Wednesday, December 30, 2009

TDIH: Steunenberg

As the History channel website is noting today, this day in history happens to be the day that Governor Frank Steunenberg (D-Idaho) was assassinated in 1905. The Steunenberg assassination and the "trial of the century" that followed represent a dark and chaotic time in Idaho political history. An indispensable source for Idaho historians and all those interested in this event is a blog called Idaho Meanderings: Steunenberg, Trial of the Century, Labor, Legal, Political History. Even that title doesn't do justice to the work of its writer justice. If you haven't taken a look at Idaho Meanderings before today, what are you waiting for? You don't have to be an historian to appreciate the work done for the wonderful site and all Idahoans would benefit from knowing a bit about our history.

Best of 2009: Music

Here are my picks for 2009's best albums...
1. Pearl Jam, Backspacer
2. Train, Save Me, San Francisco
3. Royal Bliss, Life In-Between
4. Regina Spektor, Far
5. Tegan and Sara, Sainthood
6. Them Crooked Vultures, self-titled
7. Wilco, The Album
8. Serena Ryder, Is It O.K.
9. Vienna Teng, Inland Territory
10. Yusuf (Cat Stevens), Roadsinger
11. Chris Cornell, Scream
12. Glasvegas, self-titled
13. Tinted Windows, self-titled
14. Collective Soul, Rabbit
15. Rob Thomas, Cradlesong

Honorable Mentions: Creed, Full Circle; Howie Day, Sound the Alarm.
Disappointments: Weezer, Raditude; Sufjan Stevens, The BQE.
The Jury Is Still Out: Bruce Springsteen, Working On a Dream; U2, No Line On the Horizon.

It has been a brilliant year in music. There were hundreds of releases that were noteworthy, these are just my fifteen picks. Spin has a great list of top albums of 2009, as does Amazon, and, of course, the list from Rolling Stone.

Clearly, my list is skewed for fans that just didn't get enough of 90's music...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Praying for More Than a Partisan Victory

A recent annoyance with Senator Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) was expressed here when Coburn objected to a unanimous consent request by fellow Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) that would have commenced with the reading of Sanders' amendment to the health care reform bill, a reading that had been dispensed with in every other case of a health care reform amendment being introduced and coming to the floor of the Senate for a vote. Coburn's objection resulted in Sanders retracting his amendment as a way of stifling Coburn's stalling attempt.

Of all the things that Tom Coburn was allowed to say on the floor of the Senate, no statement was more scarily egregious as his suggestion that concerned, anti-health care reform Americans should pray that a member of the United States Senate not be able to make it to the final vote. It's one thing to hope that as a party you have the votes to block the passage of legislation, it is another thing to hope that one of your colleagues can't make the vote especially in a body that includes a member over 90, three in their 80s and 23 members in their 70s.

After Coburn made his reprehensible suggestion that Americans use prayer for the partisan purpose of preventing the passage of legislation, Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) came to the floor looking for Coburn to ask of Coburn what was meant by his ridiculous statement. When Durbin was not able to reach Coburn, by phone or on the floor, Durbin took a moment to discuss his disgust with Coburn's comments:



It was not lost on Senator Durbin, nor should it be lost on the majority of reasonable Americans, that the United States Senate includes a handful of elder statesmen, the eldest being Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), and those elder statesman have been quite busy in recent weeks. Not only have the octogenarians of the Senate (Akaka, Inouye and Lautenberg) had to vote late at night as the Senate has considered key health care legislation and spending bills, nearly each weekend for over a month has been dedicated to floor speeches and quorum calls that have required their presence. Aside from attending to his duties as a senator, Byrd has had a rough year that included many stays in the hospital, one that resulted in a serious staph infection. Clearly, Byrd's health is fragile and as we all saw in the passing of Senator Kennedy this year, the U.S. Senate can change awfully quickly. Praying for the demise of a colleague is despicable.

It is one thing to silently hope that a Democrat breaks with their party and votes against the health care reform you've grown to despise, it is another to say publicly that you think Americans should be praying for your colleagues' demise. If the latter is worse than the former, I don't know where the following video of an anti-reform caller admitting to having followed Coburn's suggestion falls on the spectrum of detestable actions:



Yes, that caller is asking Senator Barrasso (R-Wyoming) if he prayed hard enough as his colleague Senator Coburn had asked. Yes, that caller is emotional about the prospect that his praying, with or without Barrasso's, backfired and resulted in something horrible happening to Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) that left him unable to vote. As I said, I don't know where this call and Coburn's suggestion of prayer falls on spectrum of detestable actions, but I suspect this makes many Americans furious and that others find this as sickening as I do.

Those on the right may say that we "liberals" are taking this whole thing too seriously and Coburn didn't mean it the way we are interpreting it. That might have been semi-believable until this C-SPAN video went viral. We watched the August recess turn into right wing hysteria, too, you know. We've long abandoned civility in our political discourse.

We are a divided nation composed of two sides that sling mud, hurl accusations and force partisanship into places it need not be. It is one thing to oppose health care reform and entirely another to do what Senator Coburn did just over a week ago in the United States Senate. It is no longer scary to wonder what those on the right, not even the fringe, but conservative, religious members of the Republican and Libertarian parties, would do if violent acts were suggested to them. If they are willing to pray for the demise of a politician, where does their obedience end?

