Idaho Politics, Pandemic

When Political Leaders Fail…

In 1968, journalist Tom Wicker – he covered politics and wrote a column for the New York Timesproduced a little book about the diverse personalities he observed during the presidencies of John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.

Wicker was an observer, not a partisan, and he had a sharp eye for detail. I stumbled across the book recently and was surprised to find it remains a compelling read – an insightful account of when political leadership works and when it fails. One passage stays with me.

“The first and most fundamental task of the American politician ought to be that of public education,” Wicker wrote, “the enlightenment of the electorate he represents, a constituency that in the nature of the case and in the process of its own busines will not have the time, opportunity, or inclination that he had to inform itself about the realities of an ever more complex and shrinking world.”

Imagine that: the chief job of a politician ought to be educating his/her constituents.

As northern Idaho plugged into the dank and dangerous waters of a health care system in breakdown it is worth pausing for a moment to consider how one entire state has reached the point where it’s first-world health care system is in chaos. Ten Idaho hospitals and health care systems are now dealing with rationing health care because their facilities are overrun with unvaccinated patients and lacking adequate staff. Republicans, it seems, have finally found their “death panels.”

The simple answer to the question of how Idaho got here is, of course, a deadly strain of virus – the Delta variant of COVID-19 – but the deeper and even more troubling answer relates to propaganda, misinformation, political manipulation, and a rank inability by many of our fellow citizens to think critically and act responsibly during a crisis.  

The Idaho Capitol Sun presented a remarkable example of all this earlier this week in an interview with a physician in the mountain town of McCall, Idaho. Dr. Patrick Kinney is at the end of understanding.

“We just don’t understand why people have trusted us for years,” Kinney told reporter Audrey Dutton, “and they’ve gone through all manner of uncomfortable things on our recommendation. Right? Like every 10 years, they’ve agreed to letting us put a 6-foot camera up their butt for a colonoscopy. Every year or three years or five years … they’ll get up in the stirrups, get a cold metal speculum put in their vagina for a Pap smear. And, you know, get a flu shot and get a pneumonia shot, get a shingles shot.”

Yet, Kinney said, with this deadly virus it’s different. “It’s like you just say the words ‘COVID vaccine,’ and their faces change, their eyes glaze over,” Kinney said. “They somehow feel like they’ve got better information than we do. And I don’t understand it, I really don’t. I don’t get it.”

Here’s the cultural and political reality: the origin story of where Idaho began to change – go off the rails – goes back to when the state became the exclusive reserve of one political party that has increasingly found itself playing to the most extreme elements in that party. Idaho has become a case study of what happens to a state where political leaders, over an extended period of time, systematically underfunded education, denied science, debased expertise, and lied to supporters about a host of issues.

The breakdown in basic trust of public institutions – hospitals, doctors, health districts, scientists – the near total disdain for education and the rejection of expertise are all aspects of a political system that seeks to appease its most far out members rather than lead them. Little wonder Idaho’s vaccination rates are among the worst in the country.

Consider one example. Earlier this year, the overwhelmingly Republican Idaho Legislature voted to strip the power of local public health districts issuing orders related to public health. Only partisan county commissioners – most of whom have refused to act or embraced conspiracy and misinformation – were left with any meaningful role in dealing with the kind of public health emergency that has now taken Idaho hospitals to the edge.

“Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach,” Republican state senator Steven Thayn declared, as he perfectly summarized the deadly incoherence of the GOP’s governing elite. “I’m also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism,” Thayn said, “especially when you say well, we’re doing it for the public good.”

Hospitals in northern Idaho, overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients, are now rationing health care

It was then totally predictable that the health district serving Idaho’s capitol city would act recently to appoint to its board a patently unqualified, COVID denying pathologist. That doctor, Ryan Cole, immediately began dispensing policy advice, the kind of advice that is apparently OK in Idaho since it conforms with what the most fevered Republican voters want to hear.

“I think we need to be prudent and say it’s time to let children be children, Delta is going to spread, we cannot stop it,” Dr. Cole told the board of a local charter school. “Everybody’s essentially going to get it.” In short: ignore science, let them die.

Cole’s advice, of course, contradicts vast expert opinion about how to control the pandemic, and completely ignores the deaths that can be prevented. Southern Idaho is almost certainly now headed toward the level of hospital crisis already overwhelming the north.

Yet, no Idaho Republican of standing – the governor, statewide elected officials, the congressional delegation, the party’s legislative leadership – has had a word to say about the lies and misinformation. Doing so, let’s be honest, would subject them to instant abuse, perhaps physical threats, and certain political challenge.

The impacts of the wholesale political manipulation of conservative voters we are seeing now has been a long time coming. The serial Republican lies – tax cuts pay for themselves, Marxists runs higher education, climate change is a hoax, liberal judges are the activists, immigrants and refugees present a danger to America, an election was stolen – and the fears these lies spawn have swamped the political right for decades. Little wonder people began to believe them.

Republican elected officials, the handful who really know better, know they have lost any ability to educate and reason with many of their followers. They stood by in silence while Fox News polluted cable television, while the crackpots at the Idaho Freedom Foundation defined the party’s agenda, while a corrupt con man took over their party, and while lies and misinformation kill thousands.  

To those who harbor a belief that this will change, that reason and enlightenment will one day seep back into conservative politics, I say – get over it. Most Republicans aren’t even trying to educate and inform their electorate. They are afraid of what will happen if they suddenly begin to speak the truth. We should all be afraid of what will continue to happen now that they have quit trying.

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Additional Reading:

A few items I came across this week that I hope will be of interest…

Jimmy Carter and Afghanistan

There are two excellent new biographies of President Jimmy Carter, including The Outlier by Kai Bird.

Bird had a piece recently in The Washington Monthly charting Carter’s connection to the long U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. It’s good history, and a reminder of why hot takes on current events often miss the long backstory.

“If you think America’s exit from this Central Asian country concluded a 20-year war, think again. Some forgotten history goes a long way to explaining how we got where we are. The United States first intervened in Afghanistan in the summer of 1979—six full months before the Soviet Union’s land invasion—when Carter was president. Prodded by his hawkish national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter reluctantly agreed to authorize a small covert action program to provide aid to a motley group of mujahideen guerrilla forces challenging the central government in Kabul. Take note: These mujahideen were extreme Sunni Muslim fundamentalists, and more than a decade later they would morph into the Taliban. But they were anti-communists—and for Brzezinski, who viewed the world with Cold War blinders, that’s all that mattered.”

A helpful reminder of how we got mired down in a place we didn’t understand and still don’t. Here’s the link:


George W. Bush’s Wars are Now Over. He Retreated a While Ago.

This Washington Post story is in the same category. Fearless prediction: the eventual verdict of history will not be kind to the president – George W. Bush – who initiated a war in Afghanistan and then got diverted to a war in Iraq.

It didn’t go quite to plan…

“Bush’s own popularity has clearly benefited from his time out of office. Irrelevance proved to be a disinfectant. In 2018, a poll from CNN found that Bush was viewed favorably by about 6 in 10 Americans. It got to the point where another familiar face had to come out from retirement to stage an intervention.

“‘I just wanted to address my fellow Americans tonight, and remind you guys that I was really bad,’ Will Ferrell said, reprising his role as Bush for an SNL guest spot in 2018 year. ‘Like, historically not-good.’”

Tough, but nasty, too.


How to Make a Netflix-Style Documentary

I have to say – I’m a big fan of Netflix. And a fan of documentaries like the kind that you find all the time on the streaming service. Heck, I even made a couple documentaries back in the days of black and white TV.

So, this is fun.

“In this short video, YouTuber Paul E.T. shows how you can make a Netflix-style true crime documentary about anything. Even stolen toast. The equipment needs are pretty minimal – a good camera, a couple of lenses, some lighting, and a decent mic. The magic is in the editing.”

It’s short…and funny. The link:


Thanks much for reading. Stay safe.

GOP, Governors, Idaho Politics

A Little Giant…

Given the current dominance of the Republican Party in Idaho it is difficult to remember it wasn’t always so. 

When Wilder, Idaho onion farmer Phil Batt was elected in 1994 as Idaho’s 29th governor he became the first Republican governor in 24 years. Batt defeated a popular incumbent attorney general, and the man some – including his political adversaries – call “the little giant” deserves the lion’s share of the credit for rebuilding a party that had fallen on hard times in the early 1990’s. It was a sea change moment. 

A new book just out celebrates Batt’s life and legacy. The little volume is a timely reminder of a better, more civil, more accomplished time in the state’s politics. Without meaning to do so the book also casts light on how reactionary and radical the state’s dominant political party has become in the last quarter century. 

Phil Batt at the time he was Idaho’s governor from 1995-1999

(The book – Lucky: The Wit and Wisdom of Phil Batt – has been published by Caxton Press, the venerable Idaho publisher based in Caldwell. All sale proceeds will benefit the Wassmuth Center for Human Rights.)

