The Takeover of our Neighbor

The Rise of North Idaho Republican Extremism

I highly recommend Christopher Mathias’ article “Living With The Far-Right Insurgency In Idaho” published in the Huffington Post on Idaho Primary Election Day, May 17 (partially updated on May 19). I read articles in the Huffington Post with some caution, but this article is comprehensive and accurate. Considering that this style of in-your-face Christian nationalism dominating the Republican Party certainly spills over into Spokane County—and Washington’s other eastern border counties—we would all do well to pay close attention. 

Viewing just the Idaho statewide results one might be tempted to breathe a sigh of relief. For example, incumbent Governor Brad Little won the primary against far right extremist Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. But for us, living next door to North Idaho, that sign of relief is unwarranted. .

As you read, be aware that much of what we, as neighbors, will find particularly interesting is near the article’s end. Persevere. It is worth your time.

Shawn Vestal’s excellent article published three days after the election once the results were available offers a clear-eyed view of the results. Mr. Vestal is spot on about Kootenai County—but it gets even crazier up north in Bonner and Boundary Counties as you will see from Christopher Mathias’ Huffington Post article I referenced above. The extremist sweep in Bonner County included Scott Herndon, chairman of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee (like Brent Regan, the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee mastermind) actually running and unseating the incumbent Republican State Senator Jim Woodward as insufficiently extreme. In North Idaho the extremists have the money—and their own media ecosystem—to bend the Republican Party ever rightward. 

Keep to the high ground,


Shawn Vestal: Idaho said no to the far right, but Kootenai County said yes, yes, yes

Broadly speaking, Idaho rejected the wingnut right in Tuesday’s major races.

Kootenai County, on the other hand, embraced it, danced with it, gave it a kiss and invited it to stay for breakfast.

The much-watched, much-covered, much-discussed GOP primary in Idaho went well beyond the simple repudiation of extremists at the top of the ticket. Yes, the atrocious Janice McGeachin will be McGone, for the moment, but the state’s politics is still festering with extremism, and nowhere more than the Coeur d’Alene area.

In statewide races, all (depending on your definitions) of the hard-right candidates lost. Trumpy McGeachin fell to incumbent Gov. Brad Little, who is very conservative but seems boringly moderate compared to the Birchers and near-Nazis elsewhere on the ballot.

The rest of rightest-right failed statewide as well: Priscilla Giddings lost her race for lieutenant governor to Scott Bedke; Branden Durst lost his bid for schools superintendent to Debbie Critchfield; and Dorothy Moon lost in the secretary of state’s race to Phil McGrane.

It wasn’t a pure sweep. Former Rep. Raul Labrador defeated Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who’s been a crucial bulwark against various crackpot ideas. And Moon – a straight-up election denier who wanted to oversee elections (!) – probably only lost because Mary Souza siphoned off a chunk of her votes.

Still, for anyone worried about the radical tilt of the good ship Idaho, the statewide results at the top of the ticket were better than feared.


In Kootenai County, every single one of those candidates won by a mile. The political dominance of the far-right Kootenai County Republican Central Committee, which never met a bigot or a bully it wouldn’t endorse, was sweeping.

McGeachin, an awful candidate by any measure – including the “spoke at a conference with a Holocaust denier” measure – trounced Little in the county returns, 55% to 40%.

Giddings, who doxxed a rape victim, beat Bedke by even more: 63% to 33%.

Moon and Durst won the county by similar margins.

Also: Tax cheat Phil Hart is back! Hart’s high-profile, yearslong refusal to pay his taxes ended with his home (built partly with logs he stole from public lands) being seized and sold in 2015. He won a primary race Tuesday for a Senate seat.

So, for whatever heartening evidence of a moderating slapdown there was in those top races, there were other signals as well. Perhaps none were as clear, in our region, as the KCRCC’s overwhelming wins. In an environment where moderate Republicans have tried to pry the committee’s grip off the community’s throat – and as the North Idaho College board has been briefly restored to some level of sanity following a destructive period of control by a KCRCC favorite – the primary results are sobering.

And across the state, a range of candidates backed by the far-right Idaho Freedom Foundation won and will push the Senate further into the red. That’s a bad sign because the Senate, like Wasden, has been an occasional backstop against the craziest of the crazy.

In other words, the Little-McGeachin race doesn’t really hold up as representative of what happened Tuesday. Another race might sum it up better, one that neither the New York Times nor NPR covered: Sage Dixon versus Todd Engel, in the race for representative of the state’s northernmost District 1.

The incumbent Dixon – once described by Sandpoint’s mayor as “as far right as you can go but … not a nut job” – beat Engel – who has been heroized on the fringe for aiming a rifle at federal agents in the first Bundy standoff.

Dixon won, 52% to 48%, which will have to pass as a victory for sanity. That is really saying something: Dixon, after all, was a member of the Matt Shea road show that traveled to the second Bundy standoff in Oregon to provide support for the occupiers.

But he also seems well-regarded among legislators and is less outwardly crackpotty than many. So far as I know, he has not aimed a sniper rifle at any Bureau of Land Management agents.

Engel, on the other hand, has. He spent more than four years in prison for aiming a loaded AR-15 at federal agents – a conviction that was later overturned, because an appeals court ruled he had been improperly denied the right to represent himself. In the prosecutorial mess that resulted from that case, he wasn’t tried again.

