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The bully doubles down


Anybody remember Trump announcing that trade wars were easy and would be won quickly? This was over two years ago, and as we head toward the third full year of seriously compromised relations with China, is there anyone out there who still believes that?

Trump announced the imposition of an additional 10% tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports, almost everything China imports to us in the area of consumer goods. This is on top of the 25% in tariffs he has already imposed, which will bring the total to 35% on most items. He repeats the completely false and misguided assertion that these tariffs are being paid by the Chinese, not us. In fact, and in most cases, the tariff is nothing more than a fancy sales tax imposed on top of the retail price and paid by the consumer.

Fox News faithfully repeats Trump’s moronic nonsense, and every Republican insider who should know better looks the other way. Treasury’s Mnuchin and Commerce’s Ross, who surely knows better, have kept their mouths firmly shut. Senator Risch and his foreign relations committee and Senator Wicker and his commerce committee remain silent.

Trump scoffs, and says the Chinese are having to absorb the cost through devaluing the yuan. This further demonstrates Trumps stunning lack of understanding of basic economics. Trump accuses China of manipulating the yuan not understanding that devaluation is the reverse of what a manipulator would attempt – it is going the wrong way. It is true that China raced to stabilize the yuan when the bottom dropped out, putting the floor at 6.99 yuan per dollar, but the fall itself was a market adjustment resulting from the ongoing trade war.

The only impact the fall of the yuan will have in the long run is to increase the inflation in China as the Chinese economy moves to absorb the deflation by raising prices. There will be some short-term opportunities in the U.S. for deals at old prices while the market adjusts, but the end result will be much higher prices reflecting real values underlying the yuan. The losers in China are those holding paper and fixed contracts at the old prices who have to accept payment with the revalued yuan. New deals will be at new values, and Trump’s notion that China will absorb any of the new tariffs will evaporate.

As the bottom was falling out under the yuan, our stock market tumbled down the worst drop of the year on Friday and Monday. China has ceased imports of soybeans, and the stockpiling has reached proportions in the U.S. never seen before. Farmers are going broke and Trump has in place a $16 billion bailout for farmers hurt by the trade war. And still nobody says anything.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump has collected $63 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports through June of 2019, paid by the American importers as the goods arrived in ports in the U.S. The associated press reports that the latest tariffs will cost the average family an additional $200 per year, starting just in time for the holidays. This is on top of the average $830 per year the existing tariffs already cost the average household per year, which will raise the total to over $1,030 per year in loses due to increased prices for the average family – meaning that every dime of the savings to the middle-class family allegedly granted by the so called 2017 tax reform bill will be erased completely beginning yet this year.

Further, China has announced that it will impose counter tariffs on U.S. imports, further slamming American exporters and potentially magnifying the damage to both of the world’s biggest economies. Trump claims he will continue to “tax China” until they make a deal, continuing to claim, with his eyes tight shut, that China is paying this bill not the American consumer.

So far, the impact of Trump’s war against China has netted the U.S. exactly zero in terms of new or improved marketing deals – no change in any quarter of any measurable kind in any area of trade relations with China. China is showing no sign of being willing to accept any of Trump’s demands. Instead, it is publicly hunkering down in an obvious strategy to wait out the end of Trump’s term. All of the Democratic candidates have promised to abandon Trump’s ill-conceived program of general tariffs as first orders of business if and when the administration changes in 2021.

This is a war of attrition here, and the question is who can hold out the longest as their economy crumbles, their exports dry up, and their consumers go without? We may have the stronger economy with probably greater resilience, but China, at a population of 1.386 billion, has four times our number to spread the pain around, plus a managed economy that can be regulated to smooth the ride, plus a thousand year history of being able to maintain with total self-sufficiency. On top of all this, China is our biggest creditor, holding some $1.1 trillion in U.S. treasury bills. While no one expects China to dump these investments, if it should even decide to rattle the cages a little, the bond market may well panic.

In China, all we are doing is slowing their growth rate from what was in the range of a whopping 10% to a still healthy 6%. In the U.S., we were hoping for a reasonable domestic growth rate of 3% or so – Trump promised 4% to sustain his 2017 tax cuts, but nobody believed this was in the cards. Now, after almost two full years of tariffs, most economists predict our rate of growth will soften to a middling 2% - it is currently healthy but wobbling at 2.1%. One study, released in February of 2019 by a non-partisan economic consulting firm in Washington, predicted that by three years out, the economic impact of the general tariffs in place then would be a decline in the U.S. GDP of just over a full one percent, an impact on an average family of four of $2,390 in increased prices per year, and a loss of 2.2 million jobs.

