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Devaluing education


My dad never went to college. He graduated from high school in 1930 when unemployment rates were on the way to 15% and eventually reached 25%. He needed – and wanted a job – so he never seriously thought about taking the time to get more education. I believe he regretted that decision for the rest of his life.

It was the same for my mother, a high school graduate who ended up working in the administrative office of a small state college in Nebraska. She had all the skills needed in those days to be a secretary. She could type, take shorthand and knew how to format a business letter, but I’ve always suspected she longed for more. For many in her generation, particularly women, more was just not an option.

Both my parents were avid readers and our home was filled with books and magazines and newspapers, but no degrees. They valued what they never had an opportunity to achieve and there was never a doubt that my brother and I would go to college. It would be a financial struggle to some degree, but tuition at a state college in those days was remarkably affordable and besides my parents – children of the Great Depression – accepted it as an article of faith that a college education was a stepping stone on a path to a better, more financially secure life.

Yet, opinions about the value of higher education divide Americans like most everything else divides us. The Pew Research Center reported recently that, “over the past two years, the share of Republicans and Republican leaners who view the impact of colleges and universities positively has declined 18 percentage points (from 54% to 36%), and this shift in opinion has occurred across most demographic and ideological groups within the GOP.”

Views on the part of Democrats about the positive role of colleges and universities are almost the reverse of those held by Republicans, with wide majorities of Democrats saying, “colleges have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country.”

It’s no coincidence that the Republican Party “base,” the die hard supporters of the current president, are dominated by non-college educated voters who apparently broadly subscribe to the notion that higher education is dominated by “elites” peddling dangerous ideas. It’s also no coincidence that Republican elected officials from coast-to-coast are increasingly critical of higher education.

Alaska’s Republican governor, a Donald Trump favorite, recently proposed an immediate $130 million, 40% reduction in state support for the Alaska university system. Public outrage and the real threat that such drastic action would decimate the University of Alaska prompted a pull back. The university system now has three years to absorb a $70 million haircut.

Two years ago the attorney general of Arizona sued the state’s university system because tuition was too high, but of course failed to acknowledge that the GOP dominated state legislature has wacked higher education funding by more than 40% over the last decade.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, “Overall state funding for public two- and four-year colleges in the school year ending in 2018 was more than $7 billion below its 2008 level, after adjusting for inflation.”

In eight states – Alabama, Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina – per-student funding declined by more than 30 percent over ten years. Still, state funding and how it has impacted tuition and fees is just a part of the higher education story.

In Idaho, of course, some Republican lawmakers want to wage a culture war over diversity programs on Idaho campuses and critiques from the political right often involve the accusation that liberals dominate college and university classrooms and administration.

While my own college experience is mighty dated, I’m confident the culture war aspects of modern higher education are vastly overblown. My most memorable college instruction was a rumpled old prof who made me grapple with the causes and effects of the American Civil War. He didn’t have a political agenda. He was a teacher. I still have the textbook he used. I know dozens if not hundreds of teachers and administrators in higher education and to a person their motives are education, not indoctrination.

The new leaders who are now in place at all of Idaho’s public colleges and universities face daunting challenges, including raising tuition costs that can be tied directly to decreased state support. But no issue is more important than impressing upon law and policy makers that higher education is vital to personal and societal success. College presidents can no longer, if they ever could, be content to assume, as my parents did, that everyone gets the message about how important higher education is and will be in the future.

Amid the culture wars and partisan divides it’s worth focusing on the cold hard fact that the current and future American economy demands more education for more Americans. Not everyone needs or wants a four year degree, of course, and community colleges and skills training of all kinds must be a critical part of producing a talented workforce. A still too little tapped role for colleges and universities are robust partnerships with workforce and skills training program. Policy makers need to find the resources to make that work.

Yet with evidence showing that the higher educational achievement in the United States has now been overtaken by some of our principal economic competitors, including South Korea (where 70% of young people earn a college degree), as well as Canada and Japan. In fact, the U.S. ranks eleventh among 35 developed nations in college attainment according to a new study by the American Enterprise Institute.

