interest, flights on the public dime to see Wimbledon and the eclipse — the Beltway wetlands are now wilder and murkier than ever.”

In the end, the swamp is a test: It is whatever you don’t like.
 

Medicaid expansion: more harm than good?

jones

NNU economics professor Peter Crabb recently opined that expanding Medicaid coverage to approximately 62,000 Idahoans “is likely to do more economic harm than good.” His thesis is that people who get government health coverage are more likely to engage in risky behavior and therefore require more medical care. Where to start?

The people who will be covered by Medicaid expansion are working people who make too much to get Medicaid, but not enough to get subsidized health coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The prof worries that these people will have little incentive to stay healthy if they get “free lunch” government health care. If you are barely making enough to feed and shelter your family, you have a strong incentive to stay healthy so as not to lose your paycheck.

If the prof is correct, there are already hundreds of thousands of Idahoans doing things that are hazardous to their health because they receive government help. About 240,000 of us are getting Medicare, almost 300,000 are on Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance, and about 125,000 are getting insurance through government jobs. Medicaid expansion would add only about 62,000 people to the list of Idahoans getting government help for medical care, which would probably not greatly increase the risky behavior factor.

Many more Idahoans get insurance through their jobs, and their employers can justifiably deduct it from their taxes. Veterans and retired military deservedly get government health coverage. And let’s not forget the many thousands who get subsidized insurance through the ACA. Why should the government subsidize almost everyone else’s health care and not the people in the coverage gap?

As for cost, Milliman, a highly regarded actuarial firm often used by the state, recently reported that Medicaid expansion could actually save the state up to $15 million per year by eliminating the need for the state’s Catastrophic Health Care Fund and the county indigency programs. The indigency programs are a real drain on the counties because they pay for often routine medical care at emergency room rates.

Perhaps the best way to find out what expansion might do is to see how it has worked in the 33 states that have expanded Medicaid to get the many millions of federal dollars available. When Ohio expanded its program, an additional 700,000 people got Medicaid coverage. Governor Kasich reports that 290,000 of those have since left the program. Most of them told the state that having the insurance helped them find or keep their job. And, one would suppose those people are contributing to Ohio’s economic well-being.

As far as the economic impact of Medicaid expansion, the infusion of federal money will create many additional health care jobs for Idahoans, help keep rural hospitals financially solvent, and keep that money circulating and multiplying through our communities. It will allow people with routine illnesses to get medical care before their conditions turn into expensive medical emergencies that taxpayers will pay for either directly or indirectly.

And, in the final analysis, isn’t it the morally correct thing to do? Why should people who are working hard to take care of their families have to choose between bankruptcy or death when they are confronted with a serious illness? Especially when almost everyone else in the state gets at least some “free lunch” medical help from the government already?

Let’s approve the Medicaid expansion initiative on the November ballot. It is the right thing to do, economically, morally, and equitably.
 

Taking out the trash

rainey

With all the garbage coming out of the West Wing theses days, you’d be forgiven if you weren’t aware of a piece of pure trash resting in a U.S. Senate committee.

It’s euphemistically called the “Restoring American Immigration for Strong Employment Act” or “RAISE.” It’s the handiwork of Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who, more than occasionally, reminds us of his racist tendencies. Only one other Senator - Purdue of Georgia - has signed on.

Here are the highlights (?) for you to decide if my word “trash” is appropriate. Should RAISE become law, it would create a point system to approve/disapprove applications for entry into the U.S.. Perfect score is 30+. If you want in and have a high-paying job waiting, that’s worth up to 13 points. If you’re close to 25-years-old - or either side of that arbitrary number - you can get 10 points which decline with the age difference. College degrees - especially in STEM - can “earn” 13 points.

If you’re coming to invest $1.35 million in the States, a maximum of 12 points. Extraordinary achievement - Nobel Prize or some such - or if you’re an Olympic athlete can get you 25 points. Speaking English gets 15 points.

So it would seem a 25-year-old English-speaking Olympian with a doctorate and a couple of million bucks would be a shoo-in. But, a high school graduate with a family of five, trying to escape death at home, would be turned away. Not enough points.

