Saturday, January 30, 2010

Smorgasbord Saturday

Another Saturday nearly gone and I haven't accomplished all that I set out to. It's been an unusually long week around here, one that included two days off work for various appointments and rest, yet long enough that I was in bed before nine last night out of complete exhaustion. Oh well...

I've mentioned over the last few months these posts that are in the work. They are, I promise. However, as I've said, a lot of my life right now is dependent on how I feel and how much energy I have. In addition to those restrictions, I have been fairly engulfed in a research project that will hopefully soon see the light of day. None of this is an excuse for not writing about all the things that surely matter and need discussing. One thing at a time.

Before I dive into a bit of commentary on various topics (thus the smorgasbord), I want to direct your attention to post over at The MountainGoat Report. MG has a great post on an interesting expenditure from Walt Minnick's congressional office. Why the italicizing of congressional? Because everything points to the expense being campaign related. It's unfortunate that the mainstream media, progressive bloggers and genuine Democrats in this state aren't outraged by what is taking place in Minnick's office. Unfortunate isn't a strong enough word--irritating as hell is how I really feel about this. Go read the post.

If you haven't bookmarked Idaho State Senator Nicole LeFavour's blog "Notes From the Floor," please do so. I had forgotten since the last legislative session how wonderful a writer Senator LeFavour is and how much I appreciated her take on the daily happenings in the statehouse.

I used to subscribe to three publications--Newsweek, The Historian, and Smithsonian. My subscription to Newsweek expired recently and I haven't renewed because of a couple of things. The most prominent reason being that almost everything that turns up in Newsweek I hear about either on MSNBC or from what I read in the Washington Post. I know this is because of the parent company and all the connections, but it bothered me that there were few sections in the magazine that I looked forward to. They got rid of the section I really liked (Life In Books) and now have several one-page essays from commentators I hear from elsewhere (like Eugene Robinson and Howard Fineman) or don't want to hear from at all (George Will). Next, my subscription to Smithsonian will be expiring fairly soon and my hangup with this publication is that so much of it is online. This has to be happening to a great deal of publications--either they go completely online with their own websites or their articles are available somehow on other sites. But why? I'm perfectly happy writing a check to the Smithsonian network, but I'm a poor college student and if I can something for free online, why shouldn't I? Does anybody else wonder about this? I took a look at a full essay from the New Yorker today online at no cost also. At least I know with The Historian that my dues are going toward scholarships for other students like myself who are part of the Phi Alpha Theta honors society.

Want to look at some infrastructure pictures? You're thinking boring, I'm sure, but I ran across this piece called "The 19 most complex and dangerous roads in the world" today and I was fascinated. I was a fairly paranoid child and anytime we went camping I was sure our car was going to go rolling down the mountain. My paranoia has decreased as I've stayed on paved roads and whatnot, but from time to time I awake in a cold sweat after dreaming I had to drive myself out of the DFW airport and was eternally lost. After reading this piece I feel much better about roads!

I feel an obligation as an historian, a United States historian especially, to note the passing of Howard Zinn. Rory O'Connor, the author of Shock Jocks, had a great piece about the passing of Zinn that I wanted to link to. As a history junkie kid, I coveted Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Come to think of it, I still don't own a copy, but that book really is the most read history of this country and one that holds firm as a reliable historical source.

Oddly, J.D. Salinger died this week, too. I could say quite a bit about Holden Caulfield, but I won't.

Is there something in the water in Canyon County? I've been reading about the new illegal immigration laws that are being discussed in the statehouse and I just don't get it. Just because Robert Vasquez isn't in the news doesn't mean hatred for immigration is gone. We are slashing school funding, leaving thousands of Idahoans jobless, and turning our backs on poverty in this state, but dammit, we need to do something about illegal immigration NOW! I just don't get it.

Another Saturday nearly gone...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No Minnick Interest In 2nd CD

How much attention does the 2nd congressional district pay to the congressman in the 1st district? Apparently, not much.

In tonight's reporting on Walt Minnick's swearing off of earmarks (i.e. political subterfuge), KPVI in Pocatello ran campaign footage alongside the story. Campaign footage from his 1996 bid for the United States Senate. Seriously. Probably the only footage of Minnick they've got. They either didn't aniticipate Minnick being around long enough to need it or they simply don't care.

While Minnick may think he's well-liked by Idahoans who believe in fiscal conservatism and strong positioning against earmarks, the truth of the matter is 1st CD voters might pay some attention to how he votes, but the rest of Idahoans (aside from irritated progressives like myself) don't give a damn about him. In fact, aside from teabaggers in the 2nd district, most 2nd district residents are pro-earmark because without it, the Idaho National Laboratory may have cut jobs quite some time ago. Minnick's new best friend Congressman Mike Simpson doesn't seem to have a problem with earmarks and until Minnick came along, I considered Congressman Simpson quite conservative.

