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Memorial Day

jones

Memorial Day is a time set aside for Americans to remember and honor those brave souls who died serving this wonderful country. They include men and women from all walks of life, from every corner of America and of every race, ethnicity, religion and creed. From the beginning, the sons and daughters of this great melting-pot nation have selflessly put their lives at risk to protect and uphold our precious freedoms. They have earned and deserve our undying gratitude.

This Memorial Day is an appropriate time to recognize the service contributed by the very first residents of North America. Native Americans have served and died for the United States from the beginning. Almost 3,600 served in the Union Army during the Civil War, including General Ely S. Parker of the Seneca Tribe, who served on General Ulysses Grant’s staff. Parker’s father had fought for the country in the War of 1812.

Even though American Indians were not considered U.S. citizens when World War 1 broke out, 12,000 of them volunteered to serve the country in the Great War, including 14 women who joined the Army Nurse Corps. By the end of the Second World War, 44,500 Native Americans had taken up arms for the country--about one-third of the able-bodied Indian men of service age. Had the whole population enlisted at the same rate, the draft may not have been necessary.

Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, a Brule Sioux tribal member, who was born in Coeur d’Alene and grew up in St. Maries, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism as a combat pilot in WW2. A 1970s television series, Baa Baa Black Sheep, was inspired by Colonel Boyington and his Black Sheep Squadron. Medals of Honor had been earned by 28 other Native Americans.

Pascal C. Poolaw Sr., a Kiowa tribal member, served in WW2, Korea and Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart in each war. He died near Loc Ninh, Vietnam, on November 7, 1967, where he earned his fourth Silver Star for bravery under fire. More than 42,000 other Native Americans served in Vietnam and the names of 232 of them show up as this nation’s honored dead on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

Raymond Finley, a member of the Flathead Tribe who grew up in St. Maries, enlisted in the Marines, just as his brother had. Raymond died in combat in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, on October 1, 1967. He is honored on the Wall in Washington, on Idaho’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Idaho Falls, and on a special memorial at De Smet, Idaho.

I was reminded of the Native Americans’ dedication to service of country when I recently spoke with Phil “Bart” Sagataw, whose father was a Potawatomi Indian and mother a member the Ottawa Tribe. Bart is a long-time resident of Boise and telephone company retiree. He and his seven brothers all voluntarily enlisted to serve this country.

Bart served in Vietnam in 1969 with the 173rd Armored Cavalry and 101st Airborne. His oldest brother, Kenneth, served in the Korean War, brother Larry began years of service with the Special Forces in Vietnam in 1964, Mike was a Marine at Khe Sanh in 1966, Harvey served on a Navy gunboat on the Mekong River, Levi served with the Army in Germany, and both Donald and Faron served stateside with the 101st Airborne.

A national memorial to honor the many thousands of Native Americans, like the Sagataw brothers, who have served and are serving our country is expected to open in Washington on Veterans Day next year. Congress authorized the memorial in 1994, but legislation allowing fundraising was not approved until 2013.

The memorial, called the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor,” will be located next to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It will be a fitting and long-overdue tribute to the patriotism and dedicated service of the roughly 156,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives who are veterans or active duty military.
 

Abounding with growth

mendiola

As president and chief executive officer of Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Kent Oram oversees operations of the 50th largest credit union in the nation and one of the country's fastest growing for five consecutive years. Its net income last year totaled $18 million, and its assets amount to $4.2 billion. Its 36 branches serve more than 353,500 members, making it Idaho's largest credit union.

During an informal presentation Wednesday night, May 22, Oram told a small group gathered at the Portneuf Brewing Co. for a Think B.I.G. (Bannock Innovation Group) fireside chat in Pocatello that ICCU officially opened on May 1 its new multi-million-dollar data processing center adjacent to its Idaho headquarters in Chubbuck, where more than 700 employees work.

The data center is replete with all-new infrastructure and hardware to manage more than 1,000 ICCU servers and countless electronic functions. “The complexity of all that is nuts,” Oram remarked, noting when he started as ICCU's data processing manager in 1985 “the world wasn't connected to anything. Our computer was connected to a wall.”

One of the largest employers in the Pocatello/Chubbuck region, ICCU has been rapidly opening branches throughout Idaho, most recently in the state's Panhandle, bringing its total work force to about 1,150 – a far cry from the few dozen on the company's payroll some 35 years ago. When Oram was promoted ICCU's top executive 11 years ago, the company's total employment was in the 260 range.