But, back to RAISE. Each year, those with the most cumulative points could apply for a green card. Those not scoring high enough could try again next year. Nearly all other employment or country-of-origin caps would be eliminated. H-1B visas - normally associated with high tech skills - India and China - and those with the most students already here - China, India, Saudi Arabia and South Korea - would likely have the most points.

There’s more. RAISE would cut green card issuance in half. It eliminates pathways for siblings and adult children of U.S. citizens and legal temporary residents to apply for permanent lawful residency status, limiting the family path to spouses and minor children. It also would end the visa diversity lottery.

Nearly all economists aware of RAISE say it’s pure trouble. They conclude such a law would likely cause the average American worker to lose wages and other gains.

Opponents say RAISE is a “nativist and xenophobic” attempt to keep out foreigners, including many who would benefit the U.S. and our economy.

It’s interesting to note nothing in RAISE mentions farm workers, a major draw for people coming for work. And, “past may be prologue” here. In 1964, a similar bill was enacted affecting farming. Conservative economist Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute wrote “Instead of hiring more American workers or raising wages, farmers turned to machines and altered crops to take account of the new dearth of workers. Instead of planting crops requiring labor-intensive harvesting or care, they planted crops requiring fewer workers.” Sort of “more potatoes and less radishes.”

Research also strongly indicates RAISE would not only negatively affect the status of millions of legal immigrants and harm the entire national economy, it would also change our entire demographic structure. Sort of like building “the wall” without building “the wall.”

Those supporting RAISE are notably anti-immigration folk. Stephen Miller - White House resident racist - and Steve Bannon - Trump’s political “Captain Destructo”- are lobbying for passage.

All of that - and more - leads me to call RAISE anti-immigrant trash. I suspect most Senators ascribe to that nomenclature since Cotton’s handiwork has languished in committee since a year ago January. He now has a second version which has attracted no other sponsors, either.

Will RAISE get to the floor for a vote? I doubt it. Too vile even for the gutless majority. But, it’s there, like a benign cancer. Now, at least you’ve heard about it.

I’m sticking with the “T” word. What say you?
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – September 3

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for September 3. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Fires eased back last week as Idaho readied itself for Labor Day weekend and the fall season – and school reopenings and the return of heated political campaigns.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter's office facilitated a meeting on August 30 with the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association, the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association, Idaho State Police, Idaho Association of Counties, the Idaho Transportation Department and other stakeholders to discuss ongoing computer problems at the Division of Motor Vehicles.

The Idaho Department of Lands auctioned 51 state-owned lakefront lots on Priest Lake for deeded ownership during public, oral auctions Friday and Saturday in Coeur d’Alene. The land sales generated $25,580,124 for the endowment fund that supports public schools. Competitive bidding on five of the lots drove up the bids $625,500 over the appraised value of the lots.

The governor of Idaho and the administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration met in Sandpoint, Idaho, today to celebrate the completion of the historic Albeni Falls wildlife settlement agreement. Idaho agrees that the $24 million settlement satisfies BPA’s wildlife habitat mitigation responsibilities for impacts from Albeni Falls Dam.

The 2017 Crime in Idaho Report has been released on the new interactive Crime Dashboard. The 2017 publication was created on the newly implemented database with the upgraded system.

The state of Idaho auctioned another U.S. Forest Service timber sale today under Good Neighbor Authority, a State-federal partnership that increases management activities on federal lands in Idaho.

Micron Technology on August 29 announced plans to invest $3 billion by 2030 to increase memory production at its plant in Manassas, Virginia, creating 1,100 new jobs roughly over the next decade.

In order to reduce harvest on hatchery steelhead and protect wild steelhead, Idaho Fish and Game has temporarily reduced the daily bag limit to one steelhead starting Sept. 3. The lower bag limit applies in the Clearwater River from the mouth to Memorial Bridge, North Fork of the Clearwater River, Snake River, Salmon River and Little Salmon River.

Rates for customers of Intermountain Gas Company would decrease by an average of 10.2 percent if state regulators adopt the company’s annual Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment proposal.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on August 30 announced the appointment today of school teacher Galen Earl Colter to fill a vacancy created on the Camas County Commission by the death earlier in August of Commissioner Bill Davis.

