Press "Enter" to skip to content



Odd word, isn’t it? It’s used by some to describe people from other countries who become full time residents of Mexico.

We have friends who’re “Mex-Pats” and we recently flew down to their “home city” of Chapala in the State of Jalisco. Chapala is a two-and-a-half hour flight Southeast of Phoenix so we figure it to be about a thousand miles.

Chapala is a typical Mexican town. No high-rises like PuertoVallarta, Mexico City, Cancun or any other major spot. Tallest building we saw was a three-story home.

What we experienced in Chapala was about as close to the real Mexico as you can get these days. Very old with cobblestone streets to rattle your teeth. Cement and stone construction in nearly all buildings. Narrow streets with narrow sidewalks, very small commercial businesses and a central plaza near a Catholic Church built in 1749.

Anyone who talks about “lazy Mexicans” has never spent time in a real Mexican community. Everywhere we went - and I mean everywhere - people were working. From the larger businesses to the guy outside the church we attended who was selling many varieties of washed fresh fruit out of a cardboard box - everyone was busy. We saw no indications of homelessness, no panhandlers anywhere we went. And we went just about everywhere in Chapala.

We passed a street crew of about eight men digging out an old water line. Not three working and five watching. All were on picks and shovels because they don’t use backhoes or other heavy equipment. Many road repairs in the area were the same - done by hand.

Locals we encountered spoke little to no English. Even the desk clerk in our hotel and counter employees at the International airport in Guadalahara about 20 miles away. American money wasn’t accepted anywhere we went. Credit cards worked sometimes and sometimes they didn’t. Pesos were a necessity.

There were no “touristy” areas anywhere. Very small shops with goods mostly made in Mexico. No plate glass windows, no neon signs, no upscale fashions. We found small children of working mothers in several shops. All quiet, well-behaved, playing with small toys, reading a book or sleeping. Not one running underfoot.

The large central plaza was great for people-watching. Musicians, vendors both inside and out, no cars or other noises of civilization. Many choices of food and drink. And large trees everywhere for shade in the hot afternoons.

New commercial development was outside the city. No new car dealers. A couple of movie theaters, a Starbucks and a “Wal-Marche.” Bought Colgate toothpaste - writing on the tube in Spanish. Same with Coke or Budweiser. Very little to remind you of the states.

New construction in Chapala is either on small vacant ground which was never used or where older buildings had been removed. Our friends’ new home, in an older section, was one such. About 1,600 square feet, inner and outer walls solid concrete, a glass wall to an interior courtyard and a beautiful hand-laid convex brick ceiling over the entire living area. Less than $200-thousand.

Healthcare quality is good and available either through clinics, public or private hospitals. The public ones are free but crowded. The private ones charge but fees are much less than the states.

There’s a sizeable contingent of Americans, Canadians, Brits, Germans and other nationalities in Chapala. Moderate temperatures, laid-back Mexican lifestyle, very low cost-of-living, a feeling of being removed from what we call “civilization,” gracious locals who have gladly accepted their new “neighbors” - many enticing features.

But. There’s always a “but.”

Most homes in Chapala are surrounded by high concrete walls. Many topped with steel spikes, concertina wire or electric fencing. Some have guard dogs. Garage and outer compound doors of steel. Most homes and other buildings have large water storage tanks on the roof because of frequent outages. Local tap water, in some places, not safe to drink. Some homes have emergency generators. Security issues are ever-present.

Those cobblestone roads are everywhere so cars and other vehicles take a pounding. Mexican roads can leave something to be desired. Even major highways are often uneven with roller-coaster rides. For serious shopping, car-buying or major medical needs, it’s about an hour drive to Guadalahara.

On balance, we very much enjoyed our small-town Mexican experience. People were welcoming and gracious. The atmosphere was far-removed from the travel guides, time-share condos, high-rises, carefully-trimmed golf courses, fancy dining and other accouterments we hear about. Our host-friends were generous with their time and knowledge of the area. We felt we did get to see what the country is really like.

