Month: December 2012

Labrador- the Tea Party Lap Dog

When Raul Labrador appeared on ABC’s This Week, he assumed a time-honored role played by Idaho politicians. In the political theater as portrayed by the national media, there needs to be the crazy extremist with a good one-liner. Idaho politicians, powerless because of their extreme positions yet eager for national attention, are usually willing to accept the role.

Even though it was obvious by Sunday that whatever happens by the first of the year the Tea Party unwillingness to compromise is a lost cause, the media needed someone to represent Tea Party intransigence. Labrador was trotted out to represent the losers as the game was being played out and he did it as scripted, blamed the Democrats for the split within the Republican party and compared them to bank robbers while saying their plan is to raise taxes on everybody.

Of course when host Jonathan Karl pointed out that the Republicans haven’t been willing to compromise on anything, Labrador disagreed and said he’d be perfectly willing to compromise… as long as it means the Tea Party extremists getting everything they want, tax cuts for the ultra wealthy and cuts in spending leading to the destruction of our social safety nets.

One thing is certain, Labrador will play no part in the current negotiations. He will be on the outside looking in. If the compromise currently being negotiated between Biden and McConnell passes the Senate, Labrador, and the other Tea Party obstructionists in the House, will have to decide what sort of loser to be. If the legislation passes without their votes, they will show that the Tea Party is, in the final analysis, powerless. If they go along and vote for it, they will be blamed by their supporters for not being true to their principles. If the legislation fails as a result of their failure to support it, they will be blamed by everyone for taking us over the fiscal cliff. They are at a sort of Morton’s Fork of their own making. All roads lead to unpleasant conclusions.

The Color of Conscience

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“To ignore hate groups, even though they usually include relatively small numbers of people, is to miscalculate the impact that they can have on a community” – Bill Wassmuth

As I reported earlier this month, the Ayran Nation and other survivalist crazies are moving back into Northern Idaho. It is easy to forget the struggle undertaken by a few social activists to root out hate groups in Idaho during the 1980’s. Hero’s like the late Bill Wassmuth (pictured above) devoted their lives to eliminating racial bigotry in Idaho but, as the years go by, it is easy to forget their stories. And, once we forget, we become complacent.

Fortunately, Idaho Public Television produced a documentary, The Color of Conscience, that tells the story of that time, highlighting the courage displayed by those unwilling to back down against hate in their communities.

The Color of Conscience is an hour-long Idaho Public Television documentary that looks at the development of the modern human rights movement in Idaho. It features the story of a small group of concerned citizens who fought against the Aryan Nations, ultimately bankrupting the neo-Nazi supremacist group in north Idaho. The program also examines some of the current human rights issues in Idaho, such as gay rights, immigrant rights, and hate crimes.

Boise’s  First Congregational United Church of Christ is hosting a free screening of the documentary featuring local public television producer, Marcia Franklin. Franklin will be present to answer questions about making the documentary. The free showing is provided as part of the Church’s celebration of human rights in the local community, in particular the recent passing of Boise’s anti-discrimination ordinance. The screening is at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 12 at the church, 2201 Woodlawn Avenue in Boise.

If you are not in the area or, for whatever reason, cannot attend the screening, you can watch the documentary here.

Idaho- The Right to Work for Low Wages

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The lie told to Idaho voters in 1987 is that Right to Work legislation would increase compensation and improve the economy. The facts tell the opposite story. The 23 Right to Work states lag behind the rest of the nation in both wages and benefits. For example, Elise Gould and Heidi Shierholz, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) looked at the evidence:

[O]ur findings — that “right-to-work” laws are associated with significantly lower wages and reduced chances of receiving employer-sponsored health insurance and pensions — are based on the most rigorous statistical analysis currently possible. These findings should discourage right-to-work policy initiatives. The fact is, while RTW legislation misleadingly sounds like a positive change in this weak economy, in reality the opportunity it gives workers is only that to work for lower wages and fewer benefits. For legislators dedicated to making policy on the basis of economic fact rather than ideological passion, our findings indicate that, contrary to the rhetoric of RTW proponents, the data show that workers in “right-to-work” states have lower compensation — both union and nonunion workers alike.

Economist Gordon Lafer provides the numbers.