IMAGE A view along Indian Creek in downtown Caldwell, an area of extensive recent redevelopment in that city. (photo/Randy Stapilus)
 

Politician

politicalwords

Of all the dirty words that do not deserve the description, “politician” must rank near the top.

Almost every candidate for office who’s new to it, or even semi-new, will start their spiel by proclaiming, “I’m not a politician …” Even a lot of long-time, career-spanning pols do it.

With, of course, the assumption that people will then think more kindly about them. And may be right.

But shouldn’t be.

The comedian George Carlin, who knew something about “dirty words”, said in one routine, “Everybody complains about politicians. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? . . . They come from American parents and American families, American homes, American schools, American churches, American businesses and American universities, and they are elected by American citizens. . . It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.”

Politicians r us. Or should be.

Actually, to be called a politician ought to be a badge of civic honor. These, after all, are people willing to put themselves out there, to enter the arena. Wikipedia's definition will do: "Politicians are people who are politically active, especially in party politics." In other words, they are civic-minded. Some of them may have darker motivations, but most of them are in it to try to make their community or state or nation a little better.

Just as many people think of people in “the media” as simply high-paid Washington talking heads, ignoring the local reporter who covers the city planning and zoning commission, many people think of “politician” in a limited way: prominent members of Congress, the president, a governor, occasional others.

But one common definition runs like one at vocabulary.com: “A politician is a person who campaigns for or holds a position in government.” That’s a lot of people, from the local mosquito district commissioner up to, say, the (non-elected) secretary of the treasury. And how about many lobbyists? Much of what they do is as richly political as that of any elected official, even if they lack the title.
They’re not all rotten. In fact, most of them aren’t.

Okay, there are reasons politician is a reviled description. The word can be used to describe someone outside of government, but with the attached negative context, such as the online description, “a person who acts in a manipulative and devious way, typically to gain advancement within an organization.”

Wikipedia again: "In the popular image, politicians are thought of as clueless, selfish, incompetent and corrupt, taking money in exchange for goods or services, rather than working for the general public good. Politicians in many countries are regarded as the "most hated professionals". Many ex-politicians who could not bear the leadership in politics that causes reprisals for critical thought criticize those who remain politicians for lacking critical thought."

There are plenty of examples of lousy politicians, people who deserve the opprobrium.

But, as everywhere else, there are plenty who do not - many who work day in and out trying to get something useful accomplished, in a government system that ultimately reports back to - us.

They're also doing the more or less invisible hard work of keeping our system of government running. If politicians we're doing it, who would? Us? Are you kidding? We so often do such a terrific job even at the far more limited job of just choosing which politicians will represent us ... but that's a subject for another post.
 

Chris Carlson

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John McCain, the senator and former presidential contender who died last week, said this in the last paragraph of his new and final book:

“What an ingrate I would be to curse the fate that concludes the blessed life I’ve led. I prefer to give thanks for those blessings, and my love to the people who blessed me with theirs.”

My fellow columnist and long-time Idaho politics writer Chris Carlson, who died just about a day after McCain, likely would have been glad to second that sentiment. In fact, with only slightly different words, he often did.

For Carlson, as for the senator, the view toward the end of the road was a long time coming.

I knew of him long before I met him. When I went to work at the Idaho State Journal in the mid-seventies, I often read his writings for that paper about Idaho politics from a half-decade or so before. He worked for Cecil Andrus during the governor (first run) and interior secretary years, and became so close to him as to be almost a member of the family. He was a founder of the consulting Gallatin Group along with Andrus, whose prominence and connections gave it a powerful initial push.

I got to know Carlson as he moved toward retirement, easing out of Gallatin after he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in 1999 and an aggressive cancer in 2005. For many people that might have been a setting into quiet retirement, the end of an active role in regional (Washington state as well as Idaho) public affairs, involvement in political campaigns, issues battles and much more. Fighting back and holding at bay his medical issues might for most people have been more than enough to occupy what time was left.

But for Carlson, in the dozen and more years that remained to him, that seemed to be only the beginning.

