Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Sent a letter off to Governor C/L. “Butch” Otter this week asking him to take the lead among northwest governors and abolish the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The request is a formal follow up to the case I made about the irrelevancy of the Council in today’s energy environment in my recent book, Medimont Reflections.

Copies were sent to Governor Otter’s other northwest colleagues – Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Additional copies were sent to Washington’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, to Steve Crow – the Council’s executive director, and to Idaho’s two members on the Council, Bill Booth, from Hayden Lake, and Jim Yost, from Boise.

Fact is, the Council has been a colossal failure, especially in its stated mission to enhance and protect dwindling wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake River basins. Fact is the Council has overseen the wastage of billions of ratepayer dollars in a futile effort to come up, along with other Federal agencies, a biologically protective dam operations plan (called “Bi-ops”) that will meet the test of Federal District Court approval.

Fact is the Council has spent in excess of $221 million to operate during its 32 years of existence but has virtually nothing to show for the ratepayer’s investment. In late March Bonneville produced a summary sheet of the amount of dollars spent, and the amount of revenue lost, trying to enhance wild fish runs during the first 11 years of this new century.

The total sum was a stunning, staggering $7.35 billion. Incredible. And what do they have to show the ratepayers for this outlay? Virtually nothing. By any standard, they have failed in their mission and should be abolished.

The 1980 Act that established the Council also provided a formula for funding the Council – a percentage of the anticipated annual firm power sales. It roughly was the equivalent of about $2 million a year.

Full disclosure on my part: as the first Idaho appointee to the Council I played a significant role in making sure the first budget had enough to set up offices in Montana and Idaho for those states Council members so as to be able to match the downriver states Council offices which were supported by much larger state energy offices.

Thus, the first budget came in at three times the limit, a number slightly in excess of $6 million. This was enough to cover set up costs and required a waiver from the Bonneville Power Administration’s new chief executive and administrator, Peter Johnson, himself an Idahoan and the former chairman of Idaho-based Trus-Joist Corporation. I never dreamed that subsequent annual budgets would remain in the range of annually expending between $6 and $8 million dollars.

No organization likes to sunset itself or admits it has failed its mission.

The 1980 law, however, presciently saw that the Council could fail and provides a simple mechanism for disbanding it. Three of the region’s four governors merely have to write the Interior Secretary and request it be disbanded and it will be.

Do I expect this happen? No. Even though Governor Otter likes to talk the need to shrink government, when asked earlier this month on KLIX radio in Twin Falls whether he would support disbanding the Council quickly rose to its defense and claimed it played a useful role though he could not cite any specifics.

The fact is the Council positions have become well-paid plum appointments, patronage appointments, if you will that a governor can reward a friend or strong supporter with and not worry about the perception of wasting dollars on an entity more known now for junkets and endless hearings around the region than any substantive achievement. Money after all for the Council primarily comes from downstream ratepayers, not Idaho taxpayers.

Governor Otter should reconsider his position and walk his talk about shrinking needless entities, but he won’t. Just as he won’t respond to my letter. Politicians now days don’t respond to critics, especially in a one-party state where they constantly get away with ignoring those who disagree with them. Another word for such behavior is hypocrisy.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

The walking, talking embodiment of the mythical free market in Idaho today is Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He called a few weeks ago and asked if we could get together and get acquainted while he was in the north country on other business.

No harm in getting acquainted I thought, though for Wayne, there was some “harm” encountered. It seems the speeding ticket he received was because he was running late for our get together at an Irish Pub on Lake Drive in Coeur d’Alene.

Though we are polar opposite on many things, there are some issues where we have commonality – government over-reaching and the public’s loss of trust in government “honesty” at all levels, for example.

It was a pleasant enough discussion but when he used the phrase “free market” as in “we have to return to a true free market” I took strong exception.

I will tell you what I told Wayne. That fight was fought and lost 80 years ago, and there’s no going back. Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932. Roosevelt was the architect of government intervention in the so-called free market.

In order to fight the Great Depression and assist truly desperate Americans he campaigned on the federal government as the only entity that could protect the public from the excesses and vagaries of the private sector.