(photo: Idaho Central Credit Union CEO/President Kent Oram converses with a couple at the Portneuf Brewing Co. in Pocatello/Mark Mendiola)

In 2000, ICCU's board decided against moving the company's headquarters to Ada County, instead keeping it in Bannock County, prompting a director to resign. Over 36 months, ICCU invested $65 million in construction projects in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area, Oram mentioned, praising Chubbuck for its planned construction of a new city hall.

From 1985 to 1995, Pocatello suffered a “sour attitude about itself,” he said, adding the Gate City now seems much more upbeat and optimistic. “We've had enough negativity already.”

Oram said he believes the Northgate Project under development as a master planned community will prove to be a success and a major new LDS temple there will be a boon to the local economy. ICCU has committed to constructing a new branch there eventually.

Lamenting the lack of affordable housing in the area, he cautioned: “The housing shortage is very dire and real,” noting less than 100 homes are for sale in the local market. “Trying to find the labor and builders is so tough.”

Idaho Central re-invests up to $750,000 each year in local communities, charities and economies, a large amount his financial industry counterparts find astounding, asking how ICCU can afford to do so, Oram said.

When an ICCU employee told him that she could not afford tickets and a hot dog at an event, he said he was determined to resolve that issue. At the company's annual strategic planning session, it was decided that up to $4.5 million would be allocated annually so salaries and wages of ICCU employees could be increased. Most of them have been educated at Idaho State University (ISU), he noted.

Oram pointed out that Bank of America announced Tuesday that it will raise the minimum wage for its employees to $20 an hour the next two years, which he called “a very expensive proposition.” The bank also said it would freeze health care cost increases for lower-paid employees.

Oram said he regrets not addressing a weakness in ICCU's internal culture with his boss 20 years ago or sooner than he did after assuming its helm 11 years ago. The company, however, has made a dramatic turnaround and was voted the best place to work in Idaho for five years straight. “We could have been double our size if we had confronted a cultural change,” he said.

Calling himself a voracious reader, Oram said he typically starts his day reading Twitter news feeds while riding an exercise bike. He then goes to work where “Handle Daily Logistics” or HDL (pronounced “huddle”) meetings are held each day at 8:30 a.m. He estimates he attends 80 percent of them. An ICCU innovation department was created 3½ years ago in which seven employees pore over data and suggestions.

Reared in Blackfoot, Oram said he “grew up on a car lot washing cars” at his father's vehicle dealership and moved irrigation sprinkler pipes, which he called a character builder. His mother was a school secretary. Both his parents achieved only eighth and ninth grade educations, but three of their five children earned college degrees.

Oram attended Ricks College – BYU-Idaho's predecessor – for 1½ years and then transferred to ISU's College of Business, where he earned a degree in information systems management. “I would do it again 100 times over,” he said. “College provides critical thinking.” He recommended that high school graduates major in technology, health sciences or a combination of both.

Asked about his greatest achievements, Oram praised his wife of nearly 40 years, his three daughters and 13 grandchildren. “They're always the number one source of my pride and joy,” he said.
 

One speaks up

johnson

One of the great ironies of modern American conservatism is that the party that claims to champion “limited government” is really in a constant push to expand the scope and power of the executive branch.

It amounts to the political equivalent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous observation that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

The concept – expanding the power of the presidency, while seeking to limit power everywhere else in government – may not equate to “first-rate intelligence,” but it certainly has become the mantra of a host of Republicans dating back to at least the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Nixon, of course, made the laughable claim that “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” The same logic was applied when then-Vice President Dick Cheney adamantly refused to disclose whom he was consulting with in crafting an energy policy during the George W. Bush administration. Even more importantly Cheney invoked the concept of an ever-expanding power of the executive when he aggressively defended a president’s power to conduct domestic surveillance without a warrant.

Remembering what he saw as a diminishment of presidential power during the post-Watergate period and during his time as chief of staff to Gerald Ford, Cheney questioned whether Congress had erred in creating the War Powers Act, a 1973 response to presidential overreach in Southeast Asia. The law was “an infringement upon the authority of the president.” Cheney said, and may be “unconstitutional.” Never mind that the Constitution grants the exclusive power to declare war to Congress.