Like so much that divides Americans, the “is college worth it” gap that has Republicans challenging higher education’s value is based more on ideology than facts. At its core a valuable and valued higher education produces critical thinkers, able to reason a way though problems and opportunities by applying learned knowledge. Never have we needed that kind of education more.

Opioids, microscopically


The last time opioids were this big a deal in Idaho was almost a century and a half ago, when they made their way into Boise and beyond through trade routes on the west coast. Opium became a big enough commodity that - in part because Chinese immigrants were implicated - the territorial legislature clamped down, and raids and prosections ensued. The opium market was not eliminated but was largely quashed.

All these years later, opioids have found Idaho again.

The stereotype of an opioid problem area might bring to mind Appalachia or the troubled industrial areas of the northeast, or maybe parts of the rural south. Surely not places like Idaho.

But it’s been no mistake that the state of Idaho (through the attorney general’s office) and a growing bunch of local jurisdictions (Twin Falls just joined the list) have joined into a national lawsuit over opioids - especially their marketing.

Idaho, it turns out, is one of those places in the country harder-hit than most by this new epidemic.

And unlike most contagious diseases and unlike most problems with drug abuse - methamphetamines, say - the opioid drug abuse problem has many of its roots in “legitimate” society, with licensed physicians who got their patients hooked, and with corporate manufacturers of patented products. Filing a lawsuit against a meth dealer would be ludicrous (such an actor would simply be locked up), but that’s not so in the case of opioids, where the road to addiction so often has started with legal prescriptions.

On May 3, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported, “If you live in eastern Idaho, you don’t need anyone telling you about the ravages of the opioid epidemic. Bonneville and Bannock counties have the highest percentage of drug-overdose deaths in the state. Bonneville, along with Elmore, Owyhee and nine other Idaho counties got so fed up with the opioid epidemic they joined a federal lawsuit last year against the makers of OxyContin, Lortab and other opioids.”

And yet the worst of the opioid problem in Idaho seems to be further north. The Centers for Disease Control has broken out prescription rates for opioids by county, and the hottest area in the region - in either Idaho or Washington state - turns out to be the Lewiston-Clarkston area, with adjacent Lewis County (on a per capita basis) coming in slightly higher still. For many recent years, little Lewis County had the highest prescription rates of any county in the western United States.

The Lewiston Tribune’s detailed August 18 story on the problem locally quotes veteran Moscow physician Dan Schmidt, who works around the region - and doesn’t seem especially surprised at the high rates. He notes that Lewiston and Clarkston, with their large stores, may rate high because people from smaller nearby counties shop (and get their drugs) there. He also suggested that the medical community has failed to regulate itself - the profession “dropped the ball.” He recalled, the story said, “drug company sales representatives showing up at his clinic with free food, three times a week.” When Schmidt declined to buy, their visits stopped. But, as he seems to indicate, not all physicians in the area may have reacted the same way.

And he thought the large number of people on disability or who live on very small incomes have a strong incentive to sell legal opioids they get through the local pharmacy.

Legal opioids, of course, often have led to heroin and other illegal opioid addictions; the problems are closely related.

The reports we’re seeing seem to show that the problems are systemic as well as personal. Any attempt to solve the problem will have to consider the systems of medical and pain treatment as well as control over the substances.

The wildland-urban interface


A lot of people have the dream of a cabin in the woods: peaceful, close to nature. But fire is a part of nature. Most folks woodsy cabin dream doesn’t feature a 50-yard cleared “defensible zone”. But hey, it is your property. You should be defending it.

Back when I fought fires I couldn’t believe all the man-hours spent by Forest Service crews protecting cabins in the wilderness. I’ll never forget the sight of a rolled over tanker truck after a direct retardant hit from a C 130 on a fire in the chaparral in California.

All this to protect a dilapidated shed in the bottom of a canyon.
As the Nethker fire up near Burgdorf Hot Springs in Idaho County slowly grew in the last couple weeks, some home owners got the word from the Forest Service that “structure protection” was not their priority. It seems the shared agreement between Idaho County and the USFS had not been renewed. When the property owners appealed to Idaho County officials for support Commissioner Skip Brandt gave them the news:

“People who choose to live where there are no tax or subscription based fire protection districts and where it can be difficult to get insurance must realize that there are risks involved and that a key component of private property rights is personal responsibility.”
He’s right. Folks can form fire districts, vote to tax themselves and spend the money they collect from themselves according to district governance. But I’m not sure I’d want to pay my taxes for a rural cabin I cleared around when my neighbor let the pine needles pile up on his shingle roof. But that gets around to how you structure your governance.

