"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

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There’s irony in new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s selection of April 15th, normally considered to be “Tax Day” in the United States, to introduce a physician assisted suicide bill, but only for Canadians participating in Canada’s “single payer” healthcare system.

It’s as if he subtly wanted to remind folks of life’s two certainties – death and taxes. He has added a new wrinkle, though. Now a portion of a Canadian’s tax dollar is actually going to be expended ensuring a Canadian knows he can count on State support if he has been diagnosed with a fatal disease and desires to end his life.

Trudeau had little choice. Canada’s Supreme Court ordered physician assisted suicide be included in the healthcare law and legislation be brought before Parliament. Trudeau, citing the last painful days of his father’s life, endorsed the law.

The question Canadians as well as Americans should be asking is why? Is there really a need for legislation in such an intensely personal, and really private matter? Isn’t there a larger issue concerning whether government should be involved in the first place?

The old Hemlock Society, recast as “Compassion and Choices” (In Canada the group is known as “Dying with Dignity Canada”) has done an excellent job convincing the public the debate is about choice, and a law is needed to ensure a non-Constitutional right to die. It’s a classic straw dog argument that masks what the focus should be on: 1) Should the state be involved at all? 2) Should health care providers be involved, and possibly even compelled to participate despite conscientious objection? 3) Is society sending a mixed message about the sanctity and value of life?

Few in North America recognize suicide is the second leading cause of non-natural death annually. A recent Cable News Network (CNN) telecast listed suicides in the United States at approximately 42,000 a year, second only to drug overdose-induced deaths at 44,000. Suicide ran ahead of car accident deaths at 36,000 annually and gunshot deaths, at 32,000 annually.

Think of the millions spent annually promoting safe driving, seat belts and highway safety. Think of the millions spent on drug education and prevention programs, not to mention gun safety.

Think too about millions spent on teen suicide prevention programs such as suicide hotlines wherein teens are urged not to give up hope, not to take the path from which there is no return. Teen suicides are especially high in proportion to population among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. It is a mixed message to say the least.

Buried among that number are the approximately 250 people annually who in Oregon and Washington avail themselves of the law. The accuracy of the number is difficult to calculate largely because the law mandates the physician signing the death certificate must list the underlying disease as the cause of death, not the lethal dose of drugs consumed in completing the suicide.

A Department of Health study of those that actually completed their suicide (About twice as many folks start the paperwork) was revealing:

Almost all were white, well to-do and well educated.

There were few minorities.

Virtually none were fully disabled.

Pain management was not an issue, rather it was a matter of wanting to control their exit.

The picture seems pretty clear. Once again an unnecessary law is being proposed in Canada and will eventually be on the ballot in states which do not yet sanction physician- assisted suicide, to benefit the rich and powerful.

They come from the top one-tenth of one percent, the same group Senator Bernie Sanders has been railing against. They brag about not paying any taxes, and they know their money will buy them an extra ten years of life followed by an easy exit. They seem not to dread that “something after death/ The undiscovered Country from whose bourn/ No traveler returns/” Nor does it “puzzle the will/ And makes us fear those ills we have/ Than fly to others we know not of?”

(Editor’s note: full disclosure. Chris Carlson’s father committed suicide in 1961; in 2008 Chris chaired the losing campaign in Washington state against Initiative 1000 which allows physician assisted suicide.)

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We’re only a few days away from publishing David Proctor’s new book on the history and development of the Boise Greenbelt, Pathway of Dreams. But first we wanted to give a taste of what’s coming.


This is On the Greenbelt, a short historically-based tour by David Proctor of the gem of the Boise recreation system. It has material drawn from Pathway and a walking tour of the whole, long route.

It’s available for free in just about every e-book format. Click on the button above and download a copy with our complements. And check back in a few days for Pathway of Dreams.

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A submitted reading, from Tami Thatcher, about Earth Day and cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory.

On Earth Day, it is fitting to understand the “forever” contamination sites the Idaho National Laboratory’s cleanup is leaving behind. Ignoring the spent nuclear fuel and calcine that will supposedly be shipped out of state some day, there are roughly 55 “forever” radioactively contaminated sites of various sizes, and about 30 “forever” asbestos, mercury or military ordnance sites.

The areas contaminated with long-lived radioisotopes that are not being cleaned up will require institutional controls in order to claim that the “remediation” is protective of human health. People must be prevented from coming into contact with subsurface soil or drinking water near some of these sites — forever.

