Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tonight: Kennedys' Family Movies

Kennedys' Home Movies
Premieres January 30th at 9/8c on TLC
(7pm MST on CableOne)

While Kennedy historians and many Americans celebrated the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's inauguration recently, TLC will be airing a special documentary of Kennedy family home movies and other rare footage tonight. The two-hour television event is narrated by Stockard Channing.

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Please Pay Attention"

Testifying this morning to JFAC, Shaun Tobler spoke of the reality that is facing those who rely on the mental health services provided by Medicaid by saying that last year in Pocatello there were ten deaths among the mentally ill, ten deaths that had they been murders would have been a catalyst for outrage on the part of the public. Tobler, an employee of Bear Lake Memorial Hospital, said that because the ten deaths were "people with disabilities, because they're people with mental illness, we don't pay attention. Please pay attention."

Speaking on behalf of his client, Robert Dietrich, a member of the staff of Southeastern Idaho Developmental Center noted that many members of the developmentally disabled and mentally ill community like Robert understand what cuts to Health & Welfare and Medicaid programs will amount to in their lives. They are, as the SEIDC staff member noted, "frightened" and "afraid." Of each of the 82 testimonies I listened to this morning, the letter from Mr. Deitrich resonated the most with me. Why? Because I know Robert. I know his friends, I know his family, I know the company that offers his developmental therapy services because I was once employed by them, and I have coached Robert in Special Olympics. Robert's letter grabbed my attention in a way that the previous hours of testimony hadn't.

I hope that other Idahoans are paying attention now, too.

My Plea

As I have been listening to the public give testimony to JFAC this morning on the cuts to various Health & Welfare and Medicaid programs, I realize that I have a responsibility to speak now. I am in the process of writing something to be shared with the members of the JFAC committee via email. Once complete, I will post it here. In the meantime, I urge you to read the posts I have previously written on issues such as those being discussed in the hearing room this morning. They include:
Because I think one post in particular speaks well to my experience and background with the developmentally disabled, I re-post "Home" below.
"When I speak of home, I speak of the place where--in default of a better--those I love are gathered together; and if that place were a gypsy's tent, or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding."
-- Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

I was ten years old when my family began construction on an assisted living facility for the developmentally disabled. For the better part of six years, it is where I called home and it never seemed out of the ordinary to me that I was growing up in such surroundings. My younger brother, who was three when we began construction, couldn't comprehend some years later when he first started visiting the homes of his friends why all kids didn't have disabled people living with them. With two siblings of our own who are developmentally disabled, I don't think either of us ever gave our living arrangement during those six years a second thought.

After two years of living in an apartment I shared with at times up to five other girls, I felt that I had tasted the college living experience and it wasn't for me. The summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, my roommates all returned to their homes in the Mini-Cassia area and I remained in our three bedroom apartment without air conditioning and without cable. It was an incredibly long summer broken up only by the trip I took to Dallas that July. When my sophomore year ended and my roommates, none of which were the same roommates as the year before, returned home for the summer, I was determined to find somewhere else to live so I didn't have to endure another summer in that apartment alone. Looking back at that decision, I realize the change that came in my living arrangements that summer was rather drastic.

That summer I could have moved in with a Kenyan friend of mine in the cutest little purple house in all of Pocatello or I could have taken a house sitting job that summer for a professor who was leaving to visit family in England. The purple house had one major hangup--my Kenyan friend had just brought her mother to the States and her mother spoke zero English. Since we would have been home a great deal with that language barrier, I was worried about how that might work out. The house sitting gig brought its own obstacle--cats. The house owners had six cats and I am allergic. Just when I thought I was going to spend another summer in an apartment by myself, I was offered a job as house parent at a local assisted living facility for the developmentally disabled. I can't remember the details, but I think I was asked to take the job on a Friday, moved in on a Wednesday and took a summer course final exam the next day. If I had any reservations about the job, I certainly didn't have the time to think about them.

That was four years ago. In taking this job, I inherited all sorts of things. When I moved in, I didn't even own a bed. I inherited a chair, a book shelf, a bed frame, a dresser in need of some TLC, a couch and a desk. I've added six book shelves and two night stands to that list as well as more books than I care to mention. However, what I've inherited that has turned out to be the greatest blessing is this amazing family. When I took this job I immediately inherited fourteen siblings.

I don't know what other people in my position would consider these living arrangements. Maybe they'd just consider it fourteen roommates? For me it is truly a family. We don't always get along, especially when one TV or another is too loud or the washing machine is about to walk off because whatever I tossed in there caused it to be off balance and everyone in the entire house can hear it. We may not always get along, but there is no question that we love each other like siblings. At first it was simply the fourteen of them and the one of me, but over time they've let me be just another one of the clan. They want to know if I'm sick, if I'm going to work, when I'll be home, if I'm joining them for dinner and every other personal thing they don't even hesitate to ask. And over time, I've come to feel exactly as attached to them as they are to me. I know when they're sick, when they're fighting, if they've gone to visit friends or family, and especially if there is a birthday to celebrate (not because I remember birthdays with any regularity, but because a birthday is well-talked about for days, even weeks in advance).

All of this is to say that we're a family. A rather large and sometimes dysfunctional family, but a family that loves each other nonetheless. And this family just lost a dearly loved member of it.