People come to these agreements with sewer districts, water districts, highway districts. Sometimes sharing a cost for a valued service is worth it. But expecting to be rescued as the brush burns closer to your wood pile is too big a stretch for me.

The State of Idaho has shared agreements with both the USFS, Bureau of Land Management and other entities. This shared agreement means if a fire starts on BLM land and they dispatch resources, when the fire spreads onto Idaho State land and they keep fighting it, they will send a bill to the state for these expenses. I guess Idaho County Commissioners saw no real up-side for sharing in these expenses. I have no opinion about that decision. But I sure agree with Commissioner Brandt not sending the cavalry to save every threatened structure.

Maybe I’m biased by a family history.

My grandfather Henry had ranches along the rugged Wildhorse River near Brownlee Dam. It was the end of haying season and the second cutting was stacked, the fields were stubble and it was a dry August. He thought the fire started down by No Business Creek where some fishermen had been that morning. He, Grandma Helena and his hired hand plowed furrows around the haystacks and they tried to beat back the flames with wet gunny sacks. The Basin Ranch was surrounded by BLM and Forest Service land so a plane came over in the afternoon and dropped a stick of jumpers up above the house a quarter mile from the slowing flames. No wind had kicked up, it was looking like things would be OK.

But the plane lost an engine as it circled and couldn’t climb out of the canyon. It came back around and tried to land in the 400-acre hayfield. But it nosed down and tumbled, killing both pilot and copilot and now extending the fire for another couple hundred acres off to the west and north. Henry only lost a couple haystacks. The house and barn were OK. He never had much good to say about fishermen after that.

Living off by yourself demands some self-sufficiency. It’s hard to build shared resources when you can’t see the lights of your neighbor.

Time for Risch to speak up


Last week Donald Trump gave Idaho’s junior senator his full-throated endorsement. Trump tweeted: “Senator Jim Risch of the Great State of Idaho has been an incredible supporter of our Agenda! He is tough on Crime, Strong on Borders, and will continue to fight for our Second Amendment. Jim will never let you down. He has my Full and Complete Endorsement!”

Now we know that, for this president, it’s all about him, not us. So when Trump writes “Jim will never let you down,” that’s Trump-speak for “Jim will never let me down.” Why would Trump think that? Well, perhaps because Jim has proven himself to be a reliable sycophant, a committee chair utterly disinterested in exercising any meaningful oversight of the executive branch.

Recently, Risch was quoted as saying, “What puts you in a bad place with [Trump] is going out publicly and criticizing him, and I don't do that.”

I get it, Jim. You don’t want to upset the big guy. Heaven forbid he might recruit and support a Republican to primary you. But your constituents have a right to know where you stand, and your silence on key issues has been deafening.

Have you told the president you disagree with his withdrawing the U.S. from the TPP?

Or that his tariffs on China are hurting U.S. consumers and farmers?
Or that his acceptance of North Korea launching short range missiles damages our relationships with longtime allies South Korea and Japan?

Or that pulling out of the Iran Nuclear deal, with which Iran was in compliance at the time he withdrew, makes us less safe?

Or that his eagerness to credit Communist dictator Vladimir Putin and discredit U.S. intelligence agencies undermines the dedicated men and women who are doing the hard, and often dangerous, work of gathering the intelligence needed to keep our country safe?
Or that his failure to say a word in support of the courageous Hong Kong protesters fighting to preserve their freedom emboldens Communist China?

Or that his obsequious behavior with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who ordered the torture and murder of a Washington Post journalist, sends the message that U.S. residents are expendable for profit?

Or that his cruel, costly, and completely unnecessary policy of separating parents and children at the southern border, and housing migrant kids in cages, is antithetical to norms of human decency?

