Uncategorized

The Trump Swamp…

My weekly column from the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune

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When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke slinks away next week from the big building on C Street in Washington, D.C., he will have, in the space of less than two years, placed himself in the history books along side Albert Bacon Fall.

For a guy who once claimed to be a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” committed to conservation and protection of public lands, to leave office under an ominous ethical cloud and compared to Warren Harding’s Interior secretary who went to jail over the Teapot Dome scandal is a stunning come down. Once a rising Republican star, the former Montana congressman, now seems certain to be dogged by a host of investigations and forever tainted by association with the administration of Donald J. Trump.

So-to-be former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke .

When Zinke was named to the Interior post – Washington’s Cathy McMorris Rogers and Idaho’s Raul Labrador were contenders, but passed over – he was widely praised even by conservation groups. Zinke had crafted a bipartisan image in Congress, “the only Republican to support a Democratic amendment to permanently authorize the so-called Land and Water Conservation Fund,” as Politico noted. But proving the truism that absolutely everyone who works for Trump is tainted by the proximity, Zinke will be remembered, perhaps even beyond his grifting ethics, for rolling back national monument designations and generally trashing the conservation legacy of previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

The two Idahoans who have served as Secretary of the Interior – Democrat Cecil Andrus in the 1970s and Republican Dirk Kempthorne for the last three years of the George W. Bush administration – were polar opposites in political ideology, but each understood that serving as the chief steward of all the people’s land carries a solemn obligation. While Kempthorne will likely be best remembered for the six-figure remodel of the secretary’s office bathroom, he did bring a genuine spirit of collaboration to the job. Andrus’ legacy as one of the nation’s great Interior secretaries is secure, in part, because he engineered the largest conservation initiative in history by protecting vast swaths of the last frontier – Alaska.

Zinke, despite the conservation rhetoric that temporarily assuaged some skeptics, attempted to transform the Interior Department into an extension of the oil, gas, mining and grazing industries. Zinke did his best to make true the old joke that the Bureau of Land Management, the BLM, is actually the Bureau of Livestock and Mining. This, of course, was Trump’s aim in the first place.

The president, who one assumes has never spent a night under the stars, never fished a Western trout stream or devoted a second to thinking about conserving America’s most special places for future generations, turned stewardship of the environment over to fraudsters. Ethical shenanigans forced Scott Pruitt out of the Environmental Protection Agency – remember the $50 a night condo he rented from the wife of an energy industry lobbyist and his $3 million a year security detail? And Zinke now leaves subject to a potential criminal investigation involving the chairman of the oil services company Halliburton and some land Zinke owns and wants to develop in western Montana.

Trump appears poised to name as Zinke’s replacement an oil and gas lobbyist, the current No. 2 at the department, who literally has to carry a card with him delineating all his potential conflicts of interest. Into this swamp Labrador and soon-to-be-ex-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter have stuck a toe. Each has been mentioned as a potential secretary of the Interior. Labrador needs a job and seems to be campaigning for the position. He tweeted fulsome praise toward Trump last week for – wait for it – signing an executive order, something Trump does over and over again in lieu of having a real agenda. Otter doesn’t need a job and should trust his gut and hang out at his ranch.

Vast acreage of the federal government during the Trump administration has become an ethics-free zone. A former Trump national security adviser may yet go to jail, three cabinet secretaries have resigned amid swirling scandals and the president himself is buffeted by a persistent special counsel, involvement in a campaign finance scandal that paid off a porn star, a corrupt family foundation and lord knows what else.

Remember draining the swamp? Zinke’s imminent departure reminds us that promise was as phony as Mexico paying for a wall.

The resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis, a decorated Marine Corps combat veteran, who leaves after issuing a withering indictment of the president’s abandonment of allies and leadership on the international stage, should also give any Interior aspirant ample reason for pause.

If Trump comes calling on Labrador or Otter, they should remember the words of the conservative scholar Eliot Cohen, a State Department counselor to Condoleezza Rice during the second Bush administration.

Writing last week after Mattis’ resignation over a matter of principle, Cohen said in The Atlantic: “Henceforth, the senior ranks of government can be filled only by invertebrates and opportunists, schemers and careerists. If they had policy convictions, they will meekly accept their evisceration. If they know a choice is a disaster, they will swallow hard and go along. They may try to manipulate the president, or make some feeble efforts to subvert him, but in the end they will follow him. And although patriotism may motivate some of them, the truth is that it will be the title, the office, the car and the chance to be in the policy game that will keep them there.”

But, it’s not worth it. Anyone who gets close to this chaotic mess will get stained, or even destroyed. The evidence is in plain sight. The swamp devours the swamp’s own creatures.

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Editor’s Note: My biography of Montana New Deal-Era Senator Burton K. Wheeler has an official release date – March 21, 2019. The book, a look at a genuine political maverick, as well as a much different U.S. Senate, is available for pre-order at Amazon or the University of Oklahoma Press.

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Foreign Policy, GOP, Trump

Two Things About the Mattis Resignation…

  Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.

–Resignation letter of General James Mattis

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The resignation of Defense Secretary James Mattis is being seen, as it should be seen, as not merely a senior Cabinet member leaving after losing a policy battle, but rather as a fundamental repudiation of the worldview of an American president. 

The resignation has stunned Washington, shaken our allies and, for the first time in the first two years of his chaotic presidency, caused significant numbers of elected Republicans to stir themselves to something approaching opposition.

The push back comes too late however. The damage is done. The work to re-establish American moral and political leadership across the globe will take a generation to repaired, if in fact it can be repaired.

Two things about Mattis’s resignation strike me as historically significant. 

Mattis and Trump

First, a principled resignation from public service has rarely, in fact hardly ever, been a feature of our politics. The only resignation in modern times that comes close to what Secretary Mattis did yesterday was the resignation of then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance in 1980 in protest of President Jimmy Carter’s decision to attempt a rescue of American hostages held in Iran. That resignation, quietly made before, but not publicly announced until after the ill-fated rescue mission failed, was mentioned in the first three graphs of every Vance obituary when he died in 2002.

In other words, Vance, like Mattis, told the president of the United States that he was so fundamentally opposed to an administration’s policy that he could no longer serve. 

This kind of resignation (as I have noted before) occur with some regularity in other western democracies. Key officials, for example, have been fleeing Theresa May’s government – 19 high profile resignations so far this year – over the British prime minister’s handling the Brexit mess.

Anthony Eden, then the British foreign secretary, resigned in February 1938 after a dispute with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain over the best approaching to dealing with Benito Mussolini.

French President Emmanuel Macron has recently suffered the resignations of several high ranking officials in his government, one of whom spoke publicly of Macron’s “lack of humanity,” a line that could just as well apply to Trump.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Here’s hoping that the Mattis resignation over a serious matter of principle – of course, Donald Trump broadly ignored Mattis’s advice on a range of issues, not just Syrian policy – begins a new phase in American politics where serious people quit rather than work in an environment that debases their judgment and their sense of patriotism.

