Hagibis ends search for a positive topic

By Judy Ferro

I started this week looking for something to write about other than impeachment. 

I soon was hunting for something to write about other than impeachment and abandoning our allies the Kurds.  

Then it was impeachment, abandoning the Kurds, causing the release of 70,000 ISIS fighters who’d been prisoners of the Kurds,and sending troops to Saudi Arabia. 

From the Guardian and the news website Sludge I learned that U.S. Senators and their spouses have $28 to $96 million invested in corporate stocks. (Reporting is by wide ranges.) Senators who will be deciding whether Amazon gets a $10 billion defense contract own between $423,000 and $1.3 million of its stock. 

From Newsweek I learned that under Secretary Betsy Devos, the U.S. Department of Education has attempted to collect loans from 160,000 victims of “predatory student lending” in spite of a court ruling in June 2018 that a 2016 order had cancelled those debts.  

From the newsletter of Rep. Matt Erpelding I learned that “Idaho Atty. Gen. Lawrence Wasden submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule against individuals” who were fired for being LGBTQ. 

That wasn’t as bad as District 11 Rep. Tammy Nichols denouncing the Model U.N. activity for students as  “indoctrination,” but it does hurt some hardworking individuals and invite economic retaliation.   

I was still searching for something positive, maybe even uplifting.  

Then, Hagibis. 

When I first read that Typhoon Hagibis was expected to reach Japan on Saturday, I was worried about two friends who were visiting there. Later, I learned that thousands of people have friends there. Japan was hosting both the Rugby World Cup and the Japanese Grand Prix last weekend.  

Obviously, I wasn’t going to find a positive theme this week.   

Imagine waiting, waiting and watching for a storm beyond imagination, a storm larger than Japan itself  with a 55-mile wide eye and wind gusts up to 120 mph. Imagine knowing that government agencies had ordered a million people to evacuate their homes and advised ten million more to do so.

Games were cancelled. 

Planes were grounded, then trains. 

People hurried to safer ground. 

Store shelves emptied before noon. Streets were deserted. 

Then, millions waited–and hoped the storm would veer.  

Hagibis hit Tokyo about 7 p.m. and dropped eight inches of rain.  Elsewhere, in the island nation the rains reached two feet– even three.

A 5.3-magnitude earthquake added to the number of mudslides and broken levees. 

More than 430,000 people were left without electricity.    

 I expect “Hagibis” will be a movie one day. 

Unless a bigger storm hits next year–or the year after that.

I wonder how many million minds thought “climate crisis”–and how many resented major polluters like the United States for worrying more about coal and oil billionaires than about humanity itself. 

Hagibis makes our weather anomalies seem trivial.  

That intense September storm in Montana brought bitter cold, winds of 30-35 mph, and four feet of snow in mountain areas. 

The dry Santa Ana winds brought Southern California wind gusts up to 60 mph and temperatures up to 85 degrees.  

And last week’s snowstorm in Spokane dropped 3.3 inches of snow and cut power to more than 20,000 people.  Tree limbs, breaking under the weight of freezing snow on leaves still green, littered the streets. Schools closed

And much of Idaho remained sheltered from even these weather events.  

Today, give thanks. Think of the people in Japan. Cut your energy use. And demand that our leaders do more to cut pollution. 

Idaho teachers

Idaho is facing a teacher shortage.
And it’s bound to get worse.  A report from the Economic Policy Institute says the United States was short 110,000 teachers in 2018 and that may shoot up to 200,000 by 2025.
That’s serious–two decades of research indicate good teachers make a major difference in the classroom.
It’s not that Idaho legislators have been ignoring the problem.
Beginning teacher pay has increased $10,000 in less than a decade.
Stipends for teachers who do more–coach kids, work on committees, mentor other teachers–are better funded.
Twelve hundred teachers received $4,000 Master Teacher Premiums this month.  And funding the third rung of the career ladder salary program made the shortlist of recommendations by Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 education task force.
Is this enough to end the perennial shortage of qualified teachers in Idaho?
Not likely. We’re basically keeping up with actions other states are taking–and Idaho is starting with teacher pay more than $10,000 below the national average. And housing prices nearly doubling in recent years means we can no longer imagine that a lower cost of living is enough to make up the difference.
According to the State Board of Education, our problem is retention. Idaho issues enough teacher certificates to have a surplus of educators, but one-third never teach in this state. And 10 percent of out teachers each year quit each year, substantially more than the national average of eight percent.
Peter Green of Forbes magazine is emphatic that the  problem is teacher pay. “If I can’t buy a Porsche for $1.98, that doesn’t mean there’s an automobile shortage.”
Yet, he does note other factors of importance. “…over the past couple of decades teachers have also suffered a steady drumbeat of disrespect, the repeated refrain that US schools are failing and terrible, an accountability movement that is more about threats than support.”
An 18-year-old report from the ASCD, a professional learning community for teachers, helps us understand how harmful this is.  “…New teachers enter teaching primarily for its intrinsic or psychological rewards—that is, the opportunity to engage in meaningful work, the pleasure of working with children, and love of a particular subject area—rather than extrinsic rewards such as salary or public respect.”
Nobody chooses teaching for the pay. Good teachers want to make a difference in their students’ lives.
Class size matters. Teachers need time to listen to each student, acknowledge their interests, and make them feel valued. The Boise School District, with its ample tax base, has an average class size of 22 to 24. Teachers elsewhere may be dealing with 32 to 35; for secondary teachers, it can mean 150 or more students.
Student behavior matters. Theoretically, Idaho teachers may remove any student who prevents others from learning from their classroom. In reality, though, too many administrators may see a student in the office as a sign the teacher is failing.
Paul Boyce of the Foundation of Economic Education points out one more thing that matters–teacher autonomy.
Teachers thrive on using their own creativity and imagination to meet the needs of students. Students have less respect and are less motivated if they feel they are getting a canned course.
And education is being increasingly dominated by those who want teachers to be their robots. They want testing and accountability and control.
They don’t understand intrinsic rewards. They think teachers won’t work their hardest unless someone is telling them how bad they are.
And, when their changes haven’t worked, they’ve sought more control.
We must listen to Boyce, “In order to improve the quality of teachers, we must first empower the ones we already have.”