The book’s author, Rod Gramer, a long-time Idaho journalist who now heads Idaho Business for Education, a group trying to push the state’s education system into the 21st Century, conducted a series of interviews with Batt and also commissioned several essays about the man who broke the string of six consecutive Democratic gubernatorial wins. 

Cover of the new book about Batt

I’m honored that Rod asked me to write one of the essays about Batt, a man I’ve known and observed in a variety of roles since 1975. Former governors Butch Otter and Dirk Kempthorne also contributed, as did former Batt staffer Lindy High, journalist Randy Stapilus and long-time political analyst Dr. Jim Weatherby. The book is a fine contribution to Idaho political history. 

Several things distinguish Batt – now 94, a bit frail, but as sharp as ever – particularly when his life and career is considered side-by-side with what passes for Idaho conservatism these days. His legacy really comes down to two big ideas: advancing human rights and resisting an often unaccountable federal bureaucracy. 

In the first instance Batt was – and remains – the state’s foremost advocate for the Human Rights Commission. He championed the creation of the state agency, helped nurture it in its infancy and supports expanding its authority. Batt told Gramer that he supports, without conditions, the long-delayed adoption of human rights protections related to sexual orientation. “They should not be discriminated against,” Batt said in usual terse, authoritative style. 

This position is, of course, at odds with the vast majority of Republicans in the state legislature who have refused with blind determination to even discuss the issue of human rights protections for LGBTQ citizens. 

Batt, the conservative farmer, also insisted on providing worker compensation insurance coverage for farm workers. “Why should a farmworker have to put up with injurious practices when nobody else had to do it,” he asks. 

Batt came by his human rights views in the old-fashioned way: he observed the Jim Crow South up close while in the military in Mississippi. “I saw Blacks forced off the sidewalk to let Whites go by,” he told Gramer. “Separate toilets. Separate drinking fountains. Blacks forced to the back of the bus. Just totally unacceptable, but most of the people didn’t think it was. I thought it was totally unfair. I didn’t like it. It did make an impression on me.” 

The other major piece of Batt’s legacy is the agreement he forced the U.S. Department of Energy to accept that gave Idaho legal leverage over nuclear waste clean-up and further waste storage at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho. No other state has such a comprehensive, binding agreement that protects the ground water, health and livelihood of Idaho. Tellingly, Republicans in the congressional delegation and the legislature have been trying to undo the deal every day since Batt signed the agreement in 1995 with the support and encouragement of his friend and occasional political adversary former Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus. 

Batt with his always friend and occasional adversary Cecil D. Andrus

Batt is clearly in the last lap of his long and productive life, and he is correctly predicting that his nuclear waste handiwork will be further eroded when he takes leave. Idahoans will rue the day that happens. Given the arrogance and ignorance of the current ruling class, count on the fact that after the final tributes have been paid to the former governor they’ll do what they can to destroy the best protection Idaho ever had from the overreaching hand of the federal government. 

There is much else to be said about Phil Batt. He can tell and take a joke. He is a farmer who plays a mean jazz clarinet and plays it well enough to have jammed with legendary pianist Gene Harris and guitarist Chet Atkins. He can write – speeches and newspaper columns and humorous essays. He was, as Andrus often said, as honest as the day is long, a man of his word, a giant. 

The two former governors enjoyed a mutual admiration society. As different in their politics as they were in their physical appearance, Batt and Andrus were totally alike in understanding that when practiced by honorable, candid, decent people politics is the way we get things done in our world. You work things out. You make a deal. You compromise. You understand what the other guy needs and find a way forward. 

So much of the modern Republican Party has slipped from the political moorings of a conservative like Phil Batt as to make one wonder if the guy who served in both houses of the legislature, became the leader of the state senate, then lieutenant governor, party chairman and finally governor could win a Republican primary today. He might be too pragmatic, too committed to the process of politics and problem solving to navigate in the land of conspiracy, misinformation and anger that now passes for conservatism.  

“The current political climate is a shameful thing,” Batt told Gramer. “I don’t have an answer for it, but it has badly damaged our country worldwide and can get a lot worse.” 

He’s right, of course, and if Idaho wants a model for how to rescue the state’s politics from the white supremacy, nationalism and fact-free grievance that now consumes the majority party they could do no better than to look to the life and legacy of the committed conservative from Wilder, Idaho. 

—–O—–

Additional Reading:

A couple of other items worthy of your time…

Trump’s place in history? He is the supreme American demagogue

A piece from the Los Angeles Times on The Former Guy’s place in history.

“Trump is not going away. The Republican leaders who have disregarded the truth to enable him should know what future historians are going to say about the former president — and them, by association. He will be showcased for decades to come as the greatest symbol of American demagoguery of all times. Compared with Trump, demagogues like Huey Long and Joseph McCarthy will become footnotes.”

Read the entire thing:


PANCHO VILLA, THE BATTLE AT THE RIO GRANDE, AND WHY THE REVOLUTION NEEDED A MOVIE STAR

 How the Mexican revolutionary turned to the movies.

“Convinced he could follow and defeat the federals at will, Villa paused in Chihuahua City to act as self-appointed state governor. He issued a decree that all hacendados in the state would have their lands confiscated; profits from their operation would now engorge the public treasury, providing Villa with a steady source of money to pay his soldados. After Huerta was defeated, the land would be divided up among all the people of Chihuahua.”

Fascinating story:


Thanks for hanging around here. All the best.

Foley, Gingrich, Idaho Politics, U.S. Senate

The Unbearable Lightness of Mediocrity…

Thomas S. Foley, the former Democratic congressman and one-time speaker of the House from Spokane, often said that if he didn’t take at least one vote every year or so that was unpopular with his generally conservative constituents he figured he probably wasn’t doing his job.

“The most important thing,” Foley said, about votes taken and the positions espoused in politics, “is when you consider them at election time you’re able to say with some satisfaction that you can still vote for yourself.”

Making a tough vote, Foley said, merely meant you needed to try and explain yourself to voters who might disagree. Level with them. Tell them the truth.

Spokane’s Tom Foley, likely the first and last speaker of the House from eastern Washington

When Foley lost re-election in 1994 in the Republican wave that made Newt Gingrich speaker of the House, as much as any event in the last 25 years a catalyst for the pollution of American politics, he was philosophical. “It’s not a disgrace to lose,” Foley said, “it’s part of the process.”  

Eastern Washington voters finally decided Foley’s work on behalf of farmers and free trade and his position atop the House was less important that his opponent’s characterization that the erudite, Jesuit-educated lawyer was “a liberal” who had grown too big for his Spokane britches. 

I’ve been thinking about Foley’s rule – a vote every once in a while that cuts against the grain of what most voters think they believe – because such votes have never been scarcer than they are right now. Fifty Republican members of the United States Senate, including the two passionately obtuse backbenchers from Idaho, will confront such a vote in the next few days. Most of them, and certainly Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are going to take the gentle path of least resistance

They’ll vote to acquit Donald Trump on charges that he incited the insurrectionist mob attack on Congress on January 6, even though both senators were targets of and witnesses to the attack. They’ll twist themselves once again into a position of pro-Trump denial, a helix of political contortion more dexterous than you’d normally think possible for two guys aged 69 and 77. 

Both senators voted this week to not even proceed with a Senate trial of Trump on grounds, not supported by most legal experts by the way, that it is somehow unconstitutional to consider punishing a former president for conduct that was clearly designed to disrupt the work of Congress and ended with the Capitol damaged, scores injured and five dead. 

House impeachment managers cross the Capitol, the scene of a Trump-inspired riot three weeks ago, to deliver to the Senate the charges against the former president

Other Republicans – the slippery Marco Rubio for one – have said a Trump trial is “stupid” since it would further divide the country, a division that Trump, of course, set out to accomplish. The illogic is numbing since Rubio’s rationale, as the conservative columnist Charlie Sykes noted, “insists that holding Trump accountable is more polarizing than Trump’s actual behavior.”

This GOP line of resistance will almost certainly prevail, and Trump will survive impeachment for a second time even as by the hour evidence grows that Trump summoned the mob, used his campaign funds to organize it and then set them off to sack the Capitol. Even the chants of “hang Mike Pence” aren’t enough to convince a Crapo or a Risch that the person they fear most should be held to account for the most serious assault on our government ever incited by an American president. 

Crapo, who must be the least known and most minimally accomplished senior member of the Senate of his generation, worries that should he suddenly discover a backbone the same kind of mob Trump incited earlier this month will come for him during his re-election next year. Crapo voted to both impeach and then remove Bill Clinton for lying about a consensual sex act, but now the oath he swore to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” doesn’t extend to sanctioning presidentially inspired insurrection. 

Even Kentucky’s senior political weathervane, Mitch McConnell, who a week ago was saying “the mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people,” voted at first opportunity to let Trump skate. 