As for the argument that Mattis has provided what little adult supervision exists in the Trump Administration, and that he stayed so long in the face of so much chaos in order to protect the military and the world from the worst of Trump, I just don’t buy it.

You only provide the kind of supervision Trump needs (but won’t accept) if you are effective. In the main, the retired Marine Corps general, was not all that effective when it comes to policy. He opposed the decision to abandon the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump did it anyway. He opposed the senseless and constant Trump criticism of NATO allies. Trump kept it up. He even lost on the question of who should head the Joint Chiefs of Staff when Trump rejected his favored nominee. Even when Trump refused to acknowledge the importance of the late Senator John McCain’s career, Mattis publicly did so, but without offering even a mild rebuke to the president’s petty meanness.

The best outcome of Mattis’s resignation could be that the impact of his action will jar Washington Republicans out of their get-along/go-along Trump stupor and cause, at least some of them, to provide real oversight and substantive checks on the president. Mattis presumably could have stimulated this outcome months ago. Now, at last, he has. Maybe, just maybe, a corner has been turned in the reality TV series that the American presidency has become. 

Mattis resignation letter

The second takeaway for me from this historic moment is simply the head spinning reality that this foreign policy and national security chaos is taking place in a Republican Administration. The laws of politics and the orientation of our political parties has been turned completely upside down. The same Republicans who lamented, often with good reason, the Obama Administration’s approach to foreign and defense policy now own the most dysfunctional presidency in modern times. 

Republicans were once able to savage Democrats as “weak” on national security and eager to retreat from world responsibilities. That story line is now completely reversed thanks to Donald Trump.

Republicans who once based a good part of their brand on a clear-eyed reality about America’s role in the world have now embraced an ignorant, uninformed foreign policy that has trashed the post-war international order, facilitated the ambitions of China to further dominate the Pacific, emboldened authoritarian dictators, faked its way through North Korean talks about nuclear weapons and made Vladimir Putin the happiest man to occupy the Kremlin in a long, long time. 

Historians will write about this Republican collapse of rationality for generations to come, as well as those who aided and abetted it. While I suspect General Mattis will be mostly a footnote to this history, remembered more for his resignation than his accomplishments, one phrase in his resignation letter should be the jumping off point to assess why the GOP has fallen so far so fast. A fundamental reason for this debacle is simply the wholesale abandonment of fact-based competency in favor of the ranting and ignorance of a man totally unfit for the office he holds.

“Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from Syria was made hastily, without consulting his national security team or allies … Trump stunned his Cabinet, lawmakers and much of the world with the move by rejecting the advice of his top aides and agreeing to a withdrawal in a phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.” 

Associated Press coverage of Trump’s Syrian decision.

The key phrase in Mattis’s letter came as he explained his belief in the importance of international alliances and the need to oppose the evil intent of what he called “malign actors and strategic competitors.” Mattis based his opinion, he said, on insight gained, and this is the key phrase, “over four decades of immersion in these issues.”

In their hearts and minds most elected Republicans know that Donald Trump is an ignorant buffoon totally out of his depth. They must pray every night that he will not have to confront a real international crisis.

To allow Trump to get and keep the job he has many Republicans have suspended belief in the importance of “immersion” in reality. The GOP has traded competency and rationality for power and party. And that train wreck continues to unfold in real time.

Many Republicans have been relying on a guy like Jim Mattis to keep this careening locomotive on the tracks. Now, what do they do?

GOP, Idaho Politics, Russia, Trump

Moral Rot…

My weekly column from the Lewiston Tribune 

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In the wake of the latest revelations about the president of the United States the extent of the intellectual and moral rot of the modern Republican Party has – again – come into sharp focus. A party that once built a brand around “family values” has decided that Donald Trump’s involvement in a scheme that paid off a porn star and a Playboy model to hide affairs shouldn’t be treated as criminal.  

The National Review’s Jonah Goldberg, no squishy liberal, says the party – leadership and followers – is guilty of “outsourcing our moral, our political judgment to legalisms.” 

The new GOP brand: moral relativism. 

Senator John Thune

South Dakota Senator John Thune, the third ranking Republican in the Senate, dismisses Trump’s involvement in felony campaign finance violations, crimes that Trump’s one-time lawyer Michael Cohen will serve jail time for, as essentially a paperwork mistake. “These guys were all new to this at the time,” the senator says and besides what’s a little hush money to quiet a scandal during a presidential campaign. “Most of us have made mistakes when it comes to campaign finance issues,” Thune says. 

Or this from Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, a pillar of propriety on everything but presidential misconduct: “President Trump before he became president that’s another world. Since he’s become president, this economy has charged ahead … And I think we ought to judge him on that basis other than trying to drum up things from the past that may or may not be true.”

You can search high and low for any Republican concern that Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State and CEO of Exxon, said recently, “So often the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it’ and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’”

Few Republicans have bought more heavily into the party’s moral and intellectual rot than the Idaho delegation. After a brief flurry of indignation when Trump was caught on videotape bragging about assaulting women the get-along-go-along Idahoans have been pretty much lock step with Trump and they generally decline to say anything even remotely critical regarding his behavior.

Senator Jim Risch is the worst offender. 

Idaho Senator Jim Risch 

Risch, soon to be carrying Trump’s water as the high profile chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, couldn’t even bring himself to condemn the administration’s handling of the brutal murder of a Saudi national who was also a columnist for the Washington Post. The CIA has concluded that the Saudi crown prince ordered the murder, a position Trump refuses to accept presumably because it would cause him to have to do something that might upset oil prices or more likely his own business interests. 

In an interview with the editorial board of the Idaho Falls Post Register last week, Risch said that he had reached a conclusion about who was responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but that he couldn’t discuss it without revealing classified information. That is simply an absurd statement. Other senators in both parties have laid the responsibility directly at feet of Mohammed bin Salman, but as the Post Registernoted “on all questions having to do with bin Salman’s direct responsibility, [Risch] deflected,” obviously in deference to Trump.

Meanwhile, as the New York Times has reported, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has been counseling his Saudi pal, the crown prince, “about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.” Or as one wag put it “the president’s son-in-law is giving the Saudi prince some tips on how to get away with murder.”

Trump deference – or better yet servile submissiveness – is a pattern with Risch. In the face of much evidence that North Korea’s dictator snookered Trump during talks in Singapore in June Risch has helped maintain the fiction that Trump knows what he is doing. Risch has backed administration policy in Yemen where the Saudi’s, with U.S. help, have bombed the country back to the Stone Age. By some estimates 85,000 children may have already died in Yemen, with as many as 12 million more people on the brink of starvation.

Risch, with a seat on the Intelligence Committee, has been almost completely silent on Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign, speaking only to dismiss its importance. “Hacking is ubiquitous,” Risch said in 2017 before adding, “Russia is not, in my judgment, the most aggressive actor in this business.”

We now know that at least 14 individuals with direct or close ties to Russia, from the Russian ambassador to the lawyer who set up the infamous Trump Tower meeting during the campaign, made contact with Trump’s closest advisors, his family and friends over an 18-month period and during the campaign. We also know, while Trump’s story continues to shift, that special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted a busload of Russian agents and gained convictions of Trump’s campaign chairman, former national security advisor and many others. The investigation goes on, more indictments loom and Risch seems to care not at all. 