Hoover, a businessman and engineer, was the apostle of the private sector and the free market and he was soundly trounced. Ever since then there has been an inexorable pull of more and more governmental intervention the result of which is a “controlled market” and an international economy that is dominated by multinational corporations.

The fact is today our economy is riddled with subsidies for just about any conceivable interest. The subsidies are so rife and so numerous there is no way a majority of the electorate would ever sign off putting itself at the mercy of the private sector and the winners vs. losers free market.

The biggest mistake Mitt Romney made in the presidential election was miscalculating and then denigrating the 47% of the public he said in effect were takers living off of the in theory 53% producers.

In a sense he had the numbers reversed: 53% of the electorate likes its subsidies, whether it is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or one’s deduction for their mortgage payments. A majority believes they are better off with their entitlements, and yes, dependency, than believe the GOP philosophy of so-called free market and self-reliance.

So what is your favorite subsidy from the taxpayer, Wayne? Do you take the personal mortgage deduction? Will you turn back your social security check when you reach retirement? Will you enroll in Medicare when you can? Will you accept government help if struck with a catastrophic disease like cancer or Parkinson’s.

I have both PD and a rare form of an always fatal neuro endocrine cancer. My subsidy is a chemotherapy shot of a sandostatin once a month that I call my “golden rear” shot. I receive half in one rear cheek and half in the other. When I walk out of the Cancer Care Northwest office my rear is literally “gold.” That one shot costs $13,000 each month.

I was given six months in November of 2005, but I’m still here managing my diseases courtesy of good insurance, the government’s Medicare program, and lots of prayer from friends and family.

That’s my major subsidy, Wayne. And I know this: left to your mythical free market I would have been dead years ago.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Idaho’s political cognoscenti (a nice way of saying “junkies”) would probably agree with the statement that historically most of Idaho’s outstanding governors first cut their teeth with service in the Idaho Legislature.

Democrats like John Evans and Cecil Andrus, and Republicans like Phil Batt and C.A. “Doc” Robins come immediately to mind.

Conversely, governors who have struggled to govern well and often clashed with the Legislature’s leadership seldom have any legislative service or at best one term in the distant past. Current Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter and former Governor Dirk Kempthorne immediately come to mind.

Politics is all about relationships, and working with fellow citizens for the common good. It is not for the faint-hearted and as has been often pointed out it is a contact sport. Governors who emerge from the Legislature have built-in advantages regarding relationships with fellow legislators and often a solid knowledge of the state’s budget as well as how state agencies operate.

On June 5 a panel at Idaho State University co-sponsored by the Idaho State Journal. Purpose of the panel was to discuss the future direction of Idaho’s politics. Not surprisingly I predicted that Governor Otter would seek a third term largely because both he and First Lady like the limelight.

His paucity of accomplishments when one looks at his dismal record makes one wonder why he would even want a third term. In this writer’s opinion the litany of failures does not begin to warrant re-election, but he is the incumbent and incumbents tend to win.

I also predicted First District congressman Raul Labrador would not challenge Butch but instead would stay in the Congress, and that his reelection campaign would be run by John Foster, a former aide to one-term Democratic congressman Walt Minnick. Foster has since become a Republican and emphatically denies he will be running Labrador’s campaign.

I surprised the audience though when I said if Otter did not run there were only four Republicans I considered to be really qualified to be governor:

Lt. Governor Brad Little, House Speaker Scott Bedke, Sandpoint State Senator Shawn Keough, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis from Idaho Falls.

Besides Senator Davis, there was one other panel member that as we went along I realized had the potential to be a good governor – former Democratic Pocatello State Representative James Ruchti, who served in the House from 2006 through 2010.

A 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Ruchti completed his fiveyear obligation and was honorably discharged. He went on to the University of Idaho Law School from which he received his Juris Doctorate in 2001.

He has been in private practice ever since. Though he loved the Legislature he left to pay more attention to his law practice and generate more income to ensure he and wife Wendy’s two children would be well-educated.

Ruchti gave several well-worded and thoughtful answers to questions from the audience and pre-empted every panel member on a question about whether a controversial city ordinance regarding additional protection’s for the Gay, Lesbian and Trans-Gender community should be put to a city-wide vote.