Yesterday morning one of the residents passed away after a trip to the emergency room in an ambulance. If there is anything more difficult than losing a family member, it's having to tell the other family members. In this case, the difficulty lies in the inability of some of the residents to even comprehend illness and death. And I say 'lies' because there is no past tense around here. We are still having to explain that he isn't coming home again and we are still giving hugs and dealing with sudden outbursts of tears. I suspect we will be for some time. Perhaps in having to be pulled together for the sake of those I live with, I didn't let yesterday's events set in. It wasn't until this morning when I woke at the usual time that I would get up with this particular resident that it really hit me. And tonight as the ten o'clock hour approaches, when I become the responsible staff person, it crossed my mind that instead of being responsible for fourteen of my closest friends, tonight there will just be thirteen. Thirteen people that I admire and love; thirteen people that mean just a bit more to me today than they did yesterday.

I have never lost a family member that I had been living with. This is as new to me as it is to everyone else under this roof. And as non-traditional as we are, we are still a family dealing with this loss in ways only families do--with each other. The entire experience is proving to be a chance to learn and grow for me, but also in this unfortunate situation I have been reminded that a family can be of your making. I'm blessed to have this family that I come home to every day, that loves me for who I am and nothing changes that. We all can miss the forest for the trees and right now I am able to see what is.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Least Able

In his recent testimony to JFAC, Health & Welfare director Dick Armstrong said that the disabled will have to turn to their families, friends and churches as state funding for many services declines or outright disappears. Armstrong noted that in the 1950s and 1960s, many volunteers performed the services that the state now offers through its Medicaid programs. In response to Armstrong's testimony, Eye On Boise reported that Rep. George Eskridge (R-Dover) commented, "I think there's some merit there. We all have an obligation to help our fellow citizens - it's not all a state responsibility. I'm intrigued by his comment and hope there'll be some ways we're able to pursue that."

Before we assess Armstrong's idea of recruiting volunteers to provide certain services, let's review how we arrived at this point in the state's funding of programs for the disabled.

When we hear our elected and appointed officials discussing the funding of Medicaid programs for the disabled, the very loose definition of 'disabled' tends to be a range of children and adults with diagnoses like Autism, mental retardation (mild, moderate, severe or profound), some mental illnesses and other developmental disabilities. The disabled may be among the highest functioning members of society or they may be those who require constant care. They may need a Medicaid-funded life skills aide to check in on them daily to ensure they are taking their medication or they may need in-home care 24/7 that provides supervision, help with personal care and prepared meals. Medicaid funded programs also provide individual services that allow for the developmentally disabled to work in the community, benefiting both the worker as well as the community at large. Regardless of their individual disabilities, there is no denying the fact that they are the least able to lobby for their own interests and articulate their needs. In times of austerity in states like Idaho, the disabled are often the first to lose state-funded services.

How did Medicaid and the State of Idaho get into the business of providing services to the disabled in their homes and in the community? It's first essential to understand the history that resulted in the developmentally disabled and mentally ill being integrated into society. It hasn't always been this way and it is more than unfortunate that members of the Idaho Legislature are ignorant of the facts. Not so long ago, if a mother gave birth to a child with a noticeable and diagnosed disability they were urged to forget they had the child and asked to admit them to a psychiatric institution or state hospital. Each state got into the business of caring for the disabled, Idaho did so with the state hospitals in Orofino, Nampa and Blackfoot. And then in the late 1960s and early 1970s, states began the process of deinstitutionalization. Deinstitutionalization as a policy attempted to reintegrate the disabled and mentally ill into the community and greatly decreased the number of state hospitals and psychiatric institutions available for direct care. Without direct care available on the level it had been for years, families and communities began turning to the state for assistance in caring for the disabled and in doing so created a vast need for state Medicaid programs.

Today's news that further budget cuts to the state's psychiatric hospitals would continue disturbing trends that include increased assaults on state hospital staff, increased usage of restraints and seclusion to control patients, and a decreasing number of staff, is a horrible reminder of our dark history in regard to these hospitals and further proof that their are drastic consequences to slashing budgets.

Idaho was not exempt from a human rights crisis that occurred during the first half of the twentieth century in state hospitals and psychiatric institutions. While the allied forces were liberating concentration camps in Germany and Poland, conditions within state hospitals in the United States were far too similar to those in the camps.

During the period between October 1st, 1942 and September 30, 1944, 100 patient deaths occurred at Idaho State Hospital South in Blackfoot. During the same period, 79 deaths occurred at Idaho State Hospital North in Orofino. The Idaho State School and Colony, what is now the Idaho State School and Hospital (ISSH), reported 23 deaths for the same period. While the state hospital in Blackfoot currently accommodates only around 16 patients at a time, prior to deinstitutionalization it was not uncommon for that hospital to house upwards of 600 patients. The following year deaths rose again at the three state hospitals and several particularly suspicious and violent deaths at State Hospital South resulted in the governor, Charles C. Gossett, naming a commission to investigate the conditions at the hospital. Following the commission's report, funding increased from approximately $1.00 per capita per day at the Blackfoot hospital to $1.40. It was the largest increase in funding in decades and came at a time when the hospital was under staffed, under funded, and employing unqualified doctors and nurses who had little or no psychiatric training. More than half of the nursing staff was comprised of nursing students, clearly without the experience of fully trained nurses. Despite being cheap or volunteer labor, the cost to the hospital's reputation and the patients' health was great.