When the senator made his Faustian bargain to support Trump after the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape emerged he said he had no choice but to support the con man his party had embraced. “Without any options other than to abandon America to the left or vote for the Republican nominee, as distasteful as that may be, I will not abandon my country,” Risch said. In reality, by ignoring and excusing the inexcusable, he has put party loyalty above both his country and our Constitution. 

Paul Waldman in the Washington Post put a fine point on this kind of moral rot when he wrote recently of Trump, “Once he’s no longer president — perhaps in 2021, or perhaps even sooner — everyone who worked for him, supported him, or stood by him is going to be in an extremely uncomfortable position.” 

Bush, Politics, Trump

The Last Non-Despised President…

          “The nation has become spectacularly meaner, to the point that George H. W. Bush is likely to be remembered as the last President of the Republic not to have been intensely despised by a significant portion of its population.” – Thomas Mallon in The New Yorker

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Former President George H.W. Bush is being fondly remembered as a man of character and kindness, a president who certainly made serious mistakes (don’t they all), but one who also exercised power with – to use one of his favorite words – “prudence.” The remembrances make the contrast between the late president and the current one all the more stark.

George H.W. Bush – 41

Washington Post columnist Max Boot, a fierce critic of Donald Trump and author of a scathing critique of the modern Republican Party called The Corrosion of Conservatism, wonders “how, in the space of a quarter-century, did we go from President Bush to President Trump?” The answer is complicated, as one suspects Bush 41 understood. He could be a self-reflective president, unlike the current one.

Mr. Rogers and John Wayne…

The comedian Dana Carvey made a mini-career of impersonating Bush on Saturday Night Live, exaggerating the preppy president’s gestures and speech for comic effect.

Comedian Dana Carvey performs his imitation of President George Bush in 1992.

After hearing of Bush’s death, I watched Carvey’s surprise White House appearance toward the very end of his presidency – H.W. had just lost to Bill Clinton – and came away thinking it takes a comedian to begin to understand the ying and yang of Bush. The 41st president was a genuinely brave Naval aviator, an aristocratic New Englander remade into a Texas oil man, a failed Senate candidate, a fierce partisan, a CIA director, a loyal vice president and a man who ruined his presidency by doing the right thing.

Perhaps Bush should have known that a new breed of Republican disrupters – read Newt Gingrich – would never cut him slack for raising taxes in service of reducing the deficit. Unlike the rest of the GOP, Bush never forgot that cutting taxes almost always leads to bigger deficits. Voodoo economics is not fake news. The moment marked a turning point away from responsible, bipartisan governing.

Carvey said his Bush voice was a mixture of Mr. Rogers – “it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” – and John Wayne, a certain clipped, confident shorthand that often saw Bush mangle a phrase, but still convey his essential meaning. In a way Bush governed – evidence of his better angels – like Fred Rogers. He was prudent, careful and kind. He signed the Americans with Disability Act, a landmark piece of legislation that showed the country and its politics at its best. Bush, surrounded by adults like James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, presided over a peaceful end of the Cold War, a moment we now take for granted that might have gone horribly wrong. Bush knew that an international coalition was needed to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and also knew that a contained Saddam, as thuggishly brutal as his regime was, was better for the region than the decades of turmoil his son unleashed by engaging in regime change.

Prudent isn’t a bad epitaph.

But, if Bush governed like the essentially decent, pragmatic, mostly moderate Republican he was, he campaigned as something else. After losing the GOP nomination to Ronald Reagan in 1980, Bush embraced, or at least accepted, the sharp, divisive, negative style that came out of the election cycle. We remember the Reagan landslide (with Bush as his vice president) as a major turning point in American politics, but that election also featured the first widespread use of the independent expenditure campaign. Exploiting the liberalization of campaign finance limits, independent campaigns went on the attack in a major way in 1980. Reagan benefited, but so did a new generation of political operatives, including Paul Manafort, Roger Ailes, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater. Their essential negative tactics, constructed of fear, division and, yes, racism, continue to shape GOP campaigns, conservative media and the current occupant of the White House.

When Bush got his own shot at the White House in 1988 he campaigned like John Wayne, all American flag factories, assaults on the ACLU and race baiting with the infamous Willie Horton references. Horton, an African-American convicted of murder, raped a white woman and stabbed her partner while on prison furlough, a program in place in Massachusetts when Bush’s opponent, Governor Michael Dukakis, was in office.

The ad…

Technically the Bush campaign didn’t run the “Willie Horton ad,” but left that dirty work to something called the National Security Political Action Committee, an independent expenditure campaign supposedly independent of the Bush campaign. Bush did, however, repeatedly invoke Horton on the stump and Atwater, his campaign manager, really did say: “If we can make Willie Horton a household name, we’ll win the election.”

Bush insisted to his biographer Jon Meacham that the references to Horton and the furlough issue were about Dukakis being soft on crime and none of it was meant as a race-based “dog whistle” to fire up the increasingly white base of the Republican Party. Yet as Meacham notes, “In truth, in the tangled politics of that difficult year, as so often in American life, [the references] ended up being about both.”

Bush and Dukakis, 1988

Dukakis, of course, was a perfectly awful candidate – remember him riding around in a tank with a funny looking helmet – and Bush won that election decisively, if not altogether honorably. Bush recorded in his diary, as Meacham reports, that critics would long complain that he had taken the low road to the White House. Bush, ever the pragmatist, wrote simply: “I don’t know what we could do differently. We had to define this guy [Dukakis].”

When the pragmatic Bush tried to compromise with a tax and budget deal his “prudent” approach was rejected by many in his party, none less than Gingrich, who cared less about governing and the nation’s future than he did about a generation of political power for the political right. It’s ironic that while people across the political spectrum praise Bush’s style and basic decency, one of his signature accomplishments – the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) – is daily trashed by the current non-governing Republican Party. In the end, Bush – Willie Horton and all – was too much the pragmatist, too much a pro, too much a policy wonk for a party owned now for a man as far removed from Bush as decency is removed from vulgarity.

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          “How different is Trump’s Republican party from Bush 41’s? George H. W. Bush signed the Americans With Disability Act in 1991. Donald Trump mocks the disabled. George H. W. Bush summoned a coalition of 35 countries for the first Gulf War. Donald Trump attacks even our closest allies, England and Canada, and talks about NATO like it was a deadbeat tenant. President Bush negotiated the original North American Free Trade Agreement. Donald Trump calls Mexicans ‘rapists’ and brags he has ordered armed U.S. troops to respond with deadly force to brown people throwing rocks at the border. George H. W. Bush celebrated charity and kindness. Donald Trump mocks a ‘thousand points of light.’ George H. W. Bush enlisted at 18, the Navy’s youngest pilot, in civilization’s last great battle against tyranny. Donald Trump dodged military service multiple times, celebrates tyrants and defends Nazi’s as ‘good people on both sides.’”

