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Trump and Santa

jones

It is well known that the President is a big fan of coal. It plays a central part in his energy program. In fact, he has repeatedly called for an increase in the mining and burning of coal. He has promised to revitalize the coal industry and bring back coal-mining jobs. During campaign appearances in coal country leading up to the midterm elections, his supporters passed out placards proclaiming “TRUMP DIGS COAL.”

Energy sector analysts point out that other sources of energy are cleaner and have become cheaper than coal, but that has not diminished the Chief’s passion for coal. He has directed Energy Secretary Rick Perry to implement a program to subsidize the use of coal. Perry, the candidate who famously forgot the name of the agency he now runs during the 2016 presidential debates, is working on a plan to keep coal-fired plants running with taxpayer help.

And, the President is not afraid of ruffling a few feathers in the process. During meetings in Germany and Poland in November and December, his people touted the benefits of burning coal at meetings designed to fight climate change. While participants from almost every country were pointing out the planet-killing effects of burning coal, our guys were in there pitching for that much-maligned substance. It took some moxie to stand up for a fuel whose pollution contributes to hundreds of thousands of deaths around the globe every year.

In a little-noticed report issued by the U.S. Geological Survey on Black Friday, it was disclosed that about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in our country come from coal and oil extracted from federally-controlled lands. The President wants to open up additional federal lands for extraction of fossil fuels.

Another federal report released the same day warned that damage from climate change is intensifying across the country, thanks to greenhouse gas emissions from the burning of fossil fuels--coal and oil. The President pooh-poohed the findings of his own governmental agencies. Apparently, it is full-steam ahead with heating up the planet.

This has created a real dilemma for Santa Claus. According to some sources, Santa has placed the President on a naughty list, partly for global warming issues but also for having a standoffish relationship with the truth and a too close relationship with a bunny and a star of prurient movies. In the President’s defense, his friends Vladimir the Russian and MBS, a Saudi prince who turned a Saudi human rights advocate into hamburger, were higher up on the naughty list.

The coal-burning/global-warming issue is personal for Santa because he lives and works at the North Pole. It is not a secret that global warming is melting the ice at Santa’s workshop and he is sore that he will eventually have to move his operation or close it down.

Santa normally puts lumps of coal in the stockings of people who are on his naughty list. But, if the purpose of doing so is to admonish the naughty person, what do you do with the delinquent who actually love coal and lots of it? It presents a real dilemma for the Jolly Old Elf. My thought is that we ought to take the coal away from our leader--leave it in the ground. That would help Santa and all of the rest of us to breathe easier.
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – December 24

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for December 17. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

TO OUR READERS: This edition is the last of 2018, as we take a one-week break for the Christmas holidays. We’ll return on January 7 with an edition covering the end of 2018 and first week of 2019.

More growth in business news continued through the week as unemployment levels dropped to near record lows. How long will those levels persist? Meanwhile, as much of the state saw snow or slush, Idahoans prepared for the Christmas-New Year’s holidays.

Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill and Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Terry L. Myers will step down from their roles as the chief judges effective January 1. U.S. District Judge David C. Nye and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Joseph M. Meier will assume the role of chief in their respective courts on January 2, 2019. Judge Winmill and Judge Myers will continue to carry full caseloads.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 2.6% in November, down slightly from October and continuing at or below 3% for the 15th consecutive month. The state’s labor force – the total number of people 16 years of age and older working or looking for work – was 854,243, increasing by 0.1% and essentially unchanged since July.

Governor-elect Brad Little’s transition committee continues its work. Kelley Packer will lead as Bureau Chief of the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licensure. Packer is a former Idaho State Representative from McCammon. Tom Kealey will be the new Director of the Department of Commerce. Kealey is a co-owner of the restaurant chain Chicago Connection and a former executive at Morrison-Knudsen. The chairman and executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party have announced their impending exits which will take place March 16. Chairman Bert Marley, will not seek re-election when the post is next up for election on March 16. Marley has been chair of the IDP since August 2015.

Legislation championed by senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch to bring into wide use newer, more efficient energy reactors cleared the United States Senate by a voice vote.