On the strength of this record, he came way too close to beating a real lawmaker. On the modern far right, after all, nothing makes the heart go pitter-pat quite so vigorously as the idea of pointing a gun at a fed.

It’s a relief that more Engel-ish candidates didn’t win at the top tier. But Idaho’s waltz with extremism is far from over.

And in Kootenai County, the dance has become a marriage.

Editor’s note: This article was changed on May 20, 2022 to correct the spelling of Lawrence Wasden on second reference.

Perversion of the Christian Message

And the Local Links

Yesterday a friend sent me a blog post by David French entitled “A Commitment to Kindness Does Not Mean Surrendering Your Convictions”. The quote below is Mr. French’s introduction to the video that follows:

Every day and night Christians by the millions listen to pugilists who stoke rage and hate, and who delight in calling opponents “morons,” “groomers,” and worse. We are not talking about a Christian political culture where the fight is over whose essay is too sharply worded. The present alarm over Christian cruelty has little to do with First Things, and a lot to do with Fox News. It has little to do with The American Conservative and a lot to do with Breitbart, Gateway Pundit, Alex Jones, and the angry, vicious mouthpieces who reach (and teach) American Christians by the millions. 

My friend Tim Keller is immensely influential in the church. So is my friend Russell Moore–who is also constantly attacked for being too “winsome” for the moment. Did you know their combined social media followings are dwarfed by the man below, a man who screams that Democrats are “demons” and a “bunch of devils” who are not welcome at his church? Who says “you ain’t seen an insurrection yet”?

Anthony B. Bradley, PhD @drantbradleyWhat are roots of this theology, ecclesiology, & idolatry? What makes Christian nationalism possible? How does a “pastor” lack the accountability to consistently teach such error & idolatry? His ultimate authority is the Bible, as Greg Locke quotes it. May 21st 202222 Retweets360 Likes

Mr. French goes on:

He [Pastor Greg Locke] has 2.2 million Facebook followers. I’ll say it again. The Christian civility wars aren’t about competing essays crafted by the tweeting elite. They’re about the emergence, amplification, and valorization of an actual culture of conspiracy and cruelty on the Christian right. 

It is tempting to imagine that this vile excuse for a Christian Pastor, Mr. Locke, exists only as a Facebook personality, but he actually preaches at the “Global Vision Bible Church” about fifteen miles east of Nashville, Tennessee, from which he has built a national following. My readers and I have encountered him before. Mr. Locke and Global Vision conducted an actual book burning that was covered in a February post. He was given dishonorable mention as a pastor preaching vaccine disinformation in another post in September, 2021

Mr. Locke’s ranting style and vile message reminded me of both “Pastor” Matt Shea (former WA State Representative from LD4, Spokane valley north to Mt. Spokane) and Shea’s one time ally, Pastor Ken Peters of the Covenant Church on Princeton Ave in near north Spokane (now renamed by Peters as the “Patriot Church”). 

Patriot/Covenant, Shea, and Peters have long been the force behind “The Church at Parenthood” dedicated to harassing patients and staff at the Planned Parenthood Clinic on Indiana near Division. It could not be a coincidence that Ken Peters more than a year ago decamped to Nashville to found a new church along the same lines—a Google search using the key words ‘Ken Peters Greg Locke’ turns up multiple links between the two, including a CNN article, The Pastors. The opening line is “Pastors Ken Peters and Greg Locke lead evangelical churches in Tennessee. They run separate ministries, but are friends.” 

Pastor Peters still goes back and forth to Spokane overseeing his local efforts at Patriot Church. Shea and Peters are apparently on the outs, but Shea still spreads their shared brand of hate and misinformation at 115 E Pacific in downtown Spokane. 

All three, Locke, Shea, and Peters, bear a pernicious un-Christian message cloaked in the trappings of Christianity. Look beyond the labelling. 

Keep to the high ground,


The Usk Money Mine–Part II

Civics, County Government, PUDs, and BPA

In the northeast corner of Washington State at the site of the former Ponderay Newsprint Mill south of Usk, along the Ponderay River in Pend Oreille County, a thinly-disguised Chinese company is already burning electrical energy (6 megawatts) from the Box Canyon Dam, power that would otherwise feed the U.S. power grid. (This is the same national grid that distributes the electricity that runs our appliances and heats and cools our homes [except for Texans].) “Merkle Standard,” with major investment and alliance with the Beijing-based company Bitmain, is conducting their business—and burning this electricity—at the old Mill site now zoned “Residential 5”—even as they seek rezoning that would make their operation legal. Merkle and its bevy of lawyers is apparently confident that they have done their homework and have the right people on their side. Apparently, this is the way business is done when the public isn’t paying much attention.

This is business, after all, and some say business is progress, that progress is always good, and that any business that wants to invest in rural Pend Oreille County ought to be welcomed. Some might assume that any business activity is bound to be better for the people of the county than an abandoned newsprint mill. Re-zoning ought to be a slam-dunk, the corporate lawyers will argue—and some local business-minded folk will agree. 