          –  Republican strategist Stewart Stevens

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Thinking about George H.W. Bush I’m reminded of the words of the great British historian Julian Jackson, author of a marvelous biography of “le grand Charles” De Gaulle. “All biographers,” Jackson writes, “must guard against the temptation to impose excessive coherence on their subject.” And so it is with the 41stAmerican president.

A Man in Full…

Let’s remember Bush then as a man in full, a Mr. Rogers with a John Wayne side.

Bush was furious about this cover…and now we know it was wrong

By all accounts Bush loved being president and he was at his best when making friends. As the greatest political journalist of our age, Richard Ben Cramer, wrote in one of the best political books of our age, What It TakesBush was once asked what made him think he could be President? The answer: “Well, I’ve got a big family, and lots of friends.” Indeed he did and I for one won’t quibble with the statement that his was the most successful one-term presidency in American history. It would be prudent.

But the man also badly, badly wanted a second term in 1992 and was willing, as Cramer wrote to do what he had to do to win. Bush actually told interviewer David Frost that he would, in fact, do anything – whatever it took – to win again. Bill Clinton and Ross Perot had different ideas and Bush lost.

Richard Ben Cramer’s landmark book on the 1988 presidential race

And we are left to wonder how we got from the man with all those friends, the guy who wrote the thousands of thank you notes and befriended, of all people, his old opponent Bill Clinton, the prudent guy, how we got from that guy to this guy.

Part of the answer has to be that leaders of the Republican Party, as well as the conservative media echo chamber created by the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Roger Ailes, have been telling their supporters, at least since Bush 41, that compromise is bad, moderation is capitulation, Democrats are evil and that fear tactics in the service of winning elections are acceptable, indeed necessary. Part of the answer is also that the Republican Party has now fully bought the Trumpian notion that politics is about “feeding the angriest instincts of his base.

So much for Mr. Rogers.

It is a complicated story and the man being remembered this week was, too.

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Climate Change, Trump

Truth Decay…

My weekly column in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune

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In his famous Harper’s magazine essay about American politics, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian Richard Hofstadter wrote, “one of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen.”

Hofstadter wrote about what he called “the paranoid style of American politics” in 1964 when another Republican, Barry Goldwater, was threatening to destroy his party with fanciful notions about winning nuclear wars and staging for adoring crowds at his rallies what the journalist Richard Rovere called “great carnivals of white supremacy.”

The politically paranoid, the eminent historian argued, is a victim of his own lack of awareness where eversion to facts and his circumstances and experiences “deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him – and in any case he resists enlightenment.”

A week ago, while many Americans were still in a turkey and dressing induced post-Thanksgiving food coma (or perhaps shopping at a big box store on Black Friday), thirteen agencies of the federal government released a 1,600-page report on our changing climate. The first sentence of the report stated its most important conclusion in clear and unusually stark terms: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities.”

The report was purposely released on a holiday Friday in order to minimize the exposure of facts like this one: “Since the first National Climate Assessment was released (in 2000), the United States has endured 16 of the 17 warmest years on record, and the latest assessment paints a bleak picture of the future.”

Donald Trump, of course, dismissed the careful, factual work of scientists in four words. “I don’t believe it,” he said.

Such idiocy led Trevor Noah, the host of television’s Comedy Central, to ask: “How can one man possess all the stupidity of mankind. It’s like they edited his genes to give him superhuman stupidity.”

In order to agree with our scientist-in-chief you need to consciously discount the serious, detailed, principled work of 300 government and university scientists who drew upon the work of thousands of other scientists who have studied, analyzed and calculated what is happening to the climate.

This group includes two scientists I talked with this week who wrote chapters of the National Climate Assessment dealing with the Pacific Northwest. Dr. Philip Mote is the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. He earned his PhD at the University of Washington. Another author is Dr. Scott Lowe, the associate dean of the graduate school at Boise State University, a professor of environmental studies and a researcher on resource economics. He has his PhD from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Both scientists told me a key takeaway from the new climate report – the fourth such effort since 2000 – is that Pacific Northwest resource industries, including particularly timber, agricultural and fisheries, best get ready for an unpredictable new era of climate variability. More variability in stream flows. More low snowpack conditions. Reduction in irrigation capability. More variability in growing seasons.

Here are just three sentences from the report on climate impacts in the Northwest:

  • “Forests in the interior Northwest are changing rapidly because of increasing wildfireand insect and disease damage,attributed largely to a changing climate.”
  • “Impacts to the quality and quantity of forage will also likely impact farmers’ economic viability as they may need to buy additional feed or wait longer for their livestock to put on weight, which affects the total price they receive per animal.”
  • “Decreases in low- and mid-elevation snowpack and accompanying decreases in summer streamflow are projected to impact snow- and water-based recreation, such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, boating, rafting, and fishing.”

Dr. Mote, the Oregon State climate scientist, told me he recently went back and looked at the first national climate assessment. He described that effort as “educated speculation,” but now he says we know in detail what has been happening to the climate over the last two decades and the conclusions to be drawn are more certain and more emphatic. As the report says, “observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations” for the amount of warming taking place “instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause.”

Trump is not alone, of course, in his denial of evidence starring us in the face. And while the dismissal of decades of science is an insult to the very notion of truth – Dr. Mote calls it a “raw denial of knowledge” – it is also flat out dangerous. The scientists stress that we do have the ability to adapt and deal with much of the impact of climate change, but denying the existence of what is happening – the dangerous part – paralyzes any meaningful action and the longer we wait the less likely we’ll adapt well or at all.

Dr. Lowe, the Boise State researcher, says the rejection of fact-based science is frequently tied up with weird notions of a conspiracy theory that university and government scientists “have an agenda that is funded by someone.” This is pure nonsense. They are scientists seeking facts. They volunteer there expertise.

In the Trump Era the very idea of truth is taking a beating, “truth decay” one recent report called it. Meanwhile, debasing expertise and knowledge gets us an administration stocked with a knucklehead who blames California wildfires on “radical environmentalists” and puts the president’s son-in-law, a trust fund baby and New York real estate developer, in charge of crafting a Middle East peace plan. Such folks not only seek no enlightenment, they are supremely comfortable in their ignorance.

As you shift the competing “truth” about climate change ask yourself a simple question. Who are you going to believe: a bunch of scientists who have been studying an issue for decades and have their work double and triple checked by other scientists or a guy who bankrupted his casino?

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Foreign Policy, Idaho Politics

The Myth of the Saudi Special Relationship

My weekly column in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune 

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On June 9, 1979 Molly Ivins, the brilliant and still widely mourned reporter – she had a rare knack for simultaneously turning a phrase and twisting a knife with her journalism – had an Idaho datelined story in the New York Times.

“Confrontation over Mideast Policies Apparently Taking Shape in Idaho ’80 Race for Senate,” was the headline over Ivins’ story where she explored the fallout from a speech then-Senator Frank Church had given that was deemed to be highly critical of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Church, then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, actually had criticized both the Carter Administration and the Saudis in his widely reported speech. Both were guilty, Church said, of undercutting efforts for a comprehensive Mideast peace. The U.S. was “pinning our policy to false assumptions,” Church said, much as the U.S. had placed a losing bet on the “a rotting regime” in Iran when for decades presidents of both parties made apologies for the Shah.