Idaho’s growing economy, a consistent decrease in layoffs and a solvent Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund are all contributing to a 6.6% decrease in unemployment insurance tax rates for 2019.

Boise Kind is a community-wide initiative that highlights, protects and promotes the community’s core values and helps to ensure Boise remains kind and welcoming.

IMAGE Higher elevations in Idaho saw increasing snow levels in December, and road managers scrambled to clear them. (photo/Idaho Department of Transportation)
 

In review

stapiluslogo1

I for one take note that what may be the most important thing to happen in Idaho this year - ballot placement and voter passage of the initiative to expand Medicaid access in the state - wasn’t even mentioned in the looking-ahead column I wrote a year ago.

Why not? The initiative effort was active and rolling by the end of 2017; the ballot effort was filed and the campaign in place; the advocates were at work. But it looked then like a long shot. Getting any initiative to Idaho ballot status has been, in recent years, a daunting task completed by few. And what would be the odds of Idaho voters backing one of the key components of Obamacare, which so many of their elected officials have described for years like the work of the devil?

But here we are, with the measure passed (and under challenge in court, though - prognostication alert - the challenge probably will fail). Goes to show how many of the most important developments in the course of a year also are the most surprising.

Last year I couched much of the look-ahead column in the form of questions, such as: “Should we shut the door on Democratic prospects in Idaho? And even if major offices prove elusive, might Democrats see substantial gains in the legislature or in the courthouses?”

These remained fair questions through much of the year, though the answer on election day seemed close to what had been broadly expected: Democrats did a little better in 2018 than usual, both in filling key ballot slots and in the final vote, but not by a lot. Republicans remain solidly in control. Makes you wonder now if the Medicaid expansion measure had an effect on that.

Another question I raised then turned out to be relevant, though not in the way anticipated: “There are candidates from the establishment Republican world (Brad Little for governor and David Leroy for Congress), and from the outside-activist wing (Raul Labrador and Russell Fulcher, respectively), and candidates a little harder to easily classify. Will we see a consistent thread running between them? Will this year’s Republican primary turn into a battle between slates of candidates the way 2014 did? Will it lead to bitter conflicts the way that one did, or settle out more easily?”

The inside and outside question was on point. But unlike in 2014, when the two sides split cleanly into de facto slates, the races in 2018 did not cohere so simply. The governor’s race featured three significant candidates, enough to splinter the vote and alter the conversation - and alliances - in important ways. Republicans up and down the ballot were not lumped together in groups as they had been four years earlier, maybe reflecting the complex governor’s race. Republicans came out of this year’s election no doubt with some hard feelings (tough primaries almost always generate at least some, and did on the Democratic side too), but of nowhere near the depth or scope that the party had to deal with after 2014.

I did say that “2018 stands to be a lively political year,” and it was, with several hard-to-predict primaries (the Democratic gubernatorial primary result was a surprise to a lot of people) and a heated general election contest. But the end result in most of the major races, and in overall control of the state legislature, were never much in question. 2018 did not change the basic political equation in Idaho except for the Medicaid expansion (and a subtle but maybe significant voting shift in western Ada County).

2019 won’t feature a major election in Idaho (at least, not that we can foresee right now). But the after-effects of 2018 will be in evidence. I’ll get to that next week.
 

Now what?

schmidt

It’s been over eight years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) became law with NO republican votes. Since, we have had many political campaigns propped up on “Repeal!”, then “Repeal and Replace!” and now we have the decision of a Texas Federal judge that the whole thing should just go away. He bases his opinion on the fact that the Trump tax break for corporations and the wealthy passed last year overturned the individual mandate. OK. I get it. You Republicans don’t like the Affordable Care Act. But just what did you have in mind to get us out of this mess we are in?

Americans pay almost twice as much per person for healthcare as the next developed country in the world. And ALL of the other developed countries have universal coverage, either through a single payer plan or regulated private insurers like the ACA was headed toward. So just what do you Republicans have in mind for us? I hear all these “free market” and charity care notions. Is that the direction you want to take a 21st century American economy? It’s about time we heard your plan. Obstruction politics is getting old, don’t you think?