As he battled for health, he took a lead role in the “no” campaign on Initiative 1000 in Washington state, on physician-assisted suicide. He wrote a biography of Andrus that, while highly laudatory, filled in many of the gaps remaining in Andrus’ own memoir. He started writing a political column which ran in many Idaho newspapers (and on my web site, ridenbaugh.com) up until a few weeks ago. He also wrote three more books (two of which, Medimont Reflections and Eye on the Caribou, I published), the most recent published only month ago.

And that was hardly all he did.

In 2013, Carlson and I took a long road trip around Idaho, talking about books we both had recently put out. Carlson was the lead organizer of the trip, and we stopped in on people all over the state - people he had worked and organized with, sometimes argued with. We talked and listened about Idaho and its politics, and about how things could be made better. And for Carlson at least, the talk was always just step one. He’d get on the phone and make things happen.

Once, he ran across a little-known novel written years ago by a now-deceased but highly influential University of Idaho professor. From that he launched and kept rolling a chain of events that led to the re-publication (I was drafted into this as well) of three of the professor’s books, and their distribution and visibility around the state.

He did a lot of that sort of thing.

In his last column, Carlson wrote, understating his impact in his later years, “I was able to see two beautiful grandchildren born who have extraordinary talents, as well as all our children mature and happy with fulfilling employment. I also decided to get back on the stage of Idaho politics by writing a weekly public affairs column carried by five of Idaho’s newspapers. In addition, I wrote four books …”

Sounds a bit like a reflection McCain might have had.

Take care, Chris.
 

Treating the cause

frazier

We note Mike Wetherell’s Statesman OPINION regarding planning for mass transit failed to get to the core cause of our “transportation woes”–GROWTH.

Rather than create more cancer treatments and simply concede “cancer will always be around,” let’s eliminate some of the causes.

Wetherell’s admonitions to clear freeway medians and expand rights-of-way along State Street sound reasonable at first blush, but those “mass transit” systems depend upon MASSES. Wetherell is an attorney, former judge, and former city councilor. He is a problem solver.

We are reminded of the kid who showed up at the scene of a traffic incident where an over-height truck was wedged beneath an overpass. Massive winch trucks were unable to extract the trailer, police feared the bridge would be pulled off the abutment. The kid asked, “Why not let the air out of the tires?”

The same is true for the crowded roads. Why not stop encouraging people to come to Boise and Treasure Valley? Stop paying businesses INCENTIVES to relocate their facilities here and “create jobs” which increase the population and jam not only the streets, but the schools, the sewers, etc. Stop encouraging “increased density” to justify the need for mass transit. Eliminate “economic development” schemes.

Let the air out of the tires and give us a little breathing room. Enjoy what we have and stop trying to grow.
 

Those who say

political wordsThis is the first in an ongoing series of posts about political language, its use and abuse in American politics of the new century - and the way so many of us misunderstand each other and talk at cross purposes. It will continue here, periodically, in the months to come.

When it comes to a particular statement, saying, formulation - who says so?

I try, mostly, in this collection to attribute statements, not with the idea of taking aim at anyone in particular but as verification that, yes, people are saying these things.

Take the often-used cluster of phrases concerning speakers “who say,” with variations including “people who say” or “those who say.”

It’s a common usage, because it allows the speaker to elide any specific person and either to invent a phony boogeyman or, often, to recast an argument into a form more easily knocked down. The usage isn’t necessarily dishonest, but it easily and often slides there.

In his 1992 State of the Union address, President George H.W. Bush remarked, “There are those who say that now we can turn away from the world, that we have no special role, no special place. But we are the United States of America, the leader of the West that has become the leader of the world.” But exactly who said we “we can turn away from the world,” that “we have no special role, no special place”? Did anyone?

In a country of hundreds of millions of people, someone may have. But that sentiment surely was not widespread, or at least would not be put in the way he put it.

A logician would call this a straw man argument - an argument made of straw so as to be easy (and safe) to demolish. As Wikipedia put it, “is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be ‘attacking a straw man’. The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and the subsequent refutation of that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the opponent's proposition.”

There are a lot of straw men in our political arguments. In these discussions of words, quotes from particular people are included not as attacks on the person but as verification that what we’re reacting to here is something real - an actual use of the words, not a straw man.

There is another aspect to the “some people who” formulation: “Some people that.”

