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Pro-Trump, annotated

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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

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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.”

Cecil Andrus

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For those a long time around Idaho, losing Cecil Andrus is like losing a member of the family.

When I first arrived in Idaho in 1973, his was one of the few Gem State names I’d ever heard. He was then well into his first term as governor, following his second run for the office. At his death this week he had been a well-known Idahoan and a representative leader of the state for longer than just about anyone I can think of; statistically at least, he was governor longer than anyone else, and never was he a mere caretaker.

But it was a while before this point about him came clear to me: He didn’t get there by dint of deep Idaho roots; he didn’t, in a phrase I’ve heard elsewhere, live on a road named for his grandparents. At the time he first ran for governor, in 1966, he’d been in the state little more than a decade, moving to Orofino from Oregon in the spring of 1955 as a logger. He was elected to the state Senate only half a decade after his Idaho arrival. (Barely a decade after that, he was United State Secretary of the Interior.)

That alone speaks to something unusual about his capabilities in politics. Too often the word “politician” is used as a derogatory; it ought to be a term of praise, and as a natural politician Andrus stands as a good demonstration of why.

Those reasons weren’t immediately obvious back then, and have little to do with his charismatic presence, though Andrus was one of those people whose presence in a room is immediately felt. His urbane surface with well-chosen words and that smart you-know-and-I-know wink developed over time, and his entry into politics famously was said to come in a fit of anger. (A local Republican apparently taunted him that it was a good thing he didn’t run for the legislature, because he would have been clobbered; Andrus took the bait and defeated the Republican incumbent.)

But his instincts about how to run for office and about how to act and govern once there seemed to come from somewhere deeper; seem almost to have been there all along. They seemed rooted where they should, in an understanding of human nature stronger than most people have.

He also had a deep understanding of Idaho, and in turn he helped change the way Idahoans thought about themselves.

When Martin Peterson and I some years back published a list of the most influential Idahoans in state history, we ranked Andrus at 16, and the main argument about that was the contention he should have ranked higher. We did rank him higher than any other governor, and his long-time associate and columnist Chris Carlson built a book about him around the title, “Idaho’s Greatest Governor.” His effects on education, environmental protection and economic development in the state have been enormous.

Peterson and I suggested, “One of Andrus’ greatest impacts may be psychological: He added in 1970 a new dimension to the way Idahoans think about their state, when he campaigned in part on ‘quality of life’ as an important ideological consideration.” It had not much been part of the way Idahoans thought about their state before then, but it has been ever since.

Andrus left the governorship in 1995, and has not sought or held office since. But he has been visible through the years, taking a role on issues, mentoring people and helping candidates, building community activities such as the foundation started under his name.

That’s his role in the family. He carried it superbly.

Water Digest – July 3

Water rights weekly report for July 3. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

For years, Oregon water activists have proposed a set of serious studies to better understand how the state’s groundwater system works.
The latest attempt, a serious push at the state legislature this year, has collapsed at the Statehouse.

IC Potash on June 12 said that ICP and Intercontinental Potash Corp. (USA) have received a formal offer from the company H20 of Lea County to purchase ICPUSA’s Capitan Reef Complex Aquifer water. H20 is committed to building the required infrastructure and providing the equipment costing approximately USD$2M at no cost to ICPUSA. The potential annual revenue for ICPUSA is USD$4M to USD$6M under the proposed offer by H20.

The regionally well-known Stanley Ranch, located not far from Hawthorne, Nevada, will pass into the hands of the Walker River Pauite Tribe – together with its water rights. Long privately-owned, the ranch in recent years has been held by the Walker Basin Conservancy (which was founded at about the same time).

A water priority call in the Idaho Wood River Valley was dismissed on June 7 by state Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman. The rejection does not necessarily mean the request by senior water right holders lacks validity. Instead, the petition from the Big Wood and Little Wood Water Users Association was turned down on what Spackman said was a lack of standing – the association did not itself constitute an affected party.

The conspiracy problem

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Fictional dramas and thrillers employ conspiracies regularly - they’re a good device - but actual, significant, real and successful conspiracies are a rare thing.

In American history, only a few have managed to achieve their purpose, even a limited purpose, before coming unspun. The Lincoln assassination conspiracy was one; the 9-11 conspiracy was another. Most others you might think of either weren’t really conspiracies, or very significant, or didn’t work out. And the Lincoln conspiracy only halfway succeeded; most of the targets were just injured or hurt not at all.

Conspiracies are hard, because they rely on total secrecy (you know what happens when you start sharing your secrets), a good plan, a short time frame, discipline and a tight organization. And other things. The elements seldom come together, and hardly ever when more than a very few people are involved. Conspiracies involving large groups spun out over a long time hardly ever work. When they’re tried, they usually collapse and fail. If someone tries to sell you such a thing, be highly skeptical.

Turning now to the saga of Alex Jones and Chobani.

Jones is the host of the program Infowars - the title always struck me as an unwitting acknowledgement it is waging war on actual information - which peddles conspiracy theories. Most are national and many explicitly political, but Jones ran into problems when he zeroed in on Twin Falls and one of the food processing companies with operations there, Chobani.

Chobani, which makes yogurt, was founded in New York by businessman Hamdi Ulukaya. The name Chobani descends from Turkish and Persian antecedents. Ulukaya himself is a Turkish immigrant and has spoken out about refugee problems. He has followed up with meaningful action, employing more than 300 refugees as employees. (And he and Chobani have been honored for their efforts.)