Ready to be a Mex-Pat? No. But, the experiences we had and the things we learned were eye-opening in many ways. We have a new appreciation for the country and its residents.

You oughta try the real Mexico sometime. Bueno!

(photo/Barb Rainey)

Eastern Idaho’s economic challenges


Panelists representing the region's largest employers discussed their companies' greatest challenges, hopes and frustrations when they participated in a recent Eastern Idaho Outlook conference at the elegant Shoshone-Bannock Casino Hotel in Fort Hall.

Sponsored by the Regional Economic Development for Eastern Idaho (REDI), Colliers International, Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Hirning Buick/GMC of Pocatello and Portneuf Health Partners, the April 24 conference drew more than 200 government and business leaders from throughout the area.

Moderated by Jim Shipman, Colliers International's Idaho managing partner, the panel discussion featured:
Brian Berrett, ICCU chief financial officer.
Drew Facer, Idahoan Foods president and chief executive officer.
Amy Lientz, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) stakeholder and education partnerships director.
Dan Ordyna, Portneuf Health Partners chief executive officer.
Luke Stumme, U.S. government facilities chief.
Donald Zebe, Colliers International brokerage services vice president.
All of the panelists essentially agreed that Eastern Idaho is on the verge of explosive growth from Rexburg to Pocatello and discussed how that can be effectively managed and anticipated. In introductory remarks, Shipman noted that Idaho continues to boom as Californians and others keep migrating to the state. “It's on everybody's radar,” he said.

Stumme moved to Pocatello about nine months ago from Washington D.C., where he lived for seven years, calling it the best decision he has ever made. He is overseeing the FBI's $100 million expansion of its Pocatello data center. He said Pocatello reminds him of Boulder and Golden, Colorado. He earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering from the Colorado School of Mines.

The FBI plans to hire at least 300 new employees in Pocatello the next two years and annually invest $65 million in Eastern Idaho. Stumme predicted Pocatello will become “Headquarters West” for the FBI, which employs 10,000 people in Washington – where it is getting to be exorbitantly expensive and highly congestive to live. The FBI's training academy is situated on 547 acres at the immense Marine Corps base near Quantico, Virginia.

In February 2018, the FBI announced it would shift about 2,500 jobs across four states, including Idaho, from its Washington headquarters. The Pocatello FBI data center will be the most energy efficient data center in the Justice Department, Stumme said.

Last November, the FBI said it would move 1,350 personnel and contractors to Huntsville, Alabama, and eventually expand its site there by between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs. About 300 are employed there now. A $350 million support building is expected to be completed there by 2021.

The FBI has 39,000 employees worldwide and the highest retention rate of any federal department or agency, Stumme said. Many FBI employees are coming to Pocatello from Washington, but those hired externally must pass background clearances, which can be difficult, he pointed out.

“One of our biggest challenges is background screening where there is only a 30 percent pass rate,” Stumme said, which can be alleviated by hiring contractors who already have security clearances. There also are limits for staff funding, he said, mentioning the FBI is increasing the number of agents hired while support personnel numbers are decreasing.

Stumme praised the relatively close proximity of Idaho State University and BYU-Idaho in the region. “People from here want to stay here because of the whole area,” he said, adding those who move to Idaho can afford housing as opposed to heavily populated places where “you can sit in a car for 40 minutes to go eight miles.”

Ordyna said Portneuf's top priorities are recruiting and talent management. “Burnout” is the biggest concern in the health care industry as “Millennials” put greater emphasis on maintaining a work life balance rather than work 24/7 at a “365 days shop,” the medical center CEO said.

Portneuf's biggest impediment for retaining qualified personnel is when nurses graduate most of them must move and live outside Idaho because there are no jobs for their spouses and pay is greater in states like Utah, Ordyna said. “Nurses can get jobs wherever they go.”

He said without question the general sentiment seems to be: “Don't tell anybody about the secret gem of Idaho” because otherwise more people will move here, and it will become a California. He said Eastern Idaho must be smart about its growth because growth is still needed.