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019


I hope people understand that Democrats didn’t want to impeach President Trump.
Sure, some did. A half-dozen progressive organizations are sending out emails saying, “We did it! Donate here.”
But Democrats have walked away from many chances to impeach the president.
They don’t see Mike Pence as an improvement. This isn’t a parliamentary system where we vote again. Impeachment won’t stop Senators from churning out judicial appointments, border agents from caging children, or Russians from playing havoc with computers of Federal and state agencies.
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has kept the Democratic House focused on legislation that makes Democratic values clear. Now over 50 House bills await action in the Senate–bills to lower prescription drug costs and protect Americans with preexisting conditions, to fight government corruption and protect the right to vote; to fight global warming and protect our water and natural resources; and to save net neutrality, stop violence against women, and end our involvement in Saudi attacks on Yemen.
Every Democratic House member facing a 2020 campaign has a voting record showing  they’ve worked to preserve and extend values Americans agrees upon.
One up-and-down vote on Trump himself will overshadow all that.
Now that the President has created a crisis and Pelosi has opened a query about impeachment, Democrats are worrying about the President resorting to war to increase his popularity and Republican politicians are sending out polls to beef up their donor lists.
Even the President’s staunchest supporters should understand that his recent actions scream for impeachment.
The Mueller investigation made it clear that foreign intervention in a U.S. election was very, very bad, but not an impeachable offense unless it could be proven that the President had taken part in it–and 272 contacts between Trump campaign staffers and Russians wasn’t absolute proof.
Yet, President Trump claims he didn’t know that asking the newly elected leader of Ukraine to do opposition research for him would cause a problem.
And that’s the politic way of describing it.
First, the President held up $391 million in military aid to the Ukraine. Then, when Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, asked about the funds, with plenty of government officials listening, Trump said he had a favor to ask.
Even though the Ukraine had already investigated and found no foul play in Joe Biden’s urging for the firing of prosecutor Viktor Shokin in 2015, if Zelenskiy really wanted his weapons, he could certainly find some proof–as a favor for his new friend Donald Trump.
And, no, having spent lots of money at a Trump hotel would not suffice.
Trump continued to sit on the aid funds for another two months–and released them only after the New York Times reported details of the July 25 phone call.
I don’t know which explanation is harder to believe–that the President doesn’t yet understand that asking for a foreign government to help with his re-election campaign is a crime or that he wanted to force impeachment actions.
Frank Bruni, a Democratic columnist for the New York Times, writes, “President Trump deserves to be impeached. But the prospect terrifies me, and it should terrify you, too.”
“A dangerously polarized and often viciously partisan country [will] grow more so.” Impeachment will crowd out the issues that need attention like infrastructure, health care fixes, and education.
And the worst case scenario?  “Trump paints himself a martyr, eludes conviction in the Senate, frames that as exoneration and watches his fans mobilize and turn out as never before.”
Democrats faced a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation and chose to uphold our laws.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Corruption / Reform

