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Posts published in March 2016

Managing change


Sent a hundred dollars off to Bernie Sanders for President this morning.

While there were many reasons, some simple and some complex, it all boiled down to the phrase “youth must be served.” We’re in the midst of a generational change and too many of the baby boomers are clinging and clutching the levers of power unwilling to yield to the younger generations coming up and unwilling to accept the inevitable.

In addition, baby boomers still hold a great deal of the nation’s wealth and since money equals power they wish to influence change as long as they can. The conclusion should be clear: baby boomers are not managing change well at all. Thus, many are looking to a Clinton redux with subliminal joy that one of their own will still be calling the shots for the next eight years.

The young (and those that think and act young, like Bernie himself, who is 72) are saying au contraire. Get off the stage, its our turn and we recognize a fair and balanced playing field is only possible if big banks are busted up and the top one tenth start paying their fair share of tax obligations instead of paying smart lawyers and accountants to keep from paying any taxes.

The sheer enthusiasm that youth is generating for Bernie and his message is a wonder to behold. It’s no surprise to some that the Vermont senator now runs slightly ahead of Mrs. Clinton in national polls. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, he defeats presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump by 18 percentage points whereas Mrs. Clinton only has an easily narrowed eight point margin.

Democratic leaders would be astute to recognize also that this enthusiasm and energy is NOT transferable to Mrs. Clinton should she become the nominee.

The entire electorate does feel adrift as the old political conventions and shibboleths give way to the new. Like the making of sausage it is not always a pretty process, but it should be clear that we’re in the vortex of some major shifting winds.

Give the devil his due, too. Donald Trump had the genius to recognize that an appeal to emotional issues was far better than talking policy matters to an electorate already shell-shocked by job insecurity and growing debt. Trump also saw how easily he could dominate main street media by mastering Twitter and the other social media.

And it is confusing to many folks who have experienced job loss, home forfeiture, unpayable medical costs, growing student debt, as to how ceo’s of failing banks and other flailing institutions still make millions.

Traditional labels for parties are shifting also. Sat through a Town Hall meeting recently in St. Maries and listened to State Senator Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, and Representative Paulettte Jordan, D-Plummer, try to explain the unexplainable - that the voter had been done in by the entire Kootenai county legislative delegation, all Republicans, who had voted for increasing their property taxes and weakening local control, while still underfunding education and cutting 78,000 Idahoans adrift without recourse to medicaid for health issues.

What many of my contemporaries do not understand is the distinct difference between “managing” the numerous and inevitable changes in life and “controlling” those changes. It’s no coincidence that those who believe they control life’s variables are high on the importance of authoritarian scales, big on traditional values and the raising of childen who can be seen but are not to be heard.

I recognize and accept that I’m in the twilight of a medicore political and writing career. I accept the fact and know it is time for this bit player to get off the stage. Hillary should recognize this also.

Youth will be served. Go, Bernie, go!

Goldwater v. McGovern


For all the recent references to the aftereffects of the presidential runs of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Democrat George McGovern in 1972, there's been remarkably little comparison of how the two parties responded to those mega-losses.

And the responses were different, and those differences reverberate today.

The losses were roughly comparable in scope. Goldwater lost to incumbent Democrat Lyndon Johnson by 486-52, winning only his home state of Arizona and five states in the deep south (which historically had been deemed Democratic - this was a key point in their transition toward Republican). McGovern lost similarly in the popular vote, but even more heavily in the electoral, 520-17.

Both candidacies came from the philosophical edges of the respective parties, the Republican right and Democratic left. Both were preceded by warnings of leaving the vital center behind - big losses were widely predicted. And in each case the party's center nominated the next president (Republican Richard Nixon, Democrat Jimmy Carter).

Just below the surface, other things happened.