It is no coincidence that Sarah's Vowell's wisdom appeared here yesterday. Indeed, a belief is very dangerous and it is clear from this C-SPAN caller and Barrasso's complete calmness in response to it exactly why: Those on the right will do nearly anything to further their cause; they will lie, scream, and evidently pray for the defeat of their opponent, by any means necessary.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Quote of the Day

"The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief. And by dangerous I don't mean thought-provoking. I mean: might get people killed."
-- Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Smorgasbord Saturday

Is it me or has the realm of Idaho politics gone even more crazy than the norm? This smorgasbord is more or less a list of links worth taking a look at that pertain to some bizarre Idaho politics stories I've been following.
  • Just when we thought Rex Rammell couldn't get more crazy, he's invited Mormon men to an "elders only" meeting and insinuated that Mormon women have no political thoughts of their own separate from their priesthood holding husbands. "More Wack From Rex Rammell"/bankomike for 43SB; "Rammell calls meeting for LDS elders only"/ Rexburg Standard Journal.
  • "New update on Bowe Bergdahl"/ Wordsmith, Left Side of the Moon
  • Pete Peterson running against Butch Otter, or something that vaguely resembles a campaign, sent a LTE to the Twin Falls Times-News which pointed out his website which I have found a great deal of entertainment in. Check out beatbutch.com if you have a moment. It's worth a look-see.
  • And to cap off the week, a Spokesman Review blog noted a Rasmussen poll that found conservatives associating themselves more with the TEA Party than the Republican Party. Did the post link to the actual release from Rasmussen? Nope, the link took readers directly to the news being reported by...wait for it...the John Birch Society!
How did Idaho politics turn so downright insane so quickly? And none of this even touches the battle between Keith Allred's gubernatorial campaign and the Idaho GOP who say he used his position at The Common Interest in a partisan way to announce that he is running against Butch Otter. Keith Allred may be the most sane of the bunch running against Otter...

Friday, December 25, 2009

On This Christmas

While we are each enjoying Christmas with our families and friends, let us not forget that the parents of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl of Ketchum, Idaho, are still awaiting the safe return of their son who was captured in Afghanistan by the Taliban five months ago.

Today, the Associated Press is reporting that an image was captured from a Taliban propaganda video that shows Bergdahl, alive, coherent, and clearly under threat of his captors as he criticized the United States' war in Afghanistan. However, a NATO spokesman told another news outlet that the video should not be taken as proof of life.

We have not heard recently from any member of the Idaho congressional delegation on Bergdahl's capture or the amount of time that has passed since it was confirmed that he was in fact a prisoner of war. Then again, Risch and Crapo have been tied up with stalling health care reform, Minnick has been requesting earmarks while saying he is anti-earmark, and Simpson has been penning letters on "climategate" to the President of the United States and others. While not a single one of our congressional delegation took a moment to reflect this Christmas day on one of our fellow Idahoans being held prisoner, Bowe and the Bergdahl family should know that Idahoans are still hoping for his return.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Middle of the Week Mélange

It being the middle of this holiday week, I thought I might mention my schedule around here, or lack thereof.

My place of employment is closed now through the 4th of January which leaves me to my own devices until then. I have a few movies I'd like to watch, a few books I'd like to read, and several posts I should write. Here's a bit of a list:

To read: Ted Kennedy's True Compass; Samuel Adams: A Life by Ira Stoll; The Lady in the Van and Three Stories by Alan Bennett; and Sarah Vowell's The Wordy Shipmates.

To watch: Ken Burns' The War; The National Parks: America's Best Idea; (500) Days of Summer; maybe start season 2 of The West Wing; and if I can somehow manage to wake up in time, tomorrow morning's historic Senate vote on health care reform.

To write: A few topics I've been needing to tackle include Ezra Pound, Tom Coburn's recent statement on the Senate floor about praying for the demise of another senator, something or a lot of things about party loyalty, and the recent decision by the Idaho State Board of Education to lift the 10% tuition hike cap in response to the state's (and country's) economic crisis.

Like any good list, I'm sure this is a bit optimistic and I won't find the motivation or time for it all, but hey, I get nearly two weeks off work and come Monday I'll have more time on my hands than I'll know what to do with. Plus, I'm supposed to take it easy while I have eleven days off from physical therapy. In addition to what I'll be reading, writing and watching, I am sure I'll be listening to a few new tunes including the soundtrack from Henry Poole Is Here that I've been wanting for ages and finally downloaded last night.

May you all have safe travels and a happy holiday weekend. See you all back here soon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Question of the Day

Is it entirely out of the realm of possibilities that somewhere down the road in Idaho we will be seeing headlines here similar to those in Parker Griffith's Alabama congressional district? Just a thought...

(Left: Congressman Parker Griffith, now a Republican Alabama representative; right: Congressman Walter Minnick, not exactly a "Democratic" Idaho representative.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Joe "Love Him or Loathe Him" Lieberman



Brought to you by the brilliant folks at MoveOn.org (who would like nothing more than to put an end to Lieberman's political career) and brought to my attention by Crooks & Liars, this video is great! Not quite as great as watching last week as Senator Al Franken objected (as the presiding officer, a senator, and you have to think as a progressive) to giving Joe Lieberman another moment of floor time...but close, very close.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Smorgasbord Saturday

How is it that this week I only worked 2 1/2 days and yet I'm more tired today than I've been after weeks I've worked much more? Must be all the pre-holiday hubbub.