Cleaning up corruption is going to be a big issue for Democrats in 2020.
It worked well for Donald Trump as a candidate in 2016. His calls to “drain the swamp” electrified rally goers across the country.
As President, however, Trump refused to put his Trump Organization assets into a blind trust as he had promised to do.
Staff and cabinet members felt free to follow his example. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s family retained businesses with ties to the Chinese and Russian governments.  Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke entered a real estate deal with oil-producer Halliburton. And EPA Director Scott Pruitt came up with a number of ways to profit, including seeking a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife.
In August 2018 Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced an Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. It included restrictions on Federal employees becoming lobbyists, required the president and vice president to sell off corporate assets, and required the IRS to release eight years of tax returns for presidential and vice presidential candidates. Equally important, it restricted the ability of corporations to affect rules by agencies, such as the EPA and FDA, that were charged with governing them.
The bill died a quick death in the Senate Finance Committee.But a PAC End Citizens United poll found that anti-corruption outranked even Social Security/Medicare and economy/jobs among voters in swing House districts.
Democrats gained 41 seats in the U.S. House, and Nancy Pelosi, newly reinstated as House Speaker, made it a point to see the first bill introduced to the new Democratic majority– H.R. 1–took direct aim at political corruption and voter suppression.
Provisions in the nearly 600-page For the People Act would forbid politicians to use taxpayer money to settle sexual-harassment claims, require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to disclose 10 years of income-tax returns, and create an ethics code for the U.S. Supreme Court.
The House passed it March 8.
The Republican Senate has sat on it since.
And the corruption continues.
“Dark money,” i.e.,money from unknown sources, is flowing to the Trump campaign.  Opensecrets.com states the amount at nearly $65 million. Among Democratic candidates, only John Delaney is said to have received any–about a quarter million total.
In June Congress learned that an Air Force flight crew had been put up at Trump’s golf resort in Scotland and asked for a full report. It came last week and indicates the U.S. military has spent up to $184,000 at that one resort.
According to Huffpost, Trump claimed that he didn’t order that–Air Force officials just had “good taste.”
And then Vice President Mike Pence and entourage stayed at Trump’s Irish hotel 180 miles from meetings he was attending in Dublin. The commute involved an hour-long car ride and a 40-minute flight. According to CNN, Pence’s chief of staff said the President  hadn’t ordered the stay–he’d just recommended it.
And now, news is leaking about another type of corruption. President Trump asked the leader of the Ukraine to dig up some dirt on Joe Biden’s son. It’s like all the criticism over Russia’s role in his 2016 campaign hasn’t registered with him.
Trump followed up by withholding military aid to the Ukraine. The Sept. 20 Washington Post reported, “During August and September, lawmakers were engaged in…an unprecedented struggle with the administration to release nearly $400 million in military assistance for Ukraine.”
Trump released the money within a day.
Senator Warren has presented a new anti-corruption plan. This one has nearly 100 provisions.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Local politics

Two developments in local politics caught my interest now that filing for the Nov. 5 elections has closed: the Canyon County Elections Office was extremely slow in releasing the names of school board candidates and John McGee filed for Caldwell City Council.
For some–those for whom elections begin and end with choosing among candidates on a ballot–getting candidate names only 50 days before an election is no big deal.
Others, however, want to make sure someone they can support is on the ballot–even if they have to run themselves.
Yes, some candidates do decide to run on the final day of filing. I once helped a city council candidate get enough signatures Friday afternoon–not because he couldn’t afford the filing fee, but because he didn’t want everyone to know how late he made up his mind.
The Idaho Elections Office posts filings for 105 legislators, plus state and Congressional candidates, at the end of each work day and after lunch on the final days.
So it was disappointing this year to have the staff of County Elections insisting that callers wanting to know the names of candidates file an Idaho Freedom of Information request for days after filing ended.  .
This wasn’t an election. There were no ballots to count. It was simply a matter of 16 public-funded entities passing on the names on six or so applications.
Why wasn’t each one wasn’t required to post candidate information to an on-line document before 5 p.m. each day?  Will it take legislative action?
Am I as upset about John McGee running just seven years after his actions drove fellow Republicans to force his resignation from the legislature?
Not really
I was upset in 2010 when everyone seemed sure McGee had a straight shot to being governor. He’d been student body president at both his high school and college; he had the required wife and two kids–a son and a daughter; and was named “State Republican Legislator of the Year” in this first term in the House. Just four years later, he was elected chairman of the College of Idaho Board of Trustees–a position held by Cecil Andrus during his last term as governor.
Soon after the 2010 Sunshine reports came out, I wrote a piece titled “Who’s Buying Our Boy?”
In 2010, when half the Canyon County legislators campaigned with less than $20,000, McGee got $110,000 in donations.  Expenses for literature and advertising totaled nearly $50,000 for an election drawing less than 10,000 voters.
And travel expenses were over $6,500.
Admittedly, legislative district 10 was larger then–it extended from Caldwell to Wilder–but $6,500 seemed excessive. Even the $1300 paid to the Sun Valley Company and the $1600 to the Coeur d’Alene resort didn’t explain that amount of travel.
What was most upsetting, though, was that only seven percent of McGee’s contributions came from District 10 addresses.
Out-of-state donors chipped in three times as much.
And about $10,000 came from companies with leaders on the board of ALEC, the far-right American Legislative Exchange Council. That may not sound like much, but it was higher than most of the other 7,380 state legislators in the country received.
It seemed that megacorporations were selecting grooming candidates for higher office in states where relatively small donations could tip elections.
We could see no way to stop them.
Then McGee crashed and burned on his own.
He’s undoubtedly learned some lessons; I hope empathy is one of them.
Note that I’m not endorsing McGee; I know and trust one of his opponents.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019