The Department of Energy downplays the mess and usually doesn’t specify how long the controls are required when the time frame is over thousands of years: they just say “indefinite.”

A summary of the INL “forever” sites here.

Institutional control of “forever” contamination means they put up a sign, maybe a fence or a soil cap — and assume it will be maintained for millennia. “Don’t worry about the cost. And besides,” they always add, “you and I won’t be here.”

Frequently cited stringent EPA standards such as 4 mrem/yr in drinking water are emphasized. But cleanup efforts often won’t come close to achieving the advertised standards.

DOE argued against digging up meaningful amounts of transuranic and other long-lived radioactive waste at the Radioactive Waste Management Complex. Only the most egregious chemically-laden buried waste is being removed. Denying that exorbitant cost to dig up waste and lack of another place to put it may have played a role, DOE argued that the incremental risk to a worker was too high given the small incremental benefit to a member of the public.

The analysis of the “worker” didn’t come down to concern over radiation workers monitored under DOE programs — which they argued were by definition protective. They argued that a state worker inspecting radioactive shipments would get an excessive radiation dose if working 30 years at the job, unmonitored for radiation. Then the benefit to the public was minimized by ignoring post-10,000 year contamination. Despite “remediation” radionuclides trickle into the aquifer at RWMC over the next millennia creating 30 to 100 mrem/yr doses, depending on the soil cap.

Cleanup decisions need to protect workers and the public. But studies continue to find that US radiation protection standards aren’t protective for either. A study of a large population of radiation workers getting an average 200 mrem/yr found elevated cancer risk. Find that study here. A prominent National Academy of Sciences study called the BEIR-VII report found radiation health risk for women double that of men, and female infants seven times more vulnerable than adult men.

Past and current decisions are based on ignoring the health risk to the most vulnerable. Current industry pressure is on loosening radiation standards to allow more emissions and to make waste burial easier.

Technical estimates of the rate of radionuclide migration to Idaho’s Snake River Plain Aquifer from the Idaho National Laboratory are biased to minimize the migration in the short term, avoid discussing the migration of contaminants in the long term and to ignore the spikes of contaminant migration during times of higher water infiltration. Experts have not been right very often about predicting contamination migration over the last several decades, they continue to be surprised by contamination migration now and in no way are their estimates of future contamination reliable or conservative. Naturally, the INL is planning to dump more radioactive waste over the aquifer.

What folks downstream of the INL from Rupert to Hagerman don’t understand about the aquifer — is a lot. And if they continue to rely on the nuclear boosters for information they will continue to be misinformed.

If the Department of Energy has its way, maybe all we will need is big sign placed on planet Earth, readable to potential visitors orbiting in space: “High radiation, don’t linger here and don’t drink the water.”

Thatcher is a former nuclear safety analyst at the Idaho National Laboratory and is now a nuclear safety consultant. Find out more at www.environmental-defense-institute.org.

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rainey

Of all the discouraging, disappointing and shameful news coming out of our current presidential political campaign, two facts are crystal clear. One – when the campaign is over, it won’t be over. Two – this country – and we who call it ours – will never be the same.

Traditionally, political battles are supposed to end right after the votes are counted. Final bills are paid, campaign paraphernalia stored or – in the case of the losers – usually destroyed. Staffers seek new opportunities and life returns to normal. Whatever that was – it’s just over. History.

In recent national elections, that Norman Rockwell description of political campaigns has been fraying at the edges. Actually, it’s been torn down the middle. Disputes – actual or imagined – have been carried into political office by both winners and losers. Winners have been heavy handed in how they conducted themselves and their elected responsibilities. “Gotcha” legislation, rule changing and other attempts at muzzling losers have become standard operating procedure.

Losers – those whom voters have rejected – immediately set about trying to scuttle whatever the winners attempt to do. Cooperation and compromise have become signs of “weakness” – especially if you’re a Republican. Any attempt to work together is met with immediate scorn by supporters and, too often, recall attempts.

But this time – this year – it’s already worse. And there’s nothing in the political tea leaves to indicate a return to the Rockwell era. Ever.

In the Republican Party, cracks in party discipline have been turned into canyons separating members. The smallest philosophical differences are now verbal weapons with which to beat all others over the head. Language – usually reserved for bar fights – is so common it’s often run on the evening news with no censoring. Racism and lies have been accepted by followers of certain candidates as either correct in the mind of the ignorant believer or discarded as just their guy lying “like they all do.”