Most Americans get their health insurance from their workplace. If they have a medical condition, they then become a slave of that expensive benefit. If they try to change employers, thanks to the Texas judge who heard from lawyers with Republican support and funding, their preexisting condition can exclude them from coverage. If they don’t have a medical problem, they just think they could start a business on their own that might be a real economic driver, now they can’t afford to buy their own or their employees’ coverage since the individual marketplace is in shambles, thanks to eight years of republican obstruction. The ACA tried to address this. It didn’t very successfully, since there was no real congressional oversight of the individual health insurance marketplace for the last 8 years, thanks to Republican posturing.

And that’s what it’s all about here is posturing. Strike the pose that gets the crowd roaring. I guess we can afford to waste this time. We are all so comfortable with our Netflix and ATV’s that we don’t see the money we are wasting on this health care industrial complex. After all, it’s only a $20 Trillion-dollar national debt we hand to our children, and if our economy just grows at 5%, then that will all disappear. I am not comforted.

Where are the Republican ideas? Is it too painful to admit that the ACA was actually a pretty conservative plan put forth by a charismatic Democratic president who had to twist a lot of left arms to get it to pass? Is it too painful to admit that the ACA resembles Romney’s plan for Massachusetts or McCain’s 2008 plan? I’m sorry it is so painful, but we need you Republicans to start giving us some answers. And please, one without a promise that the Mexicans will pay for it.

We have serious issues regarding our national health care. Why can’t we have serious discussions about the solutions? Do you republicans who hate the individual mandate think all people should have health insurance? Do you republicans who have fought the individual market place think health care coverage should be portable and affordable for people who don’t get insurance through their big employer? Come on, let us know your plan. I’d love to hear it.
 

Ad 1, for Individual 1

stapiluslogo1

You could reasonably say that campaign season is on when the television ads begin.

If so, then the 2020 presidential is definitely under way, since President Donald Trump has released his first TV ad. And what an ad it is - drastically unusual in one very specific respect.

I've seen loads of political TV ads, and helped design a few. They can accomplish a number of things: Make you feel good about the candidate, attack the opponent, highlight an issue.

Trump ad #1 does none of these things.

Oh, it takes a pass at the personal candidate support. In this one, Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Parscale is featured, and talks about the candidate, declaring “President Trump has achieved more during his time in office than any president in history.” Because initial ads from incumbents are intended to help rev up the support base, that isn't so unusual (however highly debatable it may be).

Nor is the eventual appeal to contribute to the campaigns. Most candidates, in one fashion or another, do that too. You can do that by way of a toll-free telephone number highlighted on the screen (also not unusual).

But the pitch for money actually comes later, after you've already gotten on the phone. The reason to get on the phone, Parscale says: “I need you to call the number on your screen and deliver a ‘thank you’ to President Trump.”

And later: “We need to let President Trump know that we appreciate what he’s doing for America.”

Or, well, what? He might not run again if not enough people sufficiently feed his ego?

The ad does not hit at any specific reason supporting Trump would be good for either the country or you, the viewer, personally. (There's a quick runthrough of talking point phrases, but nothing linking any of those things specifically to anything specific Trump did.) The ad at core is about telling Donald Trump how wonderful he is. The phrase "thank you" turns up in it more than anything else. And oh yeah, have your credit card handy.

This is truly something new in political ads. Usually, we're given at least some sort of a case why we should support candidate A (or oppose candidate B). This one doesn't do that. It doesn't give any reason at all. It doesn't even seem to indicate whether Trump would appreciate it.

There's no reason at all.

The only point we hear from Trump is at the end when his voice delivers the legally-required message that he approved this ad.

Will be interesting to see how many other people do.

How do we choose?

schmidt

Idahoans have chosen Butch Otter to be governor for the last twelve years, despite not thinking too highly of him. A recent poll showed he had a “net approval” of +12 while the state had a “Republican partisan lean” of +34, so he was actually 22 points behind any generic Republican. Idaho’s partisan lean was the third highest in the country.