Did the local news mention Minnick's support of the Blue Dog Coalition's fiscal responsibility plan, the plan released ahead of President Obama's SOTU speech tomorrow night and touted today by Minnick? No, they aren't that interested in the 1st district congressman.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Brevity & Earmarks

What I said in October.
What Betsy Russell says today.
What I think Minnick's latest press release is:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Continued Need

One of the many distressing budgetary decisions Governor Otter has been considering since his state of the state address is a phase out of state funding for the Idaho Commission on Human Rights. As has been said time and time again, many of the budget cuts Governor Otter has proposed are more about the role of government, as he and other Idaho Republican leaders see it, than about the actual cost of maintaining programs like public television, the Commission on Human Rights, the Developmental Disabilities Council, and others. What is most unfortunate about the window of opportunity manifesting itself in the current recession is that Otter will do irreversible damage to programs that are needed now more than ever.

Otter's proposal for the Idaho Commission on Human Rights consists of an initial 27% cut in funding and comparable cuts each year until the commission is completely without state funding by 2014. In fiscal year 2009, the Idaho Commission on Human Rights took up 510 cases, many of which occurred in Canyon County and presumably dealt with Idaho's Hispanic population (surely, no thanks to Robert Vasquez). With militia groups in this state (and neighboring states) on the rise and a general distrust of immigrants emerging in many communities, the Commission has been one of the few organizations that those feeling threatened can go to when reporting human rights violations and concerns. The number of incidents will not cease simply because the state chooses to cease funding. Where will Idahoans go when they have concerns that do not involve a crime with which they can go to the police?

For some time, I have been debating whether or not to write about an incident that occurred at my place of employment. I have decided to share this story because I fear for a state with a history such as ours going forward without an organization like the Idaho Commission on Human Rights. I join many of my fellow Idahoans in the worry that now is the worst time to abandon dedication to the preservation and assurance of human rights.

At the end of October, a building on campus experienced a dropping of offensive white resistance music. Individual CDs in CD sleeves were left throughout the building, particularly in public areas where studying students would be highly likely to find them. The sleeves were marked "Free" and could easily have been mistaken as Halloween or ISU related because they were bright orange and written on with black marker. However, it turned out that the orange and black color scheme matched the flames on the CD label--flames placed directly under the image of a noose. The CD contained white pride music, though music is a stretch due to the yelling nature of the tracks, and included a website URL for the white resistance group/band.

The building itself has rules prohibiting literature drops and the CDs were clearly prohibited, but the nature of these CDs put us all on edge. After reporting the CDs to my supervisor, they were collected throughout the building and campus public safety officers were contacted. November saw the return of the offensive material.

There's no way of telling how many CDs were distributed, how many students picked them up and how many of those students went to the website and/or actually listened to the CDs. The website URL has changed to reflect the "Victory Forever" theme over the noose-related band name, but the website itself still greets readers with an anti-Semitic essay, links, and pdf versions of white resistance literature. The website links to various white resistance, white pride and Aryan group websites including the website for the Athol, Idaho based Aryan Nations. The pdf files include full text books by Louis Beam, David Duke, and Adolf Hitler.

Now, I have lived in Idaho my entire life and have heard plenty about Idaho's former days as the home of the Hayden Lake Aryans, but growing up in southern Idaho, I had never encountered a member of the Aryan Nations or felt their presence directly the way I did that day in October. To say it rattled me would be an understatement. My concern then was that the simple report to campus public safety would do little if anything to prevent this from happening again. Clearly, the incident in November confirmed my worry and there is no telling whether it will happen again or how large the white resistance presence is in southern Idaho.

Following the first incident back in October, I contacted David Neiwert, author of In God's Country and The Eliminationists, and asked about white resistance music and whether he had encountered it in his research. I admitted being distressed by the incident and David pointed me in the direction of Pam Parks, the head of the Idaho Commission on Human Rights, and the local Anti-Defamation League representative. Both of David's suggestions represent the avenue that Idahoans have available to them if an incident occurs that does not necessarily warrant a police report. Ms. Parks got back to me, I gave her the details of what had happened on campus, and the Idaho Commission on Human Rights took it from there.

Where will Idahoans turn as militia groups and Aryan groups rise again in this state without an organization like the Idaho Commission on Human Rights? Where will the most vulnerable among us turn when the very commission established to protect their rights is phased out due to a mislead belief that small government is good government?