RTW laws lower wages for union and non-union workers by an average of $1,500 a year and decrease the likelihood employees will get health insurance or pensions through their jobs. By lowering compensation, they have the indirect effect of undermining consumer spending, which threatens economic growth. For every $1 million in wage cuts to workers, $850,000 less is spent in the economy, which translates into a loss of six jobs.

What about Idaho? Here is what the Idaho Department of Labor reported yesterday.

NAMPA, IDAHO — The Idaho Department of Labor says the state ranks last in overall earnings by full- and part-time job holders.

The median annual wage in Idaho is $23,192. The department estimates a family of four needs $39,000 a year to sustain itself but only about a third of Idaho jobs last year paid that much.

Idaho has one of the highest rates in the nation in which people work more than one job. He also noted that can be difficult for women with kids with no child support.

“That’s another tough situation when you have these low-wage jobs and the economy is evolving away from the higher wages to the lower wages,” he said.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare said it has experienced an increase in requested services. In June 2011, about 20 percent of Idaho’s population received help in Medicaid, food stamps, child care and cash assistance. The highest rate of people receiving help was in Canyon County.

“I think a lot of parents who may have lost a job and in turn lost health coverage for their family turned to Medicaid,” Idaho Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan said. “It was mostly children who came on.”

Don’t expect these facts to find their way into discussions among Idaho Republican legislators this year.  Because, as Gould and Shierholz pointed out, the facts will likely matter only to those legislators “dedicated to making policy on the basis of economic fact rather than ideological passion”, and that doesn’t describe many Idaho Republican legislators.

Otter Faces Facts

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Idaho Governor Clement “Butch” Otter appears to have faced the fact of educational reform. The voters spoke and the Luna Laws lost. He hasn’t given up on educational reform, but he appears willing to go slower and try to include all interested parties in the discussion. He has asked the Idaho State Department of Education to form a group to determine if there is legislation that would have broad based support. If so, it would not be until 2014 that the legislature might consider such legislation.

Here is part of Otter’s statement.

After voters on November 6 rejected the process, pace and policies for improving Idaho’s education system enacted in 2011, it became the task of everyone who cares about the quality of Idaho public schools to constructively continue that conversation.
My staff and I spent the next several weeks reaching out to educators, business leaders and Idaho citizens about staying engaged. Now that I’m optimistic we have a critical mass of interest, I’ve asked the State Board of Education to shepherd a statewide discussion about school improvement.
I’m asking the Board to guide the work of a broadly representative group of concerned Idahoans in studying best practices in school districts around the state and using data and experience to drive sound decision making.  The group is likely to be large, but only large enough to include the diversity of opinion needed to properly study such a complex issue.
I’m not going to direct the discussion or the issues covered in any way. There must be no “third rail” in this conversation. But I am asking participants to come to the table ready to speak openly and candidly, and to bring ideas.  I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators.

Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session.  It is imperative that our partners in the Legislature engage in this process and I am pleased to have the support of House Speaker Bedke and the Senate President Pro Tem Hill in balancing this fragile dynamic.

The Idaho Statesman gives Crapo a pass

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In a Christmas day opinion piece, The Idaho Statesman editorial board gave Senator Mike Crapo a gift- an “all is forgiven” free pass for his DUI. The editorial is an example of easy rationalizations and faulty logic. There is no point in asking that Crapo somehow pay for his “mistake”. After all, he is human and, this is the holiday season, and he had a lot on his mind with the “fiscal cliff” problem and all, and, of course, he has always been a good guy…

Idaho constituents have learned a few things about Sen. Mike Crapo over the past couple of days. He has shown three things: That he is human, that he can make a mistake and that lemonade is not the strongest drink in his glass. At the moment, he also has something more on his mind than the fiscal cliff.

What happened to Mike Crapo in the early morning of Dec. 23 can happen to a lot of people, especially during the holiday season. He attended a social gathering in Alexandria, Va., had a few drinks and drove home. Maybe he didn’t realize he had too much to drink when he left the social event.

But running a red light got the attention of the police, and failing the sobriety tests clearly showed that Crapo had no business driving. He spent a few hours in jail to go along with his personal shame, but it could have been worse.