A high-priced political consultant from back east presented some information to Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry 4 years ago about Idaho politics. He explained that Idahoans just weren’t politically engaged. His graphic evidence showed that ten times more Idahoans Googled “otter” meaning the cute river or sea mammal, than “Otter” the governor.

I always did a lot of door knocking when I ran for State Senate. I would knock and wait, then introduce myself, “Hi, I’m Dan Schmidt your state senator.” The most common response was, “You are?” and a look of surprise. I would ask about their concerns and explain why I thought they should vote for me. If the door didn’t slam, I would usually ask how they decided who to vote for. I’d hear: “Oh I decide based on the person, what I know about them.” That’s the myth people want to believe about their decisions, that they are informed and make wise choices. The truth is, most people can’t name who are their elected representatives, let alone what they stand for or any work they have done. It’s pretty hard to stay informed on all the details. And it’s boring. Netflix is better.

When an electorate is not engaged, there is usually low participation and certain default choices. Idaho voters show up in presidential year elections at a 70-80% participation of registered voters (which is less than 60% of eligible voters). Midterm years (like this year), it’s about 50-60% of registered voters.

There is no doubt partisan affiliation is the default setting when the voter decides to participate and only has limited information. The very strong Republican Party brand in Idaho right now is complicated by the question “Which Republican Party?” If the polling is accurate, Proposition 2/ Medicaid Expansion has pretty strong statewide support. Even a slim majority of Republicans seem to support it. Yet Republican Lieutenant Governor candidate Janice McGeachen successfully got the state Republican party to condemn Prop 2.

The last time Idaho Republicans went through this sort of test was when Otter (not the cute one) had the gumption to have a fight over establishing the state-based health insurance exchange (Your Health Idaho). Many Republican legislators were condemned by their local county party committees for their support of this brave initiative. YHI went on to be the most popular state exchange in the country; indigent and Catastrophic Health Care costs plummeted, reaping the general fund a tidy return and decreasing Idaho’s uninsured rate significantly. But that bitter fight left some deep scars in that big tent Republican Party.

Will Republicans shy away from an intramural fight before the November election? Some aren’t afraid to make their stance known. Twenty Republican House members signed on to opposition of Prop 2 last week. Most moderate Republican candidates I’ve heard aren’t willing to commit. And if their brand is strong enough, and the voters aren’t too engaged, maybe it won’t matter for them. They might welcome being mistaken for a cute water mammal.
 

Pro-Trump, annotated

stapiluslogo1

On the 17th, the New York Times did an excellent service, turning over its editorial page to backers of President Donald Trump. That offered a useful counterpoint to the Times' own views, which have run deeply in opposition to the president over the last year, and prior.

Those of us who have asked over the last year, "What can they be thinking?" when it comes to Trump support got some answers here, as a page-worth of letters to the editor pitched the Trump case. They offer up a clear picture of what their side of the argument looks like.

One noted, for example, "Some of the many positive results of his policies are a booming economy, low unemployment (record low for black Americans), soaring stock market, lower taxes, the repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage." You can read the whole thing at the Times site.

Those arguments can be broken down to 10 core, frequently-made points (and I'll throw in a peripheral, less-mentioned extra), noted here in no particular order. But each of them also cries out for an annotation, which is also here.

1. "The economy is up ... low unemployment (record low for black Americans), soaring stock market ..." The economy is in fact doing well - now. It is doing almost exactly the same as it did a year ago, in the last year of Barack Obama's administration, and in the years before that, which is to say that nothing much has changed. The point has been made that the stock market made better progress in the early Obama Administration (after a severe crash at the end of the Bush Administration), and the point could be made that a high stock market these days often has more to do with stock buybacks and employee layoffs than it does actual national productivity or prosperity. But the larger point is that many of the same conditions which led us to the 2008 crash are now - blindly - being brought back as policy choices. You say the economy is doing well today? Great. Stay tuned. We'll see how long it lasts.

