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Posts published in August 2015

Breaking news


Well, here we are. It’s been about seven weeks. Time for a “battle” report and a list of “casualties” from the latest “occupations” - er, locations - of “Operation Jade Helm 15."

I’ve reached out to friends and readers in all seven Western states where “massed” federal troops have been operating. I’ve asked all to check local vacant Walmart’s to get a prisoner count. Really check ‘em. Not just look in the dirty windows because civilians who’ve been “rounded up” are supposed to held in the basements of empty stores. I’ve never seen a Walmart with a basement but that’s where we’ve been told the captives are.

So far - in just over seven weeks - I’ve received not a single report of citizen “prisoners” stemming from Jade Helm. Nope. Not one. Which means either the civilians are cleverer than we thought or SEALS and Rangers haven’t learned a thing in recent engagements overseas.

Our crew of “searchers” has also been checking with county clerks by the dozens - looking for newly recorded documents describing federal property “takings” by the invading forces. So far, none. Not one!

And this has been a very, very thorough search. We’ve looked at Bastrop/Smithville, Big Spring, Caddo Lake, Christoval, Dell City, Eldorado, Goliad, Junction, Leakey, Menard and Victoria. And that’s just in Texas. No community larger than a Birch Society cell meeting has been spared our research over seven states. None!

Still, the old I-net machine is ablaze with warnings - extreme warnings - of the dangers inherent in “several thousand” U.S. military forces running amok on our home soil. We’re being told those of us on the outskirts of this “invasion” have no idea how large it is and how “out-of-control” the “thousands” of soldiers, sailors and Marines have become. Nor are we being told of the martial law declarations and destruction of private property going on in several states. It’s got to be damned scary!!!

We’re also being warned not to listen to “official” news coming out of the Pentagon or from the “Jade Helm” headquarters locations. To hear their official blather, you’d think there were only about 1,200 military personnel involved - drawn from just about any branch you can name - rather than the “thousands” we “know” are “really” out there. And all this official crap about the economic gains in cities and towns where the feds are operating? Just more government “propaganda.” Don’t you believe it.

But not to worry. At least in Texas. Because the governor called out the National Guard to keep wary watch on the U.S. military so nothing illegal or un-American takes place. Except - the Texas Guard’s not out there any more. Seems the old Guv came to his senses after looking like a public fool and told all the Guard guys to go home. He’d handle it. Quietly.

Comedian George Gobel was on “The Tonight Show” some years ago. During the Korean “war,” he trained bomber pilots in Waco, Texas. Very proficient flying instructor was he. His proof? With him flying bombers in Waco, no invading enemy aircraft made it east of Houston. Not one.

Which seems to sort of sum up the conspiracy crackpot outcries of “Jade Helm” crazies. Because of these “alert citizens” and their leaping to action, no American military “invaders” in seven states have been successful undermining local authority, locking up civilians or taking private property.

But, idiotic as all this “Jade Helm” paranoia has been - and continues to be despite proof to the contrary if any proof were needed - it’s only a short mental step from there to the most incompetent, unqualified and disastrous field of presidential candidates offered in recent years. Most would be as embarrassing and frightening as Commander-In Chief as the Texas governor has been, with his nut-ball appeal to a crazy voter base.

Our national politics are awash in craziness, paranoia and ignorance. We’re told people are “angry” and “frustrated” with government, that we lack leadership and direction. The knock on Pres. Obama has been he wasn’t experienced enough to be president. Yet Trump and the accompanying class of miscreants are all appealing to people who say they don’t want “professional politicians” to run the country. Huh?

“Jade Helm” craziness continues with not a shred of proof anything was amiss with it or the similar military exercises in the years that came before. But the mental vacuum of thousands of citizens continues. So, too, the political campaign continues with idiocy, unsupported accusations, baseless “facts,” phony claims and paranoia among candidates rushing all directions to attract an audience. Any audience. Like that Texas governor.

If anyone knows of a vacant Walmart store with a basement, we may really have need of one.