The discussion between Dick Armstrong and Rep. Eskridge regarding the recruitment of volunteer help to care for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill did not imply that any of the services being provided at the state hospitals would be taken over by volunteers, it is a slippery slope. If we are going to allow unqualified members of the community to provide developmental therapy that the state currently funds, when will we open the doors of our psychiatric hospitals for similar volunteer-based services? And at what cost? We've come a long way from the very dark days of the 1940s and 1950s, do we really want to go back there? Volunteers at short-staffed state hospitals could not provide adequate, safe care in the 1940s and 1950s and they can't do it now. As the DisAbility Rights Idaho Blog notes, "families and volunteers cannot replace developmental disability agency services and psycho-social rehabilitation."

In the 1950s and 1960s when Armstrong says volunteers stepped in to assist with the disabled in their communities, by and large the disabled population was not what it is today. Rather than keep them at home and in their communities, hundreds of the developmentally disabled and mentally ill were locked up in hospitals with prison-like conditions where they were left to die. Idahoans wouldn't encounter the disabled in the public library or the grocery store. Whatever volunteers were helping at that time, yes, they had a responsibility to their community, but their community consisted of a scattering of the disabled, not hundreds, if not thousands. All the volunteers in the entire state, including the families who already sacrifice for their disabled family members and friends, cannot accept the entire burden of responsibility. We've already done everything we can for our disabled friends and family. We've made the necessary adjustments to our lives when Medicaid cuts have resulted in our brother losing his daily life skills training that makes his life enjoyable and when our children have moved home because it is no longer affordable to make up the difference between what their assisted living homes ask for care and what the state is willing to pay for that care.

What has this state and our society come to when our best answer for caring for the least able among us is to scream from the rooftops that this is not the responsibility of government and that unqualified volunteers should step in?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Smorgasbord Saturday

Update 1.26.11: Clearly I got a slow start to the week around here. Oh, and Mike Napoli lasted in Toronto about as long as it would take you to say 'This ain't gonna make Mike Scioscia happy.' As of yesterday, Napoli is a Texas Ranger.

The only place to begin is with last night's abrupt departure of Keith Olbermann from his MSNBC show Countdown. Other than the statement put out by MSNBC and Comcast as well as K.O.'s own words last night, we really know very little about the exit. I hadn't been watching Countdown last night and flipped over to catch the segment with TPM's Josh Marshall. If I'd known something was up I would have stayed, but I, like Josh Marshall himself, had no idea it would be Keith's last night on Countdown. I don't know what happened, none of us do, but the writing was on the wall with this one--MSNBC and Olbermann had been at odds since long before last fall's suspension. He'll probably end up broadcasting somewhere and in the meantime we can always hope he'll have extra time to write about baseball.

Something K.O. said last night resonates with me: "There were many occasions, particularly in the last 2 years, where all that surrounded the show - but never the show itself - was just too much for me." I'm sure he was talking about the powers that be at NBC Universal and particularly the politics of his position. However, anyone who has been devoted to a job or project knows an overwhelming since of having to carry on with something that's both positive and negative. It's how I've felt about this blog, off and on, for the last year or so. It's part of the reason I didn't note the recent milestone of 1,500 posts, didn't want to jinx anything. Not that I'm at all comparing my 6 years & 1,500 posts here with Keith's nearly 8 years on a nightly hour-long program. Every progressive blogger, journalist and broadcaster owes K.O. a debt of gratitude for carving out a place for progressive viewpoints.

In true smorgasbord fashion, I'd like to preview a few things I hope to write about in the week to come. As I noted Thursday, I was lacking the focus to write about all of the topics on my mind. It's time to note the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy's inauguration, the opening of the first (and largest) presidential library digital archive at the Kennedy Library & Museum, the Idaho state archivist would like to open many records over 75 years old that are currently being redacted for researchers, the retirement announcement of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, and the House Republicans repealing health care reform. That should keep this place hopping all of next week. Hopefully I can get to it all and the topics don't cease to be relevant before I get to them!

In Idaho Legislature news, I believe Senator Monty Pearce (R-New Plymouth) is quickly becoming as irritating (though mildly entertaining) as Maxine Bell or Phil Hart. First there was the bizarre reasoning behind not giving high school students laptops as State Superintendent Tom Luna proposed. Pearce said that giving out laptops to students would promote cheating and would be used to "pass around pornography." Seriously. And how did Luna respond? By saying he understands that students need to be protected "from predators and their own curiosity." Oi. And now Pearce is planning to sponsor legislation that will nullify federal health care reform. As Betsy Russell noted at her all-things-legislature blog, the Supreme Court has come down harshly against nullification efforts in the past. I'll be mentioning the absurdity of those supporting Otter's fight against health care reform in my post about the repeal later in the week, but Pearce deserved his own mention for completely irrational thinking. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily support putting a laptop in the hands of every high school student when clearly schools could use the money and don't even have the infrastructure for such technology, I just don't see how you make the jump from laptops for students to porn-passing students. If Idaho legislators are trying to out crazy each other, Pearce might have won this week's prize.

This smorgasbord seems to be a bit heavy on politics so I thought I'd throw in a few baseball related tidbits that have caught my eye this week. The Yankees bought the Rays top closer--Rafael Soriano. This either means the Yankees are finally admitting Mo is getting old or this means Soriano is being demoted to set-up man. Either way, GM Cashman has been quite vocal about not supporting the deal. The Rays sent Garza to the Cubs and parted ways with Crawford and Pena, but the biggest signings this off-season seem to be the pick up of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez. In other Yankees news, they picked up Andruw Jones from the White Sox. I'd like to think Andruw still has the ability to make a comeback after the disaster that was the Dodgers and limited playing time in Chicago. However, Jones is getting older and is past his prime. Returning to gold glove status is a long shot. Unfortunately, returning to the Braves was also a long shot. Another former Brave, Blaine Boyer, is headed to the Mets (the Mets also picked up Chris Young and Scott Hairston). Vernon Wells is moving from the cold Toronto winter to sunny Anaheim. In exchange for Wells, the Blue Jays are picking up Napoli and Rivera. After a comeback of epic proportions in Texas, Vlad Guerrero is apparently headed to Baltimore. I think some of the biggest and most interesting trades have come from teams either rebuilding or hoping for a break-out year, teams like the Nationals, A's, Mariners, and Orioles. Maybe it comes as no surprise that the most controversial and bizarre trades have come from the two New York teams. More money, more chances to baffle those watching the hot stove.