“You don’t vote on human rights, period,” Ruchti said. It was an answer every panel member appeared to agree with, including Majority Leader Davis, who also provided the audience with thoughtful, well-considered answers.

Ruchti ended the panel session with an impassioned plea for Idaho to come up with another true transformational leader to overcome the harsh partisan environment, a leader who could inspire the voters to follow a more constructive path.

In my book Idaho’s Democrats would be smart to look to Ruchti to carry their gubernatorial banner in 2014 rather than Boise school board president A.J. Balukoff, a retired Certified Public Accountant who though a passionate advocate for education and a genuine philanthropist, has no legislative experience.

Idaho’s Republicans would be smart also to keep grooming the solid bench they have in Little, Bedke, Keough and Davis. All are thoughtful conservatives who understand governors are elected to solve problems. None are lock-step ideologues who will toady to the absurdities of the Tea Party kooks in their midst.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

It is becoming increasingly clear in this day of instant communication and 24/7 news coverage almost everyone is going to have their 15 seconds of fame before television cameras. We all watch with amazement at times at the incredibly stupid things some people say to their embarrassment in front of cameras.

Conversely, one can always tell if a person has had media training because they stay on their message regardless of what the reporter may be asking.

In the interests of keeping any of my readers from embarrassing themselves allow me to offer a few tips on what to use when being interviewed by a reporter:

Rule #1: Never repeat the negative, which also almost always means never repeat the question back to the reporter. The media always asks questions in the negative: “Mr. Nixon, are you a crook?” It was answered by “I am not a crook!” Remember the headline?

In fact, anytime you find yourself defining something by a negative, stop and repeat as a positive. Think how many people define themselves by saying what they are not instead of what they are. At all costs avoid using negatives of any kind.

If a reporter says “Aren’t you misleading the viewers? John Jones says you are.” You don’t say “no, I’m not misleading the viewer.” That’s repeating the negative. Instead, you respond “John Jones is wrong. Here are the facts (or here is the truth).” You come back with a positive statement.

Use of the word “not” in any circumstance should be the big flag to you.

Not is negative, pure and simple.

Rule #2. Stay on your message. If you decide to do an interview, do so with a clear thought of what message you want to deliver regardless of what question the reporter asks. The reporter always has his or her pre-conceived idea of what they want you to say, but it’s your interview and you decide what you want to say.

One of the best examples of staying on message was a CNN interview early one morning with Rick Scott, the multi-millionaire businessman running for governor of Florida in 2012. His message was he was all about creating jobs and he had the know how to do so.

No matter what question the reporter asked he brought it back to his message that he was all about jobs. Every answer was “jobs.” He was relentless.

So what if the reporter got frustrated? Scott got his message across.

Incidentally, he won.

Rule #3: Master the technique of “blocking and bridging.” This is the device that enables you to stay on message. It simply means you quickly dispense with the question you’re being asked, that is you block the thrust of what the reporter is asking and you bridge to what you want to say.

For example the reporter says “isn’t it true you’ve lost ground to your competitor?” You respond “I’m here to discuss the processes in place that will restore us to primacy in the marketplace—they are a,b and c. . . . you don’t talk about the competition nor do you even accept the premise of the reporter’s question, you block and bridge to your positive message.

Rule #4: Look at the reporter and smile as much as possible. Don’t look at the camera. And always look the reporter straight in the eye, don’t be looking over their shoulder or to the side – if you do it comes across on camera as shifty eyed.

Rule #5: The mike is always on! Never say a word you don’t want recorded and if you act like the mike is always on you’ll never be embarrassed by an open mike which has tripped up some of the best from time to time, even the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.

Rule 6#: Never assume a reporter is your friend. They are after a story and if they can lull you into a false sense of security so that you say something you don’t want others to see or hear, for them it is a better story.

If they end up getting you to embarrass yourself, laugh at the wrong time, cry or say something profane so much the better because television is an emotional medium.