Jimmy Carter with Idaho Senator Frank Church

Church, predictably, was accused of undermining a vital strategic relationship when he criticized the Saudi regime, which was then as now, an often violent and repressive dictatorship. But the Idahoan did it anyway, taking on both a president of his own party and Idaho economic interests. The Boise-based construction firm Morrison-Knudsen had a huge contract in 1979 to build a new city in Saudi Arabia and Church’s eventual 1980 opponent, Steve Symms, was calling for accommodation with the region’s dictators in the interest of selling both American weapons and Idaho wheat.

Some things never change.

Amid the broad international condemnation of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a gruesome, barbarous hit almost certainly ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – MBS to his “friends” – the current president can only focus on what Time magazine calls a “cold financial calculation: Saudi money for U.S.-made weaponry” that results in American jobs. Or as Donald Trump put it recently, “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”

Murdered journalist – and U.S. resident – Jamal Khashoggi

It is a brutal and cynical calculation and, like so many other “myths” which have long been the foundation of American foreign policy, it will be self-defeating. Frank Church knew that 40 years ago, Trump and his congressional enablers never will.

The Saudi-U.S. relationship is a veritable case study of how money, influence and delusion come together in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post recently outlined how the “sophisticated Saudi influence machine” has lavished millions on lobbyists, consultants, law firms and think tanks in order to prop up the myth that the Saudi dictatorship is a vital U.S. ally. The kingdom spent more than $27 million on such influence buying last year.

Robert Kagan, a veteran of the George W. Bush State Department and now a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, has argued that America has long harbored a fantasy about “reforming” dictators like MBS. Fanciful as it now seems, some Americans once thought Mussolini or the Shah of Iran would “reform” and we placed naïve bets on such fiction.

“Today, the Saudi crown prince’s U.S. supporters are asking how he could have been so foolish if he, as it appears, ordered the murder of Khashoggi,” Kagan wrote recently. “But who are the fools here? Dictators do what dictators do. We are the ones living in a self-serving fantasy of our own devising, and one that may ultimately come back to bite us.”

Which brings us to the Idaho politician currently in a position to influence U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia. You might be excused for forgetting that Senator Jim Risch, the Idaho Republican, has such power. But the man who will almost certainly be the next chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee hasn’t, near as I can tell, spoken a syllable about the Saudis. No statement of concern or condemnation over the Khashoggi murder. No thought or threat about sanctions. Risch, who never tired of slamming one aspect or another of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, is now a sphinx as a feckless president makes excuses for the inexcusable.

Jim Risch, the Idaho Republican, will soon chair the Foreign Relations Committee

Some argue, and perhaps Risch believes this too, that American interests are served well enough by the Saudi regime’s effort to create “stability” in the Middle East, while using our weapons and help to churn up more chaos in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere.

The real Saudi objective and the overriding objective of every despot – this has been the case since Franklin Roosevelt’s historic tete-a-tete with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in 1945 – is the preservation of the wealth and power of the ruling monarchy.

When Frank Church called out the Saudis in 1979 he was at the height of his influence and he used his platform to try to redirect U.S. policy. As his biographers LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer have noted Church “thought it was time for somebody with some stature in American politics to speak plainly to the Saudis.”

It’s well past time for that to happen again. If only there were a courageous Idahoan in a position of authority in the Senate. But guts and the perspective to take on a woefully ignorant president and a Washington influence machine in the service of a corrupt foreign government is not something you’ll find in Jim Risch.

2018 Election, Brexit, Trump

Crass Self-Delusion…

          “Crass self-delusion is when you start with an ideological premise that you believe to be true even though it isn’t and then draw apparently reasonable conclusions from it.”

Columnist Fintan O’Toole in The Irish Times

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One of the most remarkable, that is to say shocking, aspects of our current politics is the enormous degree of self-delusion that inflicts so many politicians and so many citizens. It seems to be an epidemic, or even a pandemic of ignorance that takes over minds and sickens them in the same way the great flu pandemic one hundred years ago infected so many millions world wide.

Theresa May: Going down with Britannia?

British Prime Minister Theresa May, for example, is hanging on by her fingernails, continuing to maintain the unalloyed fiction that the United Kingdom leaving the European Union will somehow be good for the British economy. The Brits call it Brexit and May and her self-delusional fellow Conservatives – and more than a few in the Labour Party – have been fussing for months over the terms of the exit from the European common market.

It is obvious now – as it was obvious when the U.K. voted to leave the EU – that accomplishing the trick of separating from Europe and still maintaining all the advantages of staying in Europe would simply be impossible. Yet, the delusion continues, while May’s government comes apart at the seams. It reminds me of one of the old silent film comedies produced by the legendary Mack Sennett – a bunch of clueless Keystone Cops running into walls, jumping through windows, generally making no sense whatsoever, while acting like they have it all under control.

Keystone Kops or pro-Brexit British pols?

As Feargus O’Sullivan writes at CityLab about May’s latest proposal: “If the deal scrapes through, it’s far from the brave new dawn that Brexit’s advocates insisted was just around the corner. It will still bind the country into accepting most E.U. rules (including a customs union) for the foreseeable future, while removing Britain’s ability to influence those rules as a union member.”

That is rather like your mother insisting you eat your peas and promising that you will have absolutely nothing to say about it the next time peas are served.

The brilliant Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole, who possesses an Irishman’s unique ability to poke holes in what passes for logic among the British ruling class, says the backers of the delusional Brexit  scheme fall into three different categories of what he calls sheer ignorance. The first category is “deliberate unknowing,” a situation where “you are fully aware of something but then choose to suppress that consciousness.”

The smarter British politicians, May included, knew Brexit was a farce, but went along with the farce to maintain power … or something. The same type of delusion is rampant in Donald Trump’s America, particularly prevalent in the deep delusion infecting the Republican ruling class in Washington, D.C.

Republican politician after Republican politician labeled Trump unfit, a clown, a con man, a disaster, an ignorant buffoon and now – I’m thinking of you Lindsey Graham – they can’t get enough of their joker-in-chief. Trump hasn’t changed. “Deliberate unknowing” has, however, become the GOP’s SOP.

Case in point: On the evening of the recent mid-term elections Trump took to his favorite chalkboard, Twitter, to proclaim the election a great victory for Republicans. He doubled down the next day during a White House news conference saying, “To be honest — I’ll be honest, I thought it was a — I thought it was a very close to complete victory.”

Right. Some kind of victory.

Democrats won 35-plus seats in the House of Representatives, taking control of that body. They held off what might have been a blood bath, while defending a slew of vulnerable seats in Senate. And they repaired much of the Midwest damage the party suffered in 2016 by winning a number of governor’s races. Oh, yes, Democrats picked up two Republican held Senate seats, including one in Arizona that has been in GOP hands since 1995, and now Democrats hold every congressional seat in Orange County, California.