For people of a certain persuasion, all this may be enough for a bit of a side-eye.

All this also was, naturally, grist for the conspiracy-minded. In April, Infowars reported: “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists” and said its employees had led to a “500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.” A big conspiracy was afoot.

And Jones said he would come to Idaho for a reckoning, for reporting that would, “show the Islamists getting off of the planes.” Challenged on all this in a lawsuit filed by Chobani, Jones declared stoutly, “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die. I’m not backing down. I’m never giving up. I love this.”

Yeah. Well. That was so last month. Here’s what he said, in settling a Chobani defamation lawsuit, this week:

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees, and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

From what I’ve seen, Ulukaya and the Chobani people have too much class to gloat. At least in public.

So allow me, right here, to do that on their behalf. And offer the reminder that in the real world, actual attempts at conspiracy tend to come undone, in ungainly ways, all on their own, without any help from Alex Jones.

Sentencing regression

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Despite the fact that the number of persons incarcerated in federal prisons is at a ten-year low, in February U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Justice Department policy of phasing out the government’s use of private prisons.

Sessions claimed the use of for-profit prisons was necessary “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” This was news to the law enforcement community because the federal prison population has been on the decline since 2013. There are presently about 189,000 federal prisoners, of which around 21,000 are in private prisons.

Federal experience with private prisons has been much like that experienced by Idaho. That is,for-profit facilities have had more safety and security problems than government facilities. Let’s not forget the “gladiator school” scandal at the Idaho prison formerly operated by Corrections Corporation of America (now, CoreCivic, which is one of the federal contractors). The Idaho prison was understaffed and time-keeping records were substantially inflated. However, the company did not scrimp on campaign contributions. In sum, the private prison was a bad experience for our good state.

Perhaps Sessions’ rationale for embracing privately run prisons comes into better focus in light of his May 12 directive to federal prosecutors to throw the book at criminal defendants. His view is that mandatory minimum sentences should be levied against even low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, a policy that has been discredited in Idaho and a majority of other states. It resulted in ballooning prison populations and expenditures, without making communities safer.

I have to admit that I supported mandatory minimum sentences for drug kingpins during my tenure as Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s.

However, Idaho and other states have come to realize that long mandatory sentences are not appropriate for every offender. They tie the hands of judges who are best positioned to tailor the appropriate punishment for the crimes committed by a particular defendant. And, while they do not reduce recidivism, they do needlessly inflict damage on the families of low-risk offenders. In 2014, Idaho adopted the Justice Reinvestment Act to provide for earlier release of low-level offenders, to provide greater supervision of those individuals to ensure their success, to reduce the number of repeat offenders, and to reduce the cost of Idaho’s prison program. The legislation had broad-based support and holds out great promise for success.

During the last Congress, bipartisan support was developing to implement similar sentencing reform on the federal level until then-Senator Sessions helped to derail the effort. Even our own Congressman Raul Labrador spoke in favor of reform. Now, it appears that AG Sessions intends to take us back to the bad old days of mass incarceration.

This may be a boon to the private prison companies but it will be no favor to taxpayers. The new federal policy will not affect Idaho’s prison system directly but it may plant the idea that states need to follow the federal leader back to discredited incarceration practices.

Water Digest – May 8

Water rights weekly report for May 1. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The National Park Service is putting its water shortage action plan into effect, following the state’s call to cease withdrawing water from Annie Creek. Crater Lake National Park staff are asking all visitors and employees to use water wisely during the water supply shortage.

The San Luis Obispo Coastkeepers and Los Padres ForestWatch, two central-coastal California environmental groups, on May 5 sued the Santa Maria Water Conservation District to demand a different schedule on water be released to help with preservaton of the Southern California steelhead trout.

A First Nations geographer, a legal historian and a global expert on water access and sustainability will be asking — and answering — big questions about water at the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) 37th annual community forum, May 12. The forum, Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water, will explore environmental concerns about water and First Nations’ perspectives on the precious resource. “First Nations are tremendously impacted by water issues, from access to clean water to resource development. And of course there’s also a spiritual dimension to water in almost every culture,” says Jim Ellis, a professor of English and director of the CIH, whose mission is to support and promote the values of humanities-based research.

No words

Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

Trump 15: The backers

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Ask a Donald Trump supporter about the developer's appeal as a candidate and you'll likely hear - at least in the early days - about how, since he was so rich, no one could buy him. For many, it was an article of faith that the guy would simply underwrite his campaign.

It sounded plausible, on the surface: If a man worth $10 billion, as Trump liked to proclaim he was, really wanted to run for president, surely he could come up with a tenth of that to fund a campaign.

It didn't work out that way, of course. Trump is surely worth less than $10 billion - how much less is unclear - but he is evidently unable to get his hands on more than a few million at a time. He has spent some money on the race (some of which has been recycled through his businesses), but he most certainly has taken campaign contributions.

At one point last summer, NBC TV reported the Trump campaign was planning to fundraise enough that the candidate can be repaid for his own "contributions" to the campaign.

Trump has been raising contributions.

A lot of contributions, in fact.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Trump's campaign has raised $218.8 million. About $92 million have come from individuals, but a sizable chunk of that comes from big contributors.

Beholden? He's plenty beholden. - rs