But there is not unanimity even among business-minded local Republicans. In January, as this re-zoning effort unfolded, one of the three Pend Oreille County Commissioners, Robert Rosencrantz, sounded a note of caution, not on the environmental or climate change basis that I might choose, but based on the business risk-benefit ratio for the people of the county. His due diligence, detailed analysis, and cautionary data is available as a pdf, the Rosencrantz Document. He counseled caution from basic research he had done on the company(ies) proposing the project, the effects of other crypto-mining operations on local communities, and hints of corrupt influence peddling. For his level-headed analysis and urge toward caution he was ridiculed as a “Republican in Name Only” (RINO) by local Republicans intent on appeasing this supposedly wonderful new business interest in Pend Oreille County.

But let’s back up a bit. The bankrupt Ponderay Newsprint mill was purchased at auction in April, 2021, by Allrise Capital (corporate parent of Merkle) for $18.1 million. At the time, Thomas Clouse reported in the Spokesman:

“They are planning to repurpose select portions of the mill for old, corrugated-cardboard-paper production,” said Chris Bell, managing broker for NAI Black, which helped market the mill. California-based Allrise Capital plans on “retooling the plant, making a significant investment to re-fire it and bring back the jobs.”

Allrise outbid the Kalispell Tribe, which also expressed what I expect were, for the Tribe, sincere plans to retool and reopen the plant and provide jobs. 

Allrise, it seems, never had any such intention. Bear with me. Here’s where we dive into the governmental weeds. Half a year later, in the fall of 2021, Allrise was evidently working behind the scenes, laying the groundwork for its crypto mine. The Pend Oreille County Community Development Department, under the leadership of Greg Snow, attempted to create a new Comprehensive Development Plan for the County that would have green-lighted the crypto mining facility by, incident to changes in the broader plan, re-zoning the Mill property as “Industrial” instead of “Residential 5.”

That Allrise gambit didn’t work only because a local group, “Responsible Growth – Northeast Washington”, successfully challenged the proposed new Comprehensive Development Plan with the Pend Oreille County Hearing Examiner on the basis of the Washington State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA)

Blocked by the hearing examiner’s ruling, Allrise/Bitmain (or one of the other nested shell companies) was forced down a different avenue: request a “Conditional Use Permit” (or CUP, in this case CUP-2021-012), a zoning exception that would allow the use of the Mill property for crypto mining, a use that clearly otherwise would not conform with “Resident 5” zoning. 

That put it back in Greg Snow’s domain in the Pend Oreille County Community Development Department. In March of this year (2022) Mr. Snow issued a Determination of Non Significance on the SEPA Checklist submitted by Ponderay Real Estate LLC (one of the Allrise shells and the named owner of the Mill property) certifying that Mr. Snow believed that the project would have no significant environmental impact and that no review by State or Federal regulatory agencies was required.

But wait! In April, Mr. Ed Styskel, a wildlife biologist in Newport, WA, filed an appeal to the SEPA Checklist arguing that Mr. Snow and the Community Development Department had failed to do due diligence in issuing a Determination of Non Significance. 

That is the whole sequence that leads us to the article in the Spokesman last week concerning the Zoom hearing held on the Conditional Use Permit and Mr. Styskel’s appeal. That was the article that stimulated me to write last Wednesday’s post, The Usk Money Mine—Part I.

At that hearing, biologist Mr. Styskel, without legal council, was up against two law firms hired by the well-heeled Allrise nest of companies that were arguing for granting the crypto mine’s conditional use permit. It might be worth noting that the hearing examiner in this case (the earlier one in Pend Oreille County having retired), Christopher Anderson, “is an attorney appointed by the Board of County Commissioners” of Spokane County.

Mr. Anderson’s ruling will come out in the next couple of weeks. Regardless of evidence at that hearing that Allrise’s CUP application and SEPA checklist were inaccurate, a ruling in favor of the Allrise nest of companies seems likely.

This is the sort of thing that happens constantly within county governments, most of it out of the public eye and very hard to follow. 

Assuming approval of the “Conditional Use”, where does this go from here? The Allrise nest of companies still need to negotiate a sufficiently favorable contract with the Pend Oreille Public Utility District for transmission lines and electricity to burn that is cheap enough to offer them a tidy profit in imaginary money that will likely be electronically transmitted to China (where crypto-mining is banned, but still done). 

Here’s where things get interesting again. Public Utility Districts in the State of Washington date back to a people’s initiative passed in 1930. From the website of the Washington Public Utility Districts Association (the bold is mine):

In 1929, the Washington State Grange, a populist agricultural organization, collected more than 60,000 signatures – twice the number necessary – to send Initiative No. 1 to the Legislature, allowing rural communities to form their own publicly owned utilities.

When the Legislature failed to act, the measure went to a statewide election, where it passed in 1930 with 54 percent of the vote. The new PUD law went into effect in 1931.

Apparently, there was a huge fight at the time with private power interests like Washington Water Power who wanted to retain control. PUDs were a populist victory.

Now look at the legal mandate, the purpose, of PUDs according to the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) (the bold is mine):

“The purpose of this act is to authorize the establishment of public utility districts to conserve the water and power resources of the State of Washington for the benefit of the people thereof, and to supply public utility service, including water and electricity for all uses.”

Is burning a huge amount of local Washington State produced energy to manufacture cryptocurrency that will leave no value here “for the benefit of the people” of Washington State? It would seem that the three Pend Oreille County PUD Commissioners, in order to satisfy that statement of purpose, would be required to assess in detail the benefit of a crypto mine to the people of Pend Oreille County and the State of Washington. Are the PUD commissioners equipped to reliably make this assessment? Remember that Allrise did a “bait and switch” routine at the very outset. Where are the two hundred or so jobs at the Mill property that Allrise was going to provide once Mill was retooled and restarted? The crypto mine might at most hire a handful of people. The crypto mine will pay some paltry amount of property tax some of which will accrue locally. Does WA State government have to rely on the shaky representations of the Allrise nest of companies for the purpose leveling “Business and Occupation Tax” on mined cryptocurrency? 