There’ll be no healing – no acceptance of different thought – no coming together for the “good of the country” after this one. There’ll be no alliances to work for the common good. We’ll see more attempts to divide – to disenfranchise – to exclude. Like the current GOP refusal to even talk to a Supreme Court nominee, much less hold the Constitutionally required hearing. The seeds for all of this have been sown. And, as the National Republican Party is learning, you reap bitter fruit from such planting.

A national GOP, as we’ve known it, has been bought out by billionaires and poisoned by narrow-minded ideologies. It’s been purged of rational thought and traditional standards. It has ceased to have a central core of responsibility as big money has circumvented even the most futile attempts to broaden a steadily shrinking base of support. As a national political representative, Priebus and the rest of his cohorts have no real political power of their own and find themselves running to keep up with the Kochs, Adlesons and others who pay the bills.

Some of this cancer has begun to mutate in national Democrat operations as well. There’s a bitter inside battle involving the national chairwoman and the former vice chair that’s become more apparent. Efforts to compete – even to rebuild – in races long-ago dominated by the GOP have not been effective. While Republicans gerrymander state political maps, Democrats have been largely silent or ineffective in trying to flatten the playing fields. The “loyal opposition” has too often become the “loyal doormat” or no opposition at all.

Both parties are losing membership and both need to rethink and rebuild. Democrats will likely have the easier job after the 2016 election. But it appears the GOP is in for some very serious problems if it’s to again represent any moderate and more progressive folk. Should Priebus and his neutered minions wish to thank someone for making that job more difficult, they need look no further than Donald J. Trump.

I doubt Priebus will survive long after November 8, 2016. Nor should he. But Trump has nearly single-handedly created a much larger problem. The evidence is overwhelming. His base of followers is largely older white men with a distinct mix of racists, separatists and folks ignorant of government who’re destined to stay that way. For any rebuilding effort to be successful to achieve a modern, open and inclusive Republican Party, those folks will have to be dealt with. And they don’t have any use for “modern,” “open” or “inclusive” in their politics. Their way or the highway.

Which means – at least to me – two “Republican” parties. Maybe three. Or – and here is what the GOP must face squarely – a smaller Republican party after losing the aforementioned older white men, racists, separatists and the ignorant to a third party. Yes, it’s been tried before. And, yes, it’s never been successful. But Trump is not going to shut up. He’s got the money. And he’s delighted with the adulation surrounding him. He has a national – if not world – platform and, after the election, I don’t see him folding his tent and going back to just buying and selling real estate.

If the GOP doesn’t clean up its act, get back in charge, get the billionaires under control and disassociate itself with anything Trump, it faces no chance of being a viable political party for decades. None. It will become a neutered, narrow-minded, white and totally ineffective smaller “club.”

We need a healthy, robust, responsible National Republican Party. Our entire political structure is based on an active, effective two-party system. The new entity must be open, receptive to change, inclusive to minorities – who’ll soon make up the majority of this nation – and be more moderate in thought, word and deed. It can take a more conservative approach to things. That’s fine. But that conservatism must be more responsible and truer to the values that have defined it historically.

Hell of a job ahead. And I wish ‘em well!

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Rainey

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Idaho Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo are fine lawyers and considered to be a pretty good politicians, so they both should know better.

Usually, their instincts are spot on, but to the issue of judicial appointments to the Supreme Court, they are both dead wrong. If they feel obliged to march to the drumbeat set by Senator McConnell, they should just say so and take their medicine. But in trying to make up reasons that give credible justification for ignoring the President’s recommendation of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, our good senators both come off looking foolish.

Federal judges are appointed for life. The life appointment is a key to the principle of judicial independence, which in turn is an essential ingredient of the tripartite system of checks and balances that is the hallmark of the constitutional government our forefathers designed over 200 years ago. The politicians can’t toss a judge out of office except for impeachable cause and they can’t alter his personal jurisdiction or lower his salary once appointed. The judiciary is not supposed to be subject to the demands of partisan politics, it is not to be influenced by the topical fads of the day, and it is expected to be aloof from the demagogic demands of the people. The judiciary is to take the longest view, without fear of retribution or reprisal.

Under the Constitution, the President is duty bound to appoint judges to fill current vacancies. The Senate is to advise and consent on those appointments. The Senate does not get to say who the President can appoint, nor does it get to say when he can appoint. All it can do is vote up or down on those he commends to the Senate for advice.