John Wayne is spinning somewhere. But, it was “very close to complete victory” or, put another way, acknowledging that was not “very close to complete victory” is the very definition of “deliberate unknowing.”

That Trump news conference was, of course, where the president created the pretense to strip a CNN  reporter of his White House credentials. A silly, self-delusional move by Trump and a White House staff ever more unmoored from reality.

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           “We’re working on many things. Criminal justice reform we’re working on very hard. We have a meeting today, do you know about that? We have a meeting today.” Donald J. Trump in an interview with The Daily Caller

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O’Toole’s second category of ignorance is the “crass self-delusion” mentioned at the head of this piece: the ability to convince yourself that a long-held ideological position is correct in the face of vast evidence to the contrary.

Our national political delusion in this category could be something like, oh, the huge Trump-GOP tax cut. The tax cut was, or course, promised as a amazing boon to the middle class and a launching pad for vast economic growth that would “pay for itself.” Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell actually proclaimed, ““I’m totally convinced this is a revenue-neutral bill.” It wasn’t. Now – big surprise – McConnell says we’ll need to cut Medicare and Social Security to address the deficit created by the tax cut that was going to pay for itself.

The Republican ideology of tax cutting is certainly the stuff of true belief, the premise that tax cuts  overwhelmingly working to the benefit of the wealthiest are good for all of us is a myth, easily refuted.  The outcome of the entire tax cut charade has been to grow the deficit and threaten the broader economy. As the New York Times noted recently: “the fiscal health of the United States is deteriorating fast, as revenues have declined sharply. The federal budget deficit — the gap between what the government collects in revenues and what it spends — rose to $779 billion in the 2018 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. That was a 17 percent increase from the prior year.”

Oh, well, in the age of Crass Delusion, with a president who lies with reckless abandon about absolutely everything, it may seem more comfortable to cling to the ideologically certain end of the ignorance continuum rather than grapple with messy old facts.

By the way, the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has done us a big favor. He’s actually been tracking Trump’s lies since Day One. It’s a big job, taking a mild-mannered Canadian – they really are our best friends – to keep track of the American president’s delusions, er, lies. Dale calculates “3,749 false claims” since Trump’s inauguration, the job of tracking the lies made easier by the frequency of repetition.

“On his fifth day in office, Trump baselessly alleged widespread voter fraud,” Dale wrote recently. “He did the same thing this past week. In his third month in office, Trump falsely claimed that the United States has a $500 billion trade deficit with China. He has said the same thing more than 80 times since.

“Listen to this president long enough, and you can almost sense when a lie is coming. If Trump tells a story in which an unnamed person calls him “sir,” it’s probably invented. If Trump claims he has set a record, he probably hasn’t. If Trump cites any number at all, the real number is usually smaller.”

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          “The Democrats want to invite caravan after caravan of illegal aliens into our country. And they want to sign them up for free health care, free welfare, free education, and for the right to vote.” – Donald J. Trump just before the mid-term elections

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The final O’Toolean category of delusion is what he calls plain old “pig ignorance” as in “the genuine hallmarked, unadulterated, slack-jawed, open-mouthed, village idiot variety.”  In Trumpworld where to begin?

How about we send several thousand U.S. soldiers to the Mexican border at tremendous cost and at no small disruption to their personal lives. Let’s succeed in politicizing the military as part of a pre-election stunt in an effort to stop a “dangerous caravan” of displaced persons – poor, tired, desperate people – who pose absolutely no threat to the United States.

Political Hack…Attorney General

Or, how about this for pig ignorance? Appoint a grifting hot tub entrepreneur to run the U.S. Justice Department and somehow think that is either proper or a good idea. Trump might well succeed in getting his new acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, to fire special counsel Robert Mueller in hopes of heading off the continuing investigation into Russian interference with our elections and potential Trump campaign involvement in that interference. But do any but the most delusional among us think that Mueller can’t outfox a guy who once tried to raise money using bitcoin to finance research into time travel – this is true, by the way – and seems pretty sure Bigfoot is a thing (also true)?

I’ll put my bitcoin on the former FBI director and decorated Marine combat veteran. And I’d take double or nothing that Whitaker is gone in about three Mooches.

Or, we could demonstrate our real grasp of reality by uniquely blaming the massive and deadly California wildfires on a lack of proper forest management rather than the real culprits – extended drought and the effects of ever worsening climate change. Trump actually suggested “raking and cleaning things” would  eliminate the causes of the massive fires. No, really, he did say that.

And we could make those claims even as the administration’s own budget proposal for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management actually calls for reduced funding for approaches that might help mitigate some of the effects of wildfire.

“Pig ignorance” is living your entire adult life in a gilded enclave in Manhattan, never getting out of a bubble made of your own self-delusion and faking that you could tell a fire line from buffet line.

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         “The Sunday Times reported Britain’s army had been ordered to step up contingency plans to help police maintain public order in case of food and medicine shortages after a ‘no deal’ Brexit, citing an unnamed ‘well-placed army source.’”

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Trump visits California fie victims, calls for more “raking”

In all their ignorance the Brexit hardliners may well succeed in destroying the U.K. economy and crippling European unity at the very moment dystopian nationalism is on the rise on the continent and in Trump’s own fevered imagination. O’Toole reminds us of how wacky the language of the pro-Brexit crowd has been and Trump’s rantings aren’t that far removed.

“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this [unifying Europe], and it ends tragically,” the loathsome Boris Johnson said just before Brits voted to drive themselves off a cliff. He was suggesting that the European Union was attempting this dastardly Hitlerian deed of unity “by different methods” than the Nazi’s or Napoleon used, but that the effect on the U.K. would be just the same as Trafalgar and the Blitz of 1940. This entire business is a paranoid fantasy, a political psychosis, which sounds much like the daily news feed out of the White House.

No doubt we are stuck with Trump and all his delusions and ignorance for some time to come. His GOP enablers appear to be ready to double down on a strategy of hanging with him while he hangs them out. The mid-terms may have put up a political speed bump on the highway of craziness, but the deliberate unknowing, crass self-delusion and pig ignorance seems sure to continue. One entire political party has embraced nonsense.

Which is not to say that we can’t stop any time we want from buying into wacko conspiracy theories and  easily proven fallacies and we can stop listening to raving, ignorant people. Maybe the Brits will yet come to their senses. Perhaps we will, too.

Thomas Jefferson actually wrote something about this into the Declaration of Independence. “Let facts be submitted to a candid world,” ol’ Tom wrote. Good lord, let’s get on with that idea. Pig ignorance is just so stupid.

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Idaho Politics

Will Brad Little Make a New Beginning..

My weekly column from the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune

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Idaho’s Governor-Elect Brad Little has some big decisions to make. In the next few weeks he’ll need to put his stamp on a state budget that will spell out how he proposes to implement the Medicaid expansion initiative supported overwhelmingly by the state’s voters last week.