The effects of burning vast amounts of our clean electrical energy will have rippling effects well beyond Pend Oreille County. The Box Canyon Dam, the only dam in Pend Oreille County actually owned by the Pend Oreille PUD, doesn’t produce sufficient power (only 90 megawatts) to satisfy Allrise’s stated intention to eventually draw 600 megawatts. The Pend Oreille PUD will need to buy power from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency established in 1937 under the U.S. Department of Energy. Note that 600 megawatts is a significant piece of the 12,000 megawatts total of “firm hydropower” produced by all the federal and non-federal dams in the Northwest. It’s not as though that 600 megawatts is just waiting to be used. That 12,000 megawatts is already in use. Add that 600 megawatt load to the system and its going to translate into burning coal or gas, eventually increasing the cost of electrical energy to the rate payers (i.e. us) and (by the way) contributing to global warming.

Allowing this profligate use of our energy for the production of imaginary money is immoral. It is not “conserving” (as in the PUD mission statement), it is wasting—for little, if any, benefit to Pend Oreille County, Washington State, the United States, or the world. It is high time this mine is seen for what it is—a travesty—and this “business” put to rest. Let the crypto-miners pursue building their own solar/wind farm somewhere for their energy needs (and then search for a means of cooling their computer heat generators).

Keep to the high ground,


The Usk Money Mine–Part I

There’s something very wrong with this picture

Why are we letting this happen?

Last Sunday, May 15, at the top of the Northwest Section an article appeared that seemed easy to gloss over: “Examiner mulls approval of Usk crypto-mine operation”. Some obscure business entities are seeking a “conditional-use permit” from the government of Pend Oreille County, Washington, to operate what would be the largest crypto-currency mining operation in the United States at the now shuttered former Ponderay Newsprint Mill in Usk. Gleaning from the Spokesman article, the “conditional-use permit” would allow for the placement of 30,000 computer servers, cooling towers, and the use of water from the Pend Oreille River for the cooling. 

Some key points from the article (the bold is mine):

Susan Hobbs attended the Zoom hearing on Wednesday [May 11]. 

Hobbs, a former member of the Pend Oreille Planning Commission, asked the county to proceed with caution on Merkle Standard’s [the proposed mine’s operator] plans to obtain 600 megawatts of electricity a year, which would equate to two former Kaiser Aluminum Mead smelters operating at full capacity.“This is the largest thing that has ever come down the pike for Pend Oreille County,” Hobbs said. “If there were ever a time for being certain, that no stones are left unturned, this would be it. I hope we do that before rushing in.” 

But Hume, the attorney for Merkle Standard, said the county only needs to follow state and federal law, especially for an area that has had “certain impacts priced into that neighborhood … for a long, long, long time. 

“This is a very clean, high-tech use,” he said. “All we are doing is putting computers in boxes, putting them in the parking lot and letting them run.”

“Clean, high-tech”. What is so attractive that brings companies from God-knows-where to put boxes of computers in the parking lot of a shuttered paper mill in Usk, plug them into the grid, and let them run? The electronic money produced is, by its nature, highly transferrable. Apart from some property taxes, none of the crypto-currency the new plant will produce will benefit the citizens of Pend Oreille County (unless some individuals are getting perks in exchange for making things happen). 

Why eastern Washington?

From a Jan. 21, 2022, Spokesman article (the bold is mine):

At a hearing on the energy usage of blockchain technologies like Bitcoin, Steve Wright, who led the Wenatchee-based PUD until last April, told members of a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee what happened when Bitcoin miners started setting up their energy-intensive operations in Central Washington around 2014.

“These were small operations in shipping containers, vacant small businesses and residences” at first, Wright said, but soon the operations grew far bigger and caused concerns in the community over safety risks, how few local jobs the industry created relative to its energy use and a lack of tax revenue despite driving up energy costs for local residents.

Mining Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies involves rooms full of computers working together solving complicated math problems to unearth a new coin. As more of the digital currency has been mined, the computing power required to acquire another coin has increased, leading to massive electricity usage even as the individual machines used have grown more efficient.

Running shipping containers full of high speed computers “mining” imaginary electronic money (crypto-currency) requires two things: large amounts of stable, day-and-night electrical power and a means of cooling the computers so they don’t malfunction or catch fire from the heat they generate. Eastern Washington has some of the cheapest electrical power in the country—and (at least for now) it has water for cooling. We have relatively cheap power because we have hydro. The aluminum industry landed in Spokane more than half a century ago precisely for that reason—but the aluminum industry produced jobs, a tangible, taxable product and spinoff industries (like aluminum casting). Crypto produces none of that.