Ordyna said Portneuf and its board of directors are committed to making a significant investment in 20 acres of the Northgate Project under development as a master planned community that is designed for housing, a technology park and a shopping district. ICCU also has committed to constructing a new branch there.

“Eastern Idaho's going to blow up,” he remarked, noting housing costs are getting terribly expensive in Utah and people there will be looking for a cheaper living alternative. Conditions also are exceptional for attracting good companies, Ordyna added.

Colliers International's Zebe observed that construction of a major new LDS temple in the Northgate district also promises to propel economic growth. He noted that construction of such temples in Layton, Utah, Meridian, Twin Falls and St. Louis all attracted businesses like magnets.

Seventy-five homes in the upper $400,000 range under construction at Northgate have all sold, with 55 expected to be completed by the end of June, Zebe said. “There's a housing shortage in the whole region. We've got to address it.”

Berrett said ICCU's main objective is to sell itself as a company to potential out-of-state recruits who also consider an area's culture, outdoors, traffic and school systems. Low unemployment numbers make it more difficult for businesses to hire qualified prospects when those individuals get two or three job offers, he said.

“It's difficult to find good employees,” Berrett said, noting a company can offer generous salaries and benefits, but the area's housing shortage can prove to be a disincentive. “We've lost a few potential candidates.”

More tech jobs are required due to companies needing larger information technology departments, the ICCU CFO said, adding a company's “selling process” takes time. He discouraged the attitude of telling people to stay away from Idaho. “We have to be willing to grow. Otherwise, we are slowly deteriorating or dying.”

Lientz stressed it was her opinion that INL's energy and security priorities will spawn new companies in the region, especially as the Naval Reactors Facility's $1.6 billion expansion gets under way, and INL focuses on developing small modular reactors, micro reactor technology and the Versatile Test Reactor, which is critical for innovative nuclear fuels, materials, instrumentation and sensors.

INL is reaping benefits of partnering with area universities and community colleges, she said, mentioning it also is getting more involved in developing high performing computers. As its technology advancements are being watched on the world stage, INL must recruit top world scientists and engineers, making them feel welcome, she said, advocating nature conservancy and land trusts as a means of attracting qualifying personnel to the region.

Facer said productivity is key to Idahoan Foods' success. Based in Idaho Falls, it specializes in the production of dehydrated potato products and employs more than 500 people at the height of its production cycle.

Many new employees are hired from publicly traded companies and want to make a difference in the world, he noted. His company requires every imaginable business discipline and must develop its own labor pool. Idahoan Foods is recognized as a top growth leader in consumer packaged goods (CPG), Facer said.

“It comes down to culture and company packages and opportunities,” he said, emphasizing that CEOs must be their companies' chief recruiting officers. Geography is not necessarily the main reason new employees commit to a company, he said.

Nothing matters


When John Mellencamp (then still under the “John Cougar” label) in 1980 released an album called “Nothin’ Matters and What if it Did”, he did at least have the advantage of appending a phrase that saved the idea from complete nihilism.

No such luck a few decades later.

Sometime probably in early 2013 an animated gif image, consisting only of rotating letters, was designed to say “lol nothing matters.”

An advocate soon responded, “So try responding to someone with the "lol nothing matters" gif the next time you are in an internet fight. You will automatically win so hard your opponent will probably disable all of their social media accounts and move to a remote mountaintop."

And there it might have stopped but, in the nihilistic spirit of the age, it did not. It was in fact widely used as an image in commenting - on all manner of subjects - but then it forked into new, curious and eerie meanings.

A writer in Slate reported about the indifference of many people to checking whether purported facts were actually truthful (the article was discussing a professional fact-checker). One subject concerned the false report that weapons of mass destruction were stockpiled in Iraq before the American invasion there. A correction on that report was issued, but for students inclined initially to believe in the WMD report, the correction only caused them to defend the idea more fiercely.