First take

We think of Boeing as the designer and manufacturer of big planes, and they are, but they're also getting into some really cutting edge stuff. Boeing also builds satellites, and some of them is getting ready to do something remarkable: Creating a global broadband system. Boeing expands on this: "Each of the three Inmarsat-5 satellites use fixed narrow spot beams to deliver higher speeds through more compact terminals. Steerable beams direct additional capacity in real-time to where it’s needed to provide seamless, global broadband communications coverage to Inmarsat users worldwide on land, at sea, and in the air. The first two Inmarsat-5 Global Xpress satellites were launched December 2013 and February 2015, respectively. A fourth Boeing-built Inmarsat-5 (F4) is scheduled for delivery in mid-2016." As broad as the Internet is now, it could get broader still. And then the report just out in the Puget Sound Business Journal that Boeing is developing anti-aircraft weaponry: A cannon set up to combat drones. The story said, "Boeing tested the laser cannon last week in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The cannon can cause a drone to burst into flames after being exposed to the laser for as little as two seconds." Boeing is redefining itself.

Uncomfortable options


Idaho Republicans just can’t get comfortable with their primary situation.

And probably never will unless the national primary picture changes.

This month, the Idaho Republican Party said it will change once again its method of participating in the presidential nomination contest by holding a primary election on March 8. Last time, in 2012, the party held caucuses, which is what the Democrats have done for many years. While the Democrats have stuck with the caucuses for a while, largely because that’s a method for safely ensuring the state’s delegates will be accepted at the national convention, Republicans have wrestled with their system like Houdini trying to escape a straitjacket.

But there is no perfect escape available.

A caucus would get the job done, but Dave Johnston, the GOP executive director, reasonably noted that many people cannot participate because of the very specific time and place, and cited his own 2012 example, when he was unable to join in because he was on active duty in the Marine Corps. And he said three to five percent of voters may go to caucuses, but about a quarter will vote in primary elections (the percentages sound generally correct), which unlike caucuses are secret-ballot processes.

Okay, so what’s the problem with a March primary?

Mainly, the cost of holding more than one of them. Idaho traditionally has held its party primaries for state, congressional and local offices (covering both parties, and many other candidates) somewhere around summer, to keep the general election campaign season running into fall down to a reasonable length. For a while some decades ago they were held in August, but mostly in May, which seems to be a satisfactory time for most Idahoans.

The problem is, the presidential nomination contests are effectively all over by then. In 2012, Mitt Romney had become a prohibitive favorite for the nomination by the end of March, and in 2008 John McCain was widely called the “presumptive nominee” by the end of February. And the Republican Party has been trying to “front load” the system to compress the period of serious contests, to give the nominee more time to settle into general election mode. If Idaho Republicans vote for a nominee in the May primary, they’re playing in a game that’s long since over.

Hence the idea of a March primary, which might put the Gem State into the action. But who will pay for it? That’s been a sticking point at the Idaho Legislature for years, especially when the Democrats say they’re not interested. A taxpayer-funded election for the benefit of one party, for presidential but no other candidates, would have an uncomfortable tinge to it.

Last week I was discussing some of this endless circle on a radio program, and the host mentioned a former neighbor of his who had the proposal of setting up several regional primaries around the country. It might rotate from one presidential cycle to the next, and maybe get started later in the year so that all of the presidential year isn’t hard-core campaign season. I’ve heard the idea for years (with ideas of anywhere from four to eight regional primaries in the proposal), and I like it - it would give people outside of Iowa and New Hampshire a shot at playing that crucial early role in the selection. It might solve Idaho’s problem too, by moving the presidential contests to a later point so they could be combined with the regular state primaries.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely for the near future. So Idaho Republicans are probably going to be stuck with their discomfort for a while yet.

First take

Are you one of the people who like the idea of electing someone from "outside" - a president who hasn't been tainted by all that politics, who can just "tell it like it is"? Sound good? It's a crock. Check out this piece by John Harwood pointing out some of the many problems with the idea, principally that most "outsiders" aren't really outsiders, that most who are, don't win, and the few who do tend to have weak records in office. "Some outsiders who managed to win statewide office found governance to be frustrating. Jesse Ventura, a former professional wrestler, chose not to seek re-election as governor of Minnesota, while voters rejected a bid by the former Goldman Sachs chairman Jon Corzine for a second term as governor of New Jersey. The Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger limped out of the California governorship with a 22 percent approval rating," Harwood writes. A better approach? Voters should hire their office holders based on experience, appropriate skill sets and their good judgment across a range of areas. That's how you build a good organization. - rs (photo/"Hubert H. Humphrey 1968 presidential campaign." by Kheel Center - Flickr)

A persistent waste issue

A guest opinion about the Department of Energy’s Two Proposed shipments of spent nuclear fuel and nuclear waste, by Tami Thatcher.