The reaction of Goldwater's supporters (not so much Goldwater himself) was not to give up and acknowledge they'd gone too far, but rather to double down and keep their eye on the long game. They did not heavily challenge for the presidency in 1968, though Ronald Reagan did make a significant appearance, but instead began building for the future: Media, think tanks, investments in personnel, whole new news media (eventually, talk radio, Fox News and much more), pushes to gradually move the party rightward and challenge liberal Republicans. It was a long game indeed, but it paid off. 16 years after Goldwater's loss the right was triumphant, electing Reagan and launching a generation of politics in which something like Goldwater-style conservatism was the dominant driving political force in the country. Republicans did not always win, but even when Democrats did they had to respond to the world world of Goldwater and Reagan.

Compare that to the way Democrats responded after the McGovern loss. There was virtually no talk afterward of doubling down on moving leftward; nearly all the Democratic strategic talk was of trying to recapture the center, of moving right. In contrast to the infrastructure building on the right, the reaction on the left was more of a defensive crouch. Before the 70s the word "conservative" had been in some decline as a proud political description; from the mid-70s onward, it was owned by Republicans and waved as a proud banner. During that same period, the word "liberal," which mostly had been happily embraced by liberals for years, was attacked and left undefended, and until very recently was avoided by most Democrats.

Times change, and both parties are struggling now with the changes they are coping with - that the country is pushing them through.

Organization Republicans now have, partly because their own preferences and partly because of the way Democrats have acted, a couple of generations of ideological inflexibility - it's all they know. Now the Republican base has split wide as millions (many of those we call Donald Trump supporters) has recognized weaknesses (or at least, areas of strong disagreement) in the acceptable ideology. The logical end game for a politics based around Goldwaterism has come in view.

And Democrats? They're more flexible, somewhat better able to manage changes, but still not easily. Even after the Barack Obama wins of 2008 and 2012 there's still something of the defensive crouch, but only in part of the party. The Bernie Sanders campaign, and a movement (whether tightly or loosely organized over time) stand to move the party away from a defensive position, and put it more on offense for the first time in half a century. It is where the Democrats might have been a decade or more ago if it had taken some of the lessons movement Republican conservatives did way back when.

Or at least there's the potential. 2016 seems to be a time of some philosophical crackup and realignment. It is one of those points when the tectonic plates stand to shift. Who will observe wisely, and who will be carried along? Who will be on defense, and who on offense?

Turf intrusion


If there’s one thing politicians of every stripe agree on it’s turf. The good ones - and the not-so-good-ones - will do almost anything to grab and protect turf. Once the oath of office has been regurgitated, extreme possessiveness takes over and defenses go up. From sewer districts to Congress, turf protection is an absolute.

The bitching about someone else intruding on one’s turf is not necessarily localized. Members of Congress - the good ones and the not-so-good-ones - protect their domains and authority with mother hen-like zeal every bit as strong as your town council. Turf - politically speaking - is the most prized possession of the political animal. Someone once said of academic battles “The fighting is so fierce because the prize is so small.” So it is with most political turf wars. The protectiveness of one’s domain and its authority knows no bounds.

We, who watch the political machinations of our nation, are seeing a recent, more driven up-tick of a senior level of government stepping on a junior levels turf. I assign this increased violation mainly to legislatures being whipped into far right form by ALEC - the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is sponsored by a number of large companies, but the energy to use its perceived power comes largely from the Koch boys. Legislators of most states - especially those clinging to the fantasies of the far right - serve as the in-house distribution body for the oft-copied legislative packages coming out of ALEC.

For years, the Koch’s focused their pollution of America’s political system on Congress. Having achieved some dubious success at neutering that body, they’ve turned their attention to statehouses and governors. Using ALEC as a conduit, their self-serving ideas are shaped, printed, and copies made for those member legislators to carry the political pollution back to state capitols.

ALEC has not been terribly successful in Oregon and Washington. But Idaho has become a poster child for the Kochs. Recent legislative sessions have seen an increase in ALEC-created garbage and, far too often, passage and implementation of it. In fact, ALEC has been so successful in spud land that lobbyists with their own legislative missions have joined forces on bills of common interest.