The resulting thesis was that “the internet divides us, that facts will make us dumber, and that debunking doesn’t work. These ideas, and the buzzwords that came with them—filter bubbles, selective exposure, and the backfire effect—would be cited, again and again, as seismic forces pushing us to rival islands of belief.” In other words, “nothing matters” next to one’s belief. The article concluded with the suggestions that the concern may be overstated; but by how much remained unclear.

The “nothing matters” idea was picked up by Donald Trump, on more than one occasion. Back in 2004, speaking on the Larry King show, he answered a question on coping with stress by saying, “I try and tell myself it doesn’t matter. Nothing matters.”

The theme popped up in his presidency, an arena where nearly everything said and eon is cloaked in a mantle of significance. In september 2018 he said “We’ll see what happens with Iran. … I will always be available, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other.” In October 2018, he answered a question about the controversy surrounding the Supreme Court appointment of Brett Kavanaugh by saying, “It doesn’t matter. We won.”

Tim O’Brien, who wrote the book “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald,” suggested the slip into the concept is natural for him: “He profoundly believes nothing matters because he usually isn’t the victim of his own mistakes,”

A headline over a Michelle Goldberg column [New York Times, August 28, 2018] said: “Motto for the Trump Age: Lol, nothing matters.” The context for the piece was a recitation of the problems of the Trump Administration, noting that very little effective blowback to those issues had materialized. So endless scandals and legal issues are reported: Does any of it matter?

Or, put another way, “The watchwords of Trump-era politics are “LOL nothing matters.” If you’re in a jam, you just lie about it.”

What does matter?

The NRA is a fraud


We learned with certainty this week what the more discriminating among us have known for a long, long time – the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a fraud. The Wall Street Journal, not anyone’s definition of the liberal press, produced the documents that prove how the NRA’s chief mouthpiece, Wayne LaPierre, and a handful of other top executives have scammed the nation’s gullible gun owners out of millions and millions of dollars.

LaPierre has perfected the gift of the grift. The Journal reported that he submitted bills for $39,000 worth of clothing during one – just one – visit to a Beverly Hills “boutique.” As writer Jonathan V. Last noted, it is possible, I guess, to pay $500 or $600 for a pair of pants, but at LaPierre’s rate of spending “that leaves you with close to 80 pairs of pants.” The documents obtained by the newspaper seem to indicate LaPierre, who usually seems more focused on bullet proof vests than Italian suits, somehow racked up clothing bills approaching $275,000, all billed to the Second Amendment loving deer hunters who send checks to the NRA.

And then there’s the gun lobby’s lobbyist’s taste in travel, also amazingly spendy, $40,000 for a one-way flight from Washington to the Bahamas and $1,096 for “Airport Assistance” in Frankfurt, Germany.

The NRA booked legal expenses over the last year of $18.5 million with just one law firm. That is a lot of billable hours, in fact more than $100,000 per day over the course of a full year. LaPierre also billed nearly $14,000 for three months rent for “a summer intern” who reportedly worked at the NRA. That is some rental. Some intern.

Oliver North, the sleazy former Iran-Contra operative, served briefly as president of the NRA before being deposed a couple of weeks ago. He reportedly had a cushy contract worth millions annually. It’s difficult to tell from the organization’s 990 form what if any perks NRA board members receive, but former senator Larry Craig, a dependable shill for the NRA in Congress, is a long-time board member and at a minimum he owns a piece of the current scandal.

LaPierre, living the pampered life style of the “elite” beltway hypocrite, is, of course, the guy who regularly keeps his cash register humming with bombast like this: “It’s up to us to speak out against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats.”

There is more, pricy travel, expensive perks, insider sweetheart deals, but you get the point. Expenses incurred by the NRA brass that aren’t “just extravagant and wasteful,” as Jonathan Last wrote, “but … so insane that you can’t even really figure out how they were actually incurred.” An entirely different set of questionable activities has prompted an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.

The NRA’s fraud – conservative columnist Max Boot describes it as a big part of the larger “racket” that American conservatism has become – dates back a long way. My personal NRA inflection point came in the early morning hours of November 1, 1986, three days before the gubernatorial election that year. The NRA was all over the Idaho airwaves that weekend smearing Cecil D. Andrus.