For four decades the Idaho Commission on Human Rights has stood by Idahoans as they have struggled through periods that have damaged this state's image and tarnished her good name. Four decades ago, there was a need for a state organization that would provide the very service the Idaho Commission on Human Rights had. Four decades later, as the incident I have shared here clearly has shown, Idahoans are still in great need for an organization that makes the protection and preservation of rights a priority and the elimination of hatred in our communities a goal.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hope For Haiti Now Album

The Hope For Haiti Now telethon that was broadcast live Friday night brought in a reported $58 million for the people of Haiti. In addition to the money that was raised during the live telethon, musicians who participated in the telethon have released a Hope For Haiti Now album via iTunes. All proceeds from the album will go directly to the following charities and relief organizations: the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, Oxfam America, the Red Cross, UNICEF, Partners in Health, United Nations World Food Programme, and the Yele Haiti Foundation. On the Hope For Haiti Now album is this cover of Bill Withers' "Lean On Me" performed by Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, and Keith Urban.

What Compulsory Coverage Really Means

A little over a week ago I wrote a compelling (in my humble opinion) reminder to this state's leaders that while they are attempting to block any federal proposal of health care reform that would include compulsory health insurance among its citizenry, they should remember that there is a significant population of Idahoans that are subject to compulsory health insurance already.

In my post, I reminded the state's Republican leaders, because let's be honest the anti-reform sentiment is not originating in the Democratic Party, that full-time university and college students across the state are required to hold health insurance prior to enrolling in classes. How many Idahoans does this effect directly? Fall 2009 full time enrollment provided by the State Board of Education say 49,279 full-time students are enrolled in Idaho universities and colleges. This number includes students at University of Idaho, Boise State University, Idaho State University, Lewis Clark State College, College of Southern Idaho, College of Western Idaho, Eastern Idaho Technical College, medical students in the WAMI program, and dentistry students enrolled in IDEP. 49,279 students is approximately 3% of Idaho's population (as of 2008).

Now, I can't speak for 49,278 of those students, but I can speak for me. What I didn't mention in my previous post is that the SBOE policy that requires full-time students carry health insurance has been a godsend for me. Because state law requires students carry health insurance if enrolled, each individual school is able to contract with an insurer that will cover any student, regardless of health status, age, sex, and/or economic status. Each student pays the same premium, the same deductible, and the same co-pays. With the exception of fall semester 2009, I have been covered by the student health insurance plan since the fall semester of 2003 an had the policy not existed that allowed me to be covered through Idaho State University, I wouldn't have been covered under any other policy all this time.

You might ask yourself why it matters that someone my age (25 in May) be covered at all. I assure you, many of my peers ask themselves this question often and many of them go without health insurance. I have friends of a similar age that do not have health insurance, either because they are not students, cannot afford it on their own, or are not eligible for Medicaid. I also have friends who are not on Medicaid because they are too proud and consider it personally unacceptable to apply. Many of my friends have lived uninsured and never had a problem. Sure they would like to go to a doctor, sure they would like to have coverage for things like dentist visits, eye exams, and simple medical checkups, but they've lived without these things and largely without incident. I am not in that boat.

To illustrate my point about the student health insurance program being a godsend, I hope you might consider that not all young adults like myself are as blessed my genetics and good health. I am certainly not one of them. The first semester I was in college, my student health insurance wasn't something I spent much time considering. I thought it odd that college students, who are generally healthy because of our age, were required to carry health insurance. Many of my classmates were able to waive the student insurance because they were still on their family's policy. I was not and paid the semester premium. When did I begin to realize how essential the student insurance plan is? December 28, 2003. Yes, an exact date. Why? I was in a car accident that day. As snow was dumping on Pocatello, I had the brilliant idea that I needed a snow shovel and out I ventured into the storm. Living on the south end of Pocatello, I got on the interstate and headed toward Chubbuck. Driving a bit faster than I should have been for the conditions, I panicked when a car in front of me put on their breaks to avoid ice. In my panic, I hit my breaks and lost control of my car. I crossed the two north bound lanes of the interstate, flew across the median, crossed the two south bound lanes and screeched to a halt as my car hit a guardrail head on. Had the guard rail not been there, I would have continued on down the hill to Terry Street. I was rushed in an ambulance to the hospital, I had broken ribs, a bruised forehead, an abrasion across my chest from the seat belt I was thankfully wearing, and a totaled car. When January rolled around and I went to pay my tuition, I didn't think twice about the student health insurance premium.

My reliance on the student insurance plan has continued to be crucial. Over the years I have had many treatments and procedures for a long-term health condition. I have benefited greatly from the discounted rates the student health center offers for prescription drugs, medication I will also be taking for the rest of my life. And over the past two years, carrying health insurance has been just as critical as it was for me in the winter of 2003.