Keep these simple rules in mind and your 15 seconds of fame won’t live in infamy and eternal embarrassment for you. Now go do that interview and remember you’re in control.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

An edited excerpt from Chris Carlson’s new book, Medimont Reflections, about the idea of breaching Snake River dams – and the effect on Lewiston.

Ed Chaney has been correct all along. So has my Columbia classmate, Pat Ford. From their first appearances before the Northwest Power Planning Council in 1981, through all the intervening years in interviews, articles, lawsuits, and speeches, each has consistently said that the best science says and will always say that the only real solution to restoring native salmon and steelhead runs to their former state, as required by the Northwest Power Planning Act, is to breach the four lower Snake River dams.

Supporters of the status quo and of leaving the dams in place like to point out that in terms of sheer numbers of the various runs of returning salmon and steelhead, the count is up and still rising. This is of course due to the large amount of supplementing the runs with hatchery-raised fingerlings and smolts.

Chaney points out that one should only examine the numbers of wild fish, which continue to steadily decline.

Chaney and Ford believe the law as reflected by and through the Northwest Power Planning Act and the Endangered Species law requires the restoration of the wild runs of salmon and steelhead. They insist these runs represent a distinct and separate gene pool that is declining.

On the face of it, their contention the dams continue to damage and facilitate decline appears incontestable. Courts appear also to agree with them as they have successfully petitioned to have most of the so-called “Bi-ops” developed by the Corps, the Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NOAA and Bonneville Power Administration invalidated.

Breaching the dams is therefore the only measure not tried yet to restore and enhance the runs. What seals the deal, however, are the economic arguments for breaching the dams.

There are 31 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers which produce 60 percent of the region’s hydroelectricity. The power produced by the four lower Snake dams is about 1 percent of the overall production. BPA of course sells and distributes this power.

Due to the several laws guiding BPA’s management of this “federal base system,” the agency also funds and manages a fishery enhancement program whose goal is, as the law requires, protecting, mitigating and enhancing the runs.

In March, I asked the agency’s public communications office to provide me with an estimate of how much money they have expended to meet the law’s requirement for the 11-year period of 2002 through 2012.

The total number is a staggering $7.35 billion, or an average of $677 million a year, with little, if any, progress being made in enhancing and protecting the wild runs.

Subtract the breaching costs from that figure and cease funding all of the fruitless efforts underway and the region’s ratepayers would be billions ahead shortly.

The next unsound economical entity is the Port of Lewiston itself. Sold by its boosters that it was going to be the catalyst of an economic rebirth for Lewiston, it has been nothing of the sort. Boosters of the port sold Nez Perce County voters a bill of goods, saying that a local option sales tax would be short-lived and retired.

Fifty years later the tax is still on the books. Face it — the Port of Lewiston is a heavily subsidized operation that will never pay for itself. The citizens of Lewiston and Nez Perce County would be far better off shutting it down and supporting dam breaching as their preferred path back to real prosperity.

Another reason that should galvanize support for dam breaching is the likelihood of a 10-year flood event inundating Lewiston’s downtown core. In large part due to the rapid buildup of silt in and around the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, water is already well above the street level in the downtown.

The levees constructed by the Army Corps were designed (there’s that engineering word again) to have a 7- to 8-foot margin above the anticipated highest level of the water. Today it is much closer to a 2- to 3-foot margin.

Meteorologists and other government agency forecasters, when pressed, will admit that a 10-year flood event, such as heavy snow in the mountains followed by a surge in temperature with a commensurate heavy rain that could bring most of the mountain moisture cascading down the Clearwater could easily inundate the city.

Lewiston City officials will also concede their ability to remove that amount of water is virtually nonexistent. For all practical purposes, the water would be trapped on the inside and it might take weeks to remove it by various siphoning methods. The damages would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and insurance would not begin to cover the rebuilding cost.

This is not a case of if; it is rather a matter of when.

The Corps response is to propose a massive dredging program for the next 50 years. By law the Corps is required to maintain a channel behind Lower Granite dam, just downstream from the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, that is 14 feet deep and 250 feet wide to facilitate barge access to the Port of Lewiston.

It’s not happening, folks.