The Senate leadership is currently in Republican hands. Majority Leader McConnell has declared that the President should not attempt to make any Supreme Court appointments during the last year of his term, but that positions should remain vacant until the next President takes office in January of next year. Senator Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary committee, has declared that the committee will hold no hearings on the Presidential appointments this year. By assuming the power to tell the President that he may not make any appointments during the remainder of his term, the Senate has assumed a Constitutional power that is specifically reserved to the President. This is wrong, and our Senators knows it.

The Senators both say it wouldn’t matter because they intend to vote against Judge Garland anyway, if he ever does get through the Judiciary committee, because even though they have never met the man and have not talked with him, they do not like some opinion the judge wrote on gun rights. Again, our Senators should know better.

In all of history, the efforts to predict how a future judge might rule prior to their appointment to the bench based on the appointee’s views on specific topical issues of the day has proved to be largely a waste of time. The plain fact is that whether the appointee is of considerable prominence and experience or comes from relative obscurity, no one can predict with certainty how the individual will perform once appointed to the court.
When Oliver Wendell Holmes was appointed from relative obscurity 1902, he served for 30 years, becoming the most widely cited Supreme Court justice in history. When Felix Frankfurter, an Austrian immigrant, co-founder of the ACLU and personal adviser to FDR, was selected, he turned out to be a principle advocate of judicial restraint and a sharp opponent of judicial activism. William O. Douglass was a rude political hack with nothing particularly notable about his legal skills when appointed to the court in 1939. He stayed for 36 years and become the most prolific legal writer in history. When Hugo Black, the little known senator from Alabama, was appointed, there was outrage because of his one-time membership in the KKK. He served for 34 years, and turned out to be a champion of the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Governor Earl Warren was a Republican, considered by all to be a “safe” appointment when President Eisenhower named him to be chief justice in 1953. No one predicted that in his 13 year term, the Warren Court would become known as the most transformative court in history, ushering in significant and dramatic reforms in many areas of law.

The point is that nothing in these men’s personal history before their appointment gave a clue as to the greatness that would follow once they assumed the high court bench – whether one now agrees with the decisions that resulted or not. What a prospective judge’s views on some current issue of the day are, or how he might have voted on a given case of the day is irrelevant. The appointment is to be for life, society’s times and attitudes will change, and the justices themselves will mature and evolve. Any opinion on a topical issue of the moment is of no true significance. What one really wants know is how will that potential justice approach the issues before the court as they come up? Not what his opinion might be, but how will he arrive at it?

Is he curious? Is she willing to explore new ideas? Is he interested in new things? Is the applicant open to listen on issues thought closed? Or is the applicant more aloof, cautious in the consideration of new ideas and new concepts, and content to leave things alone unless there are compelling reasons for investigation or inquiry?

Does the applicant have a sound understanding of the law? Will she give due consideration to stare decisis, recognizing the impact of cultural and societal changes but appreciating the value of consistency and historical precedence? Will he consider all evidence with an open mind, keeping perspective and maintaining balance? Will she practice judicial restraint? The answers to these questions are far more important than how the appointee might vote on some current hot button question of the day.

Our Senators should encourage Chairman Grassley to take his foot off the brake. Let the process work. Hold the hearings, present the President’s appointee to the committee, and let everyone take a good look. Leader McConnell should be asked to relent; schedule a vote and see what happens. The Senators’ prerogatives are to vote no when the vote comes, but they should do so only after full and fair consideration of all of the judge’s qualifications – not just the Litmus tests some right wing factions have demanded of them.

These men have taken an oath to preserve, protect and defend the entire Constitution – not just those parts that appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party.

Both should rethink their position on this issue and then do their job. And they should encourage their colleagues to do the same.

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McKee

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Democrat Branden Durst represented the southeast Boise area in the Idaho House for two terms after his elections in 2006 and 2008, and then for about a year in the Idaho Senate after his election in 2012. In November 2013, having half-moved to Washington state, he resigned.

This year, situated full-time in southern Pierce County (county seat: Tacoma), he’s running again, now for a House seat in Washington’s 29th district.

In the early days of most of our western states there was nothing unusual about running for office, sequentially, in multiple states; many of Idaho’s early lawmakers did, spreading expertise gathered in sundry statehouses. In more recent decades, political people in most states have found more electoral strength in emphasizing local roots over job experience. Among recent Idaho legislators, only Senator Steve Vick, R-Hayden, comes to mind as having been elected to another state’s legislature (the Montana House). If anyone knows of another in recent years, let me know. Nationally, it’s not unknown, but rare.

The similarities and differences of running in different states surely offer some insights single-state candidates don’t see. I asked Durst last week about some of those.