In the more than three weeks since the mob came after Congress, neither of Idaho’s senators has uttered a syllable of concern about Trump’s election lies or his incendiary rhetoric on the day the Capitol was stormed. Not one word. No statement. No interview. No tweet. Nothing. 

Each did praise Capitol police officers who risked lives to protect them so they could live to exonerate the guilty. They gladly celebrated the hundreds of Idaho National Guard troops dispatched to Washington to ensure “the peaceful transfer of power,” but neither Crapo or Risch bothered to connect the presence of the troops or the attacks on the cops to the president who cause it to happen. 

Jim Risch has praised National Guard members from his state deployed to Washington but hasn’t said a word about why they had to deploy

The see no evil twins of Idaho’s Senate delegation watched quietly while the arsonist Donald Trump laid the fire, said nothing while he spread the gasoline and went silent when the blaze ignited. Then, as if by magic, they watched the criminal responsible slink off to Palm Beach while celebrating the fire fighters standing around in the cold outside the Capitol.  

The belief that a true conservative party, one not dominated by Proud Boys, white supremacists, QAnon conspiracists and guys perpetually decked out in animal skins and Hawaiian shirts, would ever reckon with the disaster that is Trump is as dead as Ronald Reagan. What’s left is a bunch of cowering non-entities like Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, complicit in supporting a level of criminal conduct that will forever be at the center of their mediocre careers. 

At the end of the day, you have to wonder what these guys are afraid of? Are these comfortable, secure Republicans afraid that Trump will sic the racist mob on them? Are they betting that the country is ready to move on from a president they lock step condoned even as he tried to steal an election and when that failed tried to prevent Congress from certifying the real winner? Are they simply betting on national amnesia about the first attack on the Capitol since 1814? 

Crapo and Risch will never make the kind of tough vote a Tom Foley envisioned as being more important than sacrificing your integrity in order to win an election. But then again, it’s not possible to sacrifice something you’ve never had. 

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Additional Reading:

Some other reading for your consideration…

The Education of Josh Hawley

A terrific, enlightening and ultimately frightening Politico profile of the controversial senator from Missouri: “The subversive senator’s college peers and professors don’t recognize the affable intellectual they once knew. But they do recognize his ambition.” 

Josh Hawley of Missouri, a leader of the GOP sedition caucus

The profile features comments from people who knew Hawley well from his days at Stanford, including the Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Kennedy

“I absolutely could not have predicted that the bright, idealistic, clear-thinking young student that I knew would follow this path,” says Kennedy. “What Hawley and company were doing was kind of the gentlemanly version of the pointless disruption that happened when the mob invaded the Capitol.”

Read the whole thing to better understand a guy emerging as a key figure in the Republican Party.


The Constitution According To Birch Bayh

A central character in my new book on how the election of 1980 helps explain our current politics is a remarkable United States senator from Indiana.

Birch Bayh is responsible for more of the Constitution than anyone not of the founding generation. 

Senators Ted Kennedy and Birch Bayh

Author of two amendments, including one much in the news at the end of the Trump presidency, Bayh came near passing a third as Susan Salaz recounted recently in Indianapolis Monthly magazine

“Even more relevant than the 25th Amendment’s ‘nuclear option’ for presidential removal was the next goal to which Bayh turned his attention — abolishing the Electoral College. By 1969, the senator gained strong support in the Senate, and even from President Nixon. In 1970, ratification of the amendment that would establish a national popular vote seemed within reach.”

Worth your time:


The Guy Who Made the Bernie Mitten Photo 

You’ve seen the photo that inspired a million memes so you should know the photographer’s name – Brendan Smialowski.

An mage of our times

“It’s hard to say why something becomes a meme — there’s no logic to it,” Smialowski said. “When you look at them in hindsight they sort of make sense.”

Here’s the link:


Thanks for reading. Be safe out there.

2020 Election, GOP, Idaho Politics

It Was a Deadly Stunt…

When it comes to outstanding members of Congress Idaho’s sprawling 1st District isn’t known for them. Over the last half century, the district has frequently been represented by a collection of non-entities, clowns and down right embarrassments. The sanity of an occasional member like Jim McClure or Larry LaRocco hardly makes up for the cranks, mountebanks and conspiracists like Helen Chenoweth, Bill Sali and Raul Labrador. 

Chenoweth, who long ago flirted with the kind of malevolent criminal militia-types who attacked Congress last week, was an early adherent to the nutty fiction that “the deep state” employed black helicopters “filled with United Nations-sponsored storm troopers eager to swoop into the broken-down ranches of the rural West and impose international law.” 

Sali argued that there was a direct link between abortion and breast cancer and Labrador, as ambitious as slimy Texas Senator Ted Cruz but without the charm, held firmly when he lied that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

Yet, even considering this gallery of forgettables, has any Idaho member of Congress ever so completely debased themselves in the service of political ambition and crackpot conspiracy theories as the 1st District’s current piece of furniture, Representative Russ Fulcher?

For a virtually unknown backbencher, January 6, 2021 began with heady stuff for Fulcher, who one suspects most of his 434 colleagues couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Up early and primed for sedition, Fulcher was booked, in the language of the Beltway, for “a hit” on Fox News where he was introduced as a participant in “the final challenge to the 2020 election.” 

The Fox interviewer announced that aw shucks Russ would explain his objections “to the Electoral College result.” And so, he did. 

Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher’s January 6 Twitter feed

How will this go down, Fulcher was asked? Well, “there will be at least four states – Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia,” and then no kidding he couldn’t remember the fourth state, “that will be challenged.” 

“This is going to be a monumental day in American history,” Fulcher said, “make no mistake about it, especially if the trend continues in the state of Georgia you will see the stakes go monumentally higher.” It’s hard to tell what Fulcher meant by that, which is not surprising considering the source. Was it a reference to the two U.S. Senate seats that by the time of his interview were slipping away from Republicans to give Democrats control of the Senate? Or was he suggesting – or lying – as the president he has slavishly served has repeatedly lied, that Georgia’s presidential election results were somehow tainted. 

Those results weren’t tainted in any way, just for the record, a fact confirmed again for the umpteenth time this week by a newly installed U.S. attorney in Georgia. The previous guy in that job left abruptly when Donald Trump determined that he wasn’t working hard enough to steal the election. But back to Fulcher’s monumental day and his Fox interview.  

Why did you decide to challenge the election result, the gentleman from Idaho was asked? 

“Because,” Fulcher responded, “the fact that there were multiple states, the ones that get cued up today and challenged today simply broke their own laws.” He went on to spin a word salad of alleged election law violations devoid of a single specific example of law breaking before ending with the assurance that somehow the mere allegation of impropriety “in and of itself pulls into question the results of those elections.” 

Then the coup d’ grace: “There are tens of millions of people who want to see some action on this, and they are absolutely convinced there is election fraud.” Or put another way, despite Trumpist legal failure in dozens of vacuous lawsuits, despite the gross and now deadly lying about a stolen election, despite the statements of a bipartisan collection of state election officials, the attorney general of the United States and the Supreme Court that there is absolutely nothing to “see some action on,” Fulcher embraced warmly the biggest lie ever told in presidential politics

Shortly after his Fox hit, Fulcher posted, with obvious satisfaction, a photo of himself on Twitter with the line: “Formal objections filed.” He was effectively documenting his own sedition. By midafternoon, after Fulcher had joined with 146 other House Republicans in an attempt to throw out presidential votes in Arizona, he was lamenting “the violence seen today.” 

A few hours before a pro-Trump mob marched on the Capitol in an assault on Congress, Fulcher was repeating lies about a fraudulent election

But, of course, it was not merely violence, but deadly insurrection aimed squarely at the Congress where Fulcher serves, propagated in an effort to prevent the constitutionally required certification of state electoral votes. Not then and not since has Fulcher offered even a hint that the violence that claimed a half dozen lives, trashed the Capitol and saw thugs insisting that they would “hang Mike Pence” was incited by lies, including his own. He has, of course, offered no condemnation of Trump’s incendiary speech minutes before the assault on Congress. 

In subsequent interviews, including with Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune, Fulcher insisted he was just trying to get to the facts about the election and not overturn the result. But that’s another lie. You can’t say, as Fulcher has, that states need to run their own elections and report their own Electoral College results and at the same time lie about Congress having a role in policing what states do. 

So, what was Fulcher’s end game in this fiasco? Had the objections he lodged been sustained – he also rejected Pennsylvania’s vote and did so after the Capitol mayhem had claimed lives  – a Joe Biden victory would still not have been voided. If Fulcher supported an extra-constitutional “commission” to investigate the election as Cruz sought, he never said so. So, what he was really doing was a political performance, just a stunt

A stunt that magnified a gross lie. A stunt demanding something be done to get the “facts” that have never once been disputed by state election officials or any court. A stunt to gin up the rightwing militia types, the Q-Anon conspiracists, the Fox News addicted groupies, the fact free Trump base. A stunt that spawned insurrection, got people killed and shook the very foundation of democracy. 