The effort to expand and then defend executive power has found a new conservative champion in Attorney General Bill Barr. “I don’t know anyone that has a more robust view of inherent presidential authority than Bill Barr,” says Walter Dellinger, who, like Barr, once ran the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. “There is nobody who is to his right on this issue.”

After 40 years of diligent work in and out of government by conservatives like Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General Edwin Meese, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and one-time Solicitor General Robert Bork, among others, Barr’s views of presidential power are widely shared by most on the political right.

Yet, these are many of the same people who decried Barack Obama’s widespread and often questionable use of “executive authority” on all manner of policy where he could not convince Congress to act. Conservatives still bemoan, and correctly so, the expansion of presidential power when Franklin Roosevelt pioneered the “imperial presidency” in order to respond to the Great Depression. Yet, most conservatives acquiesced – the entire Idaho delegation included – with hardly a whimper when Donald Trump declared a “national emergency” and unconstitutionally appropriated money to build his border wall.

Which brings us to the news of the week. A Republican congressman from Michigan, once a Tea Party darling, defied his party and came to the conclusion that anyone who has dispassionately read the Mueller report would reach. In fact, more than 800 former U.S. Justice Department officials have come to the same conclusion. The president did attempt to obstruct justice to derail the investigation into Russian election meddling and was clearly open to “collusion” even as the special counsel determined the threshold of proving a conspiracy was difficult to meet. Crossing the threshold, of course, was made more difficult, even impossible, by Trump’s own refusal to be interviewed and his active efforts to prevent others from talking or telling the truth.

“They say there were no underlying crimes,” Republican Congressman Justin Amash said in a Tweet that will surely find its way into the history books. “In fact, there were many crimes revealed by the investigation, some of which were charged, and some of which were not but are nonetheless described in Mueller’s report.”

Amash, it must be remembered, was described in March of this year, as “probably one of the most, if not the most consistent and honorable members of Congress that I met in the eight years I was there. He always outlined what he believes in, why he believes in the things that he does and why he makes the decisions that he makes.”

The former Republican congressman who said that was Raul Labrador.

The president of course immediately denounced Amash, the House Freedom Caucus rumbled about how misguided he is and the minority leader made noises about his party loyalty.

Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled this week that the chief magistrate is not above the law even as he continues to “fight all the subpoenas,” refused to allow even former White House staffers to testify before Congress and, predictably, fights a legitimate request by a congressional committee to review his tax returns, which he promised repeatedly before the election to release. A man not hiding something doesn’t work so hard to hide something.

The attorney general, now largely serving as the president’s personal lawyer rather than the nation’s top law enforcement official, seeks to limit the legitimate investigation of a president plausibly implicated in real crimes. But the argument is a chimera, a constitutional illusion that actually amounts to yet more obstruction of justice.

If you’re a Trump partisan try to put those sentiments aside for a moment and pull out your copy of the Constitution. Ask yourself just two questions. If the name attached to the facts so obvious to Rep. Amash were Obama or Clinton would you see all of this differently? Would the assertions of presidential authority, the idea that the president isn’t answerable to Congress or really to anyone, would this wholesale resistance to transparency be as palatable then?

James Madison, that fussy old Founder, wrote about this in Federalist 51: “If [people] were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern [people], neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The Constitution wasn’t written for angels. It was written to constrain the ugly impulses of men and presidents.
 

High traffic, no bypass

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Last June, the Lewiston City Council had two decisions to make, one easy and one hard.

The easy one had to do with one of those mostly invisible local government services no one notices unless something goes wrong: Wastewater treatment, which was becoming not exactly an immediate crisis but surely a pressing need. The city’s wastewater facilities were aging and needed replacement and upgrade, soon, and that work isn’t cheap. Tens of millions of dollars would be needed, in the neighborhood of $70 million. The council evidently had no difficulty seeing the need for the work or for raising money for it.

Leading to the second decision. Local governments have two basic ways of going after that money, which would have to be paid ultimately by taxpayers or ratepayers - mostly, that is, the same people, residents of the city. They could put the question, which would be in the form of request for approval of issuance of financial bonds, on the city election ballot. Or they could do something called a “judicial bypass” - a formal request that a district judge unilaterally approve the rate or tax increase, avoiding the vote, on grounds the situation was an emergency.

The council was deeply split. It tilted toward asking a judge to grant permission, which is what happens most often when a local government either doesn’t want to bother with trying to sell the issue to the public, or thinks the voters might turn it down, as they often do in the case of finance issues. Then the Lewiston officials got what might have come to some of them as a shock: two district judges rejected the request.