In other baseball news, a judge decided this week that retired players with knowledge of Barry Bonds' steroid use will have to testify. One active player, Jason Giambi, who was recently picked up again by the Rockies system will also have to testify.

That's all I've got for now. Baseball and politics on a Saturday morning. Yes, this blog is getting back on track.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Of All Days To Be Discombobulated

I'm a bit discombobulated today due to a lack of sleep and a long day yesterday. There's so much I want to say about the 50th anniversary of JFK's inaugural address, the passing of Sargent Shriver, the new digital archive at the Kennedy Library, the retirement announcement of Joe Lieberman and the House vote to repeal health care reform, but all of it will have to wait until I have my chores done, some sleep and a less finicky back. In the meantime, click on Google's fantastic logo above to find JFK's inaugural address.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sargent Shriver, 1915-2011

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Lawrence O'Donnell interviewed former Senator George McGovern last night on The Last Word. Prior to the McGovern interview (which begins at the 5:39 mark), Lawrence spoke with Shriver's neice Kerry Kennedy. More on this later.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

New Music Tuesday

Usually the first new and notable albums of the new year start pouring into stores in the 2nd and 3rd weeks of January. And today being the 3rd Tuesday of January 2011 means plenty of new music. Here's an abbreviated list of today's new tunes:
Interestingly enough, there are a few artists with new albums this week that have had a long break (some longer than others) like Social Distortion and Gregg Allman (yes, that Gregg Allman).

A few solid releases from Cage the Elephant, Cake and Steel Magnolia last week, next week's releases from Iron & Wine, Amos Lee and Cold War Kids, and January 2011 will make up a good chunk of what will turn into the best music of 2011.

Maybe I'll get around to writing up a list of my favorite new albums of 2010 before the first month of 2011 is over. If not, there's always next year. That's the beauty of the music industry. It continues to release new music and you can bet if it is the third day of the week, it's new music Tuesday.

Friday, January 14, 2011

More Tucson Links

I know it has been a long depressing week for the thousands of Americans that have been watching Tucson and the debate surrounding what did or didn't contribute to that tragedy. While I hope we are all learning, grieving, recovering, finding hope and believing in what is great about this country, I know that it will be a long time before those who were directly affected by what happened in Tucson are able to completely do the same. In the meantime, let's keep the dialogue open.

Here are some links that I think speak to what we can learn from Tucson and what we can collectively do as a country to address the glaringly obvious flaws in our mental health care system, the dangerous gun laws we currently have in place, and our national civil discourse:
As President Obama said in his speech in Tucson, "[i]f this tragedy prompts reflection and debate -- as it should -- let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost."

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shaking My Head

Is there anything you can say to the folks on the far right who are blaming Rep. Gabrielle Giffords for getting herself shot? First it was the Village Idiot and now the founder of Tucson Tea Party says the congresswoman shouldn't have held an event "in full view of the public." Ironic that members of the tea party fashion themselves after a group of Americans who had a major problem with taxation without representation. Do you want representation or not? Would you rather your representative never interact with you? Apparently so. All I can do is shake my head.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Democratic Response to State of the State

Joint Minority Senate & House Response to State of the State Address
Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It is 2011 and we are in the third year of this recession. More than 70,000 Idahoans are out of work—there are far fewer jobs today than there were in 2007. We just learned last week that while unemployment seems to be declining in many parts of the country, the ranks of the unemployed are still growing in Idaho. That has real implications for Idaho families, communities and, of course, state revenue.

Idahoans are frustrated by our economic conditions. They want a government that is actively working to improve our economy and our quality of life in this state. Idaho is at a crossroads and it’s time to address the enormous challenges that we face.

Yesterday the governor presented his view of the world and of our collective future. Unfortunately, his view takes a very hands-off approach to our current situation. Which is to say, in the face of enormous challenges and widespread economic hardship, the governor and many legislators have no plans to do anything significant. In fact, rather than being proactive, they’ve simply strengthened their resolve to dismantle the very public structures that help create prosperity.

Like sunrise tomorrow, the future will come. The decisions we make this session will help define that future.

We agree with the Governor that these decisions may be difficult. But while the decisions won't come easily, the priorities should. These priorities, we believe, should be jobs, providing a high-quality education to our children, protecting Idaho’s most vulnerable citizens, and ensuring that our state government is responsible, ethical, and accountable. Priorities that recognize our shared values—values like honesty and fairness, responsibility and community, opportunity and prosperity.

Here is where we may differ from the Governor. We believe that maintaining our public structures is essential to protecting the Idaho way of life for our families and our businesses. It is not “tyranny” to feed hungry children, care for the disabled or educate workers.