As those of you who read this blog regularly know and as I recounted in my post about the public option, in February of 2008, I awoke in a hotel room in Boise after the Frank Church Banquet with stiffness in my low back and the inability to get vertical. After the drive home that Sunday, my back was wrecked. By Easter I had lost feeling in portions of my left leg. In May when visiting with the physician assistant at the student health center here on campus, I mentioned that I was having trouble riding my bicycle because of some numbness in my leg and tightness in my hamstring. The following week I had an MRI and was diagnosed with a protruding disc in my back that would eventually require surgery. The surgery itself was a success because it restored feeling to my left leg, but during the surgery I was positioned on a nerve that caused damage and continues to give me hell today. I remain beholden to an aggressive physical therapy program for pain management and am still learning how to use muscles correctly. It has been a nightmare that only those who suffer from chronic pain can fully understand.

The costs of the surgery, the four MRIs, the medications, the treatments, and the physical therapy have been astronomical. With the exception of this past semester when I wasn't a student, the student insurance plan has covered nearly all of the costs of physical therapy and a substantial amount of the rest.

Something the student insurance plan doesn't cover per se is vision (also dental). When I know that I need new glasses or contacts, I pay for that out of my pocket. Since sitting still has been problematic since back surgery and because I didn't want to admit to my eye doctor that I'd gained quite a bit of weight both before and after surgery that I can't seem to lose now that I'm fairly immobile, I hadn't been to the eye doctor since February 2008. I have been experiencing headaches daily for some time and a ringing in my left ear that I'd chalked up to side effects from the pain meds and muscle relaxers I take daily. Monday I went to the eye doctor and immediately he sent me to an eye specialist. The eye specialist saw the same problem involving my optic nerve and ordered an MRI that I had Wednesday. Tuesday I will be having a spinal tap. Should this problem have gone on without me seeking medical care, my vision would have continued to decrease, a loss that would be permanent.

Had I not enrolled this semester in school, there is no possible way I would have been able to afford this week alone. And had I not had insurance, I'm fairly sure some of the tests that have been done this week would not have happened at all. Last semester I'd taken time off of school hoping the time off would allow me to concentrate my energy on physical therapy and getting healthy. I was put on a Blue Cross policy that refused to pay for my claims and I ended up paying for a semester's worth of physical therapy out of pocket. School started on the 11th and by the 18th I had a significant medical diagnoses and emergency health situation that required immediate care. Without being overly dramatic, I think it is safe to say that if I hadn't saved the money to see my eye doctor and then been on insurance to cover the MRI and extensive tests, vision loss would have been imminent.

The truth of the matter is this: I enrolled in school this semester because I needed insurance desperately. Do I need to take classes? Not at a school where I have no future and no hope for another degree. However, I did what I had to do and I am extremely glad I did.

While our Republican legislators and governor carry on about how unconstitutional it is to force citizens to have health insurance, they refuse to acknowledge that they have, since 2003, required it of a certain demographic of the population. Did they target college students because it is a demographic that rarely votes? Probably not. Did they create the policy because it was costing the state and its institutions of higher learning too much money and grief to have uninsured students? Probably so. I truly believe, as does the majority party in Congress, that mandating coverage will save both federal and state government money. It limits the stress on county indigent services and the state's catastrophic health fund. I am not convinced that current attempts at the federal level to reform the health care system do anything to help those of us who would be impacted by a mandate to carry insurance and simply can't afford personal policies on our own, but this is beyond the scope of what Republicans in this state are angry about.

Clearly, state leaders would rather put up roadblocks based on some ideological belief that Congress is violating the U.S. Constitution than actually discuss how their own compulsory insurance policy in this state has helped, even saved, young Idahoans like myself.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Hiatus

I wouldn't call this a health emergency, though I am not entirely sure why not. I intend to post whenever I am able to concentrate long enough to do so.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Reminder Amidst Political Ploys

Yesterday, Senator Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) as co-chair of the Idaho Legislature Health Care Task Force, a few short days after Governor Otter's strong words of opposition toward congressional health care reform, and on the heels of yesterday's 7-5 vote to oppose federal health care reform had the following to say about health care: “I believe that the federal reforms will cause an additional burden on families and employers… I do not believe it will provide lower coverage or better access to coverage." Cameron went on to say, as Betsy Russell reports, that he believes it is unconstitutional to require families, individuals, and businesses to purchase health insurance.