Presumably he’ll want to, at least at the margins, differentiate his proposals for education funding from those of his long-time boss retiring Governor Butch Otter. Maybe he’ll propose a grocery tax repeal and a way to pay for it. Additionally a major challenge for the governor-elect is the perception, and remember perception is reality in politics, that he is simply gearing up to preside over Otter’s fourth term.

Idaho Gov-elect Brad Little

There is a way to immediately change that perception and it involves how Little will stock the leadership ranks of state agencies. The new governor has two choices: he can tinker at the margins or he can clean house. He should clean house. Not doing so would be a big mistake for one simple reason.

Every governor, whether one that is succeeding a member of his party as Little will be, or taking over from the other party, has one clear moment when he (or we can hope someday soon she) can place a dramatic imprint on state agencies. This is such a moment for Little, a guy who has long prided himself on being a student of government, a kind of cowboy boot wearing policy wonk steeped in the details of governing in a way that Otter never was.

Idaho has, all things considered, a relatively weak governor model. The governor doesn’t directly appoint some of the most important state agency heads. A governor can have influence, but has no direct appointment authority over the Departments of Transportation, Corrections, Fish and Game, Lands or Parks and Recreation. Nevertheless what he can control is very important: the state Commerce Department, Health and Welfare, the departments of Administration, Labor, Insurance and Finance, the state personnel chief and the critical job of state budget director.

One can only imagine that Little, still basking in his decisive win on election day, has discovered just how many new best friends he now has. Half the GOP members of the legislature – a conservative estimate – lust after an appointment to a state job, even if the outrageous perk of receiving a big jump in state retirement benefits may soon go away. For many legislators snagging the good salary and benefits that go with being an agency director has to look pretty good.

Many of the current occupants of these state jobs – all appointed by Otter – will be working overtime to hang on to their positions. The natural tendency for most new governors would be to take the path of least resistance and keep a bunch of the Otter crowd. They’re loyal Republicans, after all, and many contributed to Little’s campaign. They’ll pledge their fidelity and most will want Little to succeed. But Little can’t – or won’t – shape a new version, his vision, without new people, his people, in key positions.

My old boss, Cecil D. Andrus, lived this lesson in 1986 when he was preparing to succeed fellow Democrat John V. Evans in the governor’s office. Evans, a good man and still an underrated governor, had assembled a good team and many of them wanted to stay on into a new Democratic administration. Andrus knew better. He imposed a rule during his campaign that he would accept no contributions from staffers in the Evans Administration. He wanted no implied understanding that someone from the outgoing regime might curry favor with the new crowd, while hoping for a job. Andrus angered more than a few people, fellow Democrats mostly, when he made it clear that he was cleaning house. With only a couple of exceptions he brought in an entirely new cast of state government leaders, people loyal to him, people sharing his vision, people understanding his priorities, people who knew he was the boss.

Little’s immediate staff – a chief of staff, a press secretary, counselors on key issues – will constitute a critical part of his team. He should pick them wisely from among people he knows, trusts and is confident will serve him – and Idaho citizens – with diligence, energy and, as Franklin Roosevelt famously insisted, a “passion for anonymity.”

Beyond his immediate staff, Little would be well advised to put his own person in charge of economic development at the Commerce Department. He should install a seasoned administrator at the Department of Administration, an incredibly important agency that handles everything from computers to risk management, and a place where more than one governor has been tripped up. Most of society’s problems land daily on the desk of the director of the Department of Health and Welfare and the director there best be a person the new governor can both trust and personally hold accountable.

It’s no knock on the Otter crowd that a new governor should want and is entitled to his own team. There are lots of names on doors in state government, but only one name on the ballot. Governor Little will send a signal about how he’ll run state government by the personnel decisions he makes between now and Christmas. If he’s smart he’ll make a clean sweep. He’ll start fresh and from day one be in a position to hold his own people accountable. He’ll never have a second chance for a new beginning. He’ll never have a second chance to have his own first term rather than Butch Otter’s fourth term.

BTW: Here is a link to Little’s transition website.

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2018 Election, Idaho Politics

Of Discord, Simpson and GOP Sweeps

My weekly column from the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune…

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A few takeaways from the midterms.

The State of the Union – Divided: The red gets redder and the blue gets bluer. The story of the 2018 midterms will be that the deep political divisions in the dysfunctional American family are destined to only get deeper. Rural America – and rural Idaho – will continue to embrace a remarkably divisive president who articulated a blatant election appeal based on racial and class division that would have made George Wallace blush.

The Economist illustrates the great divide

There is something for every partisan to celebrate in the results. Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and repaired some of the party’s recent damage in the Midwest. Democratic control of the House will return some level of balance, if not bipartisanship to national politics.

Republicans can celebrate the pick up of several Senate seats and as a result Senate Republicans will be even less inclined, which is saying something, to police administration actions. Given the abject lack of Senate oversight of Trump’s foreign policy – Idaho’s Jim Risch will now likely become an even more shameless Trump apologist as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee – look for the president’s incoherent approach to the world to become more erratic, less predictable and more dangerous.

The Women’s March in New York City, January 20, 2018. They weren’t marching for Donald Trump

Bottom line: Trump has further consolidated his control over a Republican Party that now completely owns his ballooning deficits, serial lying, a fear and loathing message of racial division, disdain for the most basic level of ethics and in the pre-election period a politicization of the American military to deal with the phony issue of “a caravan.” Nationally the party has shredded any appeal to suburban women, younger voters and those with a college education. Republican voters actually re-elected two members of the House who are under indictment and in Nevada a dead man who owned a brothel – he was regularly referred to as “a pimp” – won a legislative seat. This is not the party of Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, national Democrats have room to grow a diverse coalition but lack a natural leader, which may be the best news of all from the election for Donald J. Trump.

Idaho’s most effective legislator Mike Simpson now in the minority

Simpson’s New World: Second District Congressman Mike Simpson is adjusting to a new reality. Simpson, the most accomplished Idaho federal lawmaker since the late Senator Jim McClure, is a legislator of uncommon common sense. Now he will have to learn new tricks as an appropriator in the minority. Had Republicans held on to the House of Representatives Simpson had an outside shot at chairing the immensely important House Appropriations Committee. At least Simpson would have remained chairman of an important subcommittee. Now, the man who brings home the bacon of the Idaho National Lab and regularly attends to home state issues will need to apply all his skill as a bipartisan dealmaker to continue to wield influence in a Democratic House. Simpson will, on the surface at least, have a better relationship with new First District Congressman Russ Fulcher than he ever had with Raul Labrador. While Fulcher will join a House were his natural allies – Labrador’s old “Freedom Caucus” – will be severely neutered and where he will labor in the least attractive position in politics: a rookie in the minority.

Idaho Republicans Sweep – Again: Governor-elect Brad Little ran a textbook Idaho GOP campaign and crushed Paulette Jordan, his badly overmatched Democratic opponent. Jordan, with little to show for her vacuous, personality driven campaign other than a scrapbook of national news clippings, did nothing to change the trajectory of Idaho’s beleaguered Democratic Party. In fact, Jordan may have retarded the progress of rebuilding a credible minority by blowing what might have been a historic opportunity. Republicans have held the governor’s office for 24 years and, as prolonged, uncontested power inevitably does, they have accumulated a litany of scandals minor and otherwise. Little was effectively running for Butch Otter’s fourth term – never an advantageous political position – and in a year when women candidates nationally made major strides. But Jordan never put together a real campaign, never had a compelling message and never succeeded in turning the lanky rancher’s white Stetson black.