We have been told over and over that government must live within its means. This is common sense. In fact, we’re constitutionally mandated to do so—we don’t have a choice. But what we have found is that what Idahoan’s care about, care deeply about, is the well-being of their families and communities. They want a hopeful and prosperous future for their children, communities that are safe to live in, and a state that is a good place to run a business. Maintaining and improving the quality of Idaho's public structures such as schools, courts, health clinics and so on, is vitally important to economic recovery and setting our state on a path toward prosperity.

It is precisely because families are struggling that we need to make sure our public systems have the resources to respond. We do this not simply by asking "What can we afford?" but also asking "What must we do to protect our future?"

This future should include good jobs, a government of openness and integrity, a fair society that provides quality educational opportunities to all.

We appreciate that three years into the recession, the Governor now recognizes the importance of jobs. We look forward to reviewing his proposal to lower the small business unemployment tax and to free up more small business and start-up capital.

And as we did last year we will propose a number of other initiatives to help Idahoans get back to work. These will include proposals to support the availability of capital for growth, lower the costs for small business, and revise the way the Department of Commerce works. We can do better supporting the training of displaced workers, expand weatherization programs for a weak construction industry, and help local economic development entities expand markets for the businesses in their communities.

Some have said that all we need to do to assure prosperity is to get government out of the way. But we believe that government can help to enable business success. Economic activity depends on transportation systems, energy and telecommunications. It is supported by the courts, safe communities and a strong system of schools and universities. Undermining or dismantling these public structures—which train our workers, provide business-critical infrastructure, and foster innovation and competition—is no way to get the economy moving again.

Education and the opportunity for a brighter future is something we owe to each Idaho child. It is part of our state constitution and a moral duty that we Democrats take seriously. Making choices about how we support our schools here in Idaho ultimately boil down to questions of fairness and our commitment to creating opportunity for our young people.

With the severe cuts to public schools all over the state, we are in real danger of losing the essence of our public education. The proposed budget still leaves a gaping hole that the federal government helped fill the last two years. Only by using federal stimulus and jobs money have we managed to keep public schools from even more harm. But now the backfill is gone, and our schools and our children will suffer.

There is another issue that should offend Idahoans, an issue of fairness. As more and more of the school support is through override levies and property taxes, the divide between rich and not so rich districts becomes more apparent.

The governor is focused on the supposed proper role of government. A simple question—when did it become improper for our communities to educate our kids?

The Governor’s right about another thing—Idahoans are beginning to believe that certain aspects of government are not working for them. They fear that sweetheart deals, loopholes and special exceptions have cast justifiable doubts as to whether all Idahoans pay their fair share for critical state services. The people’s sense of fairness is further offended when our own public officials seemingly don’t pay their fair share.

We agree with the governor that tax commission changes are overdue. We believe we should do all we can to restore confidence in state government.

Not only should the tax commission be run fairly and openly, but we should make every reasonable effort to collect taxes that are due and owed, including sales taxes on Internet sales in Idaho. Failing to do puts our homegrown Idaho businesses at a disadvantage while out-of-state online retailers benefit.

Furthermore, we should recover missing diesel fuel taxes, and make further efforts to close the tax gap by insisting that taxes owed be paid. Most Idahoans and most businesses on Main Street play by the rules and should be treated fairly—it’s the right thing to do and only our state government, not the private sector, can make sure the playing field is level.

At the end of the day, the revenue anticipated in this budget is insufficient to meet the needs of the State and her citizens. $100 million less in state and federal support for Medicaid services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled—those most vulnerable in our communities—will have consequences.

We cannot ignore the long- and short-term consequences of decisions. We are concerned that in the rush to have a short session the majority party will follow an easier course for the sake of expediency. But in their zeal to "downsize" government we will make it very difficult to maintain the public structures needed for a 21st century economy. And in the end, lack of critical investments now means unavoidable and larger expenses down the road.

While there are some potential wins for the businesses and citizens of Idaho in this budget, it is almost the same as in the past years—push off real commitments to a later day, plug holes using one time money, and slash critical State services. This approach lacks a vision for success. And, the Republicans refuse to level with the people of Idaho about the structural deficit that will continue to haunt us for many years to come.

The Governor suggested last week that we need to examine the cost-benefits analyses of everything we do. We agree. We think all Idahoans deserve to see the cost-benefit analysis of a plan to embrace tax cuts (which will likely benefit the wealthy) while defunding colleges, public schools, community health support, and failing to maintain our roads and bridges. These are truly the proper role of government.

We know that we are a minority in the Statehouse. But we represent a lot of voices throughout the state. Government has a role to play in promoting the common good, advancing the wellbeing of our communities, and enhancing and protecting our quality of life. Our future prosperity requires civil institutions and public structures.

We Democrats commit to the Governor, our colleagues and the citizens of Idaho that we will work diligently and cooperatively for the common good, that we will point out bad choices and their potential consequences. We will do all that we can to support progress for the State of Idaho and help to shape a brighter future for our citizens.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Minnick Being Considered for Comptroller of Currency?

Reuters reported last week that former Idaho Representative Walt Minnick has met with Obama administration officials including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to discuss possible presidential nomination to serve as either as Comptroller of the Currency or head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), two federal regulatory agencies.

Not surprisingly, this news made it's way around banking circles long before it made it's way to Minnick's home state.

The American Bankers Association's website devoted to tracking news related to the Dodd-Frank reform bill noted the discussions between Minnick and the Obama administration on Friday, the day Reuters first reported the talks. From October 14, 2008 through October 13, 2010, the American Bankers Association donated $15,000 to Walt Minnick's campaign. As the Dodd-Frank bill was being debated in Congress, Minnick proposed giving the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency "the power to establish both tough new consumer protection regulations and its existing safety and soundness regulation" while simultaneously working to strip reform legislation of the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Agency and accepting an obscene amount in donations from the industry with the most at stake in the debate--the financial sector.