Senator Cameron is not the only Idaho Republican to question the constitutionality of federal reform efforts, specifically the requirement that citizens attain a health insurance policy. In his recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi, Governor Otter posed this question: "Where does the U.S. Constitution grant Congress the power to pass legislation mandating compulsory health care coverage or creating a nationalized health care system?" Otter's former colleague in the U.S. House of Representatives, Mike Simpson, expressed his concern upon passage of the House version of health care reform that "
those individuals who choose not to purchase health insurance will have to pay a penalty." Simpson went on to say that "Americans will no longer get to choose whether or not they will purchase health insurance in the future because government will have already made that decision." Clearly, Otter and Simpson have a major problem with the fact that the federal government has anything to say about how Idahoans access health care--the specifics of that access are secondary. Surely the other members of Idaho's congressional delegation feel similarly (though Minnick may say his decision will come down to cost, a vote for health care reform in his mind really is a vote for "socialized medicine").

If they each believe it is unconstitutional for the federal government to ask its citizens to purchase health insurance, what is it then if the state they represent requires some of its residents to purchase health insurance? Irony? Hypocrisy? You tell me.

As chairman of the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee (JFAC), Senator Cameron should know that here in Idaho since 2003 the State Board of Education has enforced a policy requiring full fee-paying college students attending classes in this state maintain adequate health insurance. Surely the SBOE, an entity created by the Idaho Constitution and one that must from time to time interact with JFAC, is not attempting to push "socialized medicine" on Idaho students. The details of the State Board of Education policy are as follows:
"Full-fee paying students attending classes in Idaho are required to maintain adequate health insurance. All full-time domestic undergraduate students taking twelve (12) or more credit hours, graduate students taking nine (9) or more credit hours and applied tech session students taking four (4) or more credits, who by current fee structure or by contractual agreement are required to pay full-time fees, are automatically enrolled in the student health insurance plan. A student must show proof of comparable coverage in order to waive coverage provided by the student health insurance plan. All international students taking one (1) or more credits hours are automatically enrolled in the student health insurance plan."
Not only do we require each full-fee paying Idahoan attending classes at any of our state colleges or universities to carry health insurance, we specify exactly how much coverage that Idahoan must be carrying to attend classes. If an Idahoan wishing to attend school in-state cannot provide proof of continuous enrollment in an alternative U.S.-based health insurance plan with comparable benefits to a student health insurance plan ("comparable benefits" as per the state board policy include Medical benefits of at least $50,000 per accident or illness, including maternity coverage, and a deductible not to exceed $2,000.00 per accident or illness), that student is automatically enrolled in an insurance program and must pay the entire semester premium upfront.

What's more, we don't only require this of Idahoans attending school here, we require it of students from out-of-state who choose to come to our state schools (who are already paying an additional price by way of out-of-state tuition)
and we require international students purchase a policy that is only effective while they are "in-network." Neither out-of-state tuition payers nor international students have any knowledge of our state constitution, but they are absolutely responsible for carrying an insurance policy required by this state's constitutionally-mandated board of education.

While Senator Cameron and the Republicans in the statehouse, Governor Otter, Senators Crapo and Risch, and Congressmen Minnick and Simpson stand in opposition to any health care reform legislation that may pass Congress and make it to the President's desk, the recession and poor leadership are forcing dangerous cuts to education in this state and as tuition keeps rising, students (Idahoans or not) remain required to carry health insurance. Is your message to Idahoans 'do as I say, not as I do'? Because while you posit yourselves as defenders of "good government," a phrase most of us are sick of, the facts make you all look like fools in glass houses.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Readers of the ISJ, Stay Classy

Like many newspapers across the state, the Idaho State Journal here in Pocatello has set up "blogs" for readers to comment on. The blogs are simply platforms where editorials and opinion pieces that have appeared or will appear in print go for an online community of readers to discuss them. The community of readers that choose to participate in the discussion are a dozen or so locals, a majority of which are extremely conservative in ideology and many lacking class. There is not a great deal of empathy being thrown about in these discussions and a general hatred of President Obama and liberals in general is quite obvious. However, it isn't the conservative dialogue that I find distressing, it is the blatant disregard for the truth and the unabashed ridicule lodged at various groups of people.

The reason these particular readers of the ISJ have caught my attention once again is this short exchange between three readers in response to an editorial penned by the Journal board about the Shoshone-Bannock tribes:
This exchange might have gone unnoticed if it weren't for the history of the Journal readers who participate in online discussions. The readers leave little room for opinions, political or otherwise, and people who do not mirror themselves. They abhor liberalism, President Obama, the Democratic Party, left-leaning columnists, and anyone who attempts to bring logic to the discussion. While a few of the readers will open the door of debate, some, like Eugene Sant, spew their lies and hatred without respect for opposite opinions and without so much as a warning from the powers that be that filth will not be tolerated. Mr. Sant's comments speak for themselves:

Sant has been spreading the same hate and lies since long before Obama was elected. He used to be a staple on the Letters to the Editor page. Some fool gave him a computer. And another fool, most likely inside the offices of the Journal, continues to allow Sant to participate without repercussion. There are no limits on his freedom of speech even when it crosses into the domain of hate speech.