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric Hoffer

Andrus had, audaciously it turns out, honestly responded to one of the NRA’s “candidate surveys.” A big issue then was whether to outlaw so called “cop killer” bullets, Teflon coated rounds specifically designed to penetrate a bulletproof vest. Andrus said he had no problem banning the bullet since he’d never seen an elk wearing a bulletproof vest. The once and future governor also said he had no issue with bans on military-like assault weapons, the kind that have become the weapon of choice for our regularly occurring school massacres.

The NRA gave Andrus a D-rating in 1986 and put up commercials calling him a threat to Idaho sportsman. The hunter-governor who never met a shotgun or elk camp he didn’t love just wasn’t pure enough for Wayne LaPierre. The gun lobby endorsed Republican David Leroy in 1986, a fellow who knew his way around a Boise courtroom, but a guy no one expected to occupy a hunting camp.

To understand how amazing – or outrageous – those NRA smears of Andrus were you need to know about Andrus the hunter and gun owner. In early October of that election year, Andrus quietly left the campaign trail for three days so as not to miss his annual elk hunt. As his press secretary I was deathly afraid some enterprising reporter would ask me where the candidate was and why he wasn’t shaking hands and seeking votes? In retrospect I should have put out a news release – “Andrus Pursues Mighty Wapiti Rather Than Votes.” He got his elk, by the way.

Andrus once stashed a new 12-gauge shotgun in my office while waiting for the opportunity to secret the firearm into his home. He said if he could get the gun home without Carol noticing she would never know he had purchased another firearm. He had so many guns that one more would fade unnoticed into the gun cabinet.

The four-term governor was the kind of politician the NRA can’t abide, a passionate hunter and gun owner who thought the organization was off its rocker when it came to legitimate restrictions on the kinds of weapons that now regularly kill innocent people in churches, synagogues, schools and on street corners. Thirty years ago he correctly saw that the NRA, faking concern for sportsmen, while serving as stocking horse for firearms manufacturers, had just become one more radical ancillary of the Republican Party. Unlike most politicians he had the courage to say that the leaders of the gun lobby really built their political influence in order to facilitate their own financial enrichment.

For decades the NRA has been the biggest fundraising cash register on the hard right of American politics, whipping up outrage, constantly stoking fear and always depositing the checks. The fraud is finally coming home to roost.

Other natural resources


As long as people have been here, the Northwest has been a place of great natural resources available for human use. Some of those resources are less obvious than others, but that doesn’t mean they’re less valuable.

The earliest travelers through the region, the Native Americans and eventually people from the east along the Oregon Trail, took clear note of many characteristics of the Idaho region - like the blazing sun, the blustering winds shooting across the desert plains, the roar of the rivers cut into deep canyons. For them, such things were more obstacle, annoyance or even hazard than they were anything else. They were conditions to march through and get behind them.

But the sun and the wind and the rivers all have turned out to be massive resources of immense value - commercial and financial value on top of everything else.

The rivers were recognized that way first, initially as sources for irrigation water, but not long after as generators of electric power. Questions of water use and power manufacturing - the context of the time - were subjects of discussion as long ago as at Idaho’s constitutional convention.

Now, more than a century later, the sun and the wind are beginning to be recognized for the powerful natural resources they are.

We see the vast wind farms whenever we travel around the state, especially around southern Idaho. When I lived in eastern Idaho I often felt the winds sharply and it was one of the characteristics of the place I might have changed if I could. Now, wind turbine farms, found in many scattered locations across the southern part of the state, are turning what once seemed to me an annoyance into juice and profits, and undergirding an important part of the economic development of the area. In the last few years I’ve made a practice of retracing some back routes - away from the interstates and busier roads - and I’ve been consistently struck by how extensive wind power development in the region has become. (Not just in Idaho, of course; I could say something similar about much of the northwest.)

Wind power is of course not the only major resource Idaho is newly able to tap.