With the Associated Press reporting Ben Nelson's decision to vote in favor of the Senate's health care bill, it appears we are finally close to a vote. I am very torn regarding this bill. I supported the House bill and I supported the initial legislation presented by Senate Majority Leader Reid, but I'm afraid the bill is nothing resembling its original intent and language. I am also afraid of the compromises that were made along the way, of which there were many. Whatever deal was reached with Ben Nelson on abortion rights makes me very angry. Perhaps I don't understand what having a majority means, but wouldn't you think that abortion rights would stay as they are if not progress rather than be turned back under a Democratic House, Senate and White House? Apparently not and no thanks to Senator Ben Nelson. The way this bill caters to so many groups that shouldn't have even been in the discussion is also disappointing. That fringe hysteria that was screaming about health care reform taking away their guns even got a nice bit of legislation crafted. How does the notion of health care reform include denying a health care procedure while shoring up gun owners' rights?

In case there may have been doubt, I have not lost track of Major League Baseball's winter meetings or hot stove activity. In fact, I looked up the origin of the term "hot stove" this week after my physical therapist asked me what it meant and I knew, but couldn't tell her when they started calling it that. Strangely enough, the goings-on of the Atlanta Braves have been of less interest to me than the huge moves taking place in Washington with a team I once loved (as the Montreal Expos) and now am forced to despise because of their position within the National League East. The Washington Nationals are a floundering, financially unstable team that let go their manager, Manny Acta, near the end of last season while acquiring the top pick and best player in last year's draft, Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg may not be ready to be an every day closer when the 2010 season opens and Manny Acta may be a high caliber manager who was in a mess in Washington and has nowhere to go but up with the Cleveland Indians. The Nationals may be an interesting team to watch this coming season and not because of blunders. With them bringing the best defense possible behind the plate in Pudge Rodriguez, I see good things for a team that has never really taken off.

In other baseball news, there have been some huge trades to date: Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, and Milton Bradley to Seattle; Roy Halladay, DeWayne Wise, and Placido Polanco to Philly; Curtis Granderson to the Yankees; Garrett Atkins, Kevin Millwoord, and Mike Gonzalez to Baltimore; Mike Cameron, John Lackey, Marco Scutoro, and Jeremy Hermida to Boston; Phil Coke to Detroit; Edwin Jackson to Arizona; Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre, Mark Teahen, and J.J. Putz to the Chicago White Sox; Brad Penny to St. Louis; and, Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner to Atlanta. On paper, I am intrigued by how the Chicago White Sox are stacking up. On paper, a lot of teams look much better, but we'll have to see how spring training plays out.

Over at The MountainGoat Report this week, three posts went up about Congressman Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) that I've been meaning to mention. Hopefully I'll have a post to tag on to her latest in the next day or two. If you missed them please go read "How Many Times?", "The Convenient Conservative," and "What's Really Up Those Plaid Sleeves?"

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The 'Outrage' of GOP Stalling

From the website of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont):
December 16, 2009

The Senate on Wednesday planned to debate for the first time in American history a proposal to create a single-payer, Medicare-for-all health care system. The Sanders Amendment would provide health care and dental coverage for every American, save money, and improve health care results. Instead, senators opposing health care reform used obstructionist tactics to avoid any progress in the Senate. Breaking with Senate tradition, Republicans demanded the clerk of the Senate read every word of the 767 page proposal. Sanders decided to pull the amendment rather than let opponents further delay action on health reform legislation. Sanders laid out the case in an impassioned floor speech and reacted to the obstruction tactics. "The fact that 17 percent of our people are unemployed or underemployed, one out of four of our children are living on food stamps, we've got two wars, we've got global warming, we have a $12 trillion national debt, and the best the Republicans can do is try to bring the United States government to a half by forcing a reading of a 700 page amendment. That is an outrage. People can have honest disagreements, but in this moment of crisis it is wrong to bring the United States government to a halt."

The 1,300 profit-making private insurance companies administer thousands of separate plans and waste about $400 billion a year on administrative costs, profiteering, high CEO compensation packages, and advertising. Health care providers spend another $210 billion on administrative costs, mostly to deal with insurance paperwork. As a result, the United States spends $7,129 per person on health care, almost double the amount spent by nearly any other industrialized country. Nevertheless, 46 million Americans lack health insurance, 100 million Americans cannot access dental care, and 60 million Americans do not have access to primary care.
Clearly, not the easiest day for the Vermont senator. Is reconciliation really the best route now?

Coburn & Other Politicking

(Update 2:19 pm: Sanders withdrew his amendment in order to cease with the reading of it. Coburn's objection to waiving the reading of the bill caused a harmless bill to be withdrawn only so the Democratic Party could continue with today's business. What a bunch of stalling, hacks these Republicans are.)

Forty-five years from now when the Republican members of the United States Senate lie about their role in passing health care reform the way they've lied about their role in passing and protecting Medicare, I hope somebody has video of today's reading of the 366-page Sanders Amendment and every other stalling tactic the Republicans have employed in the last month. As Senator Franken said earlier in the week, "we are not entitled to our own facts!"