Needless to say, the rapid accumulation of river-borne sediment will significantly add to the cost and the subsidies necessary to keep the port open and to operate the dams.

Kooskia resident and environmental activist Linwood Laughy estimates the 10-year cost of the taxpayer subsidy necessary to keep the port of Lewiston open would be $39 million — and the sedimentation accumulation would still continue.

He believes each fully loaded barge leaving the infrequently used Port of Lewiston leaves with a taxpayer subsidy of $19,000 reflecting the dredging and sediment management activities.

Virtually the only option left to comply with the Northwest Power Planning Act and the Endangered Species Act appears to be breaching and it is just a matter of time — unless of course those who want to save the dams can muster the political support to amend the Power Act and the ESA law. Such a prospect is highly unlikely.

So as a region let’s face up to the inevitable and get on with breaching the four dams.

A pure guess is that the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams would be somewhere between $500 million and $1.5 billion. This is a huge chunk of change, but still represents less than 20 percent of the costs incurred by BPA over the first decade of this century trying to enhance the native salmon and steelhead runs.

In this period of diminishing federal resources as the nation tries to get a handle on its deficit spending challenge, however, the cost benefits derived from adopting the last, best chance for real fishery enhancement are overwhelmingly compelling.

Add to that the cost avoidance of the flooding out of Lewiston and the elimination of shipping subsidies and breaching is a no-brainer.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

One of the guiding principles for legislators and other elected officials is often summed up by the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Elected officials are lobbied by a variety of special interests who seek advantage for their respective enterprise by seeing a law or regulation passed that will give them a competitive advantage although it is sold to lawmakers as increasing efficiency or a new and better way to generate tax revenue.

Lawmakers listen, deliberate and then say yeah or nay with the guiding thought of what is the greatest good for the greatest number.

Another guiding principle is the need for laws to protect the lives of people.

The first law of the social contract is that people band together to protect life, especially the weak, young, elderly, and disabled from the strong, the greedy, the selfish who exploit weakness wherever it is seen.

For Idahoans these two guiding principles should be kept in mind as the public is asked to comment in hearings before the Idaho Transportation Board on regulations needed for the implementation of a new law passed by the Legislature at the behest of Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch and Clearwater Paper to allow on north Idaho roads the weight of trucks to be increased from a limit of 106,000 pounds to 129,000 pounds.

Dear reader, this quite simply is not in the public interest nor would it be safe, especially in wintertime. It is a classic case of corporate interests rationalizing their desire to maximize their profits regardless of the increased risk to the driving public.

Look at a map of north Idaho and note the facilities owned by Idaho Forest Group. From Moyie Springs to Laclede to Grangeville to Lewiston, to Chilcoe, the firm, the result of a merger several years ago, has its mills in disparate locations. Someone, somewhere within the company no doubt did a study that showed if they could increase the weight of whatever they hauled between these facilities they could reduce operating expenses and make a few bucks more.

But at what price? Some critics cite the increased weight doing more damage to roads and bridges, but a ten year study in southern Idaho supposedly showed that not to be the case. That’s not really the issue, though.

The issue is and the only question that matters is will this extra bit of profit come at the expense of more risk to and the eventual loss of human life. The fact that only one hauler was brave enough to testify against the bill should be telling, and yes, off the record the major haulers in the region reportedly said they had gotten the word to keep quiet their reservations.

The lone brave hauler expressed genuine concern about how unsafe he and all twenty of his drivers felt the increased weight would be.

Here’s the other kicker to keep in mind. If in the wintertime a 129,000 pound truck going down the Winchester grade on Highway 95, starts to slide in an icy spot and the second oft-times smaller trailer starts to swing into the oncoming lane, and hits an oncoming vehicle that results in serious injury or death, guess who is most liable?

You guessed it – the hauler, even though he may be hauling product for Idaho Forest Group under contract, IFG does not have to concern itself with the safety issue because they don’t own the trucks. The safety issue is the haulers’ concern not theirs. So the north Idaho ‘big three” get all the benefit and none of the new risk. Isn’t that interesting?