The largest solar energy farm in the Northwest may be built soon in the relatively remote and barely populated desert. Recent news reports about a project by Alternative Power Development, which is based in Boise, point to a massive new solar development not far from the northern side of the Nevada border some miles from Jackpot. The land is owned by the J.R. Simplot company, and would be leased from it.

If the reported development follows through as planned about 120 megawatts of electricity would come online about three years from now. That one development, in other words, probably would supply enough juice for somewhere around 60,000 to 80,000 homes.

If the project works as planned, you can reasonably expect more like it to pop up across Idaho’s vast wide open spaces.

Idaho Power is slated to buy the Jackpot-area electricity, as it is more or less required to do under the law. But the law doesn’t have to twist Idaho Power’s arm; the utility has been moving steadily in recent years toward more use of renewable power (that would also include its use of Snake River hydropower), including solar and wind. Over time, that should keep some of the lower power rates in the nation low for even longer.

The blazing sun and the blustery wind are annoyances no more. They are becoming key components of Idaho’s natural resource mix.

Quit griping: get to work


The favorite pastime of the day seems to be railing against government. Isn’t that what these editorial pages are for? If you can’t find a good word to say about your government, then I think you ought to join it. Of the people, by the people, shall not perish; or maybe you just want to gripe. We are better than gripers; republic up.

For this republic needs our service if it is to prosper. It’s not just your vote in November, it’s your voice we need. You, my fellow citizen, have a valuable voice to offer to our common good. Keep your AR15’s, keep the stockpiles of ammo and rations, but invest in this republic. I still believe in it. Do you?

If you don’t have the temperament for elected office but you care about your community, here’s a way to serve: look through the list Governor Little updates regularly on his website. Below the banner of the beautiful capitol in Boise there’s a heading “Administration”. Click on it and a list pops down that includes “Appointments”. There is a simple description of how you apply, a link to download and print the forms, then a list of all the appointments that are coming up.

I’ll bet you thought these appointments were just handed out to Brad’s old buddies. Not so. His office is making a strong effort to reach out and include all of us in this process so many disparage. Good for him. Better for us if we show up.

Many of the positions require some professional experience and that makes sense. But even the Electrical Board (which will have 5 vacancies in July) has an opening for an at-large member. If you are passionate about electrical codes, here’s your chance.

I’d encourage you to look into the legal responsibilities of each board. You can look up the duties for the Electrical Board in statute (54-1006). Same goes for the Building Code Board; they have a great website and a contact number to call.

It’s a long list of appointments the governor has to work through. Something ought to suit you.

Keep in mind, some of these boards have a “political requirement”, not just a professional one. That means the governor will be looking for a Democrat or a Republican. Why does that matter? In the best of all worlds, it shouldn’t. But there have been many times in the history of this country, and this state, when partisan affiliation was the test applied to governance. Sorry fact, but it’s true.

The Idaho legislature saw such party politics a few decades ago harming our common good and decided to impose in law a balance. So, there may be a legal requirement that a board have three members from the “majority party” and two from the “minority party”. Such a requirement was designed to embrace balance and service to the common good, not promote partisanship. The good old boy system needed a legal thwart. The legislature gave it.

Imagine that, the Idaho legislature embracing balance. Like I said, it was a while ago. But I respect the concept of balance. I doubt todays legislature would see such wisdom. Partisan affiliation has become the test before service to the common good. We need to show up folks.

I encourage all citizens to participate in this process of governance. Lincoln’s phrase, “of the people, by the people, for the people” was not in any founding document. In fact, he might have plagiarized it from a sermon by Theodore Parker. I don’t really care; it is an ideal I can embrace. I would hope you can too. Quit griping; get to work. Our republic may perish.

Derangement syndrome


The current usage is in the form of “Trump derangement syndrome”, meant to suggest a person who has come unhinged by the subject of Donald Trump.

But it cannot be properly understood without acknowledgement of its predecessor conditions: Obama Derangement Syndrome, Bush Derangement Syndrome, Clinton Derangement Syndrome - all in-currency usages in their day, and all meant to connote something similar but with interchangeable subjects and objects. (Trump, Obama and Bush all have separate pages on Wikipedia, as an indication of their common usage.) The DS coinage seems to have started with Clinton; earlier strong objections seem to have been described differently.