A roundup of political stories I've noticed, but haven't had the time or energy to write about:
  • Speaker Pelosi met with freshmen congressmen this morning at breakfast to inform her "vulnerable" colleagues that the leadership will shield them from making controversial votes in the lead-up to their 2010 re-election. Yet another opportunity for Walt Minnick to vote like the Republican he is...
  • Also from The Hill, Joe Lieberman "expresses regret" for causing tension among his Democratic colleagues on the issue of health care. Uh-huh, like Joe cares. All Joe cares about is Joe.
  • Last week when President Obama visited Oslo, Norway for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, he chose not to attend the "after party" being headlined by Toby Keith. This may not have had anything to do with the years old political battle between the Dixie Chicks and TK or even the non-peaceful "we'll put a boot in your ass" lyric of Mr. Keith, but as it turns out, it's a damn good thing Obama wasn't there because once again Mr. Keith has made headlines for his antics.
  • Popkey says that Senator Mike Crapo is "a leading figure in the fight against Democratic health care reform" which I find laughable. I've been watching C-SPAN pretty non-stop over the past month and I would argue that the Republican "leaders" (I'd rather call them "blowhards") on the floor of the Senate have been, in no particular order: Senator McCain (Arizona), Senator Thune (South Dakota), Senator Grassley (Iowa), Senator Coburn (Oklahoma), Senator Barrasso (Wyoming), Senator Enzi (Wyoming), Senator Sessions (Alabama) and Senator Kyl (Arizona). See Crapo in there anywhere?
And since I began this post, the poor clerks in the Senate have changed twice to give their colleagues a break from reading--a reading that is usually waived and has been going on now for nearly two hours. Senator Coburn is no longer on the floor.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not What It Seems

Picking up where she left off, the MountainGoat Report has a great piece exposing yet another vote by Congressman Walt Minnick (D-Idaho) that is not what it seems.

Beginning her post, she asks questions that must be on the minds of many progressive Idahoans and pretty much anyone else who is paying attention to Idaho politics:
"It has become nearly impossible to determine what is driving Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick these days. Is Minnick really being driven by what's "Right for Idaho" as he claims? Or is it just whatever's right for Walt Minnick?"
The post breaks down the estate tax exemption vote that Minnick touted this week. I can't do the superb research of the MountainGoat Report justice here, so please take the time to read the entire post.

I tend to agree that a lot of the things that are right for Walt Minnick are totally wrong for Idaho.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What's Lost In Compromising

(Update 9:02 p.m. MST: The AP is reporting that the Democrats have reached a deal that would drop the public option from the health care reform bill currently being considered by the Senate.)

The latest conversation taking place in the halls of the United States Senate about health care reform seems to center around a compromise that would allow more Americans to enroll in Medicare. Democrats struggling to reach the sixty vote threshold required for passage are open to the idea of changing the enrollment age for Medicare to 60 years old, if not younger, and Republicans suddenly, though certainly not historically, supportive of Medicare are not openly opposing such a change if the leadership can prove it won't cause the collapse of Medicare.

Though very little negative is being said about this new option or Medicare in general, those of us not in the age group that this type of deal would help are left scratching our heads. Wasn't the goal of health care reform to make health care affordable and accessible to all Americans? How does forcing competition in the market for the 55 or older crowd by introducing Medicare as a competitor result in any sort of lowered cost for the 55 and younger crowd? Senators are expressing their concern for the 45-50 crowd amidst this latest news, but nobody seems to be concerned with the large number of Americans that still need the public option.

It is unclear this morning whether the idea of lowering the age for Medicare, an idea confirmed last night by Senator Rockefeller, is simply an attempt to appease progressive Democrats who would prefer single-payer or a robust public option. Some suggest that a buy-in to Medicare for those in the 55-65 age group should be a discussion for later days, days when it is clear that there is absolutely no chance of a public option (with or without triggers, an opt-out clause, language that would turn the clock back on a woman's right to choose or any other number of ridiculous compromises that have been thought up by spineless senators who are stalling, ignoring the true will of the people, or simply feeding their colossal egos) surviving on final passage.

All of this wrangling, the constant compromises and the partisan bickering on the floor of the Senate is only wearing on Americans. Some are watching and taking in the constant lies the Republicans are offering, fearful that they'll lose whatever coverage, however poor, that they currently have. Some are seeing the clips on the evening news and simply turning the other way rather than listen to the ridiculous partisanship. Then there are others, I'm afraid quite a few Americans fall into the category of apathetic. Weeks and months of health care debate has only left them numb. There are those who haven't heard a word of the debate and don't speak of it as if it is going to be the end of the world if health care reform passes and then there are those who haven't heard the debate or have listened to the factually deprived ravings on Fox News, and speak of health care reform as if it is, well, we don't even need to categorize this, they do say that it is going to kill grandma, there will be rationing of care, Medicare will collapse because its funding will be redirected to the inevitable government takeover of health care. It is tiring, tiring for all Americans and even tiring for those among us who watch the debate and read about it daily.