The two proposed shipments of spent nuclear fuel (SNF) for research at the Idaho National Laboratory are small (0.1 metric tons) compared to 308 metric tons of SNF at INL. And small in comparison to the tons of commercial SNF that the LINE Commission was lobbying Idaho to accept back in 2012.

But no matter what Idaho Attorney General Wasden decides, the Idaho’s nuclear waste problems aren’t going away any time soon. And the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to let DOE off the RCRA hook with a $2 million fine should DOE pull the plug on IWTU before treating any of the liquid waste has not helped matters.

The LINE Commission accepts DOE lobbying via INL leaders and makes these spin masters voting members on the LINE Commission.

Masters of nuclear booster spin or “nuclear BS” know just what to leave out of their presentations and explanations.

They emphasize that the Idaho Settlement Agreement called for INL to be the “DOE Spent Fuel Lead Laboratory.” But they leave out the fact that this was defunded in 2009.

They call for a transshipment facility to be built if additional commercial SNF come to Idaho. But they leave out that one needs to be built to make SNF already at INL road ready or be able to repackage it if it has no place to go.

They give seismic hazard presentations, but leave out discussion of the important weak links in nuclear facility and aquifer protection.

They make Disneyland waste disposal assumptions to avoid discussing the usual waste burial. Most of the fuel from the two proposed shipments will be destructively examined creating air emissions or other waste.

They give bread box analogies when volume doesn’t characterize the toxicity or longevity of the hazard.

They tout INL cleanup. But they leave out discussion that the vast majority of what was buried will remain buried at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex.

The courts decided that for Yucca Mountain, analysis to an arbitrary 10,000 years was unacceptable—if peak radiation ingestion doses were afterward. Yet, RWMC cleanup is based on models that minimize the release for the first 10,000 years. Then they leave out mention of the rapidly escalating ingestion doses after 10,000 years.

The DOE kept its analysis of peak doses at RWMC carefully out of public view: 100 mrem/yr for hundreds of thousands of years unless the soil cap is maintained perfectly. That’s assuming no floods and geologic stability over millennia: in other words, a scientifically indefensible analysis.

They say other burial grounds at INL will have caps, but leave out that only RWMC will rely on soil cap performance to slow the migration of radionuclides headed for Thousand Springs for millennia.

Employees at IDEQ and at various DOE contractors know their job is at-risk if they give straight answers. It’s not in the DNA of Idaho Commerce Director or Idaho Falls Mayor to question the nuclear spin—or to wait for public comment to DOE’s supplement analysis for the two shipments to be addressed and published.

But it should concern all Idahoans who care about the aquifer that questioning the spin masters is basically left up to two former governors.

First take

This could have been a very funny short story, or even short novel, but it's real. From today's Daily Kos politics report, based on a report in the Columbia Tribune . . .

Self-interested business owners successfully petitioned the Columbia, Missouri, city council to create a local Community Improvement District, which would have the authority to impose a half-cent sales tax increase with voter approval. However, the district lines were drawn in a manner that attempted to avoid containing any eligible voters, meaning that property-owners themselves would get to decide on the sales tax increase as a way to avoid further property taxes to pay for improvements.

Unfortunately for them, things didn't exactly go according to plan. It soon became known that a single voter, University of Missouri student Jen Henderson, was registered to vote in the new CID. That means that she alone will get to decide whether or not to approve the sales tax increase. The CID has already gone into debt to finance planned improvements and was counting on the increased revenue from the sales tax increase.

Predictably, Henderson is not pleased with how manipulative this process has been. She was even asked to de-register so that the vote would revert to property owners. While Henderson hasn't publicly stated which way she plans to vote, she sounded skeptical of the proposed sales tax increase and rightfully pointed out how it is regressive in nature while the benefits accrue mainly to incumbent businesses.

In a delicious twist of irony, if Henderson votes against the sales tax increase or the vote is called off entirely, the only way for the CID to pay off its debts will be to levy further taxes on property, which is exactly what these businesses were trying to avoid. Most of the time gerrymandering is successful and unfair, but instances like this show it can sometimes backfire spectacularly.