Crapo had “no business driving”, but he spent a few hours in jail. That, and the personal shame he feels, is punishment enough for the Statesman.

How did the members of the Editorial Board know that it was just an honest mistake on Senator Crapo’s part and he didn’t realize he had had too much to drink?

Some of us here have known Crapo since his days as an up-and-coming state senator from Idaho Falls in the 1980s. We followed his rise to Senate president pro-tem, and his 20-year congressional career. He has maintained a reputation of integrity and decency, which doesn’t always happen after so many years in high political office.

One mistake does not erase an otherwise honorable career. It’s a good guess that the embarrassment anybody might feel for him is nothing compared with the embarrassment he feels for himself. It’s bad enough that Crapo has to explain himself to his wife and family. It’s worse when he has to explain himself to 1.6 million constituents, many of whom have viewed Crapo as an example of what American politics should be about.

The editorial compares Crapo’s “mistake” with former Senator Larry Craig’s infamous episode in the restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Crapo should be forgiven because, unlike Craig, he “manned up” and accepted responsibility. Plus, being LDS, he has to be suffering terrible guilt and embarrassment.Sorry, but I don’t buy that distinction. There are two points of comparison to be made between the two episodes. One is the nature of the “mistake”. In Craig’s case he was involved in an incident that, at worse, would be between two consenting adults. In Crapo’s case, by running a red light while drunk, he was putting innocent drivers in harms way. My wife’s parents were both killed by a drunk driver and I have little sympathy for those who rationalize away drunk driving. The second point of comparison is the issue of hypocrisy. Here they are both equally guilty. Crapo is a Mormon and has said on many occasions that he does not now and never has consumed alcohol. Craig, of course, famously said that he is not and never has been gay.

One consequence of living in a state dominated by one party is that politicians make “mistakes” and are hardly ever held accountable. The Seattle PI has a nice overview of recent Idaho political scandals including DUIs for Gov. Butch Otter and state Senator John McGee. They also remember Steve “take a bite out of government” Symms. They left out other members of Idaho’s hall of infamy like George Hansen and Helen Chenoweth, but their point had already been made.

A Soulful Christmas to All

Enjoy a classic Christmas song from the great Charles Brown. I heard him sing this Christmas eve at the Fremont Hotel in San Francisco in the early 80’s. He was in his 60’s at the time. It was just before he made a “comeback” thanks to Bonnie Raitt.  Merry Christmas!!

O Crapo!

crapo-articleInline Idaho Senator Michael D. Crapo was arrested early Sunday and charged with driving under the influence in Alexandria Va.

Police spokesman Craig T. Fifer said an officer was on routine patrol when he saw Sen. Crapo’s vehicle run a red light. It was stopped at Hume Avenue and Mount Vernon at 12:45 a.m. Crapo then underwent several field sobriety tests, which he failed, Fifer said in a statement. He was then taken into custody without incident.

Police said the senator’s blood-alcohol level was .110. In Virginia, drivers at .08 or higher are considered intoxicated.
He was released on $1,000 bond, and has a court date scheduled for Jan. 4.

Members of the national media wonder if Crapo, a Mormon who has stated in public many times that he does not drink, could face additional fallout here in Idaho, where about a quarter of the population consists of Latter-day Saints. I think that is highly unlikely. When it comes to alcohol, Idaho Mormons have a rather nuanced view. And, of course, hypocrisy is a hallmark of Idaho’s Republican party.

On a related note, former Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig quickly assured Idahoans that Crapo is not now or never has been a homosexual.

“Letter” to Alan Simpson

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As the year comes to an end, there are lots of “best of the year” lists. One recent phenomenon is to list the most “viral videos” of the year. Psy’s Gangnam Style video appears to be the hands down winner. Generally speaking, seniors don’t spend much time watching YouTube videos, but they do communicate with each other via e-mail. As a certified senior, I think I am in a good position to identify the most forwarded e-mail on the senior circuit this year. It is, hands down, the “letter to Alan Simpson”. There are a number of variations of the letter. Although, the name of the sender varies, the text remains constant. I have received at least five copies of the letter forwarded to me from friends. Below is one example:

Alan Simpson, Senator from Wyoming , calls senior citizens the Greediest Generation, as he compared “Social Security” to a Milk Cow with 310 million teats.