One Idaho “success” both entities achieved this year was prohibiting cities and counties from stopping the use of plastic grocery bags. Seems like a weird topic to use your outsized legislative clout on until you consider the lobbyists involved largely represented oil and chemical companies that produce the bags. And the Kochs, whose vast fortunes include mining and - wait for it - chemicals. So, if Pocatello, Lewiston or Moscow want to require only paper grocery bags to help clean up their local environments - they can’t. Unless, of course, they pony up some big bucks and go to court to challenge the state ban.

This intrusion on local turf was quickly followed up by another lousy ALEC-Koch idea to write into law a provision that local governments - cities and counties - can’t adopt local laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBT individuals. Several cities had done so in the past but enforcement, again, would mean another court test to see if local turf is protected on this issue.

Idaho was not the only successful target for that. North Carolina has a new law almost word-for-word the same as Idaho’s. But in NC, some major American companies have told the governor to get rid what he signed or face the loss of some very large dollars that flow from manufacturing, sales, sports, tourism and other big buck entities. There’s a touch of irony there. Dow Chemical is one of the loud voices telling the governor to get rid of the law. The irony? The governor - in a former life - was a long-time vice president of Dow and lead lobbyist for its state and federal interests.

Idaho’s legislature has been known as a patsy for special interests for decades. About 70% of Idahoans live in cities but the legislature is run by people representing the 30% or so rural residents. The tail wags the dog and the majority folk lose many legislative battles. So, the minority can stick it to the majority on issues like human rights and environment protection. American Falls - population 4,376 - can thus stymie the Capitol City of Boise - population 214,237 - when Boise departs from what’s “acceptable” in American Falls. Boise’s LGBT non-discrimination ordinance appears to be one of those. Republicans - many rural - hold about an 80-20% legislative majority as well.

Other minority-driven bills made it into law this year while some went into the shredder. The issue of outside footprints steping on local turf was found in many.

Seems to me we could take one of the Koch’s strategies, tweek it and turn it back on ‘em. They started their cancerous attack on our politics at the top - Congress. With some success there, they’ve fanned out into statehouses. In this year of absurd national politics, we need to pay more attention to the “down-ballot” races for both Congress and our legislatures. Pay more attention to the bottom. After all, state legislatures and local governments are the breeding grounds from which a lot of members of Congress come.

As it stands now, the national GOP is going to produce a presidential candidate unacceptable to most voters. That’ll weaken the political capital of many of those “down ballot” cretins who’ve become impediments to dealing with our many problems. If voters can do some house cleaning in the lesser races, the tide might turn with pressure building from the bottom up. With enough pressure from us - over a couple of elections - we might send some of the flow back up the hose.

As voters, our “turf” has been tromped all over by politicians pandering to moneyed special interests and billionaires determined to buy this country for far too long. Let’s get a little more turf protective out there.

A Libertarian option


As Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his followers rallied in Portland and the three-ring Republican primary circus centered on allegations of mistresses, two of the major candidates for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination were in the Portland area for a debate last Friday. (photo/Scott Jorgensen, left, and Gary Johnson, courtesy Jorgensen)

The Libertarian Party of Oregon’s chairman, Ian, is a longtime friend of mine from our days together at Grants Pass High School, so I asked if there was anything I could do to help prepare for the event.

In this case, helping turned out to mean picking former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson up from the airport and driving him around to a few radio interviews. My past experience as a handler in a Congressional campaign and as a legislative aide at the state capitol in Salem apparently qualified me for these duties.

Our voyage included a trip to downtown Portland to the Alpha Broadcasting studios for an interview with conservative talk show host Lars Larson on KXL-AM. Johnson conducted another live radio interview on the phone as we neared the studio.

In his phone interview, Johnson characterized both major party frontrunners, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, as “polarizing.” He’s not alone in thinking so, as a recent Oregon Public Broadcasting story showed both with high negatives among the state’s voters.

Johnson spoke about immigration, with his stance providing a stark contrast to that of Trump. The former Republican governor of a border state, Johnson declared the idea of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico “dumb.” Where are you going to put it, he asked, on either side of the Rio Grande? In the middle of that river?

Minutes later, we were in the Alpha Broadcasting studios with Larson, where Johnson discussed domestic fiscal and tax policy.