Two different responses


Two recent columns have elicited two different responses which demonstrate, on the one hand, the skill of a smart communicator, and on the other, the nit-picking approach too often taken by amateurs to divert attention from a column’s major point.

The first example comes from the column questioning whether there really is a cure for cancer, and suggesting that recent television ads seen frequently on CNN by M.D. Anderson, the huge Houston-based cancer care center affiliated with the University of Texas, were in fact over-promising with an apparent claim that MDA had conquered the dread disease.

The column also referenced an incident ten years ago in which they refused to see a potential patient and turned down the request for a second opinion. The column listed its outlets and invited MDA to submit a rebuttal if they felt injured.

Within 24 hours an associate director of external communications, Julie Penne , e-mailed back a truly responsive response reflecting the fact tht she had obviously mastered easily Public Relations 101, and that MDA, huge though it is, knows how important smart communications is for their national image.

First, she addressed the personal, and sincerely offered congratulations for holding my cancer at bay for almost ten years. Next, though it was ten years ago since they had refused to see me, my column and cover note had been forwarded to the clinic’s leadership team and someone would be calling shortly.

Third, she thanked me for sending the contact information for the media that carry my column should they wish to produce a rebuttal.

Fourth, she sent the critique of the ads to their marketing team for a review. This past weekend there were script changes in the “talking head ads.” They substituted for language like “cancer, you lose” and inserted a phrase I have often used, and one that was in my cover note: “I’m still here.” That’s all they have to say----a straight forward, indisputable fact.

A good guess is they arrived at the need for some slight changes based on reactions from ad “focus groups.” It clicked with them when several of the participants said the same thing. Still, it is nice to think just maybe I influenced the decision a wee bit.

Contrast that response now with Craig Gehrke’s letter to all my media clients in which the field director for the Wilderness Society took exception to my column expressing disappointment in supporters of the new Boulder/White Clouds Wilderness settling for less than half a loaf in this wonderful part of Idaho, rather than holding out for President Obama to invoke the Antiquities Act to protect more acreage while restricting more motorized vehicle use.

Gehrke believes the National Monument designation would have been a hope and a prayer that let the perfect be the enemy of the good and risked gaining nothing at all. However, it is incontestable that all the Risch/Simpson legislation really does is preserve the current status quo.

Gehrke engages in a classic false syllogism whereby he cites my factual error on a minor point in the column and hopes then to invalidate in a reader’s mind everything else I wrote. His nit-pick was to challenge my statement that the Andrus/McClure comprehensive statewide wilderness bill in the late 1980’s would have placed more acreage into wilderness than does Congressman Simpson’s legislation.

He is correct. My memory was faulty on the amount of wilderness (157,000 acres) in the Boulder/White Clouds wilderness proposed by the duo, as opposed to the 275,000 acres of wilderness in the new law. I’d thought the two major political players in the late 80’s had proposed 300,000 acres.

That error, however, does not belie the column’s major point that the land itself, and more of it, would have been better protected by designation as a National Monument.

Nor does Gehrke acknowledge the many areas not included in Simpson’s bill because of increaseed motorized vehicle use over the last 25 years that invalidated the ground from being considered for wilderness---areas like Champion Lakes, Washington Peak, Little Redfish Lake and lower lands of the Big Boulder and Little Boulder Creeks and the area south of the Pole Creek/Germania Creek trails. These areas left out are why all the Simpson bill really does is to place into law what is the current status quo.

Ask yourself what is truly best for the resource and an honest answer has to be a National Monument. Preserving the status quo is no cause for celebration.

His nit-picking response is disappointing, and it should be clear which response, his or MDA’s, warrants acclaim.