A word of caution to the Obama administration and Geithner's treasury: Don't let this anti-regulation, anti-government DINO con you into a nomination to any post. He and his deep pockets conned the Idaho Democratic Party into letting him run for Congress after a strong candidate had already announced, his two-year term was fraught with anti-Democratic language that only served to fuel tea party ire, and all of this culminated in a nasty campaign for re-election. He has left our party in shambles, he has ruined the inroads made between the Democratic party in this state and the Hispanic community and ultimately handed the national GOP one more seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Walt Minnick wasn't right for the Idaho Democratic Party, he wasn't right for Idaho and he isn't right for the Obama administration.

Tucson Links

Here's a list of links I've found particularly insightful in regard to the shooting in Tucson and useful in how we as a country move forward. Finding my own words is proving difficult.
I know it isn't original, but it seems these folks are able to encapsulate so many of my current thoughts, beliefs and worries. If you can only pick one of these links to read, I highly recommend Dave Neiwert at Crooks & Liars.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mental Health Care In the Wake of Tucson

As I was listening to Joe Klein on Andrea Mitchell Reports this morning, Klein invoked the history of civil commit laws and how they were used freely decades ago to protect the public from those who were perceived to be a threat to themselves and others. Klein commented that we've gone from one extreme to the other in terms of mental health--an over abundance of incarcerations and psychiatric commitments to the exact opposite. In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson over the weekend, the one thing I feel we should be focusing on as a country is mental health care.

First, let be clear about a few things. I do not agree with what is currently being said on the right. The inability for those on the right to admit that the rhetoric they have employed over the past few years comes at a cost is unfortunate. I believe, as Dave Neiwert at Crooks & Liars said in the title of a superb post on the topic, "Yes, Jared Loughner was 'crazy'. That doesn't exculpate the milieu that unhinged him." I also do not agree that having a firearm, concealed or open carry, would have done anything to prevent Saturday's shooting. I do not agree that the answer to the growing number of incidents of domestic terrorism is for more people to carry guns. I also fully support the Brady Bill and reimplementing legislation that for ten years prevented the legal ownership of extended ammunition clips like the one used in Saturday's shooting. I do not believe that states like the one in which I live as well as Arizona where the shooting took place are going to change any gun laws anytime soon. However, none of these things are at the forefront of my mind. Changing not only the process, but the perception of mental health care in this country is something that should be explored and implemented sooner rather than later.

If you don't believe something like what happened in Arizona could happen here, you are gravely mistaken. Take for instance the young college student who was shot in the parking lot of a busy coffee house in Pocatello last year. The young man did nothing wrong and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. His shooting could have been prevented. How? His shooter was a man who had been impacted by the numerous budget cuts by the Idaho Legislature that have placed the burden of a poor economy and a shrinking government disproportionately on the backs of those least capable of lobbying for their own cause--the poor, kids and the disabled (physically, mentally, or otherwise)--and was desperately in need of mental health care. What happened in Arizona, no matter what the motive and catalyst, was certainly made all the more possible by the shooter's unhinged mental state. What happened in Arizona in terms of this young man slipping through the cracks and out of the reach of effective mental health care can happen here and has.

The day after our latest elections here in Idaho, State Senator Nicole LeFavour (D-District 20) wrote an elegiacally stirring post about the "starving" of state government saying that "things break down when you starve state government, when you cut it again and again and again." Senator LeFavour has been a tireless advocate for those who most need an advocate, a position that has not won her the favor of some of her colleagues and many Idahoans. She understands her position as one who represents a liberal constituency and the meager 30% of Idahoans who align politically and ideologically with her, "[t]he 30% that worry how expensive it is to lives and budgets when we cut mental health and substance abuse treatment, driving people and their families into desperation and crisis." Unfortunately, the majority of Idaho legislators would rather spend money on prisons than on mental health care and education (two things that greatly affect the number of incarcerated Idahoans). I know nothing of the mental health care system in Arizona, but if it is anything like the system in Idaho, I truly hope the people of Arizona have a dedicated public servant like Senator LeFavour leading the charge to improve mental health care.

The flaws in mental health care in this country extend far beyond any discussion of the mentally ill acquiring dangerous weapons. Yes, it was far too easy for Jared Loughner to purchase a handgun in Arizona without alerting anyone of the coming tragedy. But the larger problem is the lack of mental health reporting. We saw it with Virginia Tech and we are seeing it now. Someone with the mental health history of a man like Loughner should not be able to purchase a handgun. Period. He should have been flagged, he should have been turned away, and he should have received mental health treatment. That statement alone consists of three places this kid fell through the cracks. In order for his name to be flagged in the FBI's NICS database, authorities would have had to submit a report. Overworked, underfunded agencies are often years behind in such reporting. Once in the store, Loughner should not have so easily obtained a weapon even with a clear background check--it shouldn't be so easy to lie on a simple mental health and drug use questionnaire. Self-reporting isn't going to keep a gun out of the hands of a deranged individual. And anyone with any degree of mental instability should be able to attain affordable, effective treatment. The situation that is being recounted regarding Loughner's time at college should have been reported to authorities or should have resulted in mandatory mental health treatment and evaluation. However, community colleges fall under the same restraints as overburdened government agencies.