Most writers consider their audience. Apparently, these readers that comment day in and day out on the ISJ blogs have very little concern with their audience. Recently, several of these readers went after the issue of branding racism on those who disagree with President Obama. Try finding logic in the following comments:

Do those who are not racist discuss the fact that President Obama's mother was white and his father black? Not outside the very simple discussion of his upbringing. Do those who are not racist mention the color of Obama's skin when they compile a list of his political decisions with which they disagree? I know I don't. Clearly Skezix is concerned with being permanently placed in a "bucket" with racists, but has no qualms with interacting regularly with them online.

The Mr. Sanders mentioned is an African-American man here in Pocatello who belongs to a family with deep historical roots in this community. He is a thoughtful, genuine fellow who was simply remarking on the fear that exists among so many in this country about Obama's race. Mr. Sanders was merely saying that he respects differing opinions, but would like to understand why those on the right cannot present honest, factual problems they find with President Obama's politics without resorting to fear-mongering and lies. Instead of presenting logical concerns with their president, these readers responded to Mr. Sanders by referring to Obama being "half-white" and Mr. Sanders and others as "people like you." Classy.

When will it end? Is there no line that these readers must stay on one side of or are they truly welcome by the Idaho State Journal to make whatever racist, hate-filled and dishonest comments they would like to?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Otter Honoring the Source of Many Idahoans' Demise

In a speech riddled with poor economic news amidst further state budget hold backs, each of us may have found certain portions of Governor Otter's state of the state address more disheartening.

As a college student, the daughter of a teacher, the granddaughter of a teacher trained at the former teacher training school in Albion, Idaho, and someone who aspires to teach at one of Idaho's institutions of higher learning, it wasn't easy to swallow news that public schools will face $26 million in cuts this year. I've been on a public campus with a front-row seat to how public institutions are already grappling with Otter's ordered hold backs, today's news is a very tough blow to public schools across the state.

However, there was a moment in Governor Otter's speech that I found both disheartening and incongruous. Somewhere between Governor Otter congratulating the two Idaho institutions I do not attend--Boise State and University of Idaho--for football glory and then turning to those very institutions with the news that budget hold backs will hit them adversely, Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter took a moment to acknowledge and thank the CEO of Blue Cross of Idaho:

Citing a $300,000 donation by Blue Cross of Idaho to fund medical residencies for the next three years (for Idaho students that do not have a medical school to attend in-state) and a "willingness to act on [his] belief in stronger, better, healthier Idaho," Ray Flachbart stood to applause. The ironies and irritants abound.

Is Governor Otter not aware that while a majority of insured Idahoans are customers of Blue Cross, Blue Cross is responsible for many bankruptcies in this state, and treats a number of Idahoans, including recent college graduates as second-class citizens? Was Governor Otter not aware that while he was taking a moment in the biggest speech he will give this year to recognize Ray Flachbart, average Idahoans are very sick, some even dying because they can't afford health insurance, much less see a doctor? Is Governor Otter not aware that Blue Cross of Idaho is guilty of questionable business practices that border on fraud?

While Governor Otter was thanking his "friend" Ray Flachbart for money he gave for Idaho medical residencies, average Idaho families were filing bankruptcy, often because their medical bills were out of control due to Blue Cross denying their claims despite their having paid premiums for years.

Please, Governor Otter, this recession hurts enough, do you have to rub my nose in it by reminding me of how much power your ole buddy Ray Flachbart wields in the statehouse and how big a role he plays in my own economic quandary?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

TDIH: League of Nations

On this day ninety years ago, with the enthusiastic support of President Woodrow Wilson, the League of Nations was established as a byproduct of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. At its peak, the League of Nations served as an international organization for the brokering of peace between nations. It was in many ways a precursor to the United Nations, despite the many failings and complete dismantling of it prior to the first U.N. General Assembly meeting held also historically on this day in London in 1946.

Woodrow Wilson's idealism, his blatant liberalism is something modern Americans have a hard time grasping. He was a commander-in-chief who led a country into the Great War while entertaining in his own mind the notion of a broad inter-governmental, international organization that spoke to principles almost foreign to a world at war.

As World War I was winding down and the Paris Peace Conference had concluded, President Wilson returned from Europe and set out on a tour of sorts. He visited cities and towns across the country in support of both the treaty that ended WWI and the League of Nations. One of Wilson's final speeches in support of the League of Nations was given in Pueblo, Colorado on September 25, 1919. A snippet:
"It is a people's treaty, that accomplishes by a great sweep of practical justice the liberation of men who never could have liberated themselves, and the power of the most powerful nations has been devoted not to their aggrandizement but to the liberation of people whom they could have put under their control if they had chosen to do so...