Or that his inability to acknowledge as fact the Russian assault on our 2016 election and his unwillingness to take ANY steps to protect the security of our 2020 election from similar assaults actually encourages Russia (and other countries) to repeat and escalate those attacks?

Or that his verbal assaults on NATO and its members and his rhetoric suggesting that the U.S. might not honor its Article 5 commitment to protect allies erodes the confidence of our European allies?
Or that his constant turnover of top military and diplomatic personnel – and the enduring vacancies in many key positions – makes the administration look like a particularly chaotic episode of the Keystone Cops?

Or that his inability to develop, articulate and sustain a coherent foreign policy as to any country or geopolitical region alienates our friends, strengthens our foes, and makes us look weak and indecisive on the world stage?

Maybe Jim has privately discussed some or all of these matters with the president – and maybe he hasn’t. We don’t know which it is because Risch doesn’t – by his own admission – want to find himself “in a bad place with Trump.”

But as Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee Risch surely has a point of view on all of these issues. If Risch is in lockstep with the president, as Trump asserts in his tweet, Risch should tell us. If Risch disagrees with the president, he should tell us that too.
After all, the good senator wasn’t elected to kowtow to Trump. He was elected to represent the people of Idaho.

What doesn’t belong on our streets


During my service in Vietnam, I had the opportunity to witness the use of a variety of weapons that were specifically designed to kill or maim as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. My heavy artillery battalion could kill hundreds of Communists at a time with 200-pound high explosive shells, ferocious white phosphorus rounds, and cluster munitions that scattered grenade-sized bomblets over a wide area.

There were beehive rounds used in close combat that contained dozens of small flechettes, which looked like tiny darts. They were designed to tumble upon impact and rip an adversary’s innards apart. American forces were equipped with the M-16 assault rifle, which could spew out hundreds of rounds per minute. The M-16 has a high velocity round designed to cause maximum damage to the bodies of enemy soldiers.

The M-16 round comes out of the barrel going almost three times faster than a bullet fired from a typical handgun. Consequently, they have much more energy and cause much more damage in a victim’s body, virtually liquifying flesh and nearby organs. A non-lethal hit can cause catastrophic damage. For military purposes, taking an enemy soldier off of the battlefield with such an injury is next best to killing him. Do we really want this kind of horrendous injury to be inflicted on our friends, neighbors and children?

A surgeon who treated victims of the Parkland School shooting in Florida, which involved an AR-15, the civilian version of the M-16, observed that the “high velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding. Exit wounds can be the size of an orange.” That is exactly what these war weapons were designed to do.

The surgeon noted, “One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15... Nothing was left to repair--and utterly, devastatingly, nothing could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.”

When I visited the War Remnants Museum in Saigon in January of 2018, I saw exhibits denouncing both the M-16 and the beehive rounds as war crime weapons. The Communists were obviously aware of the grievous injuries these weapons inflicted on their troops. But, they were weapons of war specifically designed to do maximum damage to human bodies. It is doubtful that anyone could have imagined 50 years ago that the civilian version of the M-16 would be commonplace on the streets of civilian America.

The rapid rate of fire of AR-15 style firearms, as well as their excellent killing power, have made them the weapon of choice of mass murder enthusiasts in the United States--Parkland (FL), Newtown (CT), Las Vegas (NV), San Bernardino (CA), Pittsburgh (PA), Aurora (CO), Sutherland Springs (TX) and, most recently Dayton (OH), where the shooter managed to kill 9 people and wound 17 others in just 32 seconds with an AR-15 pistol. Seems the Dayton guy was going for a world kill record with his 100-round magazines. Darn lucky the police were on the ball and able to end it quickly.

It is high time to get war weapons out of the hands of civilians and off of the streets and school grounds of America. We need to ban sales of assault rifles--all variants of the M-16, the Communist AK-47 and its variants (used recently in El Paso), and similar weapons designed to kill human beings quickly and effectively. In the process, all high capacity magazines should also be banned. This won’t stop all mass shootings, but it will start making a dent. We simply can’t sit on our hands and allow these war-weapon-assisted mass killings to continue devastating communities across the country.



America was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941. Just 32 hours later, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war in response.