We did lunch after the interview, Johnson’s treat, and I took him to the Embassy Suites hotel that was hosting the debate. My arrival in the lobby was just in time to take Johnson’s rival, Austin Petersen, to a radio interview with Jayne Carroll just down the street at KUIK-AM.

I found out on the drive that Petersen and I are around the same age, and his campaign headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas is not too far from where I lived for a couple of years back in the late 80s.
The debate that night was attended by around 50 people of multiple generations, and started with a standing ovation being given to a World War II veteran in the audience.

In his opening statement, Johnson hailed Uber and Airbnb as entrepreneurial models of the future, and bragged that he vetoed more legislation than the other 49 governors combined while serving in office, including thousands of line item vetoes.

Petersen discussed his background growing up near the town of Liberty, Missouri and his volunteer efforts raising $1 million for the presidential campaign of Libertarian icon and former Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas). That led to a stint in D.C. as a volunteer coordinator for the LPO for Petersen, who told audience members that he also supported Johnson’s 2012 Libertarian presidential bid.

The two candidates answered a series of written questions submitted by audience members, covering a variety of liberty-related topics. Petersen summed up his, and the overall Libertarian philosophy, as “don’t hurt people, don’t take their stuff.” He held a copy of Easy Guide to the U.S. Constitution during the debate, and occasionally waved it around and used it as a prop.

Johnson stated that the biggest threat to the nation is debt, and pledged to submit a balanced budget to Congress if elected. He said the anticipated 20 percent reduction would be “unprecedented,” but added that many functions could be turned back over to the states, which could serve as “50 laboratories of best practices.”

The candidates’ messages seemed to resonate well with the audience, but may be able to reach well beyond that.

Johnson mentioned in his remarks that he is suing the Presidential Debate Commission in an attempt to get third party candidates included in those events. Earlier that same day, the story broke in the press that Johnson polls in the double digits when added to the Trump-Clinton equation.

If Johnson prevails in his lawsuit, and apparent voter dissatisfaction with the major party candidates continues, it could provide a real opening for the eventual nominee of the Libertarian Party, or other possible third-party alternatives.

Where safety lies


Some weeks ago I chatted with several leading Idaho Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton for president. Asked why they preferred the former secretary of state over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, the core of the answer was that Sanders would be too risky a nominee.

Meaning: He’s viewed as a left-wing extremist, and the “socialist” label would be death in, at least, Idaho. Clinton, in relative terms, was the more centrist and therefore “safer” choice. So far as I can tell, this was the prevailing view across most of the Idaho Democratic leadership.

Nationally, the odds favor Clinton winning the nomination over Sanders. But in the light of last week’s caucuses let’s revisit the subject of Sanders and Idaho. In those meetings, where turnout busted historical records, Sanders demolished Clinton, with 78 percent of the vote (and he won every county save for the smallish Lewis). And the same day in Utah, which bears some demographic similarity to southern Idaho, Sanders did even better. That’s not the general electorate, of course, only participants in the Democratic meetings. But their unusually large size (for caucuses) coupled with the overwhelming result surely carries a message.

Many of the caucus meetings were much larger than expected, and many participants waited in long lines – four to five hours in Boise – to participate. The actual process often took more hours still, vastly unlike the normal duck-in-duck-out voting in primary and general elections. (A lot of Democrats have complained about the caucus procedures, which also excluded many who wanted to vote but, for illness, employment or other reasons, could not get to the sites on time.)

Consider too: These were public votes, not secret ballots. When Idaho Republicans cast ballots in their recent primary, no one ever saw who you supported. At the Democratic caucuses, you had to publicly endorse your candidate. If you were going to support that New York-accented Democratic socialist from Vermont, as nearly four out of five Idaho Democrats did, in the face of opposition not only from the majority Republicans in the county all around you but also most of the state’s Democratic leadership as well, you were doing it as publicly as if you’d taken out a display ad in the newspaper. More: You had to look those people in the eye.