"...[W]e must see that all the questions which have disturbed the world, all the questions which have eaten into the confidence of men toward their governments, all the questions which have disturbed the processes of industry, shall be brought out where men of all points of view, men of all attitudes of mind, men of all kinds of experience, may contribute their part of the settlement of the great questions which we must settle and cannot ignore."
As Woodrow Wilson toured this country promoting the treaty agreed to in Paris and the Covenant of the League of Nations, he faced a great deal of scrutiny and dissatisfaction among the American people. The tour, which compares to the series of town hall gatherings George W. Bush convened to discuss reforming Social Security, was an eye-opener for President Wilson. Wilson went so far as to call the backlash among the American people "an organized propaganda against the League of Nations and against the treaty." The "falsehoods" he knew were being spread became ultimately damaging. Many historians refer to this period of disconnect between Wilson (and the delegation that attended the meetings in Paris with him) and the American public as the point in which momentum for a successful League of Nations changed course. For an array of reasons, the American people never fully got on board with the idea and Wilson's death in February of 1924 sealed the fate of the League.

At its height, the League of Nations had 58 members banding together in a global attempt at collective security. Unlike international organizations that followed (i.e. the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations), the League of Nations did not have a standing army which severely limited its ability to maintain peace between nations as well as protect its member nations from attack.

A great source of information on the League of Nations, including materials created by the League, is the League of Nations Photo Collection at the Indiana University Center for the Study of Global Change. January 16, 2010 will mark the 90th anniversary of the first council meeting of the League of Nations, eight days after President Wilson first addressed Congress regarding the League and six days after the Treaty of Versailles went into effect.

Despite President Wilson's great enthusiasm for the League of Nations and his adamant support, the United States never joined the League or ratified the Covenant, due largely in part to the isolationism of Senators Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Massachusetts) and William E. Borah (R-Idaho). Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Smorgasbord Saturday

It has been a horribly long week and I am glad Saturday has arrived. This smorgasbord is serving more or less as a cleaning out of my inbox. Without further adieu...

The National Baseball Hall of Fame announced this week that the 2010 inductee will be Andre "Hawk" Dawson. Dawson, for those of you who are not baseball fans, played 21 seasons in the MLB for the Montreal Expos, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, and Florida Marlins. This summer, Dawson will be inducted into Cooperstown (where the Hall is located) as the sole player inductee. Along with Dawson will also be inductees representing baseball managers (Whitey Herzog) and umpires (Doug Harvey). Dawson, an outfielder, retired with a .279 career batting average, 438 home runs, 1,591 RBIs and 314 stolen bases. The Hawk was also the National League Rookie of the Year as an Expo in 1977 and the 1987 MVP with the Cubs. He was an 8-time all star. Dawson's selection came as no surprise as this year was the 9th time he'd appeared on the hall of fame ballot.

The Governor of Nevada has announced he will sue the federal government if the health care bill becomes law. How many steps behind him do you think Governor Butch Otter is? My guess is he's not too far behind him, despite the fact that Idaho is one of the states that stands to gain the most from the health care bill.

A book called Game Change appears to be making waves inside out outside of the Beltway. Today's news related to the book is particularly damaging to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada). According to Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post, Senator Reid made comments about then-candidate Obama during the 2008 primaries relating to his race. The comments, which I will not repeat here, show a side of Harry Reid that I'd always expected he had, but kept quiet. Senator Reid has apologized publicly to President Obama, but I don't expect we've heard the end of it, nor do I believe that it will help Senator Reid's uphill re-election campaign this fall.

Today, the Idaho State Journal is finally reporting on a set of billboards that have cropped up in southeastern Idaho. The billboards, which target members of the Mormon church, have been placed in southeastern Idaho by Truth in Love Ministry of Nampa. The billboards have forced the Mormon church to release a statement on the church's doctrine on salvation. More or less the disagreement between the doctrine of this Nampa church and the Mormon church is one that has existed within Christianity for as many years as the Mormon church as been around--Truth in Love Ministry believes, as do many Christian churches, that we are saved by the grace of God alone unlike the Mormon doctrine of grace plus works. Though the argument has been around for centuries, this may be the first time the argument has been taken to the medium of billboards. It's interesting to watch, if nothing else.

No music in the mix today, but I'll get back to TGIF Tunes or New Music Tuesday updates soon.