City Hall then changed course. It launched a large-scale public education campaign, working through social media, community groups, news media and elsewhere to pitch the need for wastewater upgrades.

Back to Lewiston in a moment; here’s some statewide context.

First, the biggest story from the local government finance elections last week came in Canyon County, which for years now has needed a new, or vastly expanded, jail. The county has grown enormously since the last jail facilities were built, and there’s no serious debate about the need. County officials (be it noted: there are not a lot of big government advocates in Canyon County elected office) three times put ballot issues before the voters asking for money for jail expansion; three times they were turned down. On Tuesday they tried again, and lost for the fourth time in a row. And not only did they lose: The vote was about two-thirds in opposition, while a two-thirds favorable was needed for passage. It was a definitive loss.

Around Idaho, a number of relatively routine school issues passed, but many of those for specific new projects failed. A library bond effort failed in Chubbuck, two significant ballot issues in fast-growing Kuna went down, as did a proposal for fire station development in expanding Twin Falls.

But a police station plan in Moscow passed.

And then there’s Lewiston, where the ballot result was really unusual:

Not only did the two wastewater bond issues pass, but they received about 90 percent of the vote. It was a stunning, overwhelmingly favorable vote.

That’s a result worthy of some further study. But one immediate statistic that could be a partial explanation was this: Voter turnout was 22.5 percent, which would be poor for a general or primary election but was actually very strong, uncommonly strong, for a special election like this one.

It was significantly stronger than most of the other bond and levy issue turnouts around the state.

Local governments might take a clue from that. Maybe they don’t need judicial approval as much as they think; what they really need is to spread the word about the needs when they happen, and then get enough voters out to the polls.
 

Getting better

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Maybe you’ve heard the statistic quoted that Idaho is last (or near) among states in doctors per capita. If medicine was a simple business that ratio might mean the dearth of physicians would ensure doctors in Idaho are among the best paid, supply and demand being what it is. But in fact, Idaho doctor salaries are about average to below average. Medicine may be a business but the economics are complicated.

Former Governor Otter’s commitment to boosting medical education in Idaho was supported in the legislature when I was there. In that tenure, the Idaho WWAMI program grew from 20 seats to 40. WWAMI is a medical education consortium of 5 states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and IDAHO. Those 40 seats are reserved for Idaho resident applicants. Idaho students now spend their first year and a half of the four years of medical school in Idaho. Many are based in small towns and rural communities, learning from the local physicians and patients about managing disease and chronic illness.

Medical training takes many steps. After receiving a bachelor’s degree (usually a four-year process) the next step is four years of Medical School. Then there is the residency step that takes 3-10 years, depending on the specialty one chooses. After residency docs go hang a shingle and see what they will be paid. Most doctors in Idaho make over $150K, so it’s not a shabby income. But many could do better elsewhere; market forces are real.

But for most doctors it’s not just the money that motivates. Most want to serve; their patients, serve their communities, serve their profession, serve their families. Unfortunately, many doctors put their service in that order. Families can suffer. If you are a small community in need of a doctor, think about what you can do to make a family thrive in your community. Could the schools be better? Do you have a good library? Do you have opportunities for a spouse, a family to thrive? Doctors will like such opportunities; so should you.

But getting a doctor is just part of the process. Keeping one and keeping them good is another. The Idaho WWAMI program is not just about running students through the four years, they are also committed to supporting doctors in small communities stay strong, stay informed, practicing good medicine.

Two of the toughest fields of practice for rural family physicians is behavioral health (the new term for psychiatric-emotional-personality-addiction problems) and chronic pain. The explosion Idaho and our nation have seen in overdose deaths from narcotics is just one indicator. Docs haven’t been doing the best managing pain. And most psychiatric care in Idaho is provided by primary care providers; we are last in the country for psychiatrists and behavioral health specialists. WWAMI saw this need and responded.

Two years ago, WWAMI set up the ECHO program. Providers (physicians and nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers or counselors) participate remotely in an interactive online session to discuss the difficult problems they face. The sessions focus on how to prescribe narcotics appropriately and managing behavioral health. Such support will go a long way to keeping providers at the top of their game in this rural and frontier state.