Moreover, hydropower is a limited resource. We’re not making more of it. We already have little enough hydropower that we rely to some degree on burning coal and natural gas, i.e. greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels, for our energy needs. And wait a minute: Aren’t local Republicans already whining that the cost of heating and cooking will go up if we restrict natural gas hookups in new construction? Why aren’t Pend Oreille County Republicans (yes, they are all Republicans) worried that selling huge amounts of electricity to Merkle at a fixed price will mean a price increase in electricity for the average homeowner? Surely their vaunted “free market” will make a price increase for the average citizen inevitable. Where’s their media campaign protesting rising costs for the average Joe? Where is the astroturf-based “citizens’” initiative to outlaw this electricity sale (similar to Spokane’s Prop 1 in 2021)?

We can’t invent more hydropower. Hydropower covers the base load not just for the imaginary money producers who require it to keep their computers running day and night. Hydropower also satisfies the base load requirements to heat our homes and run our factories at night. If we guarantee the imaginary money producers hydropower to satisfy their steady-supply requirements, we are inevitably going to burn more natural gas (or coal or oil) to satisfy real needs, like staying warm in winter. 

We claim in this State of Washington to be working to reduce the burning of fossil fuels in order to combat climate change. Governor Inslee campaigned for President in 2020 on his climate change credentials. We claim to be trying to convert to electricity-powered transportation. In this milieu Republican naysayers and climate deniers, captives of the fossil fuel industry, are fond of dissing solar and wind power as unreliable—and, therefore, conversion of transportation to electricity impractical—but here are the Republican county commissioners of Pend Oreille County setting up to sell our region’s clean hydropower at a discount to the makers of imaginary money. This fixed price sale will make electricity-based transportation both more expensive and less climate friendly. What is wrong with this picture?

In a sense all money is imaginary. Money works only because some group of humans decide that some form of the stuff—dollars, rubles, gold, silver, or bitcoin—has value. These humans agree that whatever their money is can be traded for things of value, like food, housing, transportation, and services. Dollars, on account of their relative stability, have been the favored global currency for the last half century. Dollars are to some degree under the control of the U.S. federal governance structures, for example, the Federal Reserve’s efforts to combat inflation by adjusting interest rates, just like rubles are to some degree under the control of the Russian monetary system. Dollars (and other state currencies), generally speaking, can be tracked and taxed, and the taxes can be used to provide roads, schools, ports, and law enforcement. 

Crypto-currencies, e.g. Bitcoin, have value only so long as a group of humans believe in that value. The charm of crypto-currencies is that the blockchain technology on which such currencies are based guarantees, through dispersed computer computations and dispersed computer record-keeping, that a unique Bitcoin is real, not counterfeit. Moreover, the supply of Bitcoin is limited by the cost of the computational power necessary to mine it. Sadly, that “computational power” depends on burning energy from a cheap source in a compliant community—like Pend Oreille County. The price of power to produce a crypto-currency will be driven up (along with cost of all the power we use for other tasks) by the “free” market. Once the cost to produce it exceeds the value of the “coin” produced, this wasteful energy use will no longer turn a profit and the mine will be abandoned, having robbed the locals and having left with the profits. (Click here for a primer on cryptocurrency by Paul Krugman.)

The value of the crypto-currency mined in Usk will not accrue to the citizens of Pend Oreille County, Washington. That crypto-value will belong to the opaquely owned companies developing the Usk mine and to whomever owns those companies, be they wealthy U.S. investors, Russians, Chinese, or other global citizens. The “coins”, unlike gold or silver and other hard currencies, will exist only virtually as an electronic record on a network of computers dispersed worldwide. 

Where is the far right wing of the Republican Party, the folks who lap up conspiracy theories and condemn “globalists”, The New World Order, George Soros, and the Rothschilds? A globally dispersed network of arguably untraceable currency based on our inexpensive power and water, a currency that is electronically transferred to parts unknown ought to be grand fodder for them. What do we hear for those Republicans? Crickets. 

This is nuts, just plain wrong. This is a “free market” distortion we should not allow. This is local government at work in the form of County Commissioners, Public Utility Districts, hearing examiners, and, supposedly, according to Merkle Standard’s lawyer, “the county only needs to follow state and federal law”, which is his way of saying, “We’ve got this. Nothing to see here. Don’t overthink this.” When a lawyer paid for by a far away company makes that argument, citizens’ antennae should vibrate with alarm.

Call, email, and write Governor Inslee and your legislators. Write to U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers—but don’t expect much from her. McMorris Rodgers only knows to shout “clean hydropower!” every time either climate change or helping the salmon is mentioned (by removing the low-producing Snake River dams). Now the “clean hydropower” will be sold to make electronic money that will leave Washington the moment it is generated, leaving little to no benefit. If we’re forced into keeping McMorris Rodgers’ precious dams—and sacrificing the fish, let’s at least use the power for something useful—like charging batteries for transportation based on clean electricity.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. The six hundred megawatts of clean hydropower Merkle Standard proposes to buy at a discount from the grid (thru a contract with the “Public Utility District”) is a huge amount of power. If run all year at that level a sale of six hundred megawatts of power would be 3.6% of all the electrical energy currently generated in a year in the State of Washington. Put another way, at the 4 miles per kilowatt hour mileage of my Tesla Model 3, that much electrical energy would take me the distance to Mars and back not once but 247 times! Or it would power 168,200 Tesla Model 3s to each travel 100,000 miles. Do we see why this fire sale of our clean power to enrich crypto mining investors is insane?

P.P.S. Approval of the conditional use permit may be a done deal. Presumably, the next step will be the crypto folks negotiating the power discount from which they expect to benefit with the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District Commissioners.