Fulcher’s “monumental day in American history” should mark the end of his short, hideously incoherent and disgraced career in Congress.

It takes real effort to be the most disreputable person to have ever served the 1st District of Idaho, but Fulcher clearly owns that distinction. 

—–0—–

Additional Reading:

Some other stories I found of interest this week…

The Duchy That Roared

Luxembourg doesn’t get a lot of press, but the tiny country sandwiched among Germany, France and Belgium did make headlines this week. The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum talked to Luxembourg’s foreign minister about his critique of the U.S. president.

“Lucky are the foreign ministers of very small, very consensus-driven countries, for those who play their cards right sometimes get to hold office for many years. One of the luckiest card players out there is Jean Asselborn, the amusing polyglot who has been the foreign minister of Luxembourg since 2004. Although his country is tiny (population 613,000), the longevity of Luxembourg’s top diplomat gives him the confidence to say what he thinks—even if it is, well, undiplomatic. Last week, following the insurrection in Washington, D.C., Asselborn did exactly that: ‘Trump is a criminal,’ he told RTL, his country’s leading broadcaster. ‘A political pyromaniac who should be sent to criminal court. He’s a person who was elected democratically but who isn’t interested in democracy in the slightest.'”

Read the entire piece:


Ted Lasso

The premise is, well, ridiculous. A small-time U.S. football coach from Kansas, the very epitome of a hayseed, is hired to manage a big time Premier League soccer club in the U.K. When a friend suggest I watch it I was reluctant, but boy am I glad I found the series on Apple+

Ted Lasso is really good

“No one expects Ted’s kindness and persistence to have a ripple effect on just about every person in the orbit of the team. In 10 deeply satisfying, funny and smartly crafted episodes, Ted Lasso avoids the most predictable jock stories, sketches a dozen indelible character portraits, and earnestly delves into the lives of people who begin to believe in each other, even as they start to make halting progress toward making amends for their cluelessness, cruel actions and mistakes.”

Go for the escapist good time and stay for the sweet messages. A good review in Vanity Fair.


Mickey Edwards Leaves the GOP

The crisis of the modern Republican Party is well stated by the former congressman from Oklahoma.

“I have been a Republican for 62 years. I have been a Goldwater conservative, a Reagan conservative, and a W conservative.

“And I have now left the Republican party. A party that has been at the center of my entire adult life. A party that defined me to others and to myself. It has become the opposite of what it was. It has become a cult idolizing a ruler, a trasher of institutions of democracy driven by falsehoods and hatreds.”

Worth your time:


See you soon. Thanks for reading.

Idaho Politics, Pandemic

A Pandemic and Political Failure…

During his successful 2018 campaign to become Idaho’s governor, Brad Little pulled off one of the great stealth attacks on a political rival in recent memory. You may remember the story that only became public after Little’s election. 

As a conservative who was still more moderate than his Republican primary opponents, Little needed to navigate the choppy waters of a party taken over by Donald Trump, and he found a way to do it. 

Little’s task: prevent then-Congressman Raul Labrador from securing Trump’s endorsement thereby signaling to the Trump loving base of the party that Labrador was the anointed one. Little – or at least his political operatives – settled on a very Trump-like strategy. They would disqualify Labrador in Trump’s eyes. They produced a mashup tape of Labrador’s not infrequent criticism of Trump and got the tape to the White House. Almost best of all they did so without leaving fingerprints. 

Labrador is heard on the tape belittling Trump in 2016 for being “a big whiner,” for not being a “gracious” loser and for threatening to sue anyone who crossed him, which Labrador called “just a ridiculous and a preposterous way to run a campaign.” Trump was reportedly ready to support Raul, but the tape nixed a Twitter endorsement and Trump ultimately stayed out of the Idaho race. Little won the primary and then easily dispatched Democrat Paulette Jordan in the general election. 

The Idaho Press’s Betsy Russell wrote about the incident and what it seemed to say about Little the politician. Russell quoted College of Idaho political scientist Jasper LiCalzi saying, “It shows that Little understands politics — he’s not some naive person.” Little’s campaign operatives, LiCalzi added, “didn’t just fall off the potato truck.”

So how to explain the governor’s unilateral political surrender in the battle against the worst pandemic in a hundred years? Why has Little allowed a collection of his biggest political adversaries, and I don’t mean Democrats, to define the terms of the debate around sensible, science-based public health measures

Idaho’s governor thinks he’s battling one enemy – COVID-19 – but he’s really in a fight with his most committed political enemies, as well.

There is an old rule in politics about picking your enemies carefully. Little needs to start naming his enemies. He’s fighting – not very effectively – COVID-19, but he is also at war with science deniers, militia backing armed thugs and people who want him to be a one-term governor. Why isn’t Little fighting back with all the tools of a tough politician who “didn’t just fall off the potato truck?”

For starters, why doesn’t Little take on the dangerous, clownish militia agitator Ammon Bundy? Bundy and his followers are apparently some of the people who have repeatedly disrupted Idaho health district and school board meetings and even shut down school events. They intimidate and threaten public officials outside their own homes. 

The Kansas City Star reported on Bundy and his multi-state network – “Ammon’s Army” – in October. This network, the paper said, “includes militia members, anti-maskers, conspiracy theorists, preppers and anti-vaccination activists. Its rapid growth has been boosted by the joining of Bundy’s far-right paramilitary supporters cultivated from armed standoffs over the years with a large base of new activists radicalized through protests over COVID-19 health directives.”

By refusing to name Bundy and his violence-threatening followers as real enemies of Idaho, Little is giving the radicals a pass. He should be defining them as the dangerous outliers they are, standing in the way of sensible public health measures. He should be asking: “Are you on Bundy’s side or are you on the side of an overworked, overwhelmed ICU nurse?” 

The same goes with the odious Wayne Hoffman, the mouthpiece of the increasingly radical Idaho Freedom Foundation, a group that has opposed Little at every turn on virtually every issue and is now stoking the ludicrous fiction that wearing a mask to protect yourself and your fellow citizens is somehow a violation of your Constitutional right to make someone else sick. 

“It’s become a familiar pattern,” the Idaho Falls Post Register said in a recent editorial. “Hoffman and those of his ilk spread lies about the pandemic. The protestors take up those falsehoods and lead campaigns of intimidation to hobble any effective response to the pandemic at the local level. And so they are deeply culpable for the wave of death that is bearing down on us.” 

Ignoring public health enemies isn’t the way to beat them

Yet, Little’s response to these self-important Neanderthals is so lame as to be laughable: “We’re marshaling all our forces. And yet, the enemy, this plague, continues to advance.” The governor actually said that during a news conference last week, while pleading ineffectively for “compliance” with public health measures that his real enemies attack hourly in every corner of the state. He’s not marshalling anything, he’s abdicating. 

By not naming, shaming and holding responsible the public health deniers who have crippled Idaho’s response to the virus, Little has discarded a major and valuable weapon in the fight. The “enemy” is indeed the virus, but the enemy is also a gang of deplorables hampering a more effective response. 

It’s not like any of these people – Bundy, Hoffman, Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin and any number of COVID denying legislators – are friends of Little. All of them, and add Labrador, who was photographed in the big indoor mall in Boise last weekend violating the city’s mask order, would knife Little in heartbeat. Heck, they are already doing so. 

Hoping to show Little that an overwhelming number of Idahoans support a governor willing to lead more aggressively on the pandemic, a new grassroots group – The Idaho 97% – organized, as one of the founders Emily Walton told me this week, “to let him know we need him to run Idaho.” Walton said, “there has been no public voice for the vast majority of Idahoans who want to see the government function.” Little should be leading this majority and calling out the clowns in the minority. 

“Brad Little, I think, comes across a little bit as, oh, he’s just a nice rancher, almost a naive guy, but he’s a tough politician, too,” LiCalzi, the College of Idaho political scientist, said of candidate Little in 2018. He noted that Little didn’t hesitate to attack his Democratic rival with negative TV ads, and he cut Labrador off at the knees. What’s happened to that political fire? 

“I think it’s clear,” LiCalzi said, “he’s not somebody who’s going to just let someone run over him.” But getting run over is exactly what has happened as Little has allowed his most committed political opponents to get away with a campaign of misinformation, intimidation and denial.

These should be the people defined as responsible for so much death and disease, but by his wimpy response to these knuckleheads Little has brought the blame on himself.

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Additional Reading:

A few additional stories you may find of interest…

MLB Is Finally Recognizing the Negro Leagues as the Major Leagues They Always Were

A big victory this week for Larry Lester, co-founder of the Negro League’s museum in Kansas City and a baseball historian, who has been a tireless advocate for Major League Baseball recognition of the Negro Leagues as part of the majors.  