The nation became instantly focused on the business of war. Industry turned on a dime and began producing armaments of all descriptions. Commerce quickly set up a war footing and became part of the massive effort. Young men and women signed up for military duty. Civilians of all stripes were either in uniform or became part of the campaign in hundreds of ways.

It was war! We won.

We are now under attack again. For those who are repulsed and sickened by the massacres flowing from guns in this country, we are at war again! War!

This is not something politicians can solve with new laws. Even if they had the backbone to write ‘em. We’ve already got more laws dealing with guns than we can prosecute. Laws aren’t the answer.

Think about Sandy Hook. El Paso. Dayton. Las Vegas. Orlando. Parkland. Columbine. Do you think for a second that the shooters in all these massacres loaded their long guns, stopped at the door and thought about laws they were about to break? Were any of them stopped by legislation?

Banning violent video games - ala Walmart - isn’t the answer. All developed nations on earth have violent video games. Are they having as many massacres per capita as us? Any?

Psychiatric or mental treatment won’t stop the shooting. As far as we know, only one shooter in all the tragedies listed above had any contact with mental health professionals - Sandy Hook. Medical professionals can’t find ‘em all before they kill.

We are at war! None of these “answers” being proffered can stop the killing and, taken together, they’ll still fail. In wars, there’s the battlefield and there’s the home front. Not now. We are currently living on the battlefield. Schools, hospitals, churches, mosques, temples, concerts, nightclubs, streets, stores. Where we live, shop, play, worship. We’re living on the battlefield.

It’s the guns, damn it. It’s the guns. You got unlimited and free access to guns? You got killers.

In our state, when arrested for DUI, the state takes the car. Period. That takes care of that. One by one. Separate the driver from the car.

When someone is convicted of a crime while on drugs, our state - and many others - not only locks ‘em up but also enters them into a program to separate ‘em from drugs. Separate.

But, also in our state, sorry to say, we have open carry laws. More than that, you can carry concealed without any classes, no permit, no training. You can carry in stores, libraries, restaurants, bars. Now, there’s a “great” idea. Bullets and booze. What could go wrong? It’s the guns, damn it!

We have a war on our hands. Nothing short of it. All these damned piecemeal approaches will not work if, somewhere out there, in this nation of 330-million souls, there are hundreds or even thousands of people with mass murder on their minds. They can’t be found before they kill. They don’t wear tags. They all look like the rest of us. There’s absolutely no way to cut ‘em out of the herd before they act.

Politicians don’t have the guts to take on the NRA. But, that’s one piece of the larger puzzle that has to be solved. The NRA is a cancer on our society that’s paid out more than 24-million-dollars to members of Congress in the last decade. It’s bought them and it’s bought their silence and inaction. We’re currently successfully bankrupting some hate groups by getting large, court-ordered civil damages for their wrongdoing. It’s time the NRA paid up. Seems New York State A.G. is working on that.

If we’re to stop the killing - stop the massacres - stop the killers - we have to look at this as a war. Nothing less. It requires us to temporarily turn from other issues and concentrate every resource we own directly on this one murderous problem. We have to go back to December, 1941, and put this nation on a war footing. Focus directly on what and who’s killing us and stop it. Nothing less will stop the tragedies that have ended so many innocent lives.

I don’t know all the answers, if answers there be. But, I do know this nation (1941-1945) waged massive wars on two fronts and won both. We dedicated ourselves to a single purpose - winning - and we did. If we could stop ‘em “over there,” we can damn-well stop ‘em here. America can still walk and chew gum at the same time.

We’ve got the money, the brains, the technology. But, so far, we’ve lacked the will to take this head on. We’re at war. Our streets and structures have become the battlefield. We are living in the midst of the killing. We are safe nowhere.

If that’s not war, what the hell is it?

Crapo at Idaho Falls


Mike Crapo – Idaho's senior U.S. senator who chairs the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee and is second ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee – recently appeared before the City Club of Idaho Falls against the backdrop of a trade war worsening between the United States and China, global stock markets plunging and the annual U.S. federal budget deficit burgeoning beyond $1 trillion.