Here’s a response in a letter from PATTY MYERS in Montana … I think she is a little ticked off! She also tells it like it is!
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“Hey Alan, let’s get a few things straight!

1. As a career politician, you have been on the public dole for FIFTY YEARS.

2. I have been paying Social Security taxes for 48 YEARS (since I was 15 years old. I am now 63).

3. My Social Security payments, and those of millions of other Americans, were safely tucked away in an interest bearing account for decades until you political pukes decided to raid the account and give OUR money to a bunch of zero ambition losers in return for votes, thus bankrupting the system and turning Social Security into a Ponzi scheme that would have made Bernie Madoff proud.

4. Recently, just like Lucy & Charlie Brown, you and your ilk pulled the proverbial football away from millions of American seniors nearing retirement and moved the goalposts for full retirement from age 65 to age 67. NOW, you and your shill commission is proposing to move the goalposts YET AGAIN.

5. I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying into Medicare from Day One, and now you morons propose to change the rules of the game. Why?Because you idiots mismanaged other parts of the economy to such an extent that you need to steal money from Medicare to pay the bills.

6. I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying income taxes our entire lives, and now you propose to increase our taxes yet again. Why? Because you incompetent bastards spent our money so profligately that you just kept on spending even after you ran out of money. Now, you come to the American taxpayers and say you need more to pay off YOUR debt.

To add insult to injury, you label us “greedy” for calling “bullshit” on your incompetence. Well, Captain Bullshit, I have a few questions for YOU.

1. How much money have you earned from the American taxpayers during your pathetic 50-year political career?

2. At what age did you retire from your pathetic political career, and how much are you receiving in annual retirement benefits from the American taxpayers?

3. How much do you pay for YOUR government provided health insurance?

4. What cuts in YOUR retirement and healthcare benefits are you proposing in your disgusting deficit reduction proposal, or, as usual, have you exempted yourself and your political cronies?

It is you, Captain Bullshit, and your political co-conspirators called Congress who are the “greedy” ones. It is you and your fellow nutcases who have bankrupted America and stolen the American dream from millions of loyal, patriotic taxpayers. And for what?
Votes!
 That’s right, sir. You and yours have bankrupted America for the sole purpose of advancing your pathetic political careers. You know it, we know it, and you know that we know it.

And you can take that to the bank, you miserable son of a bitch.

The “letter” started making the rounds not long after Simpson wrote an equally profanity-laced letter sent last May to the California Alliance for Retired Americans.

To Whom It May Concern:

Erskine Bowles and I thoroughly enjoyed our time on the West Coast and received an excellent reception from folks — at least those who are using their heads and have given up using emotion, fear, guilt or racism to juice up their troops. Your little flyer entitled “Bowles! Simpson! Stop using the deficit as a phony excuse to gut our Social Security!” is one of the phoniest excuses for a “flyer” I have ever seen. You use the faces of young people, who are the ones who are going to get gutted while you continue to push out your blather and drivel. My suggestion to you — an honest one — read the damn report. The Moment of Truth — 67 pages, and then tell me if we’re not doing the right thing with Social Security. What a wretched group of seniors you must be to use the faces of the very people that we are trying to save, while the “greedy geezers” like you use them as a tool and a front for your nefarious bunch of crap. You must feel some sense of shame for shoveling out this bulls**t. Read the latest news from the Social Security Trustees. The Social Security System will now “hit the skids” in 2033 instead of 2036. If you can’t understand all of this you need a pane of glass in your naval so you can see out during the day! Read the report. Get back to me. My address is below.

If you don’t read the report, — as Ebenezer Scrooge said in the Christmas Carol, “Haunt me no longer!”

Best regards,

Alan Simpson

In an informal poll of friends, all had received the letter, some as recently as last week. www.snopes.com, the web site dedicated to separating fact from rumor on the internet, tries to answer the questions posed in the letter here.

The popularity of the Simpson letter among seniors points out the level of anger generated whenever there is talk of “saving” social security by Republicans. On Meet the Press this morning, Lindsey Graham evoked Simpson Bowles. He appears willing to go over the “fiscal cliff”. The line in the sand will be on raising the debt ceiling. When he says, “…we will have leverage…” he means the filibuster.