President Obama and the Democrats probably should have started the health care debate with the idea of a single-payer system so that the compromises may have left them with some sort of public option instead. Starting with a public option inevitably means, with the current level of partisanship and number of unavoidable compromises, that we will end up with something less than the public option. A robust public option was thrown out the window on day one.

Hopefully this latest conversation about changing the age Americans can enroll or buy into Medicare will not push from the minds of the Democrats that there are millions of Americans who won't be eligible for Medicare, make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid though not enough money to afford decent health insurance coverage, or face other roadblocks in attaining health insurance.

The legislation must do something about the cost of prescription drugs, perhaps exactly what a coming amendment will propose--opening the United States to drugs from Canada and European countries. The legislation must do something about the discriminatory practices that insurance companies employ--practices like denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions and charging women higher premiums than men, men of the same age and in similar health. The legislation must also address the practice of denying patients the opportunity to purchase health insurance across state lines.

Without a public option, it may be impossible for this legislation to get the costs down. A public option would create competition in the market, forcing insurance companies to offer reasonable plans with reasonable premiums. And a public option would offer Americans the chance to be insured if they've exhausted all other means. The current discussion about lowering the Medicare age does not fix any of these problems and the majority party would be wise to avoid tunnel vision at this point. There are too many Americans being left out in this unending series of compromises.

The Conspiracy Club

Honestly, when I read the recent opinion column of Richard Larsen in the Idaho State Journal, I thought his theory that climate change directly affects American sovereignty was outlandish and completely disconnected from mainstream thought. It may be disconnected from national mainstream conservatism, but it is certainly not disconnected from mainstream conservatism in Idaho.

A gem of a letter to the editor of the Twin Falls Times-News appeared yesterday by a respected community member. Ken Kuhlman of Burley's First Baptist Church is on the climate change legislation equals the undoing of the United States Constitution bandwagon and has much to say about everything the Democrats are doing wrong. Here's a snippet:
"[T]he climate crisis is purely political poppycock fabricated to alarm the public. By telling everyone they can solve crises, “they” curry political favor to buy their reelection. Climatic variations are the norm. Those in power control what the public hears, and ultimately public opinion. One thing we ought to know by now is we can not trust most of the present elected officials. If we cannot trust our elected officials in Washington — how can we trust unelected officials in one-world government."
Kuhlman's use of "they" refers specifically to the President and the Democrats in Congress (Democrats he also refers to as progressives and Socialists). Though arguing logic with this man, like any other conspiracy theorist, would do no good, his assessment that the current state of our country, economic and otherwise, being due to the current executive and legislative branches "destroying the balance of power" is laughable. Need we be reminded that the rule of law was ignored and the Constitution trampled while the Republicans controlled the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives from 2001 through 2006?

This letter reflects Ken Kuhlman's fear of world government, the "one world order" scare that is so often associated with conspiracy theories as was pointed out in the Sunday Idaho State Journal op-ed that I mentioned. The letter also represents the growing fears, many outlandish, deeply embedded in the minds of some Idahoans, even Idahoans most of us would consider mainstream. Certainly these newly minted members of the conspiracy club represent a minority of Idahoans.

Monday, December 7, 2009

First Librarian Heads National Archives

One would assume that both the Librarian of Congress and the Archivist of the United States would be positions held by librarians, archivists or individuals trained in both disciplines. Historically, this has not been the case.

Until last month when David S. Ferriero officially became the United States Archivist, a librarian had never held the top position as administrator of the National Archives and Records Administration. The position requires a political appointment and confirmation by the United States Senate. Ferriero is the first librarian by trade to preside over the Archives and his counterpart at the Library of Congress, Dr. James Hadley Billington, is only the third librarian to hold his position. If you consider that the first Librarian of Congress was appointed in 1802 and the position of Archivist of the United States has existed since an act of Congress created the National Archives Establishment in 1934, it is amazing and rather unusual that so few trained librarians and archivists have held these two positions. Interestingly enough, neither of these positions have been held outright by women (both have had female acting administrators, but only during times of transition between appointed administrators).

Unfortunately, the Librarian of Congress and the United States Archivist have previously been political heavy weights that have contributed to the success of partisan politics and their individual parties. As is common in politics, these individuals have been rewarded for their efforts and loyalty by a presidential appointment. This has been disadvantageous to the general preservation and accessibility to some of the nation's most important documents, both because administrators have not always been trained in the field of libraries and archives and because in at least one case, ethical questions have arisen because of their partisan association with the White House. Ferriero represents a drastic departure from the previous administration of the Archives. Ferriero's predecessor, Allen Weinstein, acted in a partisan fashion and agreed to a policy that was detrimental to researchers, historians, political scientists and the general public, and will be so for years to come. In 2006, Weinstein agreed to "reclassify" or withdraw from public access documents that were deemed essential to national security. This agreement was forged between the National Archives and government agencies like the CIA.