Paulette Jordan’s anemic 38% did no favors for Idaho’s endangered Democratic Party

Jordan’s anemic showing did no favors for the one statewide Democrat, superintendent of public instruction candidate Cindy Wilson, who seemed to have a path to victory and even in defeat ran well ahead of the top of the Democratic ticket. Rural red Idaho did Wilson in, however, while old-time Democrats, now mostly gone and forgotten, in places like Nez Perce and Shoshone Counties are spinning in their graves.

The scope of Little’s win – and Jordan’s loss – is illustrated by one telling election statistic. Jordan spent more than a million dollars to collect 38% of the vote, barely three percent more than the Democrat who put his name on the ballot for attorney general, never campaigned and didn’t raise a cent.

A tiny, but not insignificant glimmer of hope for Idaho’s Democrats was a pick up of a handful of legislative seats, a growing lock on the state’s largest county – Democrats won two county commission seats in Ada County for the first time since 1976 – and the example of the ballot proposition that expanded Medicaid coverage to some of the most vulnerable Idahoans. That well-funded, well-organized, well-messaged campaign was both historic and provides a template for a future statewide Democrat. If any Idaho Democrat ever wins again it will happen because that candidate has a compelling message that reaches voters where they live and builds a new organization at the grassroots that brings new participants, particularly millennial and Latino voters, into the political process.

If the national GOP’s deep problem with suburban women has any, even minor, corollary in Idaho, it is in the Great State of Ada. A young and appealing generation of women office holders now populates the Boise city council and the county commission. The party has to start rebuilding someplace and Ada County is as good as it gets for Idaho Democrats.

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2018 Election, Idaho Politics

Little Sunshine in This Race…

My latest column for the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune on Idaho politics…

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It is now clear that the campaign of Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan purposefully worked to establish a “shell” company in Wyoming, channel at least $20,000 through that company and kept the connections, including who has actually benefited from the campaign’s largess, secret. The convoluted effort was undertaken, the Jordan campaign acknowledges, in order to disguise the ultimate recipients of the campaign’s money. The campaign says the money went to anti-Brad Little Republican operatives who have to remain anonymous to avoid getting crossways with “their Republican patrons.”

Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan

Unpacking this subterfuge and the Jordan campaign’s shifting explanation of these shenanigans leads to a couple of obvious questions.

One question: If Jordan has been truly seeking Republican support in her underdog campaign against the GOP Lt. Governor, support she needs to win, why not do the hard work of forming a genuine “Republicans for Paulette” group? For a long time Democrats, particularly former Governor Cecil Andrus, made such efforts a lynch pin of their campaigns. I remember then-Republican Senator Steve Symms walking into my office in the Idaho Statehouse years ago and looking at a framed copy on the wall of a full-page ad featuring prominent Republicans that Andrus’s campaign had utilized during the hard fought 1986 campaign. The ad featured photos of Washington U.S. Senator Dan Evans and Idaho business titan Harry Magnuson, among others. Symms simply said, “That ad elected him.”

Washington’s Dan Evans was a sitting Republican U.S. Senator when he endorsed an Idaho Democrat, Cecil Andrus. in 1986.

Rather than such a transparent, and I would argue effective, tactic, Jordan’s campaign embraced s shadowy scheme to allegedly employ disenchanted GOP operatives to dish dirt on her opponent.

A second question: Is Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure law really so toothless that it permits a campaign to set up what in essence is a secret company (out of state), route money through that company and keep the ultimate recipients of the cash secret? We don’t really know for sure what the company – Roughneck Steering, Inc. – did for the campaign. We don’t know who did whatever was done and we can’t contact the firm because it’s really only a mail drop in Sheridan, Wyoming with a “registered agent” who won’t return a phone call.

When I inquired a couple of weeks ago the Jordan campaign told me that Roughneck’s agents (whomever they are) had made “polling calls” approximately “8,270 calls (in August), in September the calls were made to 9,023 Idahoans.”

But the story shifted when Jordan’s campaign manager Nate Kelly later spoke to reporter Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press. “They ended up doing a bunch of not polling, but push-polling,” Kelly said.

For those not versed in the terminology of sleazy campaign practices, a “push poll” is designed to persuade, or more often misinform, voters under the guise of being a legitimate public opinion survey. Typically a heap of entirely negative material is shared with the person getting a call in hopes of planting the notion that a certain candidate is a scoundrel. The practice is held in such low regard that it violates the code of ethics of most real pollsters.

Kelly also told Russell that Jordan’s previous campaign manager, Michael Rosenow, who resigned in September apparently to protest the campaign’s involvement with a federal political action committee, established the Wyoming shell company. Of course we can’t ask Rosenow about that because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Jordan’s campaign.

If, as the Jordan campaign says, there are “anti-Little” forces determined to damage Little’s candidacy that would be some news and would certainly underscore the deep fault lines – or perhaps just bitter animosity – that continues to exist in the Idaho GOP after Little won a tough primary in May. Of course, because the Jordan campaign won’t tell us we can’t even be sure there are mysterious GOP operatives hoping to sabotage their party’s nominee. My own checking turned up suspects, but no evidence.

Kelly rejects any suggestion that the Jordan campaign has engaged in subterfuge in order to obscure the final dispensation of campaign funds. He called Roughneck “a contracting firm” that merely processed payments to individuals who had done the actual work for the campaign. He contends such arrangements are typical in the corporate world. Kelly, a California attorney, is also the owner of another Wyoming company that has received several payments from the Jordan campaign.

Despite his role in shielding the names of those really behind Roughneck Steering, Kelly recently told the Associated Press that Jordan’s campaign was all “about transparency.” And he added, “We want to be an open book and not be distracted. Everything is on the up and up.” That statement is Donald Trump-like in its credulity.

The effort by the Jordan campaign to obscure where campaign money has been spent adds to a litany of questions – non-disclosure agreements, two major campaign shakeups, the circumstances surrounding the federal PAC – that bear directly on the candidate’s transparency, not to mention credibility. The effort to conceal the final destination of campaign payments may also violate Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure law.

Deputy Idaho Secretary of State Tim Hurst points out that the purpose of Idaho’s voter approved campaign disclosure law is pretty simple and the intent is not to hide information from voters about how money is raised or spent by candidates. Hurst referenced the stated purpose of the law: “To promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns and those promoting or opposing legislation or attempting to influence executive or administrative actions for compensation at the state level.”

Another section of the Idaho law says: “No contribution shall be made and no expenditure shall be incurred, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or by one (1) person through an agent, relative or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity of the source of the contribution.”

If the state of Idaho can’t enforce the law in the face of the Jordan campaign’s obvious efforts to skirt real disclosure then the state’s “sunshine law” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

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