Democratic v. Republican Sense of Order

On Friday evening, July 17, 2020, on a residential street on the South Hill in Spokane outside the home of Dr. Bob Lutz, there was a boisterous protest of about 30 people. We were just four months into the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. Bob Lutz was still the Spokane County Health Officer. (This was four months before Administrator Amelia Clark, Spokane County Commissioner Al French [and others] controversially fired Dr. Lutz.)

The protest was organized by Joey Gibson of Portland-based Patriot Prayer and Casey Whalen of “People’s Rights”, an organization founded by Ammon Bundy. The protest featured a megaphone. The coverage of the event in the Spokesman quoted several of the protesters. Spokane Police “officers were outside Lutz’s home to protect everyone’s right to free speech and safety”. Months later the Spokesman published an article by Shawn Vestal detailing the protesters linkages to the militant, radical right. Despite the obvious disturbance to Dr. Lutz’ family and his neighbors and despite the likelihood that some of the protesters were armed, I heard no voices from either political party (and can find nothing in print) suggesting the protest was illegal or inappropriate.

Nary a peep was heard from local Republicans about the inappropriateness of a loud protest disturbing the peace at a public official’s home, after all, this was “free speech”. The local media treatment of the frequent protests and vocal harassment of patients organized by Matt Shea’s and Pastor Ken Peters’ Covenant Church (now dubbed the “Patriot Church”) held under the name “The Church at Planned Parenthood” was never disowned by Republicans, no matter how “main stream”. After all, this was “free speech” too, and must be protected by the First Amendment. 

These protests make me cringe, but I understand First Amendment rights, so I’ve been a bit startled by the media coverage and official pronouncements by both Republicans and President Biden concerning protests out the homes of right wing Supreme Court Justice’s and some members of the U.S. Senate, media coverage that shifts the narrative to the supposed disorder and inappropriateness of the protests rather than the message of the protesters. Republican propagandists must be smiling. A reader sent me a link to an article by Jordan Zakarin of the Progress Report which I think hits the nail on the head. I’ve reproduced it below.

Keep to the high ground,


This is how the war is lost

Solidarity of the elites

Jordan Zakarin

In the same way that the leaked Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade laid bare the extent to which the judiciary has been captured by the money and malice of the fringe right-wing, the past few days have provided a window into the political and cultural failings that enabled and even facilitated the minoritarian high court hijacking.

While last week’s news cycles mostly focused on the dire consequences of the Roe reversal and the onslaught of human rights violations that will follow the court’s decision to repeal the right to privacy, most of the conversation since Sunday has been about the apparently sacrosanct right to privacy that’s been suddenly bestowed upon the public officials directly responsible for the coming calamity.

It began on Sunday, when small protests held by Brett Kavanaugh’s neighbors began to grow in size and fervor. The assembly of locals picketing outside Kavanuagh’s suburban Maryland home over his vote to overturn Roe was never anything but peaceful and measured, but the mere thought of people in power being inconvenienced sent a shockwave through DC.

A who’s who of useless personalities, whose ongoing relevance is directly dependent on the ongoing existence of a permanent class of unimpeachable political elites, were quick to condemn the protestors for standing outside Kavanaugh’s house and begging him to not strip away their fundamental rights.

Paul Begala called it “counter-productive.” That line alone demonstrates a hopelessly sclerotic understanding of politics and the electorate that was divorced from reality in the 1990s. If there is a voter willing to say “I support abortion rights but protesting at the house of the guy who stripped them away from 70 million people is a bridge too far for me,” they don’t actually support abortion rights and they’re not going to vote for Democrats at all.

Bill Kristol admonished protestors to “organize politically, be civil civically.” Kristol spent much of his career opposed to abortion rights and sold decades of society-poisoning neoconservatism through lies and distortions.

David Frum, the George W. Bush speechwriter whose only interactions with people outside of the DC bubble come when he yells at call center workers as they try to help him with his TV remote, questioned the utility of protesting altogether.

The list goes on and on, covering much of the class of pundits that make most of their money through speeches and secret corporate consulting that hinges on their connections to entrenched power. There always has and always will be a chattering class of salon bourgeoisie. The problem arises when they so easily dictate the direction of news coverage and political calculations of those with actual power, as is happening right now.

L Ron Mexico @LRonMexicothis country will put kindergartners into debt for eating lunch and drill teens on how to fight off school shooters, but if a senator sees sidewalk chalk or a judge hears protestors, the full force of the state rushes to coddle and protect themMay 10th 202227,205 Retweets124,165 Likes

On Monday, outgoing White House press secretary Jen Psaki issued an unprompted statement from President Biden, condemning any protests outside a public official’s home.

The Washington Post’s editorial board latched on to the issue and this morning published a willfully delusional op-ed about how it is wrong to bring “direct public pressure to bear on a decision-making process that must be controlled, evidence-based and rational,” as if any of those words could describe the current Supreme Court.

Later today, reporters asked a number of Democratic senators about the matter, and agreed that anything that might make their lives even mildly inconvenient should be off-limits. (To his credit, Chuck Schumer said he didn’t mind the frequent visits by protestors to his Park Slope apartment.)

The Senate also hurriedly passed legislation to provide security to Supreme Court justices, before even taking a vote on codifying Roe.