Crapo's City Club appearance coincided with a frenetic series of town hall meetings he conducted throughout Idaho during the August congressional recess in addition to other events, including a meeting in Boise with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson.

Crapo told Idaho Falls City Club members at a well-attended luncheon that despite spirited debates and political battles under way in Washington, there have been bipartisan achievements and successes in Congress that have not been well-publicized.

Asked about his assessment of Donald Trump, whom he called “interesting,” Crapo said he agrees on concerns about Trump's frequent tweets, but he said he has enjoyed working with Trump at the policy level and called him one of the most open presidents with whom he has worked during his nearly 30 years in Congress. Crapo ranks 15th in overall Senate seniority in the 116th Congress.

Crapo recently split with Jim Risch, Idaho's junior U.S. senator running for re-election, by voting for a two-year federal budget deal endorsed by Trump and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that raises the national debt limit, removes automatic budget cuts, adds $320 billion in federal spending, allows a 4 percent increase in discretionary spending and prevents a government shutdown. The U.S. Senate voted 67-28 to enact the legislation pending Trump's signature.

Crapo said Trump returns calls and even answers the phone when the White House is contacted. The Trump administration has been very good for the U.S. West in terms of agenda and a willingness to work on issues, he said, mentioning the Senate is in the “personnel business” and must confirm an administration's 1,200 nominations.

Crapo criticized Democratic delays and blocking Trump administration nominations. While most nominations in the past have averaged taking only 2½ weeks to confirm, some of Trump's nominees have taken 2½ years, which he said is “a huge concern.” He added: “I don't think the president is trying to bypass Congress.”

Crapo, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, praised Trump's confirmed U.S. Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh whom he called outstanding justices and supporters of constitutional rule of law. He said he supports splitting the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and adding a third federal district judgeship in Idaho.

He called regulatory reform “a huge success” and noted 99,000 pages of regulations have been reduced to 66,000 pages, which enhances economic growth. Crapo also praised increased national defense spending, which he said was badly allowed to degenerate, encouraged increased aggression by other countries and caused major consequences with NATO allies, whom he said need to boost their defense spending.

Tax reform has triggered intense political battles, but has achieved a significant fixing of the federal tax code, Crapo said. While it has been attacked as a tax cut for the wealthy and causing an income deficit, he said it actually has reduced taxes across the spectrum and boosted revenues.

While growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) only averaged 1.9 percent the previous 10 years and 2 percent was considered “the new norm,” tax reform has enabled GDP growth to surge to 3.1 percent, Crapo said, adding that every tenth of a percent growth in GDP adds hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue, creating more jobs and capital.

“The tax cut has more than paid for itself,” he said.

The national debt will go up under any president, Crapo said. “The deficit is skyrocketing out of control. It is screaming toward pushing the U.S. into insolvency.” He noted entitlements are approaching 70 percent of all spending.

Crapo also cited bipartisan legislative successes in Congress, which he said have included compensation for 911 first responders, natural resource management, IRS and banking reforms, opioid legislation, energy policy and sex trafficking crackdown. Idaho will benefit from increased funding for nuclear research and development, including advancements in reactor technology, he said.

“More sanctions have been imposed on Russia than ever before,” Crapo said, noting the U.S. Senate banking committee has thrown its support behind them. Crypto currencies, personal data collection abuse and artificial intelligence also are huge issues confronted by the committee, he said, adding he firmly believes China has been engaged in currency manipulating.

Crapo said Russia has tried to interfere with U.S. elections by trying to infiltrate ballot boxes and change votes, but failed, but it is not the only nation to attempt it. Russia and other countries have been successful in influencing social media messages, he said. “It's harder to secure the First Amendment.”

Asked about his A+ rating by the National Rifle Association in light of the recent mass killings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, Crapo said he has been a longtime supporter of the Second Amendment and the individual right to keep and bear arms, but he is open to looking at all proposals. Legislation and restrictions on gun ownership are now in place, he said, adding he supports hardening schools against violence and strengthening instant background checks.

Crapo said he does not support restricting family members from transfering guns between themselves or creating a national gun ownership data base that would infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“If government can create a list, it's one more step to confiscate. I see a problem with government identifying guns,” he said. It must be ensured that a person's constitutional rights are not taken away by bypassing the judiciary and giving that oversight to administrators.