The majority of experts appear to expect foreign trade to continue a backslide which will significantly affect inflation and drag the profitability of American multinational companies towards if not over the brink. The heaviest cost will fall on the middle class in terms of increased prices on consumer goods and the loss of jobs. Even Trump supporters do not offer rosy pictures; most say only that it is not as bad as it seems, pointing to the fact that Caterpillar was able to absorb $70 million in tariff costs and still turn a profit. $70 million! It is astonishing to see someone try to make a positive statement of the government imposing this magnitude of unnecessary tax cost on a single business.

Congress could fix it, but it won’t. The Republican majority in the Senate behind Leader McConnell are paralyzed and have done nothing, despite the contention by most experts that Trump’s tariffs are against the law. Tariffs are supposed to require Congressional authority unless necessary for national security. Trump has jammed the entire general tariff structure, including all the consumer tariffs, under an executive order based on national security.

So, now what? As Trump surrounds himself with incompetent sycophants, refuses to accept advice from anyone genuinely knowledgeable, and continues to make stuff up any time he is faced with a tough question, one might ask, “How can it get any worse?”

Watch and learn, my friends, just watch and learn.

Pills and murder


Having survived a Ritalin/Zoloft cold-turkey withdrawal in my late 40s, let me tell you, this stuff, on it or getting off of it, is truly ugly.

After disobeying my doc's orders and cutting myself off completely, for the ensuing 18 months ago I was dangerous to myself and others, could not suppress my suicidal, homicidal and paranoid thoughts, and was a horror to my closest friends as I medicated this misery with alcohol.

Strangely, neither I nor my friends correlated the two events, and not until the Columbine high school slayings, when it was revealed that both students had recently been weaned off Ritalin the previous year, that I made a tentative connexion to my own experience. Then the evidence began piling up as more and more of these teenage massacres occurred and were linked with either an addiction of withdrawal issue involving psychotropics, with Prozac, Ritalin and Zoloft the most frequent.

Cause & Effect? I'm neither that smart nor educated. But you can, in my case and these, certainly see an associative relationship so prevalent it cannot be ignored.

This article is about six years old, and some of its conspiracy theories are looney, but don't discount their research on this associative relationship. At least there, so far as I can verify, they're spot on.

(It's tough to get answers about these killers' meds, as it's privileged by physician-patient confidentiality, but even though, there you have it. Somebody always talks.)

So my contribution to the twin horrors visited upon this past week is not about guns, not about the NRA, not about Trump's boorishness, not about Obama, not about violence on TV, video games, or movies or the changing of the poles. 

This drug component is not easy to share with others, and mostly I don't. Who wants to talk about his life's most painful and, quite frankly, most embarrassing stage with anyone?

I go public with mine now. If it drives you to research this matter on your own, to begin to wonder about that mass-murderers may be the progeny of the prescription drug frenzy unleashed upon us by the AMA and Big Pharma, then this self-immolation will have been worth it.

A participant’s reflections


Americans call it the Vietnam War. Present-day Vietnamese call it the American War. Whatever it is called, the 407 days I served in that war have had a profound effect on my life ever since returning home on August 30, 1969. My experience is chronicled in my newly-released book, Vietnam…Can’t get you out of my mind.

I’d been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in 1964, graduated from law school three years later, and finished artillery school in March of 1968. The Army initially sent me to Okinawa, but I requested and was reassigned to Vietnam.

My heavy artillery battalion provided artillery support for all of Tay Ninh Province, which is about 55 miles northwest of Saigon. The Province bulges into Cambodia and was a main terminus of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The northern half of the Province was largely triple canopy jungle and decidedly hostile territory. Several North Vietnamese military facilities were located just over the border in Cambodia, but we could not disturb them.

During most of my tour, I worked with and lived among soldiers of the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam (ARVNs) at the Province headquarters in Tay Ninh City. My 4-man liaison unit had the responsibility of clearing all air strikes and artillery fire in the Province. It was our job to ensure that civilians and friendly forces were not endangered.

Most of the ARVNs I worked with were Catholics from nearby Cao Xa village. When Vietnam was partitioned in 1954, the village was located in North Vietnam. Father Dzu moved the whole village to Tay Ninh Province to escape Communist persecution. They were refugees in their own country. The Communists repeatedly attacked Cao Xa but were always repulsed by the fighting men, women and children of that valiant village.

I also worked with ARVNs who were members of the Cao Dai faith. It is a universalist religion formed in Tay Ninh City in 1926. The church claimed 3 million members in Vietnam and neighboring countries. It operated an orphanage in the city with about 73 kids, mostly orphans of war.

When I learned about the orphanage, my liaison unit adopted it as a civic action project. We brought food, clothes, fire wood, a generator, an electric water pump and a variety of other supplies. We had a number of parties for the kids, introducing them to ice cream and hot dogs, both of which they loved. My unit was often at the orphanage and I have to say the kids worked their way into our hearts.