In his New York Times column, Frank Bruni [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/08/opinion/what-happened-to-who.html?_r=0] noted that during the Republican presidential debates of 2016, the hazy formulation of who “was being exiled from its rightful habitat. It was a linguistic bonobo: endangered, possibly en route to extinction. Instead of saying ‘people who,’ Donald Trump said ‘people that.’ Marco Rubio followed suit. Even Jeb Bush, putatively the brainy one, was ‘that’-ing when he should have been ‘who’-ing.” Bush, he noted, referred to “people that come with a legal visa and overstay,” and Rudio spoke of “people that call my office.”

Is this a problem? Actually, it is, because this is a matter of referring to people not as people, but as things. Things can be throw in the garbage, dismissed, tossed overboard. People - one would think - should not.

One web site breaks it down this way:

Here’s the thing: “who” (and its forms) refers to peo­ple. “That” usu­ally refers to things, but it can refer to peo­ple in a gen­eral sense (like a class or type of per­son: see “run­ner.”). Purdue Online Writing Lab says, “When refer­ring to peo­ple, both that and who can be used in infor­mal lan­guage. ‘That’ may be used to refer to the char­ac­ter­is­tics or abil­i­ties of an indi­vid­ual or a group of peo­ple.… However, when speak­ing about a par­tic­u­lar per­son in for­mal lan­guage, who is preferred.”

That said, many peo­ple and some respected ref­er­ences pre­fer “peo­ple that,” and it’s not wrong. Think Chaucer. Shakespeare. Dickens.

How is "people that" meant - in archaic fashion, sloppy fashion, or anti-human fashion? This may be more an argument for avoiding its use, than for sharply adjudging those who use it.

Words matter.

Paula Duncan gets it; why not the president?

jones

Paula Duncan, who says she served on the Paul Manafort jury, told Fox News that all but one juror wanted to convict Manafort on all of the 18 counts against him.

She indicated she was a Trump supporter, but did not believe “politics had any place in that courtroom.”

More importantly, she said, “I did not want Paul Manafort to be guilty, but he was, and no one’s above the law.”

No judge or lawyer could have stated America’s dedication to the rule of law more succinctly than Ms. Duncan. The justice system and courts should always remain non-political and should not bend to the wishes of the powerful.

The jury obviously listened to both sides in the trial and found Manafort to be a fraud and tax cheat. It does not appear they found the proceeding to be “a terrible situation” or the case to be a “Rigged Witch Hunt,” as proclaimed by the President. They likely did not see Manafort as the good and “brave” man Trump claims him to be. Thank God that ordinary citizens understand what it means for Americans to live under the rule of law.

The President has repeatedly blasted Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a “disgraced and discredited” person and called Mueller’s team a “National Disgrace.” In keeping with his unimpeachable ethics and professionalism, Mueller has declined to fire back. Rather, this honorable Republican has forged on with his work in keeping with the best traditions of the American legal profession.

As another life-long Republican, William Ruckelshaus, recently put it, “Mueller is living up to his superior reputation as a model public servant. His is a search for the truth; we should not complicate his job.” In 1973, Ruckelshaus resigned his position as Deputy Attorney General after refusing President Nixon’s order to fire the special Watergate prosecutor. Referring to the famed Saturday Night Massacre, he stated, “President Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington.”

William Webster, another life-long Republican, was appointed as head of the FBI in 1978 to clean up after the Watergate scandal and later appointed as Director of the CIA to clean up after the Iran-Contra scandal. He has wisely counseled that “We should not run down our own institutions, trivialize the impartial actions of our own grand juries, degrade our own justice system, or bully a free press for doing its job.” Amen!

The rule of law is a fragile thing. It depends on the trust and confidence of the people. When those in positions of authority in the executive and legislative branches of government make unfounded charges against prosecutors and courts, it corrodes the very foundation of our legal system.

Those in positions of power and influence, like our Senators and Congressmen, have a responsibility to step forward and loudly defend our legal system against false claims and charges. Three members of our Congressional delegation are lawyers and should understand that they must not stand idly by when our legal system is under attack.

As William Webster noted, the “Constitution demands” those who take the federal oath of office to defend “values like truth, justice and civility, because the idea of an America united by the rule of law is too important to lose.”