That may not be so big a deal in Latah County or Blaine County, or in Boise. But think about those Democrats in Madison County – which has been called, with justification, the most Republican county in the nation – and in Cassia, Franklin, Lemhi, or Payette. The culture in these counties, in nearly all of Idaho, is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican. Local Democrats most typically keep their heads down. But in significant numbers, in support of a candidate labeled as far-left and “socialist,” they were visible last week.

One astonished Magic Valley woman commented at her caucus, “Hey, 140 people in Jerome. I am not alone.” What they did took serious fortitude. (As it would if you were a Republican caucusing for, say, Ted Cruz in an overwhelming liberal Democratic locale.)

What does this imply for politics in Idaho and beyond?

Maybe, maybe, that something is changing in Idaho. It may indicate that there are plenty of Democratic sympathizers out there, unorganized (“unchurched”?) who have little in common with most of the state’s Democratic establishment. Many Idaho Democrats for years have tried to position themselves not to lose, or at least lose badly, and shaped their message to mesh at least partly with that of the Republicans. Maybe these Democrats out there, and possibly others as well, are signaling now they would be more responsive to something else.

After the caucuses, state Democratic Chair Bert Marley, a superdelegate to the national convention with an unbound vote, said he would vote there for Sanders. That may be a first step to one of the most useful things leading Idaho Democrats could do in the months ahead: Make contact with these super-determined caucus goers, and find out whats motivating them. In many respects these people seem to be the new majority among Democrats in Idaho, and maybe elsewhere.



To the Editor:

I must take particular umbrage at James L. Baker's letter to the editor of the Shoshone News-Press published on 24 March of this year, in which he inveighs against the rising cost of necessities and the diminishing returns from his social security account.

How parochial!

Does not Mr. Baker consider the sacrifices of our Elected Leaders, who set the social security pay rate, along with regulating everything from the costs of car insurance to electricity? (They'll get around to setting the price of firewood, so this writer is told, as soon as the timber conglomerates can calculate a sufficiently lucrative mark-up and present a bill to Congress.)

Our beloved Members of Congress have sacrificed far greatly than you, Mr. Baker. They haven't had a raise since 2009! They receive their base pay of $174,000 per year along with free hair-cuts and pedicures, medical care, and travel in the front cabin of the airline of their choice, unless they are in Leadership, whereupon they get their own airplanes. And they haven't gotten a pay raise since – except for the 1 percent they just got and the extra $2,800 a year ($233 a month) they will get commencing in 2017.

I would love a $233 per month boost in my social security, Mr. Baker, just as much as you. However, our pay is frozen as are theoretically the salaries to Congressmen. But as long as our Congressmen are suffering free haircuts and free full-coverage medical care, and one million dollars' salary every seven years, I am happy to endure the sacrifice the rest of us must make on their behalf.

At Lake Minchumina


Sometimes it is the simple gestures one makes without really thinking about them that for another become a random act of kindness meaning far more than the generator ever could have anticipated. For example, late last week I received a note from Carol Schlentner, one of 32 year round residents of Lake Minchumina, Alaska. It made my day.

Ms. Schlentner is a member of the Lake Minchumina Library Association. I suspect most of the community belongs and there is a board that prudently manages meager resources to purchase books well read and passed around during the long winter nights. Last fall the Library Association purchased the three books I have written to date, but were most interested in the book, Eye on the Caribou, about passage of the greatest piece of conservation legislation in American history - the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980.

Lake Minchumina is one of those Alaskan communities to which there is no road. Access is by air or by snowmobile or dog sled in the winter. Thanks to the late “Uncle Ted” Stevens, the longest serving Republican senator in American history, folks do have access to public radio and public television.

Though an ardent conservative “free enterpriser,” Stevens knew the private sector would never find it profitable to broadcast to communities like Lake Minchumina. As the chairman of the powerful Appropriations committee, Stevens made sure NPR and Public Television were well funded.

Books, however, are still important. The community, located on the edge of an eight mile by seven mile lake, sits at the western edge of the expanded Denali National Park and is darn near the geographical center of Alaska. Cell service allowing one to use kindles is non-existent. There is no wi-fi. However, there is a constantly changing panorama of incredible views across the lake at Denali Peak, the restored native name for Mt. McKinley, which, at 20,000 plus feet is the highest mountain in North America.