He is running in District 29, a mostly suburban area reaching south of Tacoma, including such communities as Lakewood and Parkland. That area actually is a lot like Durst’s old southeast Boise district, including its at-present Democratic lean. Durst is challenging an incumbent Democratic representative, David Sawyer of Parkland. There’s also a Republican, Rick Thomas, in the race.

For all that Washington is classed as a Democratic “blue” state in the presidential election, its legislature is split closely between the two parties, with a Republican Senate and Democratic House.

A number of legislative issues track across state lines. Public school financing is a hot topic in Washington. There as in Idaho the state supreme court has said the legislature has not adequately addressed that funding, but in Washington, the court has gone further and held the legislature in contempt, and imposed fines. It’s a subject of widespread discussion.

One obvious campaign difference from Idaho is the “top two” element. Durst and both other candidates in the August primary election each are seeking to do better than come in third; whichever two do progress on to November, even if they’re of the same party. November becomes a runoff. Mostly around the state this still means a Democrat and a Republican running against each other in November, but not always.

Another difference, which pops up in the practicalities of running, is that outsiders have a harder time there gaining traction than they do in Idaho. In Idaho, candidates can (and often should) do a good deal of work before formally filing for office in March, but they don’t have to. In Washington, most of the campaign finance, organization and other work is long since done by the time a candidate formally files in May. Major endorsing organizations too have made their donation or other support decisions far in advance of May, Durst said, and “if you’re new to the political process you’d have almost no chance of being successful.”

They need more resources too than in Idaho. A legislative district in Washington has several times as many people as those in Idaho, and campaign budgets and organizations typically are several times as large. In 2014, Representative Sawyer and his main opponent each spent more than $90,000, but that’s on the low side; many competitive campaigns in Washington have quarter-million dollar budgets. That’s far more than the norm in Idaho.

“In Idaho, individual candidates have a little more control over their individual destiny,” Durst said.

And he said that in Washington, “there’s much more transparency in finance here,” with state agencies that require extensive filing of campaign and personal finances. The downside is that this can rapidly become complex and difficult: “people are expected to pay for a consultant, and consultants aren’t cheap … That would be unheard of in Idaho.”

Still, he said, the basics are the basics. Knocking on doors and shaking hands is not so different in any state.

“The fundamentals are the same, wherever you live.”

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harris

The Independent Party of Oregon leaderships strategy of focusing on State Legislative races will expand beyond helping it’s own candidates in races this primary season according to a high ranking Party leader.

The source said that the IPO will be reaching out to a handful of incumbent Representatives . This group of Representatives purportedly includes both Democrats and Republicans.

“These are districts where the incumbent has been supportive of our party and legislative priorities and where no Independent candidate has filed” said the source. “So, our strategy is to reward these elected officials and if they want to get the IPO write in nomination, we’ll help them.”

There are IPO candidates in 9 of the 60 Oregon house races this year, but the IPO is also recruiting people to mount write in candidacies in some races where no IPO candidate filed before the deadline.

“In those safe districts where the less dominant party doesn’t even field a candidate, we don’t want the dominant candidate to win our nomination by write in, because voters end up with a single choice in November. And that’s no choice at all.” Said the source. “So, for instance in Multnomah County, we may recruit a moderate, or even a Bernie Sanders type candidate to run as a write in for our nomination. And in a deep red district with a far right incumbent, we may recruit a local Mayor, City Council person, or School Board Member to be the IPO write in candidate. We’ll particularly focus on districts where the incumbent has been hostile to the growth of a third party option.”

The IPO wants to be active in all House races, according to the source. So in Districts where there is no IPO candidate and no effort to recruit an IPO member for write in, but there is Democratic and Republican competition, The IPO may send questionnaires to the candidates to determine their level of support for the Party, it’s members and their priorities. With that information, the IPO source says leadership will evaluate the answers and determine whether to get involved in those races by helping the Democratic or Republican candidate get the IPO write in nomination.”

“We’ve got to be strategic.” said the source “We don’t have a big money donor base, or a lot of candidates yet. But we still want the voices of independent voters to have influence in these primaries. Influencing the write in outcomes is no different than cross nominating, which is allowed under Oregon law”

“You have to be creative in a closed primary State where the two major parties control the rules.” said the source. “We’re using their rules to open up the system for all voters, and to provide as many choices as we can in November.”

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Harris

There’ve been several forums for the four candidates for Idaho Supreme Court justice. This one was held at the Idaho Law & Justice Center at Boise.

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