“I’m turning cartwheels and excited about a lot of hard work that I’ve put in over the years to get the leagues recognized as a major entity on par with the American and National League,” Lester says. “I don’t know what to say other than, why did it take them so long?”

Read the entire story in The Ringer:


A closer look at Republicans who didn’t stick with Trump

Josh Kraushaar writes in National Journal:

“To anticipate the Republican Party’s political future, it’s useful to look at the categories of Republicans who have moved on from Trump, or at least stopped indulging the president’s political delusions.”

Good piece.


The Texas Wedding

I read a story like this one from Texas Monthly and wonder: are people really this stupid?

“Photographers’ experiences shooting weddings during the pandemic have run the gamut. Several photographers described couples who were cautious, respectful, and understanding. But many were not. ‘I would say about fifty percent of the weddings I’ve shot, there’s been no masks at all. It’s like we’re living in the pre-COVID parallel universe,’ one photographer told me. ‘I’ve been in hotel ballrooms inside and it’s been packed like sardines and everyone’s having a great time. No one’s wearing masks. I’m there as the photographer documenting the reception and there’s sweat flying, and it’s hot, and the music’s blaring and the fan’s on, and I’m just like, ‘Well, the odds are that one of every ten people here have COVID and don’t realize it.’”

Obviously, the answer is…yes.


Thanks for reading. Stay well and do your best to safely enjoy the Christmas season.

2020 Election, Idaho Politics, Trump

They Knew…

They all knew. 

Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher. They all knew. 

They knew the Republican candidate for president in 2016 was a fraud, a con man, a grifter, a bully, unfit, a liar, incompetent, even dangerous. They knew it and said it at the time. Crapo said he couldn’t support the guy after the Access Hollywood tape became public. Now, he quietly and meekly stands by while the attacks continue on John McCain and Muslims, women and minorities. The politician who once celebrated the character of a Reagan or a Bush grovels before a gold-plated fabulist who refuses to condemn white supremacists

Idaho Republican Mike Crapo repudiated Trump as unfit, then he went all in

Risch supported Marco Rubio and then Ted Cruz and then finally the guy who paid $750 in federal income taxes in both of his first two years in the White House. Actually, to be precise, Risch really didn’t support him, but because the senator is a profoundly partisan hack first and an American second, he’s embraced the con man

A year ago, Simpson said the whole Trump universe was a “distraction” that he refused to pay attention to, at least he did until he needed an endorsement for this re-election and then he went all in with the Grifter-in-Chief. The once principled congressman from Idaho’s second district is now all quiet. He’s all in on tax avoidance and almost surely tax fraud. Rampant foreign interference in American democracy, trying to cripple the post office and lying about mail ballots, but, well, character and honesty are vastly overrated.

Fulcher, a guy who’s never had an original thought in his political life, is a special case. He’s not just a partisan hack, but worse. The rookie congressman, with precisely zero to show for two years in Congress, is a museum exhibit for why Idaho’s first district has elected so many overstuffed sofas to Congress in the last 60 years. You need to steal from the late Molly Ivins to describe Fulcher-level vacuousness: “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

Ted Cruz knew. And Lindsey Graham. And Rand Paul. And, yes, Mitt Romney knew. They all knew. They called him a “bigot,” “utterly immoral,” the “Kim Kardashian of politics,” a “narcissist at a level that I don’t think this country has ever seen.” 

Governor Brad Little knew. Yet, he stood by while the president’s conspiracy theories and rank incompetence undermined his own faltering response to a deadly pandemic. While Idaho children contracted the virus and the White House pressured the Centers for Disease Control to soft pedal the risks of reopening schools, the governor was tweeting his praise for a Supreme Court nominee. Little is a smart guy, a decent guy, a Vandal. He knew it was all a disaster. 

They knew, especially Risch who had the access to the intelligence briefings and the best White House pass, that his response to the pandemic was going to unnecessarily kill thousands of Americans. They knew that not invoking the Defense Production Act to speed protective gear and testing kits to hospitals and schools was a disaster. They knew and they said nothing. It’s worse than merely being stupid, when you know, its malicious and deadly. 

They knew 200,000 dead Americans and 460 dead Idahoans was an historic fail, a tragedy. They knew. 

Idaho Republican Jim Risch hams it up with Ivanka Trump at the winter Olympics

They all knew when his first secretary of state called him a “moron,” when his second National Security Advisor called him “an idiot” and when his first defense secretary said he had the understanding of “a fifth- or sixth-grader” that he was taking the country to a dark and dangerous place. They saw it. They knew.

Now comes the cold reality that we all knew. He’s never been a successful businessman. He inherited $400 million and is now $400 million in debt. His casinos failed, his university failed, his airline and steaks and vodka failed. The failure of his presidency, we all knew, would follow. And it has. 

Much has been made of the report that he paid only $750 dollars in taxes during each of his first two years in the White House, while the average American household pays that much every month. While that does explain his panicked efforts to prevent his voters from knowing the extent of the scam, that isn’t the real story. The real story is that he’s a fraud, a fraud who almost certainly has committed fraud

They know, even as they act like it’s no big deal, that his huge personal debt and his desperation are a true national security threat. There are no coincidences in politics, so it is little wonder that he praises Putin, flatters Erdogan and cozies up to every flim-flam despot in the world. They know he needs these thugs – their money, their encouragement, their playbook.  

They knew that surrounding the presidency with enabling sycophants and grifting family members was a huge mistake, but they liked the judges and the tax cuts that flowed to their own bottom lines. And besides they knew that they had lost “the base” to the basest, most self-centered, incapable and destructive charlatan since Mussolini strutted in Rome. They knew. 

They know they once believed in character and integrity and “the rule of law.” They were the party of the Gipper and Ike; they still invoke Lincoln as if the icon of their party would recognize the current bumbling brutality. They know it was all a lie. And they know they enabled and then embraced the chaos and the crazy

They also know that in politics there is always, always a reckoning. You can fool some of the people always, but the rest eventually catch on. The reckoning is coming. They know. 

They hope, as they stare into the dysfunction, decay and disease of the country under their watch, that it was all an aberration, a spasm of crassness and craziness when America went temporarily off the rails before self-correcting. They hope, because they don’t really know. 

They hope the memories are short and the forgiveness is plentiful because they knew it was all going to be a disaster from the first day. They hope they can hang on to their seats, and this being Idaho, they probably will, but they must know they own all the mistakes, the carelessness, the lying, the death and damage to democracy. They know and they know it will haunt them all their days. 

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Additional Reading:

Some articles from the last few days that I found of interest. You may, too.

I Lived Through Collapse. America Is Already There.

Indi Samarajiva is a writer who lives in Colombo, Sri Lanka and experienced first-hand the collapse of his country’s civil society. 

This is the most chilling thing I’ve read in a while. 

“Perhaps you’re waiting for some moment when the adrenaline kicks in and you’re fighting the virus or fascism all the time, but it’s not like that. Life is not a movie, and if it were, you’re certainly not the star. You’re just an extra. If something good or bad happens to you it’ll be random and no one will care. If you’re unlucky you’re a statistic. If you’re lucky, no one notices you at all.

“Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else. That’s all it is.”

The full piece:


The COVID-19 Pandemic Is Changing Our Dreams

But you knew that, right? I don’t always remember the dreams, but the ones that do follow me into the day have been doozies. 

Tore Nielsen is a professor of psychiatry at the Université de Montréal and director of the Dream and Nightmare Laboratory there. She writes in Scientific American:

“Although widespread changes in dreaming had been reported in the U.S. following extraordinary events such as the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and the 1989 San Francisco earthquake, a surge of this magnitude had never been documented. This upwelling of dreams is the first to occur globally and the first to happen in the era of social media, which makes dreams readily accessible for immediate study. As a dream ‘event,’ the pandemic is unprecedented.”

You’re not dreaming unless you’re dreaming weird stuff. The full article.


The Ugliest, Most Contentious Presidential Election Ever

Before Bush v. Gore there was Hayes v. Tilden in 1876. 

Tilden won the popular vote, Hayes became president. It was 1876

“Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were deemed too close to call, and with those states still in question, Tilden remained one electoral vote short of the 185 required by the Constitution to win election. With 165 electoral votes tallied for Hayes, all he needed to do was capture the combined 20 electoral votes from those three contested states, and he’d win the presidency. The ensuing crisis took months to unfold, beginning with threats of another civil war and ending with an informal, behind-the-scenes deal—the Compromise of 1877—that gave Hayes the presidency in exchange for the removal of federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction.

Gilbert King in Smithsonian magazine has the history of the most contentious presidential election – until now, perhaps. 

Economy, Idaho Politics, Pandemic, Trump

The Next Wave

“The Republican states are in strong shape,” Donald Trump said last month. “I don’t know — is that luck or is that talent?” 