Returning to the comments of Joe Klein this morning, another dilemma quite common in mental health care is that of the rights of the individual. In the early 20th century, even so late as the 1950s, it was not uncommon for a husband to seek a court order to have his wife committed to a state hospital, insane asylum or mental institution for any number of so-called mental illnesses (some were, of course, illnesses like schizophrenia, but others were as commonplace as premenstrual syndrome or disobedience). Parents were having their children committed for any number of reasons, most of which were things we would consider today to be simply part of adolescence. Courts became the last resort of those whose loved ones could no longer be treated at home or trusted to not harm themselves or others. Eventually, and not after years of abuses, it became evident that civil commit laws (what is often referred to as involuntary commitment) were threatening the civil liberties of Americans. With deinstitutionalization, decreasing stigma surrounding mental health care, and greater concern for civil liberties came a nearly complete transition from a country that sought to protect the public from the mentally ill no matter the cost to a country ignorant of the needs of the very members of society that were once considered an extreme threat to the public safety.

I certainly don't claim to know what the answer is to the problem of people like Loughner falling through the cracks, but we have to begin a serious dialogue or incidents will continue to occur. We have to understand that rhetoric may sound precisely like rhetoric and hyperbole to you or I, but to someone struggling with their own mental health that rhetoric may sound like an assignment to do real harm. In the current political and cultural climate, we aren't going to change how accessible guns are, but we can make mental health treatment more accessible. We can encourage those among us who are on the brink of mental and emotional collapse to begin and continue treatment and we can ensure that those who do so are not shunned.

Until we get mental health care under control in this country, devoting to it as many resources and research hours as we do physical health care (and yes, even prisons), we are always going to find ourselves repeating the oft used adjectives like 'loner' and 'disturbed' on chaotic Saturday mornings when young, deranged men take guns where they have no reason to be and walk into crowds outside grocery stores and begin shooting.

Stopping the Kennedy Smears

For some time now, Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films have had a video and petition circulating to stop the History Channel from airing an historically inaccurate miniseries about the Kennedy family. I wrote about it here back in February when Brave New Films began their campaign and I am happy to announce that Brave New Films and the numerous historians who objected to the right-wing smear were successful. The History Channel has pulled their miniseries.

The eight-part miniseries touted a powerhouse ensemble cast that included Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Barry Pepper, and Tom Wilkinson. A&E Television, who owns the History Channel, pulled the plug after objections piled up from historians, politicians and members of the Kennedy family (specifically Caroline Kennedy).

Though the History Channel will not air the miniseries, The Kennedys will run in Canada, internationally, and there is talk that Showtime might pick it up for airing in the United States.

For some time now, the History Channel has become less and less historically accurate. For whatever reason (read: ratings), reality-based shows and conspiracy theories have found a home at History and historically accurate programming is quickly going the way of the dodo. In the case of The Kennedys, the History Channel admits the miniseries is "historical fiction" which is a huge admission for a channel that devotes considerable air time to Nostradamus. Regardless of whether or not the film is aired in the U.S. by another outlet, History's nixing of the miniseries is no small victory for historians.

Why does an inaccurate miniseries matter to historians? It isn't simply a matter of historians being fierce defenders of the historical record. And it certainly has nothing to do with the political affiliation of said historians.

There are few Americans born after 1968 who have any interest at all in the Kennedy family or the legacy of the Kennedy brothers. Americans born after 1980 have no memory of a Kennedy brother running for president. Many Americans don't even know or could name the generation of Kennedys that includes a congressman who just left office (Patrick Kennedy), California's most recent first lady (Maria Shriver), a city councilman (Bobby Shriver) or a former gubernatorial candidate and Lieutenant Governor (Kathleen Townsend) and those are the Kennedys on the front lines of public service--there are Kennedys who run amazing non-profits (Caroline Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation; Timothy Shriver, Special Olympics; Anthony Shriver, Best Buddies International; Mark Shriver, Save the Children) and Kennedys who work for distinguished organizations (Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Foundation & Amnesty International Leadership Council; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Natural Resources Defense Council; Kerry Kennedy, VSA Arts & National Advisory Board of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Americans deserve to have an accurate historical record to turn to when they do seek information about the leaders of their country, an inaccurate one does no favor to the American people. Additionally, it isn't fair to any family, especially one so deeply devoted to public service, to be smeared to the extreme that the History Channel indirectly intended with their miniseries. As a historian myself and someone who has studied the Kennedy family and admired many members of it, I would personally like to thank Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films for their successful campaign to stop the Kennedy smears.

As I said, this is no small victory for those who dedicate themselves to the practice of history and the defense of the historical record. Regardless of our political affiliations, we should also find this a victory for our shared American past.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thoughts & Prayers

Thoughts & prayers go out to Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), her staff, and family as well as to the other victims and their families affected today by the horrible shooting in Tucson. For up to the minute news on the shooting and the status of the congresswoman, I offer these links:
Because so much is still unknown, I will decline to comment here until specifics are determined.

Friday, January 7, 2011

What Repealing Health Care Reform Would Mean for the Economy

Though I don't necessarily agree with the White House strategy on this, the following post from the White House blog is well worth reading. The Republicans are going to go after health care reform regardless of how doomed their game plan is, but while they play this little game in the name of the voters, we would do well to remember how important and necessary health care reform is. Here's a reminder from Kaiser Health as to what aspects of the Affordable Care Act went into effect as the new year began. And to the post I'm sharing on its original site, you can find it here.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act will Hurt the Economy
(from the White House blog, written by Stephanie Cutter)

The House Republican Health Care Plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and take away all the new freedom and control it gives the American people over their health care and give it back to insurance companies will not only raise costs for individuals and businesses, but it will hurt our economy.