Friday, January 8, 2010

TDIH: Wilson's Fourteen Points

"We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence. What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be
done to us."
-- Wilson's Fourteen Points
(January 8, 1918)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Larry Craig & the Decade in Sex

Just when we thought the barrage of toe tapping, bathroom stall jokes were a thing of the past, those purveyors of aggregated opinion at The Daily Beast have included toe-tapper-in-chief, former Senator Larry Craig (R-Idaho) in their slide show of the decade in sex.

Yes, in a decade that included Janet Jackson's infamous wardrobe malfunction at the Super Bowl, an affair made public when a congressional intern went missing, the more recent fall from grace of Tiger Woods, too many celebrity sex tapes to count, and the creepiness that was the Michael Jackson trial, Larry Craig was deemed worthy of Beast's list.
Unfortunately for Larry Craig and Idaho's image, Craig's arrest in a Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport's men's room was fodder for the late night talk show hosts, spawned a new and satirical take on a Tony Orlando tune, supplied the The Daily Show with months of material, and made a fairly obscure Idaho politican a household name. Senator Craig did himself no favors by explaining away the location of his feet inside the bathroom stall with the excuse that he has a "wide stance" and by then going on to give a most bizarre press conference where he said he isn't gay and never has been. Never has been? Who says that? Only closed minded, conservative hypocrites who believe gays choose to be so and are a threat to the institution of marriage. Larry Craig's arrest was a story not just because he was able to keep the unusual arrest quiet for months, but because his behavior was something he had railed against his entire political career.

Then there was Senator Craig's whole "intend to resign" speech followed by refusing to resign and then attempting to overturn his Minneapolis disorderly conduct (instead of the initial charge of lewd conduct) conviction.

Where is Larry Craig now? Running a consulting firm and still taking a great deal of flack from Idahoans and his clients alike, conservatives who question his morality over his professional effectiveness.

A decade that began with a President of the United States disgraced and leaving office on the heals of a sex scandal is ending as the golden boy of gold tarnishes his image every day that another woman comes forward establishing his long string of infidelity. And somewhere in between, a member of congress flashed his business card to an arresting officer who was conducting a sting in an airport bathroom known for gay men cruising.

South Carolina's image is currently connected to a politician "hiking the Appalachian Trail," also known as visiting his mistress in Argentina; Idaho's image is apparently linked to a toe-tapping senator for longer than any of us would have liked.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Crapo's Health Care Petition

From time to time the sponsored links running atop Gmail, my email service of choice, catch my attention. It came as no surprise to me that Jim Risch used this advertisement opportunity during his 2008 campaign, the pricey advertisement was no problem for a guy who is both one of the wealthiest members of congress and a member who spent (according to Newsweek) $9.66 per vote in 2008 for a total of over 3 million dollars. Imagine my surprise when I spotted this ad recently:

Mike Crapo has launched a petition to defeat health care? The petition indicates that signers may have heard about the petition on the radio, from a robo call, or through an internet ad like the one that Gmail is running. It is probably a breach of election laws to inform the readers of his congressional e-newsletter that he has such a petition, being that it was paid for by his campaign and all, but I, and I suspect other Idahoans, knew nothing of this petition. What's more, the petition seems to suggest that putting a halt to current health care reform attempts is "urgent" and something Senator Crapo is able to do (single-handedly or otherwise). The petition:

The petition outlines the reasons Senator Crapo believes health care reform should not be passed, those reasons include the potential increase of all of our taxes, a Medicaid burden placed on the states that is unfair and possibly, according to conservatives, unconstitutional, and that universally feared meme those on the right are so fond of using--health care reform will expand the government to an even greater size that invades state sovereignty as well as personal privacy and will be too large to be effective. Because the health care system as it is now is so obviously effective...

Is it fair to say that Mike Crapo has finally stepped out of the shadow of Larry Craig, no longer playing junior senator to his former Senate colleague, and is trying very hard to make a name for himself in conservative circles outside Idaho? Whether it was his national address back in November on behalf of the Republican Party in response to President Obama's weekly radio address or Dan Popkey wrongly calling Crapo "a leading figure in the fight against Democratic health reform," something must have happened to make Senator Crapo think he, and only he, could "save America" from health care reform. Or maybe Senator Crapo is simply trying to attain the names and addresses of a few like-minded people who would be willing to donate to his campaign. Nothing invasive about that.

Instead of attempting to stall health care reform indefinitely with or without the help of a toothless petition, wouldn't Senator Crapo's time be better used if he were to reach across the aisle to his fellow Western senators to ensure that rural health care is addressed and effectively dealt with in any reform attempt at a time when Idahoans need affordable, accessible health care most? Why is he asking us to petition his colleagues in the Senate? Isn't petitioning his colleagues by way of representing our views as his constituents the very thing we elect Senator Crapo to do?

Friday, January 1, 2010