The president made that comment when he was asked if state governments need a financial transfusion in order to staunch the flow of budgetary red ink in the wake of the double whammy of a pandemic and a massive economic decline. Republicans in Washington seem dead set against help for the states, apparently in part because Trump and his congressional boot polishers – read Mitch McConnell – don’t want to help Democratic states. McConnell has also suddenly discovered that the nation’s debt has exploded while a Republican has been in the White House. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Here’s the reality. Every state – every state – is going to be staggered to its knees by the double whammy. While Idaho Governor Brad Little has received generally good marks for competently relying on sound public health advice to manage the COVID-19 impact, the governor will find that his is merely transitioning from one hourly crisis to another. 

“Right now, state governments are facing several types of fiscal challenges,” Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler told me this week. She studies state governments and how they manage budgets. Budget cuts, as Idaho has already announced, including at minimum a 5% reduction in education funding, are a given, but Kettler says the vast uncertainty about how deep the economic downturn will be complicates the state’s response. 

“This is a challenging time when many citizens need more services or support from their state and local governments,” Kettler said, “which will make decision-making potentially quite difficult for state leaders on what to cut.” But knowing Idaho’s legislature, cutting will the first and last option. Expect 5% reductions to be more like 15% by Labor Day. 

Idaho’s revenue pipeline has already been plugged. April revenue declined by $470 million, a 60% reduction in what state economists had predicted before the virus came calling. Some of that downturn may be attributed to delayed tax payments since the income tax filing deadline has been pushed back, but it’s a safe bet that revenue will be significantly off – perhaps wildly off – for months if not longer. 

The happy talk emanating from the White House about the economic recovery being V-shaped – a steep downturn followed by a sharp rebound – is delusional

“The second quarter hole is so deep that it’s going to take several quarters to get back,” Robert Dye, the chief economist at Comerica Bank, told CNBC, “and that’s going to have an impact on state and local government budgets because that has a direct correlation to tax receipts. The economy is not going to get back to that level for two years or three years, and tax receipts are going to be weak for quite some time.”

The fiscal orthodoxy that has long governed Idaho’s approach to state spending, namely that tax cuts are always the answer to every problem and reducing spending, even if it means that teachers and state employees get laid off, is going to collide with a grim truth. If Idaho’s response to the worst economy since the Great Depression is to cut and then cut some more the state’s eventual economic recovery will take longer and be even more painful. 

“Large state budget shortfalls could prolong a recession by prompting a cascade of layoffs that ripple across the economy, Emily Cochrane noted recently in the New York Times. She was quoting economists who have said that in April alone, “state and local governments laid off one million people, a number that could continue to climb without additional assistance.” 

Idaho’s higher education system continues to be a key to a strong, more sustainable state economy, but higher education is certain to again be on the legislative chopping block. College and university presidents are trying out furloughs and other cost reduction strategies, but as Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News noted recently the cuts currently anticipated may need to be “much deeper if enrollment plunges in the fall.”

Idaho’s Republican Governor Brad Little in transition from a public health crisis to a budget crisis

So far, Idaho’s Trumpish congressional delegation has been silent about any federal help for Brad Little’s next wave of crisis, a particularly stunning silence when you consider that every one of the state’s federal officials once served in a legislature that must by law balance the budget. These Republicans seem content to follow McConnell’s advice that Republicans “tap the breaks” on additional aid, even as the Senate majority leader’s notion of letting states go bankrupt crashed like a lead Zeppelin. 

McConnell has tried to score political debating points by saying he has no interest in bailing out public pension plans in blue states, but with his home of state of Kentucky facing huge budget shortfalls much like Idaho’s you have to wonder how long this GOP’s fiscal nihilism will remain politically viable. And in Idaho the issue isn’t propping up the state pension fund but simply preventing state government from taking the state economy farther into the ditch. 

So far Little, with minimal help from fellow Republicans and second guessed by lots of stupidity from his own lieutenant governor, has navigated the public health crisis with a sure hand. He’ll need a more united and more creative party to manage the next crisis, a party willing to think big and beyond the orthodox. 

“The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II,” Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said this week, as he bluntly called for more, not less government intervention to prop up the economy. 

For Powell, who has spent most of his career as a deficit hawk, the warnings are chilling. In the worst case, and case that appears all too likely, the country – and Idaho – faces what the Fed chairman called “an extended period of low productivity growth and stagnant incomes … Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.” 

The soulful 19th century Stephen Foster tune – a ballad for our times just as it was prior to the Civil War – holds out hope that “hard times come again no more,” but the worst hard time is hardly behind us. In fact, it may just be beginning. 

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Additional Reading:

  • China’s Growing Ability to Challenge: Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reviews a new book Christian Brose, a former staffer to the Senate Armed Services Committee and a once top aide to the late Senator John McCain, who writes that China is now able to match – and even exceed – U.S. military capability. “The Pentagon wants to confront the Chinese challenge,” Ignatius writes, “but it insists on keeping the same vulnerable, wildly expensive platforms at the center of the United States’ military power. And Congress demands adherence to this status quo. When then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and then-Navy Secretary Richard Spencer tried to retire an aircraft carrier in 2019, Congress refused. Expensive fighter jets have a lobby, too. As Brose notes: ‘There is a reason why parts of the F-35 are built in every state in America. . . . It is political expediency.’”
  • Putin’s Goal: Now, to scare you completely – this from Franklin Foer in The Atlantic. “The Russians have learned much about American weaknesses, and how to exploit them… Even as to disinformation, the best-known and perhaps most overrated of their tactics, they have innovated, finding new ways to manipulate Americans and to poison the nation’s politics. Russia’s interference in 2016 might be remembered as the experimental prelude that foreshadowed the attack of 2020.” Oh, great…
  • Obamagate: Richard Wolff in The Guardian dissects what Donald Trump is doing by manufacturing a storyline about “Obamagate,” his latest conspiracy theory. “Trump has many good reasons to sail away to the land of smears. They’re called the polls, and they are – for the sociopath sitting in the White House – even worse reading than the pandemic death tolls or the latest unemployment claims. Trump is losing to Joe Biden by three points in Florida in the most recent Fox News poll, where he was supposed to have a lock on his re-election from his Mar-a-Lago mothership.”
  • Thanks for reading…be well.
Idaho Politics, Pandemic, Trump

Know Nothings…

My political education began in the 1970s in South Dakota. An uncle served in the legislature as a Republican and later a top aide to a GOP governor. I remember sitting in the gallery watching him on the floor of the state senate. I started to pay attention and politics and government became real when as a senior in college I had a marvelous opportunity to cover the state legislature for radio stations all over South Dakota. 

In those days South Dakota, a state with a long history of Republican dominance, was nevertheless competitive for Democrats, rather like Idaho in that same period. There was a healthy two-party system, the occasional Democrat in the governor’s office and Democrats could and did win national office. A guy name McGovern represented South Dakota for 18 years in the Senate. 

But for the last 15 years or so, certainly since Tom Daschle lost a Senate seat in 2004, South Dakota has been, like Idaho, as red as red can be. My old state hasn’t had a Democratic governor since 1978. Today the statehouse in Pierre (pronounced Peer, by the way) is the domain of a Sarah Palin-like Republican by the name of Kristi Noem. She may not be the worst governor in the country, but she is certainly in the running. 

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem has refused to issue a stay at home order, but she did go on Glenn Beck’s show this week to complain about a “fear culture” created by reporting about COVID-19

Noem has steadfastly refused to join 43 other governors and order a statewide stay at home order. Mayors in the state’s larger cities – a relative term in South Dakota – have taken their own faltering steps to control the COVID-19 pandemic, while front line health care workers have implored their conservative governor to take broader, more effective action beyond her proclamation of a statewide day of prayer. 

The governor’s most recent response was to announce that South Dakota would be a test case for the unproven hydroxychloroquine drug that the president has repeatedly cited, without a shred of scientific evidence, as a potential game changer. Noem said she had “an exciting day” after talking to Trump son-in-law and White House advisor Jared Kushner about the drug. 

At the same time news broke that the massive Smithfield Foods pork processing plant near Sioux Falls had shut down indefinitely after more than 50 workers tested positive for the coronavirus. The area is now one of the major virus hotspots in the country. 

Of course, Donald Trump and the know nothing base of the Republican Party, supplemented by a few neo-John Birchers like the gun toting crank Ammon Bundy and anti-government, but well-funded libertarians like the Idaho Freedom Foundation, is where to look to understand the origins of nonsense from Republicans like the South Dakota governor. 

As the one-time Republican and 2016 independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin said this week: “We’re now witnessing just how devastatingly destructive it can be when even one of our two major parties turns its back on truth and expertise in favor of blind loyalty to one man,” which brings us to Idaho. 

I began wondering last week why Governor Brad Little was receiving so little support from fellow Republicans as he has struggled to respond to the pandemic. No senior Republican had taken to the airwaves or social media to lend him support or push back against the party’s primitive wing exemplified by Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin and Rep. Heather Scott who have actively resisted the governor’s leadership. 