The orphanage work had a completely unexpected twist. During one of the daily trips I made to the base camp where my battalion headquarters was located, I received an Army Commendation Medal for helping the orphans. Although he did not believe in gambling, Major Keith Painter from Logan, Utah, likely saved my skin by insisting that I stay the night at base camp and play poker with the other officers. The Communists destroyed my living quarters at Province headquarters that very night.

One of my duties was to assist the Special Forces units in Tay Ninh Province with their artillery needs. They had an administrative unit, B-32, in the city and a number of smaller “A” camps located in dangerous territory around the Province. They were dedicated soldiers and good people.

Another job was to conduct artillery fire missions from the back seat of a rickety little two-seat spotter airplane called a Bird Dog. We flew over the jungle at about 800 feet to shoot at intelligence targets or whatever looked suspicious. We had to shoot up all of our monthly allocation of ammunition, even if we could not find a promising target. If we did not use up all of the month’s allotment, we might be cut back the following month—shoot it or lose it.

As a full-fledged lawyer, I was defense counsel of choice for the soldiers in the battalion who faced court martial for a variety of offenses. The charges generally involved yielding to temptations of the flesh in Saigon when the soldiers were supposed to be fetching ammunition for our guns.

The ARVNs I worked with became good friends. I trusted them with my life and, thankfully, was never disappointed. We were the only Americans living in the headquarters area, and any one of dozens of ARVNs could have quietly tossed a grenade under our bunks any night, but it never happened. They had a lot to lose if the Communists took over. The Catholics would face annihilation and the Cao Dais would suffer religious persecution.

When I got home, I thought the orphans and my ARVN friends would be safe, even as we brought our troops home. President Nixon promised that the U.S. would supply the ARVNs and provide air support in the event of a North Vietnamese general offensive. That happened when the northerners launched their ferocious Easter Offensive in 1972, which the ARVNs repulsed with our help. Unfortunately, we utterly failed the ARVNs three years later when the Communists launched their Spring Offensive and drove all the way to Saigon.

It broke my heart when I saw the pictures of the Communists taking over in Saigon in April 1975. I knew my friends in Tay Ninh were in mortal danger. The way the war ended still causes me great pain. I saw it as a tragic betrayal of our ARVN allies and a giant stain on the honor of this great country. I was sickened by the cries from some quarters that we should not take in refugees from that conflict.

Quite a number of Vietnam veterans suffered mightily from the war experience. We failed to give them the help and support they needed to get healthy and successfully reintegrate into society.

The majority of vets were able to move on in a positive direction, using the experience to improve their lives and build their communities. It has certainly been a powerful influence in how I view the world. It shaped my view of service to country--every young American should have the opportunity to serve this country in either a military or civilian role.

It is essential to treat victims of war and calamity--refugees and asylum seekers--with compassion and dignity. We have a moral responsibility to provide refuge to those who helped U.S. troops in foreign conflicts. Over 100,000 Iraqis and Afghans who risked their necks helping our troops are in danger as they wait and hope for entry into the U.S. When we start a conflict, we also have a responsibility to help the civilian refugees it produces.

We should never go to war unless a vital national interest is at stake. The war in Iraq was unnecessary--one of our greatest foreign policy blunders since World War II. We absolutely forgot every lesson we should have learned from Vietnam. If our leaders had studied the mistakes of Vietnam, we might have stayed out of Iraq and may have been able to leave Afghanistan years ago.

One positive thing we all seem to have learned is that those who serve the nation in foreign conflicts deserve the respect of the nation, even if the conflict is unpopular. Many Vietnam veterans came home to indifference or even hostility. It heartens me that our service personnel in recent years have been appreciated by their fellow Americans.

Two years ago, my wife and I went to Vietnam--my only trip back. We visited Hanoi, as well as a number of cities in what used to be South Vietnam. After a couple of decades of suffering, the folks in the south seem to be doing relatively well. Cao Xa village has a new name, but the Catholic Church of Father Dzu no longer exists. Where there were thousands of bomb craters in the northern part of the Province, there are now farms, villages and rubber trees.

We felt welcome everywhere we went. The Vietnamese people were so friendly, just like I remember my friends from 50 years ago. The war is behind them and our two counties are becoming aligned in many ways. You wonder whether there was any necessity for the past hostilities.

My new book outlines this experience and how it has played out in my life--how I was inspired to public service by President Kennedy, pursued the law, went to war, and have tried to make a difference in public affairs. Although I left Vietnam in 1969, I doubt it will ever leave me.