(The popularization of the term has been pegged to columnist Charles Krauthammer, who launched the Bush-era use of it in 2003.)

Are we doomed to become deranged by anyone sitting in the White House? Or is any criticism of that person doomed to be dismissed as the product of insanity?

That seems to be the common usage. One web site said called Trump DS “a[n] illness that hard left liberals, anti-trump conservatives, and progressives have. These are very hateful people who cannot have reasonable arguments or conversations about common sense issues." (Sounds like a calm, objective, fair-minded point of view, right?)

Columnist E.J. Dionne counters, liberals “are told that their apprehension about the threat he poses to our constitutional democracy is not a form of vigilance but a disease.”

(Dionne also proposes “Trump Rearrangement Syndrome: A disorder common among Republicans who were once very critical of #Trump but now disown everything they said (or pretend they never said it) to curry favor with him & his core supporters.)

Does “derangement syndrome” - which sounds so scientific - actually have a meaning other than as an insult meant to be lobbed across the political aisle?

It does, as it turns out.

This traces back to a physical therapist from New Zealand named Robin McKenzie (1931-2013), who researched and helped treat pain in the spine and the limbs. He developed a school of thought on treatment in that area, called the McKenzie Method, which has some popularity in the field.

He organized his varieties of condition and appropriate treatment in three categories, all classified as “syndromes.” One of them related to tissue deformities (dysfunction syndrome), and concerns posture (postural syndrome) coming from such actions as slouching, and then there’s derangement syndrome, the most common of the three.

It refers to “pain which is caused by a disturbance in the normal resting position of the affected joint surfaces. This syndrome is classified in two groups: Irreducible derangement … No strategy is capable to produce a permanent change in symptoms. [And] Reducible derangement: Shows one direction of repeated movement which decreases or centralizes referred symptoms = preferred direction; shows also an opposite repeated movement characterized by production or increase or distal movement of the symptoms. The treatment includes: examination of the patient’s symptomatic and mechanical response to repeated movements or sustained positions because the chosen treatment depends on the clinically induced directional preference.”

Read through that carefully again, and ponder whether Dr. McKenzie might in fact have found something that might be usefully adapted for use in American politics ...

The sixth extinction


The United Nations just released an alarming report that should knock the socks off of all of those who still wear them. The report, which was approved by the U.S. and 131 other countries, says the Earth is headed into a mass die-off of plant and animal species. Up to one-eighth of the planet’s species are in danger of extinction unless humans make dramatic changes in their planet-fouling behavior.

The report points to a number of factors that have seriously degraded the environment and threatened global biodiversity in recent decades, including deforestation, overhunting, invasive species, overfishing, pollution, pesticides, and ruinous farming and mining practices. The nearly 7 billion people engaged in these activities have altered the natural world at a rate “unprecedented in human history.”

Climate change poses the most serious danger to the world’s species in coming years. The report says that about 5% of Earth’s species will face extinction if the average global temperature rises another degree Celsius. Plants and animals that cannot adapt will perish.

The report concludes that “around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken.” The panel’s chair wrote that “the health of ecosystems on which we and all species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

It may be that many of these plants and animals are not grand specimens--pesky insects and nondescript plants--but they still play a crucial role in maintaining life on the planet. Many lowly insects pollinate crops, break down feces, recycle and enrich soil and provide a food source for grander species which then provide a food source for even grander animals. Many of the lowly plants are also a critical food source for animals and even ingredients in medicines and other useful products for humans.

What makes our dire situation more discouraging is that the report does not tell us something that we did not already know. Scientists have been concerned for years about what is called the Sixth Extinction. About four years ago, I read an excellent, but frightening, book with that title.

The book’s author, Elizabeth Kolbert, writes: “Over the last half billion years, there have been five major mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.”