Scott actually called the governor, a fellow Republican, a “little Hitler” and equated his stay at home order to the Holocaust. Such idiocy literally seeps out of the seams of these Republican know nothings.

Little’s actions, including a statewide stay at home order, too slowly implemented and lacking sufficient statewide coordination, have nonetheless certainly saved lives and slowed, but far from stopped the spread of the virus. Little’s decision this week to extend his order for another two weeks was prudent and almost certainly lifesaving. 

The answer to why he’s received so little support from fellow Republicans came earlier this week. Those leaders clearly stated their priority and it was not to follow the science and the common sense of how this pandemic is eventually brought to heel. 

“Somewhere between a blanket stay-at-home order and a complete disregard for the reality of this virus’s potential, there lies an acceptable level of risk,” House Speaker Scott Bedke wrote last weekend to the governor. “A statewide, one-size-fits-all approach,” Bedke blithely said, “is ill-advised.”

The Republican Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, Scott Bedke, has pressed his fellow Republican to ignore the science and effectively put lives at risk to benefit the economy.

Boise State public radio reporter James Dawson broke the story of Bedke’s letter, a stunning example of the kind of anti-science, anti-expertise thinking that dominates the party from bottom to top. 

Meanwhile, that reliable reactionary Raul Labrador, Little’s primary opponent in 2018 and now the GOP party chairman, weighed in with the very Trumpian “The cure cannot be worse than the disease!” Labrador’s statement – perhaps his first blast at a repeat run against Little – was headlined: Reopen Idaho. 

What Bedke, Labrador and the many they speak for in their party were really saying is damn the public health, what’s a few more deaths, many more sick people and an almost certain second wave of disease when the Idaho economy is at stake? 

Bedke and Labrador don’t say, of course, how many more deaths might be acceptable, but perhaps they should have consulted with the family of the woman in her 60s who died this week at a Boise nursing home where 14 care givers are believed to have the disease. Or maybe they could have spoken with doctors in Lewiston or Blaine County who continue to be frustrated by a lack of sufficient testing, which remains the key to slowly resuming a more normal life. The harsh reality remains that there will be nothing approaching “normal” until the disease is truly at bay and that is going to take time, perhaps a long time. 

But instead of the very real life and death implications of the need for more physical distancing, while more testing and contract tracing of those who have been exposed is put in place, Bedke threatened Little with retribution during the next legislative session for the governor’s handling of “legislative powers.” 

There once was a time when willful Republican ignorance about science and wholesale disregard for facts were abstract matters of theoretical concern. Now they have become minute-by-minute threats to life and health. 

As this is written U.S. deaths from the virus are headed for 30,000 and higher, the largest number in the world, and we should remember the immortal words of House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, the Hammett Republican who bizarrely sits on the board of her local health district. “This is not the plague. Stop treating it like it is,” Blanksma said a month ago. “Wash your hands and act like responsible humans.”

The key words there are “responsible humans,” a concept beyond many in today’s Republican Party.  

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Further reading:

  • Marie Helweg-Larsen is a Professor of Psychology at Dickinson College. She had a very interesting piece the other day about “optimism bias,” the notion that only bad things happen to others. She writes: “But in the case of a pandemic like the coronavirus, if you don’t think something bad is going to happen to you, you might not bother changing your behaviors. That’s exactly what a U.S. study on the coronavirus found.”
  • Montana Press Monthly is a great publication in the Big Sky state. I wrote a piece for the most recent issue called “The Montana Roots of The Plot Against America,” the current HBO series based on the Philip Roth novel. I think the real story is just as wild as Roth’s popular “historical” fiction. (Note: you’ll be able to see the entire contents of the Monthly and its worth the look, including great photos illustrating my article and a piece about the 1918 influenza pandemic in Montana.
  • Jane Mayer’s New Yorker piece on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a great example of really good, in-depth political reporting. It’s not a spoiler to observe that Mayer’s reporting confirms that McConnell is, as another political observer has noted, “the gravedigger of American democracy.”
  • After you read the McConnell piece. Do yourself a favor and read this – “The Tiger Kings of Basketball: Three stories about the NBA, billionaires, and the pandemic.” And, yes, the two stories are connected.
  • And…I don’t know about you but I’ve tried at least once a day during these crazy days to reach out to an old friend or acquaintance that I haven’t talked with for too long. In keeping with that idea Daphne Merkin has a lovely piece in the New York Review about using the phone to stay connected. What an old fashioned idea. She writes: “To think of Bell Telephone’s long-ago slogan ‘Reach out and touch someone you love’ is to be reminded anew of the primacy the phone once enjoyed.”
  • Stay in touch…

Idaho Politics, Pandemic, Trump

Too Big For One Man…

“A pandemic is a lot like a forest fire,” then-President George W. Bush said in 2005. “If caught early it might be extinguished with limited damage. If allowed to smolder, undetected, it can grow to an inferno that can spread quickly beyond our ability to control it.”

The forest fire analogy is something Idahoans should understand in the midst of a global pandemic. You act quickly, decisively in a coordinated fashion and you can often prevent a conflagration. By contrast the slow, stumbling, inconsistent, often fact-free response of the Trump Administration to the coronavirus will go down in history as a governmental and leadership failure on a vast scale. The damage in death and economic destruction will take months – perhaps years – to assess, but this much is clear from the vast public record: the COVID-19 pandemic has been more poorly handled in the United States than in any other developed country.

At least America is first at something. 

The Trump Administration’s response to the pandemic has been slow, uncoordinated and chaotic – CNBC photo

But, it’s not enough to put this failure exclusively at the door of the Oval Office, as appropriate as that seems. The governmental failure is broader and more systemic and elected officials, Idaho’s Senator James Risch for instance, should reckon with their own grossly inadequate leadership at a time of national and international crisis. 

Reviewing what is already on the public record is damning and in a just political world Risch should pay a steep price at the ballot box. That the junior senator rarely attempts to explain his actions – or lack thereof – and merely drafts in the wake of a failed president is a testament to how broken American and Idaho politics have become.

Here’s the record. 

On January 24, Risch issued his first statement about “a new strain of coronavirus” that had been detected in China. He said he had, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, “convened a briefing from the U.S. government’s leading global health experts tracking this novel coronavirus, now identified as 2019-nCoV.” 

We knew a lot about the virus, Risch assured us, and public health officials effectively had things well in hand. 

“The CDC has testing capabilities,” Risch said, and “is actively working to develop an effective vaccine, and screening has been introduced at five U.S. airports. While that screening will not be 100% effective in capturing every traveler who may be infected – especially if they are not sick upon arrival – we know that public awareness and diligence is key to infection control.” 

Very little of that statement has stood the test of time, let alone the test of two months.

Testing on a scale widespread enough to be really effective in halting the spread of the disease remains woefully inadequate. The Idaho Statesman reported on April 2 that the limited coronavirus tests that were being conducted in Idaho were still being sent out of state to regional labs, “leading to delays of 10 or more days.” The newspaper said there were reports “of people waiting more than 14 days for test results. The delay in testing is happening even to health care workers, which could lead to the spread of the disease even faster.” 

The vaccine Risch mentioned is likely more than a year away and screening at airports, as Science magazine has shown, “will likely do very little to slow the spread of the virus as it’s exceedingly rare for screeners to intercept infected travelers.” Even more to the point hundreds of thousands of travelers entered the country from China after the existence of the virus was widely known and screening was completely inadequate. “I was surprised at how lax the whole process was,” one traveler from Beijing who arrived on March 10 told the New York Times.

In a January 24 Twitter message about his private briefing Risch parroted Donald Trump who, it must be remembered, said back when he should have know better that it would just “go away.” “We learned that the risk of transmission within the U.S. is low at present,” Risch said. “I will continue to work closely with U.S. officials to ensure Americans are protected.”

Right. 

Actually, after that January statement Risch went quiet about the coronavirus even while alarms were raised inside the White House and while others with a less visible soapbox took action. 

On February 5, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, a member of Risch’s Foreign Relations Committee, sounded genuine concern. Murphy said he had “just left the Administration briefing on Coronavirus. Bottom line: they aren’t taking this seriously enough. Notably, no request for ANY emergency funding, which is a big mistake. Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff etc. And they need it now.” 

By contrast Risch made no public comment, but rather Tweeted on the same day Murphy was expressing concern about the administration’s lackluster response that, “Today, I will vote to acquit President Trump.”

That statement came a day after the senator praised Trump’s State of the Union speech as “an instant classic.” That wasn’t true, either. 

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, Risch – who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, which we know from public records received coronavirus briefings from the CIA and others in January – has boasted of his access to the White House and his close working relationship with the president, but it appears he did nothing to sound the alarm about a deadly pandemic. 