We hear about the cost of care, Medicaid and Medicare, who pays and who doesn’t. There is no doubt that the medical industrial complex has a strong presence in “the swamp” as our president refers to the business-political morass. And I’m sure there’s plenty of ideas about how to get out of this mud hole. Payment affects behavior; sometimes. But we, in our communities can make health care about being healthy. I would hope our dear state of Idaho has such a vision.
 

Coup

politicalwords

One of the older print books in my household collection - old enough that I bought the paperback new for 75 cents - is called Coup d’Etat: A Practical Handbook, a Brilliant Guide for Taking Over a Nation (Fawcett Premier, 1969). It delivers on the title, being a manual for a do-it-yourselfer: Here’s how to forcibly take over a country, preferably a less-technically developed one.

The author, Edward Luttwak, is a serious researcher on military and other history, and has written among other things a highly-regarded study of the strategy the Roman Empire used to grow itself, as well as a guide to military strategy used in armed forces training. Coup d’Etat was an unusual case. Opinion writer David Frum called it “that astounding thing: a great work of political science that is also a hilarious satire.” And it sort of is: Serious, factual and well-researched (he includes detailed lists of recent coups, successful and failed, referenced in the body of the book).

If on the surface it seems almost like an invitation to anarchy, the introduction (written by another writer) makes the case that “this book is as much a matter for the prevention of the coup as for initiating one.” (It was not, by the way, the first book on the subject. There was at least one predecessor, Technique of the Coup d’Etat, by Curzio Malaparte.)

Overthrows along the lines of what we might consider a coup go back to the days of ancient empires, but the modern form of the coup, in Luttwak’s telling, is made possible in the last couple hundred years or so by modern governmental bureaucracy and communications and transportation systems. He comes up with this definition: “A coup consists of the infiltration of a small but critical segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” The full term coup d'etat means in English a blow against the state. It does not have to be violent (though it might be), and it need not rely on support from the constituency (though it might obtain that).

That gives the sense that a coup is a long shot, that a number of elements have to fall into place to make it work, and Luttwak seems to make that case; his basic list of coups and attempted coups from 1945 to 1967 includes about as many failures as successes. He suggests that coups are much more likely to succeed when a set of preconditions are in place, such as “economic backwardness,” political independence (no close entangling alliances) of the target country, and a basic unity of the country (it’s not likely to break into pieces under pressure). It also depends on the standing, non-political, parts of the government not being strong enough to push back against an illegal change in leadership. Coups work best, then, in developing countries where institutions and economies are not large and stable. They also may be on the decline; 2018 was only the second year a century - 2007 was the first - to report no coup attempts internationally. See also the Coup d'etat Project.

A coup is an abrupt, generally unexpected, wrenching of the power of a state from whoever was legitimately installed to lead it. Luttwak refers to using the tools of the state to aggressively change its leadership, but that’s not the same as changing leadership using legitimate procedures. The rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, for example, wasn’t a coup despite all of the activities of Brownshirts and others in the street; he was handed high office in that country according to constitutional procedures, at least at first.

The charge of one side or another fomenting a “coup” turns up periodically in recent American politics. On unusual occasions there were rumblings to effect from the left, about Republican efforts to kick out President Barack Obama (or, before that, Bill Clinton). As determined as some of those efforts were, none rose to the level of a coup; even the impeachment effort against Clinton was undertaken

Former television personality Bill O’Reilly wrote, for example, about what he described as a coup attempt targeting President Donald Trump: “The story of our time is the coup d’état that is being planned in this country. Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? In most countries, coup d’états happen when the military tries to overthrow the government. The United States military would never do that… but the national media certainly would.” News organizations, in other words, were trying to engineer a coup.

But even if you assume they were trying that, the description misuses the word “coup.” There is no forcible overthrow here; the governmental system of elections and succession remained in place, and O’Reilly wasn’t really trying to contend that it hadn’t. He was comparing criticism by news organizations to a violent military overthrow of the government, but the two things are wholly different; the most news organizations could do would be to influence the opinions of various sectors of the public.

A coup is not criticism or opposition. It is an illegitimate seizure of political power.

On that basis, it might be worth reviewing what the Russian government was trying to accomplish in the American elections of 2016. That did not involve direct seizure of the governmental levers of power. But, as a quiet, well-placed attempt to grab power, it comes close to meeting the definition of coup; whether successful or not, being a subject for further review.
 