The result? A resentful base of voters who feel admonished yet again for simply standing up for their rights. A full three days of news stories that paint Republicans as victims. And an emboldened GOP happy to play up the narrative — Susan Collins felt emboldened enough to call the cops over some sidewalk chalk near her home! Now Republicans are again painting peaceful protestors as violent thugs, using Democrats’ discouragement as an implied agreement.

Suddenly, the national conversation is no longer about the end of Roe or the onslaught of nightmare restrictions that will follow. Democrats will take their vote in the Senate to codify Roe on Wednesday, it will fail, and that will be that, at least for a month or so until the Supreme Court officially issues its decision. And then when protests break out all across the country, and people are bursting with rage and fear, the political press will go back to the well and again ask Democrats how they feel about the location and character of the marches and rallies.

This happens like clockwork. Democratic leaders completely divorced themselves from the Black Lives Matter movement after the 2020 election, choosing to trash its slogans and then shower police departments with record amounts of money. They’ve allowed the abortion debate to be waylaid by the debate over where people peacefully protest. They’re so afraid of being linked to a scary narrative about protestors, they’re actually enabling Republicans to shape it in real-time, thereby blundering away an issue on which a vast majority of Americans agree with them.

This is where the GOP excels. Republicans use that fear and self-loathing and that media coverage to bury the real issues, rile up their base, and continue their attacks on three-quarters of the country. When the debate becomes about process, substances loses. And in this case, that puts us all in danger.

Democratic leaders seem to hate the idea of accountability for anybody, because it means that they might actually have to deliver on the promises they’ve made over and over since 2006. They like to raise money off outrage. But no one is going to buy the #resist schtick any more. Telling voters that they just need a bigger majority to enact legislation already rings hollow when they’re backing corrupt, conservative, anti-abortion establishment candidates, but it’ll be even harder to swallow if they’re also trying to dictate how their supporters mourn such a catastrophe.

Instead, Democrats need to behind those willing to stand up to evil. Encourage protests. Embrace the idea that powerful figures should be forced to reckon with their decisions instead of being allowed to live in a safe, idyllic cul-de-sac of wealth, privilege, and impunity.

There is little to no path for the party to maintain its majorities in this fall’s elections, and gerrymandering means future elections are also dubious. Public outrage is going to be the one check on the power exerted by these eager-to-terrorize theocrats. If that’s silenced instead of harnessed by the supposed opposition party, there will be no real opposition, and this country could descend into an even darker future — if it continues in its current form at all.

Next Week–Election News

Next week is important both in Washington and in Idaho

Anyone traveling into Idaho knows that something is up. Signs displaying candidate names have popped up like dandelions. Next Tuesday, May 17, Idahoans can go to the polls to decide who will appear on the November 8th midterm general election ballot. Households in Idaho have been deluged with campaign mail for weeks. 

In contrast, in Washington State, next week, May 16-20, is “Filing Week”. Friday, May 20, is the deadline for candidates for this year’s elections to file their paperwork with either the Office of the Secretary of State or the Office of the County Auditor (depending on the elective office sought) in order to appear on the Primary Election ballot for August 2. Unless voters in Washington are paying close attention to sparse articles in the paper or have been checking with the WA State Public Disclosure Commission to see who is raising campaign money, next week will be the first time that this year’s Washington State elections will be on the radar of most potential voters. 

Why the stark difference between the electoral conduct of neighboring states? Article I, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution reads:

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for [U.S.] Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations…

Let’s unpack that. The U.S. Constitution leaves to each state to establish rules and regulations concerning how it will elect U.S. Senators and Representatives (and its own elected officials). As a consequence, the electoral landscape evolved differently in every state. When one moves from one state to another one must reckon with a different set of rules and deadlines. It is worth noting that Article I, Section 4, also explicitly reserves the right of the U.S. Congress to override the states’ rules—at least insofar as they pertain to the elections of U.S. Senators and Representatives. Hence, the constitutional validity of the Voting Rights Act of 1965—at least until the 5–4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) gutted an essential clause. Removal of the preclearance clause provided the opening for many Republican-controlled states to restrict access to voting. 

The contrasts between voting arrangements in the neighboring states of Idaho and Washington go far beyond dates of primary elections. Washington State has a “top two” primary system in which the two top vote-getters in the August primary advance to the November general election regardless of their political party affiliation. Such an open system arguably weakens the role of the political parties in endorsing candidates. Candidates declare a party preference on the ballot, but it is up to the voter to determine what the party thinks of the candidate. A Washington primary voter may cast a vote on the same ballot for a “prefers Republican Party” candidate in one race and a “prefers Democratic Party” candidate in another. The voter endeavors to advance the best candidate to the November general election in each race regardless of party affiliation. (Ranked Choice Voting would be even better, but the top two primary system is a good one.)

Things are very different in Idaho. The contrast is especially acute in neighboring North Idaho. The powers that be in the Idaho Republican Party have tried, with considerable success, to make the Party into a private club of extremists. Anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the furthest right orthodoxy is branded a RINO, a Republican In Name Only. Instrumental in this process was establishing “closed” Republican primary. Here’s what Jim Jones, former Idaho Attorney General and former Idaho Supreme Court Justice, has to say on the subject (the article is well worth reading in its entirety):

Comparing the Idaho legislative session this year [2021] with those I have observed over the last half century, this was decidedly the worst.