The present extinction is the result of human activity and we are doing precious little to head it off. Rather than making a concerted effort to bring a halt to practices that cause great harm to species which play a critical role in the food chain, we continue merrily along our destructive course. Instead of taking the drastic action needed to reduce pollution and curb planet-killing greenhouse gasses, we argue about whether climate change is a hoax.

The time for taking action to keep this planet from turning into a hell hole is running perilously short. We need to get with it and blunt the present extinction to the greatest extent possible. Continuation of a ho-hum attitude is not an option.

Healthcare is a business


A lot a folks these days are bandying about words like “universal healthcare” and “Medicare/Medicaid for all” and similar popular phrases.

Sounds good. Sounds positive. Sounds hopeful. And chances for any to materialize nationally in the near future are slim to none. Like lots of things we want to fix in our lives, the distance between “want” and “get” is a country mile. Or two.

In November, large majorities of voters in Idaho and Utah said they wanted expanded Medicaid programs to take care of hundreds of thousands of uninsured. Referendums in both states passed with significant numbers. In the old days, the legislatures would have heard the call and gotten right to work fulfilling the will of citizens.

Today, not so much. Majority political parties in each state tried their damndest to ignore those voices. Bills were introduced to cut benefits of anything eventually adopted. In Idaho, there was a “poison pill” measure in committee to kill eventual expansion if the feds ever change the funding ratio. In Utah, they tried to flat out stop expansion. Period!

If voters in those states want to see their dreams of more insured folks, they’re going to need a second election to get rid of the naysayers. Maybe even a third and fourth.

Looking to Congress for help is an even more daunting - and certainly doomed - task in the near future. While large numbers of us want significant improvements, too many denizens of that swamp won’t lift a finger. There’s all that lobbying money from insurance companies, the folks making pharmaceuticals and dozens of other interests wanting to keep the status quo.

It’s not as if “universal” care or federal medical programs won’t be expanded or that our payment system for services won’t be improved. All that can - and likely will - happen. But, given the obstacles, those politicians promising such in the near future are blowing smoke.

For those too young to remember, we went through such efforts in the ‘60's with creating Medicare. Even with favorable majorities in Congress, Lyndon Johnson had to push, pull, promise, horse-trade and literally threaten the political futures of some in both parties to get it. The fight today is way more uphill. The aforementioned drug and insurance outfits and their friends are making it so. Whatever the outcome, it’ll start with political and business decisions - not consumer need. A basic issue that must be solved is how those entities can survive and in what form.

Proof of that is how physicians and hospitals have radically changed business models in the last decade to stay in business with Medicare. Many now use step-down intermediate care to get patients out of the more expensive hospital stays. They’ve hired salaried doctors and “hospitalists” on staff, opened their own related care facilities such as rehab centers and lower-level extended care centers. Many ancillary services previously farmed out have been incorporated into the overall structure.

Physicians have reorganized for Medicare, too. Often, they create a partnership of several specialities, open in-house labs, manage their own testing such as EEG and similar exams and limit nearly all patient visits to 15-minute appointments. Many docs have hired specialty physician assistants so more patients can be seen, spreading the load but not the costs.

Insurance companies started “Medigap” programs which, given the amount of advertising to attract new customers, must have proven profitable. They’ve also changed other aspects of their business models to streamline coverage while assuring income.

In all likelihood, we’re heading to some sort of single-payer system in this country. Call it “Universal” or “expanded Medicaid” or any other popular name. The plain fact is we can’t continue to operate under a system that eats so much of our national resources, is priced out of reach of millions and causes bankruptcies in the thousands each year.

But, to realize a goal of “healthcare for everyone,” the political and business issues must be solved first. If availability and cost containment are the goals, then assuring the survival - in some form - of the medical, pharmaceutical and insurance providers who make up that system must be addressed up front.

No one entity has the answer. And you won’t have traditional quality healthcare of any reliable sort without them. As businesses and corporations, they’ll need to survive or none of us will live to see significant changes.

Politicians who make it sound like we can achieve all that by simply electing them and they’ll make it happen, are glossing over the massive work to get it done.

Healthcare is, after all, a business.