America’s credibility chickens

jones

The Trump Administration is having trouble convincing our allies of the necessity of a confrontation with Iran. Administration claims that Iran is posing an increasing threat to U.S. interests in the region have been met with skepticism by a number of governments.

American efforts to enlist our European allies in an effort to crack down on Iran have fallen flat. A senior British general, who serves as deputy commander of the U.S. coalition against the Islamic State, typified their response. On May 14, he said, “there has been no increased threat from Iranian-backed forces.”

When the Secretary of State made a surprise visit to Iraq on May 7 to share threat information, Iraqi officials were not impressed. That response might be taken with a grain of salt because our ill-conceived invasion of Iraq drove that country much closer to Iran. But, it does demonstrate a troubling credibility gap in a critical part of the world.

It may be that Iran has plans to harm American interests in the region, requiring a U.S. response, or it may be that Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, the Administration’s Iran hawks, are just trying to pave the way for another unnecessary military conflict. The problem is that truth-challenged, seat-of-the-pants foreign policy is seriously eroding America’s credibility around the world and putting our country at risk.

There is something to be said for employing a certain amount of uncertainty in dealing with our enemies. An element of bluffing is fair game in dealing with an adversary. However, it must always be carefully employed and rooted in reality. A chaotic policy or one based on untruths will not deter our enemies.

And, when dealing with allies, it is essential to be truthful and respectful. When we surprise our partners with policies harmful to their interests, fail to be truthful with them, or fail to honor our commitments, it erodes our credibility and ability to advance our national interests.

Foreign governments, both friends and foes, carefully follow American politics. They see tallies of the untruths attributed to the President. They are aware of the wide policy swings that can occur in a short period of time--an immediate pullout from Syria one day, a retraction several days later, something else a short time later. Or, in this hemisphere--off-and-on promises to help the people of Venezuela rid themselves of a dictator, or alternating threats and promises to Central American countries regarding aid to keep their people at home.

When our friends and enemies can’t rely on predictability and a certain amount of truthfulness from the U.S. government, it damages our moral standing and harms our national interests. This month our allies won’t buy our case for confronting Iran because they have seen a lack of candor on other issues. What will it be next month and the month after? Once credibility is lost, it is hard to restore.

The icons of the Republican Party - Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan - stood up for the moral dignity of the United States. While they were not perfect and may have strayed from the absolute truth on occasion, they understood the need to let both friend and foe know where America stood, what they could expect from the U.S. and the consequences of transgressing our national interests. It is not too late to restore America to its position as moral beacon of the world. Let’s demand it of our leaders.
 

Mex-pat

rainey

Odd word, isn’t it? It’s used by some to describe people from other countries who become full time residents of Mexico.

We have friends who’re “Mex-Pats” and we recently flew down to their “home city” of Chapala in the State of Jalisco. Chapala is a two-and-a-half hour flight Southeast of Phoenix so we figure it to be about a thousand miles.

Chapala is a typical Mexican town. No high-rises like PuertoVallarta, Mexico City, Cancun or any other major spot. Tallest building we saw was a three-story home.

What we experienced in Chapala was about as close to the real Mexico as you can get these days. Very old with cobblestone streets to rattle your teeth. Cement and stone construction in nearly all buildings. Narrow streets with narrow sidewalks, very small commercial businesses and a central plaza near a Catholic Church built in 1749.

Anyone who talks about “lazy Mexicans” has never spent time in a real Mexican community. Everywhere we went - and I mean everywhere - people were working. From the larger businesses to the guy outside the church we attended who was selling many varieties of washed fresh fruit out of a cardboard box - everyone was busy. We saw no indications of homelessness, no panhandlers anywhere we went. And we went just about everywhere in Chapala.

We passed a street crew of about eight men digging out an old water line. Not three working and five watching. All were on picks and shovels because they don’t use backhoes or other heavy equipment. Many road repairs in the area were the same - done by hand.

Locals we encountered spoke little to no English. Even the desk clerk in our hotel and counter employees at the International airport in Guadalahara about 20 miles away. American money wasn’t accepted anywhere we went. Credit cards worked sometimes and sometimes they didn’t. Pesos were a necessity.

There were no “touristy” areas anywhere. Very small shops with goods mostly made in Mexico. No plate glass windows, no neon signs, no upscale fashions. We found small children of working mothers in several shops. All quiet, well-behaved, playing with small toys, reading a book or sleeping. Not one running underfoot.