For those who might be interested, Vietnam...Can’t get you out of my mind, can be purchased online from Ridenbaugh Press or from Amazon. My wife, Kelly, and I are planning a joint speaking and book-signing tour to various locations around the state this fall. She has just published a new novel, Bloodline and Wine, and we will be making stops at a number of Idaho cities to discuss both books.

Melting no more


Growing up in the Northwest, I was taught this nation was a “melting pot.” A country of many ethnic backgrounds all smooshed together to form a nation of variety, invention, assimilation and being better off for the mixture.

“Melting pot.” It had a nice ring to it. Colorful words meaning this nation was founded, then improved by the diversity each new face brought to our shores. Something entirely different from other countries of more singular ethnicities. And it seemed to work for a long time.

But, sadly, somewhere along the way, we lost the idea of mixing and replaced it with exclusion, separateness and division. People of a common language, a common color, a common religion or any of a dozen differences stopped mingling and, instead, most formed separate communities of near isolation.

We have Black communities and Hebrew communities. Hispanic communities. We have Irish, Polish, Russian, Norwegian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and many other singularly exclusive areas.

We have Black radio and television. When’s the last time you watch Black TV? Hispanic, Chinese, Korean and other broadcasters and print media targeting specific groups. We have areas of the nation that don’t welcome people of other races or religious beliefs. People talk of not going into parts of their own city of residence. I was once held against my will for 24 hours largely because I was a White man in a Black neighborhood of rioters.

A lot of this was brought to mind when the shooter in the El Paso killings told police he drove nine hours from the Dalles-Forth Worth area to kill Hispanics because “that’s where most of them lived in Texas” and he didn’t want to kill in his hometown. But, he wanted to kill people gathered in a particular location. Crazy? Yes. Twisted thinking? Certainly. But, that’s what he said and the blood was real.

Our dangerous President is not to blame for all this. We’ve been a divided nation for many years. But, he’s become a master at using our “separateness” against us to drive divisions and hatred. He’s wielded racism as a club against those of differing skin colors. He’s used his own destructive brand of politics in attempts to disable our government and let loose conditions - often ruinous conditions - to violate laws of both man and nature.

There’s an old story about two brothers engaged in a fight. Pounding each other. But, when someone else attacked one of the brothers, they jointly battled the intruder.

It used to be much the same with America. We tangled and tussled among ourselves. We had our disagreements and our differences. But, when outsiders - other nations - provoked us or fomented wars against us, we turned as one to deal with the outsider. We fought wars in which Americans of differing skin colors, differing religions, differing ethnicities, differing sexual orientation acted together. Bound by a single purpose regardless of our differences.

In many ways, we’ve lost that uniformity of acting as one. Maybe the terrible division wrought by the war in Viet Nam was a turning point when national purpose was so openly and so fiercely divided. For many Americans, those divisions are still there. Maybe when we lost the comity and respect for relationships in our political affairs was another. No more working for the good of the whole. Now, it’s trench warfare with good ideas and “what’s-best-for-the-country” becoming victims of yet more division and disrespect for our institutions. And, in many cases, for each other.

The melting pot was a good idea. And it’s still a good idea. Our homeland never prospered as much as when we worked together, ignoring differences to reach common purpose. Whether in war or striving to send astronauts to the moon or defeating dictators or developing mind-bending technologies and great advances in medicine for our national benefit. Individuals of many backgrounds dedicated to achievements of universal purpose.

Curmudgeon that I am, I doubt we will ever again see a true national melting pot. Still, some say the young among us aren’t as devoted to divisions as we older folk. We’re told they don’t get so tangled up on sexuality or race or national origin as many of us do. Some believe they’re better able to look past differences to concentrate on more important things. That they’re more pliable of thought and better able to work together for common purpose.

I pray that is so. Because, 14 months from now, we and they are going to have to be united “as one” to beat a common foe. We who love this country, and the diversity that’s made it work, will be called to look past our differences and unite to expunge our government of those who have tried so hard to separate us.

We’ll need the best of that old melting pot to join in singleness of national purpose.

Ridin’ with Biden


I first “met” Joe Biden a long time ago. Then 33, he was the nation’s youngest U.S. Senator, and the featured speaker at the Idaho Democrats’ annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. I was a student at the University of Idaho, where my major, unsurprisingly, was political science.

As Chair of the U of I Campus Democrats, I organized a mid-winter road trip for members of our group to drive to Boise to attend this flagship event. We traveled, as college students must, on a budget, finding places to sleep at homes of local party people.

One of my heroes, the late Senator Frank Church, introduced the freshman senator from Delaware, noting that this newcomer to “the nation’s most exclusive club” was occasionally mistaken for a page, much as Church himself had been when he was first elected to the Senate at the ripe age of 33.