“Character assassination should not be the political weapon of the day,” Crapo said, addressing the nation's sharp divisions and illegal immigration crisis. He said he does not not believe anyone entering the United States illegally should be given advantages over American citizens.

(photo: Crapo shares a City Club of Idaho Falls lunch with Mayor Rebecca Casper and Mark S. Young/Mark Mendiola)

War on the west


Amid the hourly chaos that is the Trump government it is possible to lose sight of the truly significant, while focusing on the merely crazy or simply incompetent.

So it was with the appointment – without Senate confirmation – of the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the announced intention of the administration to effectively gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The two events – a hardly a coincidence – occurred a few days apart.

It turns out the most incompetent administration in anyone’s lifetime is competent in one way: it knows how to trash the environment.

The appointment of William Perry Pendley, a hard rightwing lawyer who has repeatedly voiced support for selling public lands, is in keeping with the administration’s appointments of Ryan Zinke, the ethically challenged former Secretary of the Interior, and current Secretary David Bernhardt, a former coal industry lobbyist.

These guys don’t care about public access to public lands for western hunters and fishermen, backpackers and sightseers; they’re all about lessening protections and being cozy with the west’s extractive industries. You’d be naïve not to think that they will, as one-time Secretary Cecil D. Andrus said, cater to “the rape, ruin and run” crowd.

Pendley has a particularly pernicious reputation. As High Country News noted recently: “The Wyoming native has extreme anti-government views. He despises the Endangered Species Act, once writing the bedrock conservation law seeks ‘to kill or prevent anybody from making a living on federal land.’ He has sued the federal government numerous times in the last three decades, including over ESA listings and national monument designations. He’s called the science of climate change ‘junk science’ and blasted the Obama administration for waging a perceived ‘war on coal.’”

In a January 2016 article in the National Review, Pendley, who styles himself as one of the original “Sagebrush Rebels,” boldly asserted that, “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.” In that article Pendley championed Illinois as a model all western states should aspire to. Ninety-eight percent of the land in Illinois is owned privately. Try finding a place to hunt on public land in the Land of Lincoln.

Pendley, a supporter of the anti-government, anti-public lands Bundy crowd, also traffics in the old myth that the 1980s “Sagebrush Rebellion” was a spontaneous reaction to policies advanced by the Carter Administration when Andrus was running the Interior Department. It’s nonsense. Big money interests and corporate exploiters have been lusting over your land for generations. They always wait for an attractive political moment to pounce and they now have a willing accomplice in the White House.

In 1980, the Interior Department did a study of the various efforts to liquidate the west’s vast public acreage and, to no great surprise, found the “Sagebrush Rebellion” was as old as the hills. To quote from that report:

    In 1832 the Public Land Committee of the U.S. Senate claimed that state sovereignty was threatened by federal land ownership. The rest of Congress, however, maintained its discretionary authority to manage such land without limitation and rejected the complaint.

    In 1930 the Hoover Commission proposed to cede much of the public domain to the states. The recommendation was opposed by both the eastern Congressional majority and by the Western states, who having already acquired the most productive land, wanted no responsibility for the “waste lands” remaining.

    In the 1940s Senator Pat McCarran (D., Nevada) conducted a series of investigations into the Grazing Service (one of BLM’s predecessors) and the Forest Service, both of whom were trying to bring livestock grazing under control. In 1946 Senator Edward Robertson of Wyoming sponsored a bill to convey all unreserved and unappropriated lands to their respective states. BLM was formed the same year.

    In 1956 Senator Russell Long (D., Louisiana) proposed similar legislation.

The new “acting” head of the BLM is just the latest in a long line of hucksters who want to limit your ownership of national forests and rangelands. They’re driven by an ultra-conservative mindset that don’t just devalue public land, but considers it valueless.

The decision to gut much of the enforcement mechanism of the ESA was, of course, immediately endorsed by Idaho’s anti-conservation Senate delegation and Rep. Russ Fulcher, and it represents an even more blatant attack on the environment. Fulcher, parroting talking points that could have been produced by the “rape, ruin and run” crowd, congratulated Trump and company for “increasing transparency and continuing to fix this broken law.”