Fortunately, even Governor Butch Otter when signing a special interest bill he should have vetoed, underscored that the rulemaking process had to operate on the principle of safety first, of protecting life not putting it at risk, of reflecting the greatest good for the greatest number.

Let’s hope the public reinforces that message and that this piece of special interest legislation gives way to the public interest.

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medimont


Medimont Reflections with shipping




Ridenbaugh Press has a number of books scheduled for release in the next few months, and today we’re pleased to lead off with a book of reflection and analysis by one of our regular columnists, Chris Carlson.

Chris’ Medimont Reflections, available now from this site (and soon locally around the Northwest), is a followup on his last book, a biography of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. This one expands the view, bringing in Carlson’s take on Idaho politics over the years, the Northwest energy planning council, top environmental issues and much more.

The first review, from Dan Popkey of the Idaho Statesman, is out today. Popkey called it “a pull-back-the-curtain account of his 40 years as a player in public life in Idaho…. Carlson, who lives in the Kootenai County hamlet of Medimont, writes a newspaper column and has larded his 13 chapters with opinions. He says the council should be abolished because of its failure to revive salmon and steelhead; advocates breaching four dams on the lower Snake River; and offers his ideas on nuclear waste, the LDS influence on Idaho politics, gun control, abortion and end-of-life ethics. His behind-the-scenes accounts of the creation of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area include lovely details.”

Carlson and Ridenbaugh Press’ Randy Stapilus will take a circumnavigation tour through all the regions and most of the larger cities of Idaho starting a week from now. More information about that (inclulding what is meant by a “circumnavigation tour”) will be available here soon.

Carlson was the first member of the Northwest Power Planning Council (since renamed, but very much active), and in the book he calls for elimination of the council – though he suggests that a different structure be followed up afterward to replace what he considers to have been a toothless tiger.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

“Where have you gone. . . .?

Hum these lines to the tune of the Simon & Garfunkel song that became the theme music to that 60’s classic movie, The Graduate:

“Where have you gone Junketing Jim?/

Idaho turns its needy eyes to you?/

What’s that you say, Junketing Jim?/

Hard workers have up and gone away/

So those that stay might as well play?

Heh, heh, heh; heh, heh heh.

That, my friends, is essentially what Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, told Idaho Statesman political reporter Dan Popkey in a story that appeared May 6: nothing gets done in the nation’s capital, and everything is stalemated, a senator may as well sit back, not work hard, enjoy international travel, and coast along.

And, oh, by the way, that seven months he was governor, now that was hard work, especially shifting more tax burden to those that pay the sales tax but providing additional property tax relief to his big corporate supporters. I’ll grant you that Risch did do more in seven months than Dirk Kempthorne did in seven years, but apparently being a U.S. senator is so much easier it makes you wonder why he didn’t skip being Lt. Governor or Governor and run for the Senate years ago.

Most senators and congressman catch “Potomac fever” eventually. As Oregon Senator Richard Neuberger wrote in an article in the Saturday Evening Post in the late 50s, “they never go back to Pocatello.” Most get captured by that “inside the beltway” mentality which falsely believes they live in the center of the universe and everything that is important takes place inside the beltway that surrounds the nation capital.

Even after they leave office, many do not return home but stay and become lobbyists or join prestigious law firms or ideological think tanks for which they are paid handsomely. Truth be told, two of the five highest per capita income counties in the nation are just outside Washington, D.C. It’s the money that captures many, but it is also the money that serves to create the huge disconnect between those within the beltway and those outside.

Money, however, is not the reason Senator Risch and wife Vickie have so quickly been captured, and so quickly lost touch. Senator Risch is already one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth that may be as much as $50 million.

No, in Senator Risch’s case he has fallen for the siren song of foreign travel, paid for either by the taxpayer or by special interests. Rather than travel home to Idaho for most of a congressional recess he is off to places all over the globe.

Sometimes he travels with Vickie, sometimes with chief of staff, John Sandy, who also appears to travel overseas by himself as well.

Senator Risch, though, you see, is the second ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and it’s important that he get around the world. And he is an important man in a city that does nothing but still try and get an appointment to see him either when on the rare occasion he’s actually in the state or when he is D.C. It is nigh on impossible I’m told.