First take

When I left Idaho in 2004 there were - so far as I can recall - no traffic roundabouts anywhere in the state. Washington had a lot of them, especially in suburban areas off I-5 (Olympia long had had one at a lake crossing), and Oregon had some scattered around (there's been one on the west side of Astoria for many years). The picture here shows one at Hillsboro, Oregon, that's been around a while. But in the years since, Idaho has been building a number of them, and the Idaho Statesman even highlighted that on the front page today, noting the first one in Nampa in 2006 and another this summer at Boise, in the ParkCenter area. My sense of them is that they're a little confusing at first but, once you get the hang of them, slow traffic a little, force cooperation and probably are safer than most other intersections. Like the song said, "Call it morning driving thru the sound and in and out the valley ..." - rs

Church’s wilderness


Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson has been receiving well deserved accolades for his tireless efforts during the last 16 years to have major portions of the Boulder- White Cloud mountains preserved as wilderness. The resulting legislation, now signed into law, creates three new Idaho wilderness areas: the White Clouds Wilderness, the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness, and the Hemingway-Boulders Wilderness. Together, they cover over 275,000 acres.

In addition to Simpson, there were many other players who helped make this possible, including a variety of environmental organizations, Senator Jim Risch, former Governor Cecil Andrus, and hundreds of individuals interested in protecting the area from future development. But I would suggest that none of this would have happened without the previous efforts of one Idahoan, the late Senator Frank Church.

I don’t suggest that because of Church’s leading role in passage of the Wilderness Act and the creation of other Idaho wilderness areas. Rather, I suggest it because Church almost single-handedly made it acceptable for senators, congressmen and governors, Republicans and Democrats alike, to pursue the protection of Idaho’s natural resources.

Idaho became a territory in 1863 due entirely to the discovery of gold. From the beginning, Idaho was viewed as a place where there was money to be made by exploiting its natural resources. Mining came first, followed by agriculture and timber. Of equal importance was an abundant supply of water to feed those industries.

For 100 years, few Idaho issues received greater attention than the exploitation of the state’s natural resources. When the Idaho Constitutional Convention was held in 1889, one of the most hotly debated topics was what to do with the land that would be transferred to the state by the federal government. The debate wasn’t whether any of it should be protected from exploitation, but whether it should be immediately sold off to private interests or held and developed by the state. In the end, those interested in having the state exploit the state owned lands won.

Perhaps no major Idaho politician better exemplified the mind-set of the state on natural resource issues during this period than Senator Weldon Heyburn, a Republican from Idaho’s Silver Valley. Heyburn was an attorney whose practice focused heavily on representing mining interests. During his tenure in the Senate, from 1903-1912, much of his effort was focused on fighting the emerging national conservation efforts of Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot. Heyburn was opposed to the creation of national forests because he didn’t feel that government should control vast tracts of land in the western U.S.

This mind-set was understandable. The United States was a growing country. It needed lumber for construction, gold, silver and lead for manufacturing and farm commodities to feed the people. Idaho had them all and if its economy was to grow, it needed to exploit both land and water. In addition, Idaho’s growing population didn’t come from people seeking enjoyment of its many natural wonders. Rather, they came seeking to improve their economic lot.

Sometimes the argument wasn’t whether or not to develop natural resources, but rather who should develop them. The debate in the constitutional convention over future ownership of lands was one example. Another was the debate in the 1950s over who should build hydroelectric generating dams in Hells Canyon. There was little opposition to construction of these dams. The bigger debate was over who should build them.

When Frank Church was first elected to the Senate in 1956, the state had suffered through nearly three decades of economic restrictions. The depression had brought about a general economic collapse. Then followed World War II with rationing and the lack of manpower. By the mid-50s, with the depression, Word War II and the Korean conflict behind it, Idaho was ready to once again become a juggernaut of economic activity and most of that activity would depend upon the state’s plentiful natural resources. Conservation and environmental protection were not high on the state’s list of priorities. Idaho didn’t even have a state parks system.

But Frank Church had a deep appreciation for largely undeveloped areas of Idaho such as the Sawtooth Mountains and sought the means to protect them. His role in passing the Wilderness Act opened the door for subsequent pieces of legislation he would sponsor, including the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968, creation of the Sawtooth National Recreation area in 1972, the Endangered Wilderness Act of 1978 which created the Gospel Hump Wilderness, and the Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980 which created what is now the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness.

Church’s actions demonstrated to other politicos that there was public support in Idaho for the protection of some of the state’s most treasured natural areas. His pioneering efforts opened the door to future Idaho officials such as Cecil Andrus, Jim McClure, Mike Crapo, Mike Simpson and Jim Risch to make protection of some of Idaho most scenic resources a part of their legacies. But it all began with Frank Church.