Since the President signed the Affordable Care Act into law last March, the economy has created over 1 million private sector jobs, including the 113,000 private sector jobs created in December announced today. So, at a time when our economy is getting stronger, repealing the law would hamper that important economic progress by increasing costs on individuals and businesses, weakening the benefits and protections that Americans with private insurance are already enjoying, and adding more than a trillion dollars to our deficits.

Opponents’ claim that the law is “job-killing” is in direct contradiction to what has actually been happening in the economy since enactment. In fact, repealing the law would likely slow down the growth of our economy. Here are the facts:
  • Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, the economy has created over 1 million private sector jobs. The unemployment rate is 9.4%, lower than it was in March 2010—9.7%.
  • In the period during and right after the enactment of the law, the economy grew by 2.7%.
  • Consumer confidence in a range of areas have improved, including retail and food sales by 4%, and auto sales by 7% since the enactment of the law.
  • Slowing the growth of health care costs—as the Affordable Care Act does—will have the likely impact of creating more jobs since businesses will have to spend less on health care for their employees. This reduction could create more than 300,000 additional jobs.
  • The law widely expands coverage to Americans, thereby reducing the hidden tax of about $1,000 that families with insurance pay each year in additional premium costs to cover the uncompensated costs of the uninsured.
  • The law reduces small businesses’ health care expenses by giving them $40 billion worth of tax credits, and through the creation of new, competitive state-based insurance Exchanges. Exchanges will enable individuals and small businesses to pool together and use their market strength to buy coverage at a lower cost, the same way large employers do today, giving them the freedom to launch their own companies without worrying whether health care will be available when they need it.
  • The law will lower the deficit by over $100 billion this decade and by over $1 trillion in the following decade.
Repealing the Affordable Care Act would have a devastating impact on our economy. In addition to hurting some of the economic progress that has been made over the past ten months the Congressional Budget Office found that repealing the law would add over a quarter of a trillion dollars--$230 billion—to the deficit in the first decade, and more than a trillion dollars in the second decade; increase the number of uninsured by 32 million Americans; increase premiums for large employers; and will force consumers who buy coverage on the individual market to pay more out of pocket for fewer benefits.

In addition, Harvard Economist David Cutler found in a report released today by the Center for American Progress that repealing the law would significantly increase costs and reduce job growth. It will “…revert us back to the old system for financing and delivering health care and lead to substantial increases in total medical spending” by:
  • Adding up to $2,000 annually to family premiums and increasing overall medical spending $125 billion by the end of this decade.
  • Preventing 250,000 to 400,000 jobs from being created annually over the next decade.
  • Suppressing entrepreneurship among workers who may have started new businesses, or sought new opportunities in the economy since they will no longer be free from worrying whether affordable coverage would be available to them in the new Exchanges, when they need it the most.
Again, these facts speak for themselves. Repealing the Affordable Care Act would hurt families, businesses, and our economy.
  • View a blog post about how many jobs our economy has created.
(Stephanie Cutter is Assistant to the President for Special Projects.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Alomar & Blyleven to Cooperstown

It surprised me last year when Andre Dawson was the loan entry into the Baseball Hall of Fame, not because Dawson wasn't worthy, but because it was Roberto Alomar's first year of eligibility and I thought he would go into the hall on his first ballot. If there was ever a 2nd baseman who deserved to be in the Hall, it was Roberto Alomar. I'm pleased to see that the voters got it right this year and have selected Alomar and pitcher Bert Blyleven as the Hall of Fame class of 2011.

The way the HoF balloting works is 75% of the votes must go to the player on the ballot who will enter the Hall--for instance in 2010, Andre Dawson received 77.9% of the votes thus securing his spot in history. In 2010, Blyleven received 74.2% and Alomar received 73.7%, both narrowly missing the chance to be part of the 2010 class. This year, Alomar received 90% and Blyleven received 79.7% of the vote. They will enter the Hall next summer in Cooperstown.

While I believe that Alomar was a year overdue for entry in the Hall, Blyleven has been waiting since 1998 to enter the Hall and would have had only one more year of eligibility had he not entered the Hall this year

Interestingly, the retired player most under the steroid cloud is actually going backwards each year in the number of votes needed to enter the Hall. Since admitting to using steroids while playing in the major leagues (he was the last person on earth to admit what the rest of us already knew), Mark McGwire went from 23.7% in 2010 to 19.8% in 2011. McGwire admitted to steroid use as part of an agreement with the St. Louis Cardinals prior to them hiring him as hitting instructor. Rafael Palmeiro, also under the cloud of steroid use, received 11% of the votes this year in his first year of eligibility for the Hall.

Other notable trends in HoF voting include the increasing number of votes for Barry Larkin--
62.1% in 2011 from 51.6% last year in his first year of eligibility; a slight increase in voting for Jack Morris--53.5% this year over last year's 52.3%; increasing numbers for Tim Raines; decreasing numbers for Edgar Martinez and Lee Smith; and, a respectable 41.7% of votes Jeff Bagwell in his first year of eligibility. It's beginning to look like the 2012 or 2013 class might include Barry Larkin and Jack Morris, who, had Morris's arm held out, could have been teammates in Cincinnati in 1995. Maybe by the time Morris gains enough votes to enter the Hall, I will have forgiven him for Game 7 of the 1991 World Series... Right.

A hearty congratulations to Roberto Alomar and Burt Byleven as well as to the Baseball Writers Association of America for getting it right.