Biden more than impressed; his speech was electric. Idaho Democrats, who were there that night, remember it well. Adults whose parents attended say their parents still talk about it. This young senator from the “Diamond State” had charisma and potential to spare.

Over the years, I have followed Biden’s remarkable career, usually with great admiration. I read his book, “Promises to Keep,” published in 2007, and his more recent book “Promise me, Dad,” published in 2017. Some themes are constants through Biden’s life – the importance of public service, devotion to our country and its people, and an unswerving commitment to faith and family.

It is difficult – if not impossible – to read about the personal losses and pain Biden has endured and not be inspired by his resilience and undaunted desire to help others. One would have to look long and hard to find another politician having a stronger sense of duty or more integrity than Joe Biden. He is decent to the core.

This said, I haven’t yet decided which of our many outstanding candidates will earn my vote in the 2020 primary. It very well might be Biden. But it might not.

Along with many of my fellow Idaho Democrats, I cheered the fact that Biden came to Idaho early in the primary season and did not treat this ruby red state as just so much fly-over country. (Only Jay Inslee and Julian Castro have also done so.) And his clarion speech following the deadly shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton reminded us of the dignity and strength with which a president can lead and the eloquence with which a president should talk.

But as many have noted, Biden’s long tenure in public office is a two-edged sword. He has a great many accomplishments, but some of his past actions, while more easily understood in the context of the times, are problematic in light of present day realities. He needs to find a way to clearly address the past, put it in perspective, and pivot swiftly and forcefully to the future.

Consider when, as Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden presided over the Supreme Court nomination hearing for Clarence Thomas. A young lawyer, Anita Hill, testified that she had been sexually harassed by Thomas, who had been her supervisor. Many members of the all-male senate panel treated Hill with disrespect, if not outright contempt.

Thomas vehemently denied Hill’s allegations. Four female witnesses stood ready to testify, to offer corroborating evidence to support Hill’s testimony, but Biden – in an arrangement worked out with the Republicans on the committee – declined to call them.

In recent months, Biden has accepted responsibility for the fact that Anita Hill “did not get treated well,” that she “did not get a fair hearing.” But, as Joy Behar said to Biden when he appeared on The View, his statement would have more resonance if he were to avoid the passive voice and bluntly say, “I’m sorry for the way I treated you.” Moreover, a statement that he should have called her corroborating witnesses would show an understanding of the specific way in which he failed to provide her a fair hearing.

But Biden’s performance at the Clarence Thomas hearing, though troubling, is an aberration. His record on women’s rights is exceptionally strong. Biden was the driving force behind passage of the landmark Violence Against Women Act. He worked tirelessly to recruit more women to run for the U.S. Senate and urged them to become members of the Judiciary Committee. And, as Vice President, Biden fought sexual assault on campuses. Few senators have championed equal rights for women as consistently and forcefully as Joe Biden. Now what is his vision for the future?

Another two-edged sword in Biden’s background is the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which was passed when violent crime was at double the current rates. The downside – and it is considerable – is that it resulted in sky high rates of incarceration and disproportionately affected the Black community. This impact, though unintended, has been unjust and harmful.

On the plus side, the Act contained several progressive provisions, most notably an assault weapons ban designed to help reduce the number of deaths caused by the use of rapid-fire weapons with a capacity to fire many rounds without reloading. Moreover, the Act recognized that we will never eradicate violent crime solely by prosecuting, convicting, and imprisoning criminals. It placed a strong emphasis on crime prevention programs. And, in an effort to make law enforcement personnel a more trusted and integral part of localities, funding was made available for community policing.

Biden could do a better job of harvesting the legislative wheat, even while discarding the chaff. Instead of defending past actions with nuanced explanations, Biden needs to find a way to more crisply convey that in that time, at that moment in history, he did the best he could to get the best possible outcome. To critique a decision against the backdrop of today’s political reality, today’s moral standards, misrepresents the value of the decision at that time and his vision for the future.

And then, most importantly, he needs to share that vision with clarity, specificity and passion. He has the ability to electrify a crowd. I’ve seen it. Now all of us need to see it more often.

Have we no decency


It is difficult to escape the feeling that the United States has reached an inflection point: mass shootings now a regular, sickening occurrence, the FBI identifying “fringe conspiracy theories as a factor in domestic terrorism” and a level of racial unrest unlike anything since George Wallace campaigned in Michigan in 1968.

Uruguay, a country known more for soccer than diplomatic leadership, has warned its citizens traveling to the United States to “take extreme precautions in the face of growing indiscriminate violence, mostly hate crimes, including racism and discrimination, which killed more than 250 people in the first seven months of this year.” New Zealand, Canada, Germany and other allies have said much the same.