The large central plaza was great for people-watching. Musicians, vendors both inside and out, no cars or other noises of civilization. Many choices of food and drink. And large trees everywhere for shade in the hot afternoons.

New commercial development was outside the city. No new car dealers. A couple of movie theaters, a Starbucks and a “Wal-Marche.” Bought Colgate toothpaste - writing on the tube in Spanish. Same with Coke or Budweiser. Very little to remind you of the states.

New construction in Chapala is either on small vacant ground which was never used or where older buildings had been removed. Our friends’ new home, in an older section, was one such. About 1,600 square feet, inner and outer walls solid concrete, a glass wall to an interior courtyard and a beautiful hand-laid convex brick ceiling over the entire living area. Less than $200-thousand.

Healthcare quality is good and available either through clinics, public or private hospitals. The public ones are free but crowded. The private ones charge but fees are much less than the states.

There’s a sizeable contingent of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Germans and other nationalities in Chapala. Moderate temperatures, laid-back Mexican lifestyle, very low cost-of-living, a feeling of being removed from what we call “civilization,” gracious locals who have gladly accepted their new “neighbors” - many enticing features.

But. There’s always a “but.”

Most homes in Chapala are surrounded by high concrete walls. Many topped with steel spikes, concertina wire or electric fencing. Some have guard dogs. Garage and outer compound doors of steel. Most homes and other buildings have large water storage tanks on the roof because of frequent outages. Local tap water, in some places, not safe to drink. Some homes have emergency generators. Security issues are ever-present.

Those cobblestone roads are everywhere so cars and other vehicles take a pounding. Mexican roads can leave something to be desired. Even major highways are often uneven with roller-coaster rides. For serious shopping, car-buying or major medical needs, it’s about an hour drive to Guadalahara.

On balance, we very much enjoyed our small-town Mexican experience. People were welcoming and gracious. The atmosphere was far-removed from the travel guides, time-share condos, high-rises, carefully-trimmed golf courses, fancy dining and other accouterments we hear about. Our host-friends were generous with their time and knowledge of the area. We felt we did get to see what the country is really like.

Ready to be a Mex-Pat? No. But, the experiences we had and the things we learned were eye-opening in many ways. We have a new appreciation for the country and its residents.

You oughta try the real Mexico sometime. Bueno!

(photo/Barb Rainey)
 

Eastern Idaho’s economic challenges

mendiola

Panelists representing the region's largest employers discussed their companies' greatest challenges, hopes and frustrations when they participated in a recent Eastern Idaho Outlook conference at the elegant Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel in Fort Hall.

Sponsored by the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), Colliers International, Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Hirning Buick/GMC of Pocatello and Portneuf Health Partners, the April 24 conference drew more than 200 government and business leaders from throughout the area.

Moderated by Jim Shipman, Colliers International's Idaho managing partner, the panel discussion featured:
Brian Berrett, ICCU chief financial officer.
Drew Facer, Idahoan Foods president and chief executive officer.
Amy Lientz, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) stakeholder and education partnerships director.
Dan Ordyna, Portneuf Health Partners chief executive officer.
Luke Stumme, U.S. government facilities chief.
Donald Zebe, Colliers International brokerage services vice president.
All of the panelists essentially agreed that Eastern Idaho is on the verge of explosive growth from Rexburg to Pocatello and discussed how that can be effectively managed and anticipated. In introductory remarks, Shipman noted that Idaho continues to boom as Californians and others keep migrating to the state. “It's on everybody's radar,” he said.

Stumme moved to Pocatello about nine months ago from Washington D.C., where he lived for seven years, calling it the best decision he has ever made. He is overseeing the FBI's $100 million expansion of its Pocatello data center. He said Pocatello reminds him of Boulder and Golden, Colorado. He earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

The FBI plans to hire at least 300 new employees in Pocatello the next two years and annually invest $65 million in Eastern Idaho. Stumme predicted Pocatello will become “Headquarters West” for the FBI, which employs 10,000 people in Washington – where it is getting to be exorbitantly expensive and highly congestive to live. The FBI's training academy is situated on 547 acres at the immense Marine Corps base near Quantico, Virginia.

In February 2018, the FBI announced it would shift about 2,500 jobs across four states, including Idaho, from its Washington headquarters. The Pocatello FBI data center will be the most energy efficient data center in the Justice Department, Stumme said.