Passage of ANILCA (the acronym for the lands legislation) also created numerous National Park Preserves along the edges of the national parks to allow subsistence hunting, a right guaranteed all historical users regardless of race or ethnicity by the Alaskan Constitution.

Thus, Lake Minchumina found itself in one of the Denali Park Preserves when, on December 2, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the lands legislation into law. In her note, Ms. Schlentner made reference to the fact that she and others appreciated the large amount of land that was in protected status. She also pointed out that as a year round resident for over ten years, she was eligible for a subsistence moose hunt for five days.

She thanked me for writing Eye on the Caribou, the history of the lands legislation, adding that I had made the subject a most interesting read.

“Eye on the Caribou was a great review of what I only heard snippets of as I lived very remotely. We had no mail or telephone, just radio, back when it all took place,” she wrote.

What made the note so rewarding was not the $50 check for another set of the three books. It was the fact that the members of the Library Association had decided my books would be a fine “In Memoriam” donation to Fairbanks’ Northern Alaska Environmental Center in the name of Florence Collins.

Ms. Collins had passed away last November at the age of 95 and had been a long-time member of the Association who in particular reviewed for the Center the numerous and various books written from the environmental point of view regarding the North Star state.

The association also wanted two other pioneers of advocacy for the Alaska lands legislation to be remembered as well - Ginny Wood, and Celia Hunter, who many have called the mother of the Alaska lands legislation.

Cannot begin to say how honored and pleased I was to have the books be a donation in the memory of such great Alaskans. The pleasure is mine and I thank them for their thoughtfulness. It truly made writing the book Eye on the Caribou worthwhile.

Trump’s words

A good look at how Donald Trump uses the language - the method behind the madness.



Sitting here in Oregon, we can reasonably think: "Well, we don't have to put up with that kind of garbage. We can vote by mail."

Yeah, we can feel superior over this one, after watching the reports yesterday of long election lines and voting chaos in the primary contests in Arizona, Utah and Idaho.

Arizona saw long lines to vote in its primary elections for both parties. Idaho saw long lines to vote in its Democratic caucuses (though there was the excuse that turnout was unusually heavy, which is a good thing). Utah had more of the same, and when it tried Internet voting ran into big snarls.

Utah, at least, was making an effort to make voting easier for voters, which ought to be object all over the place. Oregon really does make it almost as simple as it can be, allowing for essentially automatic registration - if you're eligible, you're likely registered in Oregon - and mail-in voting, which has worked smoothly for more than two decades. Total time in Oregon to cast a ballot is what it takes to mark the paper - a minute or two - and however much time you spend researching your choices.

As was widely noted on Twitter yesterday, you can order a pizza, shift funds around your bank account, and do much more these days instantly - but in too many places, voting means standing in lines.

And the caucus system is worst.

It's not just the matter of having to spend hours to get your vote registered, and sometimes (as in some places in Idaho) long waits even to get inside the caucus room. It's also the requirement that you physically be in a specific place at a specific time. Some people can't do that. They may be working then. They may be sick. One of the lead writers at the national liberal blog Daily Kos, Joan McCarter, lives in Boise, and couldn't cast her vote at the Idaho caucus because work required her to be out of town at the time. No absentee ballots for caucuses.

The caucuses still exist around the country in large part because the national parties like to have some assurance that just members of the party, and not others, are participating. But the assurances many states theoretically provide often are hollow. And the whole premise makes little sense in this country anyway, in a political system where two parties have an effective monopoly on political offices. I'll say it here: Anyone ought to be able to participate in those primary selections (one or the other - make a choice) without declaring fealty to the party. To argue otherwise is to argue that the D and R parties are just the same as any other voluntary association group, instead of being the de facto joint ruling organizations of this country.

Which takes us off in a more long-winded, and farther-reaching, direction. But shorter term: Can't we find better ways to let people cast their votes? It can be done. Oregon has.