And, of course, there is a president unable and unwilling to provide the moral leadership the country so desperately needs; unable because of who he is, unwilling because stoking division is his political strategy.

But, at the most fundamental level we have reached this inflection point not because of the profoundly flawed man occupying the Oval Office, but because of a widespread abdication of principled, pragmatic leadership in response to this man.

It is difficult to tell what is more discouraging, or reprehensible: the wild, constant scrambling to justify and defend the president’s actions and lies from the political enablers around him like White House advisor Kellyanne Conway or the silence and acceptance from people like Idahoans Mike Crapo and Mike Simpson, otherwise decent people who are no longer just ignoring the indecency, but clearly accepting it.

Institutions have failed us. Political leadership, mostly Republican, but also Democratic, have retreated from, or in a wholesale fashion abandoned, a sense of fair play, and honest and legitimate compromise. ‘Whataboutism’ dominates every political debate. Ethical transgressions that Republicans would have condemned in a New York minute in a previous administration are ignored, accepted and normalized.

The most serious presidential misconduct in our history, carefully documented in a textbook example of prosecutorial diligence, is intentionally ignored as if facts about malfeasance at the highest level of the Republic are, what, suddenly OK because our side won?

“We have come to accept a level of insult and abuse in political discourse that violates each person’s sacred identity as a child of God. We have come to accept as normal a steady stream of language and accusations coming from the highest office in the land that plays to racist elements in society.”

The words in the previous paragraph come from the leadership of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. who published an urgent statement entitled “Have We No Decency? A response to President Trump.”

Most of us understand – if we look deep into our hearts and the American doctrine – what has happening to our politics. Many Americans have become blind, heedless partisans, members of a tribe that subscribes to only one overriding rule: win at all cost. The details don’t matter and facts are inconvenient so it’s acceptable to ignore them.

Democrats, of course, shoulder some level of political blame for this awful place, this inflection point. But this is not an either/or moment. Only one man is in the White House and fundamentally only one party can check his abuse. Few are willing. Very few.

Nebraska Republican state Senator John McCollister is the latest to raise his head and his voice and suffer the consequences. “The Republican Party is enabling white supremacy in our country,” McCollister recently said on Twitter. “As a lifelong Republican, it pains me to say this, but it’s the truth.”

The chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party demanded immediately that McCollister re-register as a Democrat. No discussion of the substance of his comments. No debate about the details or the facts, just a demand that he adhere to the party line or hit the road.

Politico reporter Tim Alberta has written a profoundly unsettling new book – American Carnage: On the Frontlines of the Republican Civil War– that is really a history of the GOP over the last decade. As one reviewer noted, the books abiding theme “is that almost every influential figure in the Party has come to accept or submit to the President.” And this is the unsettling part: not because they admire or even believe much of what he has done, but because they have found it easier politically and personally to just go along.

A central figure in the book is former House Speaker Paul Ryan, who candidly spoke with Alberta about his own willingness to go along with morally outrageous behavior and presidential ignorance. (Former Congressman Raul Labrador is also prominent in the book and comes across as more committed to remaking the GOP into the Tea Party than restraining a morally, ethically and incompetent leader.)

In his surrender to expediency, Ryan, for example, says Trump “didn’t know anything about government” and didn’t try to learn. But Ryan went along. In essence swapping his profound misgivings, even dread, for a corporate tax cut. The former speaker confessed to feeling physically ill when he realized Trump would win the Republican presidential nomination and now that he is out of office and off the hook comes clean about the mess that has been made.

This is the modern GOP. Aware, as I am confident people like Crapo and Simpson must be, that they have surrendered their party to not only an ignorant con man, but given his white nationalist tendencies, by their silence, they continue to embolden him to ever more outrageous and dangerous actions.

At some point, we can continue to hope, good, caring, decent people will put their country and its future above their party. We can hope, because a Mike Crapo and a Mike Simpson have to grapple with the question leaders of the National Cathedral asked us all recently.

“When does silence become complicity? What will it take for us all to say, with one voice, that we have had enough? The question is less about the president’s sense of decency, but of ours.”

Push and pull


This has been quite a summer for diversity in Idaho, even leaving aside the squabble over legislator criticism of ethnic and other types of organizations and programs at Boise State University, and various other associated public protests or outbursts.

Micron Technology at Boise, which long has had a diversity program, raised its visibility and support for that effort a notch by naming the program’s leader as a corporate vice president.

Top officers at the Idaho National Laboratory at Idaho Falls issued a statement strongly supporting diversity at the big center. Laboratory Director Mark Peters said in explanation, “Our employees come from roughly 130 countries. I can tell you that without question, a diverse working group, working together, is the best tool we have to ensure a prosperous and secure future. At INL, we don’t just value inclusive diversity, we need it.”