2. "foreign tyrants are afraid ... putting real pressure on North Korea and Iran ... stronger plans to prevent North Korea and Iran from using nuclear weapons." Here we move into fantasy. Whatever else they are, the leaders of Iran and North Korea seem to be not in the slightest intimidated; they're seeing, to the contrary, a president who can be manipulated with astounding ease.

3. "has largely defeated ISIS in Iraq." The ISIS news out of Iraq is indeed excellent, but this is much like the situation with the economy: The military pattern from 2016 - which involved United States military backup, but not a primary combat role - was in general continued through 2017, with similar results; this was a matter simply of leaving a reasonable policy to run on autopilot. Almost any president likely would have done something similar. You can fairly credit Trump for not trashing it, but that's about as much credit as is reasonable to give.

4. "the repeal of mandatory health insurance coverage." Well thank God we're not required to get health insurance! Who knows what that might lead to? What this provision, slipped in at the last moment (without, God forbid, any hearings or study of impact) likely will do is destabilize the insurance marketplace for us all - which would mean higher prices and reduced coverage. The point of the mandate is to spread risk widely; spreading risk is the point of insurance, period. The ACA may be flawed, but many of its critics seem not to understand even in the most general terms what insurance is or how it works. They should educate themselves about that.

5. "our embassy will be moved to Jerusalem." There are arguments to be made, and some people have made them for decades, about why this might be a good idea; those seem to be heavily outnumbered by the arguments for why it seems more likely to exacerbate tension and conflict in the Middle East. But my point here goes to none of that. It is: How does the location of an embassy in another country benefit us Americans at all? What's the benefit for us? Why is this something for us to celebrate?

6. "tax reform is accomplished." This - the massive bill passed in December - is a fraud. It is not tax "reform"; to call it that is an abuse of the word. When passed, it was so haphazardly put together that even the legislators voting on it did not know what was in it, and there was no time for public exposure or comment. (If there had been, the bill surely would have died.) Beyond that, this comment from conservative commenter Jennifer Rubin: "A tax cut that grows the deficit and gives disproportionate benefits to the rich is a 'win' and 'conservative' because, because … why?" And those recent reports of worker bonuses and the like? Call it a diversionary tactic.

Update: The makers of Kleenex announce layoffs in late January of more than 5,000 nationally. And (in a tweet the next day): "Toys R Us closing 180 stores, Sears closing 63 stores, Kmart closing 45 stores, Macy's closing 68 stores, Sam's Club 63 stores closing, JP Morgan closing several branches." I don't blame any of that on Trump. But don't bother telling me about the job-creating wonders of this tax bill.

7. "has named a number of solid conservative judges." If you're philosophically conservative, I'll give you this one (which would have gone to any Republican elected president). But bear in mind that for a whole lot of Americans, this is a bug, not a feature. Whether this is good or bad depends solely on where you sit, and for a lot of Americans the verdict is not positive.

8. "has prioritized American citizens over illegal immigrants." In terms of rhetoric, Trump has done this, in his fashion. But his approach has had the larger effect of setting Americans against each other. Many Americans have views nothing like the hard-anti-immigrant attitude at much of the core of the Trump base. And much of what we're seeing from that core, egged on by Trump, is cruel and heartless. America has had, since before our nationhood, an ambivalent feeling about its immigrants, but never a president who has whipped up that feeling the way this one has. Actual changes in border crossings, actual practical on-the-ground effects (apart from instilling lots of fear among millions of people) have moved hardly at all in the last year. The emotional climate in the country has changed much more, and not for the better.

9. "has gotten us out of several bad international agreements ... getting out of biased United Nations organizations." Um, no, with the main exception of the Paris climate change accord (which imposed no hard requirements on the United States at all) and to some extent the Pacific trade agreement, he hasn't. We're still in the United Nations. And not much else by way of international trade has much changed. Foreign policy analyst Daniel Drezner points out, "In his first year, Trump can point to no new alliances, trade deals or favorable basing agreements. Trump obsesses (wrongly) about trade deficits, but they increased with both China and Mexico in 2017." And, "The United States is losing its global standing because the world hates Donald Trump. Anyone who tells you differently is selling you something."