Though Weinstein's transgression is merely the most egregious acts of sitting United States Archivists, the question of ethics and partisan secrecy could be asked of other former Archivists and Librarians of Congress. Take for example John J. Beckley, the first Librarian of Congress. Prior to his appointment as Librarian, Beckley served as the first political campaign manager in the history of the United States and is credited as the father of the political party system. Clearly, Beckley's partisanship could have played a role in the accessibility and preservation of certain documents, especially those critical of his party and those that might damage the reputation of his political associates. Beckley's successor, Patrick Magruder, was a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and presided over the Archives during the infamous War of 1812 burning of the capitol building. Magruder resigned after an investigation into the fire and the use of Library of Congress funds. John Meehan was appointed Librarian of Congress by Democratic President Andrew Jackson and during the final years of the Whig Party. Meehan's tenure represented a time when conservative supporters advocated limits on the size of and number of materials housed in the Library of Congress. It is hard to imagine that a Librarian of Congress would actually turn away historical materials, yet Meehan did. John Stephenson who held the post after Meehan was a physician by trade and to this day it is unclear why Stephenson would have wanted the post and why he was appointed. At the National Archives, John W. Carlin who was appointed by President Clinton had a background in politics. Having served in the Kansas House of Representatives and as the Governor of Kansas, Carlin was appointed administrator of the National Archives and Records Administration directly following a failed bid for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It could certainly be said of Carlin that his partisan affiliations may have influenced his decisions with respect to access and preservation of government documents.

Ferreiro will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him. At a time when archivists nationally are dealing with the growing reliance of government agencies on digital documents and accessibility to such documents is being openly debated, the pressure to provide examples of how best to manage these materials is being placed on the National Archives. Ferrerio, as NARA's administrator, presides over a system that includes the National Archives in Washington, D.C., the National Archives at College Park, Maryland (known as NARAII), ten affiliated archives, the presidential library system (consisting of the libraries and papers of Presidents Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and the library under construction of George W. Bush), and fourteen regional archive facilities in eleven states.

In addition to the overwhelming task of providing leadership for a system of archives and libraries as expansive as NARA's, Ferreiro will be forced to address access issues surrounding the Presidential Records Act which was significantly damaged by Executive Order 13233 (signed into law by President George W. Bush and quickly revoked by President Barack Obama). Ferreiro will encounter both Bush's damaging executive order and his general beliefs about executive privilege as the George W. Bush Library, the thirteenth presidential library in the NARA system to be located in Dallas, opens and becomes subject to Freedom of Information Act Requests beginning on January 20, 2014. Additionally, Ferreiro will be at the helm while a major collection move happens--the transferring of the Nixon papers currently housed at NARA in College Park to join the rest of that collection housed at the Nixon Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California.

With professional responsibilities as vast and daunting as these, why would anyone, trained in the discipline or not, seek this particular political appointment? I suspect Ferreiro, like his colleagues in the field of library and information sciences and archivists, political scientists, and historians, would say that this position is crucial to preserving America's history.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Climate Change Conspiracy Theory

In response to the local conservative columnist revealing that he is a conspiracy theorist, a theorist who believes that climate change is an international conspiracy to usurp the sovereignty of the United States, is this great column running in today's Idaho State Journal:

LET’S NOT BE FOOLED BY THE CONSPIRACY THEORISTS

For those of us who are non-scientists, it is difficult to assess the controversy over global warming. Most of us lack the necessary background knowledge about the science of climatology. Most of us do not understand the mathematical techniques that are used to analyze the relevant data and lack any real grasp of the computer modeling methods that are used to generate climate predictions. Consequently, most of us are largely unable to form trustworthy independent judgments about the scientific studies upon which the conclusions of climate scientists are based.

Our natural recourse, in this situation, is to rely upon the honesty of the scientific community, and the accuracy of journalistic reports which summarize scientific research for the general public. It is therefore disturbing to discover that the recent publication of hacked emails from a prominent climate research laboratory has led some to assert that the climate scientists have been lying to us.

Is there any merit to this assertion? New Scientist, a respected British science publication, says, in its current issue, that “the charge that the emails are proof of a climate change swindle is ludicrous… there is no evidence in the hundreds of emails that data is being systematically falsified or dishonestly manipulated in refereed journals.” The emails do, it appears, reveal that the scientists in the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia are passionate about their work, competitive in their search for the truth, and perhaps excessively irritated by those who deny the validity of their findings. But there is absolutely no evidence that they have, in the words of a local columnist, “falsified data.”

And even if this one group of researchers has deceived us, there have been thousands of scientific studies over the past decade disclosing the evidence for global warming, from scientists all over the world. Are the global warming deniers asking us to believe that those studies, too, are false? Are we to dismiss the reports that the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps are rapidly shrinking? That polar bears are starving because the sea ice on which they hunt is disappearing? That the sea level is rising? That increased ocean temperatures and acidity are destroying coral reefs? That tropical diseases are migrating into the temperate zones?

What could plausibly compel someone to argue that the scientific consensus regarding global warming is mistaken? Well, self-interest, for one. Global warming is obviously not just an academic issue, and it’s rather likely that the coal lobby’s disbelief in global warming is motivated, in part, by the economic consequences it foresees if measures are taken to reduce the production of carbon dioxide. Political bias is another. The political Right has traditionally advocated the unrestrained exploitation of natural resources by industry, and opposed environmentalists. Greenhouse gas emission control is seen by the Right as simply another ploy of environmental extremists.