Richard Nixon signed this “broken law.” It has saved bald eagles and grizzly bears and countless other species. Leave it to Trump, a guy whose idea of roughing it is a resort bathroom without gold fixtures, to shred the last bit of credibility Republicans had on the environment.

The legacy of America’s public lands is one sure thing we can hand off to our grandchildren. No other country on earth has as much abundance of the open and accessible public lands, as well as the wildlife diversity that literally defines the American west. The land doesn’t belong to a president, or a blinkered rightwing lawyer or a coal company. It belongs to all of us, and our kids.

I’ll believe Republicans like Jim Risch and Mike Crapo value public lands when I see them insist on putting the acting BLM director through a Senate confirmation vote. I’ll believe Fulcher cares about your kid’s western legacy when he speaks, even once, about the value of the wide-open west without sounding like a lobbyist for an oil company.

The folks who regular devalue the idea of America’s public lands often talk about “balance,” which is vitally important in a region where many people make a living off the land. But they rarely talk about stewardship or how to harmonize the needs of resource industries with the legitimate values of conservation.

“When the West fully learns,” the great writer Wallace Stegner once said, “that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”

Centennial road


Idaho is amid an anniversary that may get no public acclaim but should: Really, it marks the unification of Idaho, one century ago, and a generation after statehood.

The project involved was completed 99 years ago. But it was well underway before that, and one of the key developments that allowed it to happen at all came in 1919.

It was the building of the Whitebird Hill grade, built that is, to motor vehicle roadway conditions, which in turn allowed for a road system that for the first time provided a practical link between northern and southern Idaho.

Up to then, the advocates arguing for breaking off northern Idaho and attaching it to Washington or Montana had an excellent point: There was no good way for people to travel, even by the rugged and uncomfortable standards of the time, between the northern and southern parts of Idaho. The area between the Camas Prairie (the northern one, in Idaho County) and the Meadows area seemed all but impassible. A rough trail had been cut through, and horseback riders could make their way over the hill; in the best weather narrow carts could roll, with great care taken, slowly and sometimes accumulating damage. But the old Magruder corridor, which despite use since the early 1860s never has been made into a real road, was probably easier to navigate than the area south of Grangeville.

Major rivers - the Snake, the Salmon, the Clearwater - run through the region, but none of them allow for any substantial transport between north and south. The one case that looks good on a map, the northern-running Snake River, has been a popular recreational path for many years, but wasn’t much good for long-distance transport then (or now).

Building a road over White Bird Pass would be a formidable challenge, but it was the key to creating a north-south roadway. The earliest work on it started in the mid-teens a century ago, but proceeded slowly at first. Local efforts needed a stronger push from the state.

In 1919, as part of a state government reorganization, a Bureau of Highways was created, and both governor (D.W. Davis at the time) and the legislature made clear that the roads needed to be improved. That was the final piece in what had been pushed for by people in the region for some time.

A November 1918 article in the Lewiston Tribune talked about the prospective project from the mouth of White Bird Creek to Grangeville, and the problem it addressed: “The only means of travel between these two points at the present time is over a narrow, precipitous mountain road of heavy grades - some pitches as steep as 25 percent - and sharp, dangerous turns. Though it is a very important mail route, supplying all the Salmon River country to a distance of 90 miles to New Meadows, it is practically no more than a poor trail and almost impassible to auto traffic except under the most favorable conditions.”

Those of us who remember the “old” White Bird grade - the switchback-laden white-knuckle road that held you to 25 miles an hour (if you didn't have a death wish) - may think that not much had changed. But a lot did. The pre-1920 trail was really not accessible at all to motor vehicles, which was not so big a deal a decade earlier but, as the car-driven 1920s were about to arrive, became a very big deal.

The grade we use now, in place at this point for more than 40 years, is a sleek, high-speed modern highway, far ahead of what came before. But that earlier version, which you can still see snaking its way up the mountain from the town of White Bird, was the predicate.

Look a century past and you’ll see that, yes, we can make progress.