Risch might have used his committee positions, particularly Foreign Relations, to publicly press for more information about how China – and Russia, too – was manipulating information about the virus, but he didn’t.

Risch did issue a statement with several other Republicans on March 18 demanding that China “work with, not against, the international community and international organizations to ensure we all have accurate information needed to better constrain this global threat.” But he dropped it. 

It’s worth noting that on January 24, when Risch made his initial statement about the virus, Trump was praising China lavishly. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” Trump said. “It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”

It’s impossible to believe that Risch, privy to intelligence reports and briefings, didn’t know that Trump’s statement was fabulist nonsense. But he said nothing before his eventual pivot to redirect criticism from Trump to China. The Risch public pivot, by the way, came only two days after Trump’s own pivot – that was March 16 – when he begin to refer to the “China virus.”

New York University journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen said recently that, “the battle to keep Americans from understanding what went on January to April is going to be one of the biggest propaganda and freedom of information fights in modern US history. Precisely because so much of it is public, confusion must be made massive.” 

That statement goes a long way toward describing Trump’s “light at the end of the tunnel” afternoon “briefings” on the crisis, sessions that typically amount to little more than a platform for the president to attack reporters, peddle disinformation and praise his own performance. 

Risch, too, is lending a hand with the spread of this propaganda. Refusing to question anything about Trump’s awful and deadly response, Risch suggested recently to Chuck Malloy, a friendly columnist for Idaho Politics Weekly, that complaints from Republican and Democratic governors, from public health officials and frontline health care workers were really nothing more than politics. 

“He’s going to be criticized by people who don’t like him or hate him,” Risch said of the president, “and complimented by people who think he’s doing a pretty decent job.” In other words, no introspection from the one guy in Idaho who had a front run seat to see all this play out from the beginning. No desire to hold anyone accountable, even after Trump used the cover of the pandemic to fire the inspector general of the intelligence agencies and then remove the IG designated to oversee how pandemic relief funds are spent. 

“It’s all useless,” Risch told Malloy of the criticism. “What’s going on is bigger than one man.” Well, he’s right about that. The challenge to honestly, effectively lead at such a time is way too big for Donald Trump. And clearly vastly beyond the senator’s capabilities, as well.

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Additional reading:

  • Fintan O’Toole, an Irishman and columnist for the Irish Times, writes as well about American politics as almost anyone. His piece in The New York Review of Books is entitled, appropriately enough, “Vector in Chief.
  • The Lawfare Blog at the Brookings Institution is an absolute go-to site for news and analysis on everything from the Supreme Court to COVID-19. The editor of the site, Benjamin Wittes, has an important piece on Trump’s firing of two inspector generals. Wittes says Trump has used the firings to distract from his own handling of the pandemic, but adds, “There’s another reason the serial dismissal of independent inspectors general causes only a ripple, not a political wave. And that is that we’ve gotten so used to this sort of thing that we don’t see it as all that scandalous any more. We see it just as Trump being Trump.” Just a reminder: this is not normal – or right.
  • Donald Trump has attacked the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, because she’s been critical of the national response to the pandemic. Michigan is now a critical state where the disease and death is on the rise. Meanwhile, Whitmer is being mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate for Joe Biden. Tim Alberta of Politico has a must-read profile of the governor.
  • And…the missing baseball season got sadder this week with the death of Detroit Tigers’ great Al Kaline. Number 6 played his entire career – 22 seasons – in the Motor City, but had he showcased his talents in New York or LA Kaline would be even more heralded as one of the games great talents. I have always been a fan. He was great.
Idaho Politics

Don’t Do It…

More than 80 years ago, spurred on by sportsmen worried about creeping politicizing of management of the state’s wildlife resources, Idahoans created an enduring and effective public policy. By initiative in 1938, the state’s voters mandated a nonpartisan — or perhaps more correctly a bipartisan — Fish and Game Commission.

Some in the Idaho Legislature are now determined to undo a tradition of partisan balance on the commission by eliminating the requirement that no more than four of the seven commissioners represent the same political party. The issue of partisan representation came into sharp focus recently when Senate Democratic leader Michelle Stennett pointed out that Lewiston Commissioner Brad Melton, before his appointment last year, had changed his political affiliation from Republican to non-affiliated in order to avoid violating the law. To his credit, Melton subsequently resigned and Gov. Brad Little has indicated he plans to appoint a Democrat to replace him on the commission.

Good for Little, but he should also be inking up his veto stamp because his fellow Republicans are up to mischief.

Endorsing the Fish and Game initiative back in July 1938, the Idaho Falls Post Register offered a justification for limiting partisanship in matters of wildlife management. The rationale remains as clear today as it was when Democrat Barzilla Clark was sitting in the governor’s office. “The fish and game commissioner,” the newspaper noted, “who is subject to the whims of a political boss whose primary interest lies in votes finds he cannot act according to his best judgment.”

The wildlife manager hampered by partisanship, the newspaper contended, was in danger of being “crippled by orders from political headquarters, by ‘suggestions’ from staunch party supporters and by a dozen other hindrances he would not face were he independent of politics.” Exactly.

Riggins Republican Rep. Paul Shepherd is sponsoring the measure to eliminate partisan balance on the Fish and Game Commission. “Membership (on the commission) shouldn’t be about politics, but what is best for fish and game,” Shepherd said when the bill was introduced. His justification is as phony as a fiberglass whitetail.

First, Shepherd’s bill clearly isn’t his handiwork. The legislation originated in the House Ways and Means Committee, a launching pad (or death chamber) for measures that House Republican leaders, who populate the committee, have particular interest in. So, rather than not being about politics, the Fish and Game legislation is all about politics. As legislative Republicans have proven with efforts to make the legislative redistricting process, now done by a bipartisan commission, tilt to the GOP, the state’s already hugely dominant political party will miss no opportunity to further consolidate its political power.

Republicans almost completely dominate Idaho politics, now some want to make certain they also dominate wildlife management

Having super majorities in the Legislature and holding every statewide and federal office apparently isn’t enough, but blatant politicizing of the Fish and Game Commission should be a political bridge too far.

Shepherd may simply be disingenuous about his motives, but he can’t be in the dark about the results of his blatantly partisan bill. Rather than removing politics, Shepherd would make sure every future governor could pack the Fish and Game Commission with seven card-carrying Republicans. And should his bill become law, does anyone really believe that wouldn’t happen?

Little certainly knows what’s at stake here. And it’s more than his reputation for fairness and honest dealing. The governor — or a future governor — may well want an independent commission, buffered from political conflict. What help would a purely politicized and Republican Fish and Game Commission provide when Idaho confronts the inevitable regional pressures to remove the fish-killing lower Snake River dams?

Or what happens when Idaho politicians finally have to admit that climate change is forcing changes in habitat and threatening species survival? Will a partisan commission have any credibility to explain these hard facts to Idahoans who fish and hunt?

Under the approach put in place in the 1930s, Little — or any future governor — has some insulation from day-to-day wildlife management decisions, and they should enjoy that buffer. When sportsmen vent, as they recently did in Twin Falls about a Fish and Game decision to kill more than 200 elk in an effort to reduce depredation, the commission took the heat. And commissioners should take that responsibility; it is what voters demanded years ago.

Does any governor really want the political heartburn of owning every single wildlife management decision and having every one of those decisions be seen as purely partisan?

The 1938 initiative enjoyed broad bipartisan support because making fish and game management nonpartisan, as Frank Griffin, one of the backers of the 1938 initiative and an assistant U.S. attorney at the time, contended “would give the assurance that plans, programs and policies when once adopted and found to be beneficial would be continued without interruption.”

Such a system, Griffin said, “would remove all inducement to grant favors to one section of the state not accorded to all other sections.”

That was true 80 years ago. It remains true today.

Shepherd’s bill — the Republican bill — is not about better fish and game management. It’s about Republican politics, which is why legislative Democrats have opposed it.

Democrats know what little representation they currently have on the state’s highest profile commission would disappear. Do hundreds of thousands of fish and game license holders really want partisanship to be the No. 1 consideration in every wildlife decision?

Little ought to make it clear he stands with sportsmen and sportswomen in keeping the Fish and Game Commission out of partisan politics. And the funny thing is, as Little will surely discover if he finds himself vetoing this bad idea, there is real political payoff in putting Idaho’s sportsmen and women ahead of partisan politicians.

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Further reading:

  • Jonathan V. Last has a piece in The Bulwark that wonders if our current political moment is as good as it gets. Lord, I hope that is not the case.
  • I’ve been following Dan Kaufman since reading his excellent book The Fall of Wisconsin. (Highly recommended, by the way.) Kaufman has a great take in the current The New Yorker on the effort to recall the governor of Alaska.
  • And on the new movie watch is Greyhound with Tom Hanks starting as a naval officer in command of a convoy escort during the longest battle of World War II – the Battle of the Atlantic. Hanks also wrote the screen play.