Legislators variously proposed or passed unconstitutional bills, tried to make the initiative and referendum unworkable, refused to take the COVID-19 crisis seriously, shot down funding bills for no valid reason, tried to solve non-existent problems like critical race theory and generally conducted themselves like irresponsible nitwits. It does not have to be this way…

The Republican Party decided to close its primary to all but declared Republicans in 2007 to purge more moderate, pragmatic candidates from its ranks, and that is just what has happened. When Idaho’s open primary, where any voter could request and vote the primary ticket of either party, was challenged in federal court by the Republicans, the judge quoted expert testimony that closing the primary would have the “very real and immediate effect of … producing more ideologically extreme candidates.”

The federal judge, believing that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution required it, ruled in March 2011 that the Republicans could close their primary. And, sure enough, each Legislature since that time has become more dysfunctional and untethered from reality.

Among Jones’ recommended fixes for this insanity are a top two primary like that of Washington State—or Ranked Choice Voting.

Idaho was already on its way to becoming a one party (Republican) state before the 2011 ruling that allowed Republicans to close their primary, but the closed primary, as Jones explains, has made it far worse. Recently, a tally of the party registrations of voters in Bonner County (which includes Sandpoint) showed 18,563 registered Republicans; 3,608 registered Democrats; and 8,556 unaffiliated voters. In elections in Bonner County, Idaho, nine out of eleven local races will be decided by the voting in the closed Republican primary next Tuesday: there is no Democrat on the Democratic Party ticket running for those nine positions. Unaffiliated voters who bother to show up at the polls and cannot stomach the idea of declaring themselves Republicans for the purpose of voting on the Republican primary ballot will only be able to vote on judgeships. 

What sort of candidates are on the Republican primary ballot? Most of you are familiar with the breathless, pistol-kissing, Trumpian antics of Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin in challenging sitting Governor Brad Little, but there are many local spectacles, too. My personal favorite is Scott Herndon, chair of the Bonner County Republican Central Committee. He is the patriarchally bearded father of seven who, with his allies, is running a dishonest smear campaign against the incumbent Republican State Senator, Jim Woodward. Herndon’s attack literature has flooded mailboxes in District 1 with scurrilous crap for weeks, material so low it should be disqualifying for Herndon, not Woodward. Herndon has a history of parading his wife and children around carrying placards with photographs of bloodied fetuses. His take on government? “First, my voting record must conform to God’s standard for civil government whether or not the constituents’ values align.” [see Question 7 at that link] Christian Taliban anyone? How much more plainly theocratic can one be? Given his other actions I dread to contemplate Mr. Herndon’s concept of “God’s standard”. Among other things, Herndon’s God must consider carrying a pistol into the Sandpoint Festival as a divine right. Herndon filed a lawsuit against the City of Sandpoint around that issue (and lost). 

There is well-deserved rebellion brewing against Idaho’s Republican closed primary election. If you are an Idaho resident and currently registered as “Unaffiliated” you can ask for and vote on the Republican Party ballot next Tuesday. At least that way you get a chance to choose the least extreme candidate. (You can change back the next day, and even if you do not change back the General Election in November is not “closed”, so you can vote for the best candidate on the ballot regardless of party.)

Here are some useful websites for those hoping to counteract Idaho extremism:

For recommendations for the more mainstream candidates:

In North Idaho:

Idaho Statewide: Take Back Idaho

For an Idaho registered voter to check their current registration status:

Then back to Washington. Pay attention toward the end of next week. There are going to be some important races statewide and in Spokane County. By Friday we’ll have an official tally of who is running.

Keep to the high ground,


P.S. More of North Idaho Republican extremism is on display at the Hayden Lake-based “Watchman Ministry” website’s voter guide. There you can read candidate questionnaires posted by an entity claiming tax exempt non-profit [501(c)(3)] status, presumably on the basis of a “ministry”:

Note: In accordance with 501(c)(3) guidelines Watchmen Ministry North Idaho does not endorse or oppose any candidate for public office. Candidates’ responses are provided for Voter Educational Purposes.

That’s a thin line. The “Watchman Ministry” exists as a P.O. Box in Hayden Lake and a slick website with embedded, non-locally produced videos that claim to justify church involvement in politics and appeal to local pastors to pay attention and join in the effort. In addition, there are eight webpages of propaganda, no article of which was produced locally. Transparency? As a non-profit, the donors are hidden, expenditures (to produce a website and gather questionnaires) are opaque. Not a single local name is identified on the “Watchman Ministry” website apart from the names of the candidates. 

The “Watchman Ministry” website quotes Bible verses and claims to stand for “righteousness” and “Christian values”. No church affiliation is offered, nor any linkage to any trusted local person. For all the website reveals it could be developed, funded, and run out of a think tank in Washington, D.C., or anywhere, domestic or foreign. Approach with skepticism… Perhaps this website’s best use is to help identify the religious extremists among the candidates.

March for Women’s Rights–TOMORROW

5-6PM Starting at the Red Wagon in Riverfront Park, Saturday, May 14th

The people in our communities and across the country deserve the power and freedom to make their own personal reproductive health care decisions. Show up to help preserve the right to privacy the Supreme Court seems poised to take away. How ironic that many of the same people cheering this roll back of personal autonomy were so recently objecting to masks and vaccines…

Here’s a link to find an event near you if Spokane isn’t convenient. This is a national mobilization:

Keep to the high ground,