The University of Idaho named a new athletic director, the first to hold the position since the contentious departure of a predecessor who was enmeshed in sexual harassment issues. The new director is Terry Gawlik, the first woman ever to hold the job at the UI.

News reports about all those events emerged last week, days after the report about another woman, Cristal Brown, who was appointed to lead athletics at Idaho State University, the first ever to do so there. Two of Idaho’s three state universities now have athletics programs directed by women. That unquestionably will come as a shock to some of the state’s socially conservative athletic boosters. (Both appointments also involved the state Board of Education, which was enmeshed in the BSU diversity debate.)

These things did not all happen as a response to the Idaho legislators (and their supporters) who took aim at the diversity programs at Boise State University. But they don’t feel entirely coincidental either; they have happened in an environment where the whole idea of diversity, the question of what our culture is and should be about, is under dispute and debate.

If the anti-diversity forces thought they could redefine Idaho as a monotone kind of place, they’re not making a lot of progress. The BSU diversity programs (and is it a coincidence that the uproar over that happened just after the appointment of a woman as the new president of the institution?) picked up a good deal of support after a group of legislators criticizing it sent out their letter on the subject. The legislators who attacked it seemed to wind up on the defensive, and at least one backed off his initial support of the letter.

At the same time, don’t imagine these new summer stories will go without some kind of pushback.

Much of politics and society is Newtonian, in that for every action there’s an opposing reaction. This spray of diversity-related stories this summer will certainly lead to a reaction of some kind. It may come soon, or it may simmer until the 2020 legislative session. In fact, the likelihood of legislative controversy in this area - in some form or another - is so probable I’d almost advise you to bet on it … if you could find anyone to take the other side.

The growing number of diversity topics and stories, in an election year in which Donald Trump will appear on the top of the Idaho election ballot, seems sure to make the subject one of the hottest topics in Idaho (not to mention elsewhere) during 2020.

It will take some careful discussion, if it’s not to degenerate into pure emotionalism, which does seem the most likely outcome.

But one way or another, it’s coming.

We have met the enemy …


Everyone rails against the cost of healthcare in these United States, but honestly, we have done just a little to address the problem. I’m not sure things are bad enough yet for us to have the motivation to look in the mirror. Because, for healthcare to cost less for all of us, some of us, maybe all of us will have to give up something, and right now we Americans are blaming everyone else for our problems. Americans aren’t really in the mood for any small sacrifice, no matter if we would all be better off; just look at Congress’ and our President’s spending habits of late.

No, this mess is wholly ours. It’s not Muslims, Mexicans or the Chinese who have driven our healthcare costs to be unaffordable to middle income Americans; it is us.

If we are going to start laying blame, we can all bear some.
We have come to expect medicine to solve every problem, from our kid’s behavior to the existential malaise of working hard at a thankless job. Pharmaceutical companies are glad to profit greatly off this desire for peace. And we are happy see our 401K’s swell as Pharma stock climbs.

More, we don’t have the patient understanding that most ailments are self-limited; many things resolve with “benign neglect”. And the medical profession responds happily to these instant needs with instant access: Redicare, QuickCare, UrgentCare. But the continuity of care is missing and tests are piled on tests. Treatment pleases most consumers more than watchful waiting, so medications, quick fixes are prescribed.
We value “the best” when often “good enough” will do, so specialty care is well-compensated and much desired by both patients and practitioners, when primary care has been shown time and again to be the most cost-effective care.

We avoid difficult conversations, with our healthcare providers or even ourselves about painful, but health-affecting behaviors. We should reflect on our weight, our exercise, our diet, our habits, our sleep, our spiritual and interpersonal relationships. Sometimes we pretend our deaths are not inevitable.

How does the truth that 50% of health care costs can be attributed to 5% of the population strike you? If you are in the less costly 95% do you feel lucky for your health, or are you angry that you are paying for someone else’s greater needs? Do you find yourself questioning their treatment choices? Would you like to be a part of the discussion around their bedside about the chemotherapy, the transplant? If you see the sick 5% as the enemy, then I challenge you to define who is “us”.
There are things public policy can do to pinch the costs of healthcare. The Affordable Care Act did a scant few.

Hospitals were not paid for any costs of complications they caused. Guess what, complications went down.

Taxing medical appliances was another attempt to make the highly profitable medical appliance market more competitive, but it quickly got overturned by Republicans.

Fees proposed on “Cadillac Health plans” to pay for the costs of health insurance subsidies on the individual health insurance exchange was another attempt to even the health care benefits playing field. But Democrats and Republicans are going to throw this under the bus and the Federal deficit will balloon another $400B. No, there’s not a lot of courage out there in the healthcare discussion right now.