And then there are the paranoid fantasies of the conspiracy theorists. According to this line of thought (if it can be dignified by that phrase), global warming is a fiction fabricated by shadowy evil-doers and designed to frighten nations into submitting themselves to the dictates of a new trans-national government. In other words, lurking behind the innocent-looking façade of scientific research is an international conspiracy to restrict the sovereignty of the United States, impoverish its people, and take away their liberty. The scientists are not just dupes in this nefarious plot, they are “accomplices.”

We have heard all this before. It is simply a new twist on an old lie. It is a continuation of the debunked “World Government” and “New World Order” scares concocted by the ultra-right beginning in the nineteen-sixties. And before that there were the Illuminati, the Tri-lateral Commission, the Freemasons and, of course, the Jews.

This sort of hysteria over the prospect that the United States might enter into binding agreements with other nations to limit greenhouse gas production is more than just absurd; it threatens to derail international efforts to cope with global warming, and, by doing so, insure that we all will suffer the ecological and social havoc that climate change seems sure to produce.
This column has been reprinted here with permission of the author. In addition to this column, the Idaho State Journal editorial board offered an opinion titled "U.S. needs to do more than just talk about global warming."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Smorgasbord Saturday

First, let me apologize for the formatting error in my Tom Trusky post that somehow changed the font color to white in the sentence about "Idaho iPods" and therefore unable to view. I believe I've fixed the problem, though there's no telling what new formatting errors I've created in doing so.

This morning in the 11 o'clock eastern segment of the United States Senate debate on health care reform, the Republicans went wild. More appropriately, John McCain went wild. In arguing the merits of the Lincoln amendment, an amendment limiting the tax benefits of insurance industry executives, John McCain took to the floor and asked that the amendment be modified to include the executives of AARP and Walmart. No, I'm not making this up. I can only imagine the chaos that then ensued in Senator Blanche Lincoln's office. McCain continued to rail against every organization that has endorsed the health care reform legislation, stating emphatically that they'd been "bought" by Majority Leader Reid's office. A semi-unlikely choice to counter the Republicans during their time-controlled allotment was Max Baucus of Montana. Baucus stood his ground, but the Republicans, under the rules, had control of the floor and finally shut out his questions. McCain, in a rare occasion of attacking a senator personally, said for the record that he'd thought Baucus had learned the rules by now. McCain is trying to modify an amendment submitted by a colleague, which isn't doable under the rules, but he has no problem attacking another senator who he feels doesn't understand the body's rules? Of all the things to be attacking Baucus on these days... What happened to the John McCain of several years ago? More than just Sarah Palin, apparently.

In a more productive Senate speech, Senator Bob Casey of Pennsylvania told a story of twin girls with leukemia that I found particularly moving. Perhaps I'll write something up about that later in the weekend. Later in the weekend when I plan to write about several topics...

I've mentioned before that I don't watch many shows regularly anymore, due in part to my decreasing attention span, the baseball season gets serious just as the tv season starts up, and the fact that I like to catch Countdown and the Rachel Maddow Show in the evenings. I have been catching The Amazing Race since the baseball season ended (the damn brothers are responsible for my guys, the Harlem Globetrotters, being eliminated), I try to remember to catch Fringe, but end up catching it on Hulu (where I also catch the Wanda Sykes Show) more often than not, and then there's the Friday night USA lineup. That is the USA lineup until yesterday. The fall finale of the new series White Collar was a shocker and sadly, we said goodbye to the neurotic Tony Shalhoub character Monk. Monk has been a mainstay around here and I was very impressed with the finale. Series finales are hit or miss, like 'em or hate 'em, and this one definitely was a hit. The last few moments were a look back on the series, back in the days when Sharona was Monk's Natalie and the final few moments showed Randy settling in as a New Jersey police captain (god, help New Jersey).

Beginning today is the Aid for Friends encampment at Pocatello's Caldwell Park. For those of you outside of Pocatello, Aid for Friends is the local homeless shelter. The encampment is sponsored by Aid For Friends, Modern Woodsmen of America, ISU College Democrats and the ISU Student Senate. From the press release:
"The event is a fundraiser where volunteers obtain pledges to spend the night at Caldwell Park in make-shift cardboard boxes. The event also includes a canned food and clothing drive. The annual encampment is intended to simulate homeless conditions and educate the community about the plight of our area homeless. Donations and pledges are accepted. Monies raised from this event will go toward the continued operation of the Aid For Friends homeless shelter."
The encampment begins today, December 5th, and goes through tomorrow. Caldwell Park can be located here via Google Maps.

I got an email this week from the chairperson of the Twin Falls County Democrats that said Gary Eller's "In the Middle" blog will not be returning to the Twin Fall Times-News blog lineup. Both "Conservative Corner" and "Progressive Voice" have returned with a few other blogs including "Capitol Confidential." Gary was a reasonable, moderate voice and continues to be someone I respect greatly. I hope the Times-News can find a reasonable conservative voice to add to the mix, a nice counter to the fairly liberal views of one blog and the completely outrageous, fringe views of Tom Young.