10. "has removed a number of wasteful regulations." We hear a lot about "wasteful regulations" but remarkably little about which regulations, exactly, those are. Of course there are regulations that impose needless cost or imposition, and we ought to be targeting and getting rid of them. But that takes effort, time and expertise, none of which have been in evidence over the last year. What we seem to be seeing is a mindless meat-axe, the results of which will come home to roost when we start to discover why those regs were crafted in the first place. Rubin again: "It is not conservative to favor reversing everything President Barack Obama did without regard to changed circumstances or alternatives. That doesn’t make Obama’s political legacy wonderful; it makes those advocating blind destruction without reasoned alternatives anything but conservative."

A bonus argument: "and respect for the flag and the rule of law." Sigh. Respect for the rule of law? Does this really even require a response? Really?

A brief but useful comprehensive rebuttal to all this comes from TV host Joe Scarborough. It's worth a read.

Now as for the list of arguments against Trump, I'm afraid we'd need a list much longer than a top 10 . . .
 

Remembering Cecil Andrus

richardson

I first met Cecil Andrus in 1966, when I was13. My dad introduced us, and I was impressed. Andrus had kind eyes, took time for everyone, and conveyed real interest in each person he met. Four years later, along with a dozen other Lewiston High School teenagers, I spent a summer knocking on doors working to secure Andrus the Democratic nomination for governor. 18-year-olds had not yet won the right to vote, but we were determined to make a difference.

In those days, state primaries were held in late summer. So it was on a hot August night in a store front headquarters on the low-rent end of Main Street that we celebrated his nomination. Three months later, the “north came in” (which it did back then) and at the ripe age of 39, Cece Andrus was elected governor. When the legislature convened in 1971, I was a page sitting in the House chamber proudly watching our new governor deliver his first state of the state address.

Andrus often quoted from Proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” No one listening to that state of the state speech could doubt that Cece Andrus had both insight and foresight. His vision for the state was manifest – excellent public schools, including kindergartens; a healthy and sustainable natural environment, with clean air and clear water; and a vibrant business environment where labor, no less than capital, received its due.

Being well-acquainted with a fair number of politicians, I know that the public persona often differs from the private individual. But Cece Andrus was authentic. Comfortable in his own skin, he was consistent – wise, tough-minded, loyal, and kind.

When our son Jason was just 5 years old, and a year before being elected to his third term as governor, Andrus was the guest of honor at a political event at our home. Jason was thrilled to meet the governor and, afterwards, using his best printing, wrote him a letter: “Dear Governor Andrus, Thank you for coming to our home. I think you are a wonderful governor. Love, Jason – Age 5.”

A few days later, Jason opened our mailbox to find a hand-printed letter addressed to him. It read: “Dear Jason, Thank you for your letter. I think you are a wonderful boy. Love, Cecil – Age 48.”

That kind of personal care and concern was a hallmark of the governor’s interactions with his fellow Idahoans. Many years later, when my dad was in the winter of his life, Cece dropped by the hospital after visiting hours and talked the staff into bending the rules so he could say hello to his “old friend Fred.”

In 1990, in his last run for governor, Cece asked Pete and me to co-chair his re-election effort in Ada County. The governor announced his candidacy at the grade school his granddaughter attended. I was in charge of the logistics and wanted everything to go smoothly. The day was sunny but windy and the podium, flanked by Idaho and American flags, was buffeted by gusts of wind.

As the governor stepped to the podium to speak, the wind picked up and the American flag rapidly unfurled, draping the governor. I was mortified thinking I should have thought to secure it in advance. But Andrus didn’t miss a beat. “You’ve heard of politicians wrapping themselves in the flag,” he said. “But this may be the first time the flag has wrapped itself around a politician!” The crowd roared its approval.

This week, Governor Andrus will again be draped in the American flag. The man may have passed, but his vision endures. I think if he could give us marching orders from the great beyond, it would come in a hand-written note, reading something like this: “Dear friends, Thanks for remembering me. Now get to work and realize our vision. Love, Cecil.”