Last November, the FBI said it would move 1,350 personnel and contractors to Huntsville, Alabama, and eventually expand its site there by between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs. About 300 are employed there now. A $350 million support building is expected to be completed there by 2021.

The FBI has 39,000 employees worldwide and the highest retention rate of any federal department or agency, Stumme said. Many FBI employees are coming to Pocatello from Washington, but those hired externally must pass background clearances, which can be difficult, he pointed out.

“One of our biggest challenges is background screening where there is only a 30 percent pass rate,” Stumme said, which can be alleviated by hiring contractors who already have security clearances. There also are limits for staff funding, he said, mentioning the FBI is increasing the number of agents hired while support personnel numbers are decreasing.

Stumme praised the relatively close proximity of Idaho State University and BYU-Idaho in the region. “People from here want to stay here because of the whole area,” he said, adding those who move to Idaho can afford housing as opposed to heavily populated places where “you can sit in a car for 40 minutes to go eight miles.”

Ordyna said Portneuf's top priorities are recruiting and talent management. “Burnout” is the biggest concern in the health care industry as “Millennials” put greater emphasis on maintaining a work life balance rather than work 24/7 at a “365 days shop,” the medical center CEO said.

Portneuf's biggest impediment for retaining qualified personnel is when nurses graduate most of them must move and live outside Idaho because there are no jobs for their spouses and pay is greater in states like Utah, Ordyna said. “Nurses can get jobs wherever they go.”

He said without question the general sentiment seems to be: “Don't tell anybody about the secret gem of Idaho” because otherwise more people will move here, and it will become a California. He said Eastern Idaho must be smart about its growth because growth is still needed.

Ordyna said Portneuf and its board of directors are committed to making a significant investment in 20 acres of the Northgate Project under development as a master planned community that is designed for housing, a technology park and a shopping district. ICCU also has committed to constructing a new branch there.

“Eastern Idaho's going to blow up,” he remarked, noting housing costs are getting terribly expensive in Utah and people there will be looking for a cheaper living alternative. Conditions also are exceptional for attracting good companies, Ordyna added.

Colliers International's Zebe observed that construction of a major new LDS temple in the Northgate district also promises to propel economic growth. He noted that construction of such temples in Layton, Utah, Meridian, Twin Falls and St. Louis all attracted businesses like magnets.

Seventy-five homes in the upper $400,000 range under construction at Northgate have all sold, with 55 expected to be completed by the end of June, Zebe said. “There's a housing shortage in the whole region. We've got to address it.”

Berrett said ICCU's main objective is to sell itself as a company to potential out-of-state recruits who also consider an area's culture, outdoors, traffic and school systems. Low unemployment numbers make it more difficult for businesses to hire qualified prospects when those individuals get two or three job offers, he said.

“It's difficult to find good employees,” Berrett said, noting a company can offer generous salaries and benefits, but the area's housing shortage can prove to be a disincentive. “We've lost a few potential candidates.”

More tech jobs are required due to companies needing larger information technology departments, the ICCU CFO said, adding a company's “selling process” takes time. He discouraged the attitude of telling people to stay away from Idaho. “We have to be willing to grow. Otherwise, we are slowly deteriorating or dying.”

Lientz stressed it was her opinion that INL's energy and security priorities will spawn new companies in the region, especially as the Naval Reactors Facility's $1.6 billion expansion gets under way, and INL focuses on developing small modular reactors, micro reactor technology and the Versatile Test Reactor, which is critical for innovative nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors.

INL is reaping benefits of partnering with area universities and community colleges, she said, mentioning it also is getting more involved in developing high performing computers. As its technology advancements are being watched on the world stage, INL must recruit top world scientists and engineers, making them feel welcome, she said, advocating nature conservancy and land trusts as a means of attracting qualifying personnel to the region.

Facer said productivity is key to Idahoan Foods' success. Based in Idaho Falls, it specializes in the production of dehydrated potato products and employs more than 500 people at the height of its production cycle.

Many new employees are hired from publicly traded companies and want to make a difference in the world, he noted. His company requires every imaginable business discipline and must develop its own labor pool. Idahoan Foods is recognized as a top growth leader in consumer packaged goods (CPG), Facer said.

“It comes down to culture and company packages and opportunities,” he said, emphasizing that CEOs must be their companies' chief recruiting officers. Geography is not necessarily the main reason new employees commit to a company, he said.