Curious as to just what all his foreign travel entailed I pulled at random a trip the Senator and Vickie took to Israel in 2011 and one his chief of staff took to Erbil, the capital city of the semi-autonomous province of Kurdistan in northern Iraq in 2012.

Granted the trip may have tangentially had something to do with the subcommittee he chairs on near eastern affairs but the itinerary had plenty of nice meals and time for sightseeing. The expenses appear to have been paid for by the American Israeli Education Foundation, an off-shoot of AIPAC, one of the most influential lobbying groups in the city.

Total cost for the five day trip was $8,000 for the two of them, so obviously first class all the way. More troubling was the sponsor certifying that there was no relation between them and any registered lobbyist or any agent of a foreign government. If Senator Risch believes AIEF is not a wholly controlled subsidiary of AIPAC and that the Mossad was not monitoring his trip every step of the way, he doesn’t belong in Congress. Why the Senate Ethics committee insists on this fiction is beyond me.

As to John Sandy’s trip to Erbil, let’s just say the fact that it was sponsored by something called the Humpty Dumpty Institute (seriously) and some company called Aspect Energy says it all. One really does have to ask just what is in these trips for the citizens of Idaho.

Given the Senator’s arrogant attitude I doubt he’ll bother to answer. One can only hope the Democrats come up with a credible alternative in 2014 for he and Vickie might just discover even in solidly Republican Idaho one cannot so take for granted an office bestowed by the people. They that give can taketh away.

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Noticed a few weeks back where you climbed Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park on a Sunday with your press aide, a reporter from the New York Times, and some National Park Service personnel.

It certainly befit your image as a hard-charging executive into vigorous outdoor activity as one would expect a former REI president, banker and engineer to be. That you are successful, smart and talented cannot be questioned.

How attuned you are to the politics of the Interior Department, both internal
and external, is another question entirely. Candidly, your lack of any
experience in the political world would have disqualified you in my book,
but now that you’re there in the interests of you having a successful tenure
here is some unsolicited advice:

1. Pick the brains of your predecessors. There’s no substitute for experience and there is a wealth of it in your predecessors, both Republicans and Democrats. Look at former secretaries as a Club and a talent pool to be tapped and develop relationships with all of them. Bruce Babbitt, Cecil Andrus, Ken Salazar, Dirk Kempthorne, Gail Norton are all individuals who can and will give discreet counsel if asked.

2. Be aware of fiefdom agendas. Interior is a collection of fiefdoms all
fighting for your ear and your favor, especially at budget time. Many are in actuality run by career bureaucrats who have seen secretaries and political appointees come and go, but they remain and stay focused on their agency goals. You may have liked the symbolism of climbing Old Rag because of the image enhancement it conveyed to the public. I did not because it made me wonder if you were not already being entrapped by the Park Service.

There’s an old saying in politics, “it’s your friends, not your enemies,
whom most often do you in.” Governor Andrus was constantly running into “land mines” being laid for him by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of the fiefdoms that simply decided he was not pure enough on their issues.

3. Fire someone right away and make it stick. There’ll be plenty of candidates but until you demonstrate to the bureaucracy that you know how to fire someone for incompetence and make it stick you’ll not really command respect. Real leaders are not just loved, they are also feared. It takes real skill to fire someone in the federal service given the layers of civil service rules and regulations. It’s easy in the private sector, almost impossible in the public sector.

4. Recognize and embrace Interior’s revenue generation activities. Interior is one of the few federal agencies that generates real money for the treasury – from grazing leases to off-shore oil and gas drilling activities, to coal production to Park fees – there’s a vast gamut of money generators, and a major part of your job is to keep the ka-ching going. Hence, decisions you make on tough issues from oil pipeline permits to the regulations governing “fracturing” on the public lands have to balance the environmental concerns against the economic necessities. Trying to strike the right balance is the challenge.

5. Cultivate western governors. Interior is the agency in many western states and you can make real allies out of western governors if you take time to learn about their concerns and keep in constant contact with them.