We cannot expect our elected representatives to have courage in the face of these difficult policy decisions when we aren’t prepared to have these cost discussions with ourselves; in the mirror, with our family, with our doctors. Don’t be afraid to know yourself. Please; the only way to defeat a strong enemy is to know them well. In this instance, they are us.

What now


Saturday, we watched the news of the mass shooting in El Paso. We went to bed angry.

Sunday, we awoke to the news of another mass shooting in Dayton. We went to church. We went angry.

We went to church to ask God, “What the Hell can we do? What can we say? Why is this happening? What are you going to do?”

The prayers were silent. Across the country, in thousands of other churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, cathedrals and even in living rooms, I’m sure we were joined by literally millions of Americans collectively asking God, “What the Hell can we do?”

Some, I suppose, were asking God to intervene. Asking God to do something. Take action. Come up with some sort of new holy law rendering future shooters incapable. Anything to stop the murder.

In two massacres, 29 people dead and at least 46 wounded or otherwise injured as a result. Within 16 hours of each other. From the bodies on the ground, concentric circles of grief, anger and shock were sent out to hundreds - maybe thousands - of homes and families across the country. Grief. Anger. Shock.

So, what do we do to effectively keep some of us from killing others of us in fits of anger, desperation, frustration or mindless, suicidal acts of cold blooded murder? I’ve not found an answer.

Yes, we can pile on gutless and NRA-bought-and-paid-for politicians of every stripe. Yes, they’ve done nothing. But, really, will the next shooter stop before the planned bloody deed to read new laws and decide he’s not going to do it because murder is against the law? Really?

Some say more mental health care is needed. O.K. How do we find the pre-shooter? How do we find them all? How do we get them into treatment? What if we miss a few? Will we get mental treatment to everyone that needs it? Really?

Some say get rid of the guns. The FBI estimates there are more than 300-million guns in private hands. Are we going to go after them? Take them away? Really? How many more killings will result from such efforts?

Some say destroy the NRA. Just attack it, legally or financially or morally until it’s dead. And the several million responsible gun owners who make up the bulk of the NRA? Destroy the NRA? Really?

More background checks and tougher security checks for those who want to buy guns? Both of the weekend shooters bought theirs legally. What more can be done? How many more hurdles? Really?

There is no one answer. And I can’t come up with even a handful that would be effective. That would end the bloodshed. That would stop the killing.

We are cursed by our own technology. The Internet has become an international “party line” for terrorists, wannabe terrorists, nutballs, delusional misfits and maniacs. Individuals who used to be angry, alone and afraid to act can now “talk” to thousands of other individuals similarly angry, afraid and alone. But, with the “party line,” they can strike common cause - boost the egos of each other - create an electronic world where crazy fantasies become their “realities.”

The FBI and others can track ISIS or other terrorists online. But they can’t act on what nasty deeds are planned within our borders because of privacy laws. Got an answer for that?

We’ve got a president who speaks of Nazi sympathizers and terrorists as “good people” and who will not - WILL NOT - disavow them or their acts. He gives verbal “cues” of approval to rough up protestors, vows to pay their legal costs, pumps up their zealotry by recognizing them at rallies and other public events. Both of last week’s shooters were admirers of Trump. One even had a picture on his website of 17 guns arranged to spell “T-R-U-M-P.” Really!

On the I-Net, there are the terrorist websites deliberately aimed at teens around the world. Filled with glossy videos and music. Telling the young they can achieve martyrdom by killing - and being killed - for such-and-such a cause. Pick one. Load your AK-47 and go!

When we were young, nearly all of us wondered how long we’d live, how many years were ahead of us. Millions of young people today don’t see themselves growing older. Many see themselves dying young. Some assume they will. School shootings, mass killings in stores, theaters, churches and concerts where they go feed into that. Video games and violent fantasy movies, too. There are more teen suicides per capita now than just a decade ago.

Yes, I’m venting. I’d bet you have, too. Because, when you look at these mass murders with a sense of reality, there seem to be no answers. A little bit here. A little bit there. Oh, we can do this. Or, we can do that. O,r even a whole bunch of things.

But, how do we reach - and stop - the thousands of twisted, sick minds out there conditioned by anger, by shame, by addiction, by encouragement from terrorists, by racism, by loneliness, by drugs, by harassment from their peers, by disappointment?

New laws won’t do it. Fears of punishment won’t do it. Making guns harder to buy won’t. Medical treatment won’t. When a semi-automatic can shoot 700 rounds a minute, nothing will do it.

Some say climate change is today’s most urgent problem. To me, it’s the lone, unidentified, suicidal white guy with an A-K. And I don’t have the answers.