Whenever I tire of watching the debate on C-SPAN, I'm sure there will be music in my future. I actually made it through the entire week without once signing into Pandora, opening Windows Media Player on my work computer, or buying or listening to anything on iTunes. Didn't think that was possible? Neither did I! Anyway, go check out the band Tinted Windows (yes, the front man is Taylor Hanson of Hanson fame) with "Kind of a Girl" on youTube or you can download the single via iTunes. The video has a retro feel to it and I absolutely love the song!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tom Trusky, RIP

"The original writer is not one who imitates nobody, but one whom nobody can imitate."
-- François-René de Chateaubriand
(Le génie du Christianisme)
Today, the Idaho Statesman reported on the untimely passing of Tom Trusky, a Boise State University professor. In the sidebar as well as in the comments, former students and colleagues of Trusky's have left their memories of him and openly remarked on his influence in their lives.

Tom Trusky symbolized something I have always thought to be a highlight of Idaho's institutions of higher learning--long-term faculty who leave an indelible mark on Idaho's university communities. Everything I have read about Tom Trusky today has only bolstered the positive impression I had of him personally.

The Statesman article quoted Michelle Payne, chairwoman of the BSU English Department, as she reflected on Trusky's email style. Payne said that Trusky's emails, personal and professional, "were funny, mostly sarcastic and filled with all kinds of allusions." Payne went on to say "[i]t wasn't e-mail; it was art." As someone who received one of those incredible emails, I couldn't help but chuckle at Payne's statement.

I had the opportunity to work with Trusky while I was an editorial assistant for the state history journal. The state history journal was in a major transition period as Idaho Yesterdays went online and a new publication, Idaho Landscapes, was created. In the middle of this transition, after Mr. Trusky had submitted a manuscript that was one of the most entertaining and interesting articles I read as an assistant/intern with the publication, Trusky left the country. I can't remember where he went or why he was going, but I remember his email informing me of the trip and telling me everything I could possibly need to know about his article should he not return. It was hilarious! Trusky's article for Idaho Landscapes centered on Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets, clay tablets over 4,000 years old, that represented the oldest examples of writing in Idaho. Trusky returned from his trip, his "Idaho iPods" piece was published, and the entire exchange was unfortunately the only opportunity I had to work with him.

The fact that I remember Trusky's email today just as clearly as I did the day I received it, speaks volumes to how impressed I was by Trusky. That I, at the time a student at another university, was so impacted by an exchange with a professor at another institution, also speaks to the great loss his own students must be feeling today. My thoughts are with his students, colleagues, friends, and partner, because I appreciated Tom Trusky's kindness and sense of humor just as they do.

Idaho's academic community has lost a true treasure. And there will never be another writer quite like Tom Trusky.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Debts of the Dragonslayer

An interesting decision handed down by the Idaho Supreme Court, as reported on this week by Eye On Boise's Betsy Russell, has forced to the surface one of Idaho's most colorful political characters. Friday, the Supreme Court of the State of Idaho ruled against former Congressman George V. Hansen, upholding a previous default judgment of $299,350 awarded to Ann Meyers and her late husband James for money they lost in an investment with the former congressman.

Meyers v Hansen (previously with two additional defendants) has been in the courts for nearly two decades. The plaintiff, Ann Meyers, sought a judgment that would return the money she and her late husband had invested in one of the congressman's get-rich-quick schemes, the defendant and former congressman attempted to avoid paying back the Meyers' investment and charged his due process rights had been violated. Ironically, George Hansen not only lost the $299,350 he swindled out of Ann and James Meyers, his refusal to admit he owed the plaintiffs for his fraudulent activity wasted the time of the court and cost him an additional sum. The judgment awards the plaintiff $732,927 (the initial $299,350 investment plus court-ordered interest).

If an average Idahoan had been guilty of fraud and had swindled money out of others, it would have been right and just for a court to force repayment plus interest. George Hansen is not an average Idahoan. That George Hansen plead ignorance in all of this, claiming he had not received notice of the default judgement and that he hadn't been given the opportunity to defend himself against the Meyers' accusation is ludicrous. As was pointed out in the decision written by Justice Warren E. Jones, at least one document was delivered to Hansen while he was serving his fifteen months in federal prison for bank fraud and another to his wife, Connie, at their Pocatello home. Poetic justice may in fact describe situations like these, where men taken down by their own greed are brought back into the spotlight for what that greed ultimately wrought. Clearly, had George Hansen admitted his guilt, guilt most anyone familiar with Hansen's financial schemes would certainly acknowledge, he would not have ended up with a judgement that more than doubles his debt to Ann and James Meyers.

Richard Stallings, the Democrat who unseated Congressman Hansen by an extremely slim margin of less than 200 votes, likes to say that following the 1984 election both he and Hansen went on to serve--Stallings in the U.S. House of Representatives and Hansen in federal prison. Yet, even with fifteen months of time served, George Hansen remains a highly respected individual in conservative communities throughout Idaho, southeastern Idaho especially. There are surely Idahoans who have read about the court finding against Hansen who still believe he is completely innocent. There are Idahoans who still believe he hasn't been given a fair shake, either when the House censured him in 1984 for failing to file full disclosure forms, when he was indicted on four felony counts, or in the recent court decision.

George "the Dragonslayer" Hansen has come a long way from his days crusading against the Internal Revenue Service and attempting to single-handedly rescue Americans during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Mrs. Meyers may never see a dime from Hansen and instead of resurfacing with his "Dragonslayer" image intact, Hansen now resembles a pathetically bankrupt former politician.