I like Simpson Bowles, eliminate deductions, lower rates, put money on the debt… I think we’re going to fall out of the fiscal tree. There will not be a big deal. The big chance for a big deal is at the debt ceiling. That’s when we will have leverage to turn the country around, prevent it from becoming Greece, and save Social Security and Medicare. And to anybody listening to this program, I will raise the debt ceiling only if we save Medicare and Social Security from insolvency and prevent this country from becoming Greece. No more borrowing without addressing why we’re in debt to begin with. That’s where the real chance for change occurs, at the debt ceiling debate.

It appears that the Republican Party is unwilling to face the truth. They lost the election and the majority of Americans do not want changes in Social Security and Medicare. There are lots of “Patty Myers” out there who will call “Bull Shit” to Senator Graham and his Republican colleagues if they, once again, resort to filibuster.

Shoot Now, Ask Questions Later

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The National Rifle Association’s president David Keene ended Friday’s news conference—the gun lobby’s first public comments since the massacre in Newtown, Conn.—with these words: “This is the beginning of a serious conversation. We won’t be taking questions today.” Shoot first and never answer questions. That pretty much sums up the news conference. The NRA’s spokesperson, Wayne LaPierre, who delivered the NRA’s message, was defiant and defensive, blaming, Hollywood, the media, video games that no one plays anymore, the lack of a mental health data base, and, at base, a corrupt, lawless society where the only hope in case of an emergency is to arm yourself (the only thing that will stop the bad guys with guns is a good guy with guns). Blaming everyone and everything except the NRA’s refusal to consider any sort of gun control legislation. His “serious solution” was calling for security officers to be stationed at every school. LaPierre spoke with an edge to his voice and a look in his eye that was frightening.

NY_DNThe response has been amazing. The headlines from the two New York newspapers demonstrate that the news conference was a PR blunder of massive proportions. Let us hope the politicians who have been in the gun lobby’s pocket will begin to see the NRA for what it really is, a fringe group of loonies.

Update on The Citadel

Last week I reported on The Citadel, a survivalist group hoping to start a community in Northern Idaho. Today the Idaho Daily Statesman has an article about the group. I wasn’t aware of the close connection between the group and firearms manufacturing.

At the center of the development is a firearms manufacturing company, III Arms, that would employ residents and raise money to help fund the Citadel.

III Arms Co. was incorporated in Idaho in August, its headquarters listed in Gaithersburg, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. The company’s website offers firearms for sale starting at $1,250. A woman whose name is listed as a representative of the company could not be reached for comment.

I was also not aware of the connection with the three percenter militia movement, a particularly virulent militia group whose name is inspired by the false Revolutionary War “statistic” that suggested that only 3% of the American population during the Revolutionary War participated as combatants in the war. Here is how a current member describes the movement:

The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act…We will not obey any further circumscription of our traditional liberties and will defend ourselves if attacked…We are committed to the restoration of the Founders’ Republic, and are willing to fight, die, and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.

From the Statesman article by Audrey Dutton,

III Percent LLC — seemingly a reference to the “three percenter” militia movement — and Citadel Land Development LLC were created in Idaho last month, according to state records.One or two square miles of the Citadel would be protected by walls and towers, the website said, adding that the community “intends to become a premiere tourist destination for Americans from sea to sea and border-to-border.”Residents would have to agree to conditions that include:

  • Following federal and state constitutions.
  • Being able to shoot a man-sized steel target at various distances with a handgun and a rifle.
  • Having an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle variant, at least five magazines and 1,000 rounds of ammunition.
  • Keeping every household stocked with a year’s worth of food, water and supplies.
  • Taking courses on topics such as basic medical care and firearms safety.
  • Carrying a loaded sidearm when visiting the Citadel’s town center.

The application, with a $208 fee, asks if the person plans to raise livestock, farm or start a business at the Citadel. Residents also can choose to live inside or outside the community’s walls.

Given the reaction to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut and the current drive to bring back an assault weapon ban, it seems likely the applications from gun wackos will be rolling in faster than the Citadel sponsors can process them. I suppose it is better to have them inside a citadel where we can keep an eye on them than scattered throughout the country causing all sorts of mischief like here and here.