6. Develop a Critical Issues Management system and focus your time on just those top five issues. You decide what those five are to the extent the White House will let you and then focus on solving the challenges. Yes, current events, something like an especially bad fire season, can divert you, but try to minimize such diversions.

7. Get a handle on and reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs. President Obama is the most Native American friendly president in history. This gives you an unprecedented opportunity to sink your teeth into badly needed reforms in one of the historically most poorly run fiefdoms within the department. Virtually every Interior secretary in modern times has been aware of the many problems within the BIA and has chosen to take the “keep the lid on” approach rather than seek real reform. You and President Obama can change that to the benefit of both the taxpayer and the many poorly served Native American tribes. For starters take a look at the success of many of the Alaska Native Regional Corporations to see if that model cannot in a modified form be transferred to the Lower 48.

You do these seven, Secretary Jewell, and you’ll be a successful Interior
secretary. With respect and best wishes. . . .

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carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

In April I listed ten suggested reforms that would assist learning by students from the student perspective. This week I’m offering thoughts on suggested reform actions from the standpoint of teachers and school administrators.

1) Allow teachers to maintain discipline. Teachers are in the classroom to teach, not baby-sit. If a student is being disruptive and a teacher tosses the person from the class the supervisor or principal has to back the teacher up. Zero tolerance for disruptive behavior and no second chances. Teachers should instill in students that public education is a privilege not an entitlement.
2) Significantly decrease the load on teachers that comes from having to fill out too many “process forms.”
3) Provide teachers with more “prep time.”
4) Require teachers to take more pre-teaching college classes in history and the humanities and fewer classes in educational theory or psychology.
5) Since Idaho does not and probably never will pay its teachers a decent salary, mandate that every teacher, including coaches on the teaching faculty take a fully paid sabbatical every fifth year to recharge the batteries. Teaching, done correctly, is very demanding and draining. Burnout can occur frequently. This would at least give Idaho a unique offering with which to attract new teachers. Which leads to the next item;
6) Strengthen teacher recruiting and retention programs.
7) Require teachers to participate with each of their “homeroom” students in a semi-annual review of the student’s Planned Path to the Mastery of Common Core Knowledge.
8) Evaluation of a teacher’s skill and success in teaching should be based on extensive in-class observation and not on test results.
9) Evaluation of teachers should require above the 7th Grade a student evaluation component and allow for but not require parental input.
10) Campuses should be weapon-free environments except for police hired to provide security in their “spare time” or a hired and trained armed security force. Neither teachers nor students should be allowed to carry on a school campus.

Here are my suggestions for public school administrators:

1) Periodic rotation back to the classroom so as to keep abreast of the in-class challenges facing teachers today.
2) Taking the lead in advocating for teachers before school boards, PTA’s and the public, especially in support of enforcing discipline, adopting a performance based system instead of a time-oriented credit system, and supporting flexible learning time.
3) Require all administrators and principals to undergo media training so as to be better at conveying messages to the public through the media, especially if a school is in a crisis mode.
4) Support teacher mentoring programs.
5) Provide more but shorter “CLE” courses for teachers.
6) Integrate the non-teaching workforce into the system in each district and provide opportunities to expand their participation as teacher aides or additional resources for special projects. Some bus drivers, for example, in some districts, are well-educated themselves and represent an untapped resource.
7) Administrators should be required to attend a certain number of school board meetings each year so as to better understand the challenges a district is facing and to minimize the us vs. them atmosphere.
8) Administrators should have as part of their evaluation a “community participation” requirement – they should join and actively participate in at least one local organization, such as a Chamber, Kiwanis Club, Elk’s Club, American Legion, etc.
9) All administrators should support a no extra-curricular trip more than eight hours away from the school. It’s getting ridiculous seeing, for example, high school basketball teams entail the expense as well as discriminate against the students from less financially secure families by scheduling themselves into holiday tournaments in states like California or Texas.
10) Administrators should be required to conduct extensive background checks on any new hires recognizing that it is difficult due to privacy rules to really develop a profile of a new hire without professional assistance.

There you have it: ten rules for students, ten for teachers and ten for administrators. If all were adopted and integrated into each and every school district I guarantee more learning would take place.

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