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Recent events and the upcoming 4th of July holiday should cause those following current events to focus attention on the word “union.” The United States Supreme Court, by an historic and precedent setting 5-4 decision, has now ruled that “union” in the context of state recognized marriage includes a “union” of same-sex couples who pledge fidelity and love to each other is legally on par with heterosexual couples pledging the same.

This virtually guarantees that the matter will be a major topic during the 2016 presidential cycle.

The other event creating debate centered, whether one recognizes it or not, on the concept of “union” is the debate around the display of the Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag and has come back to the forefront of the news because of the awful racially-motivated murder of nine Americans at an historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

America’s incredibly bloody Civil War was not just about eliminating slavery and emancipating African-Americans, it was also about preserving the “union” of states. It is no accident that northern forces were most often referred to as “union” troops. Abraham Lincoln is considered the greatest of our presidents because he both preserved the union and emancipated the slaves.

Display of the Confederate flag is covered by “free speech” guaranteed in the Constitution but that does not make it any less offensive to millions of Americans who rightly also see it as a symbol of state’s rights, and the concepts of secession and nullification.

For whatever reason the state of South Carolina and South Carolinians have historically been the greatest proponents of the belief that state’s rights trump federal law. Its no coincidence that it was the first state to try to secede and that the Civil War began with South Carolinians bombarding the union fort in Charleston harbor.

As Americans approach the great national holiday celebrating independence it might behoove all to recall the great words of Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster in 1830, who rose on the Senate floor to reply to South Carolina Senator Robert Haynes, who previously had advanced the notion that a state could nullify a federal law it did not agree with.

In closing his historic speech Webster turned to the notion of “union,” reminding his listeners that the Constitution’s first words were “We the people, not “we the states,” in order to form a more perfect UNION, hold these truths to be self-evident. . . that all are created EQUAL (the 14th amendment springs from this notion).

Our forefathers chose their words deliberately and carefully. In doing so they formed the most viable democracy the world has ever seen. It has survived because its founding principles and its founding statements radiate vitality in all times and ages, that they are in fact dynamic, on-going living documents. Our democracy should always be a work in progress as we strive for a more perfect union and more perfect unions.

Let Senator Webster’s words speak for themselves and please ponder while having a safe and happy 4th of July. On January 26, 1830, Webster closed his rebuttal to Senator Haynes with these words:

“When my eyes shall be turned for the last time on the meridian sun, I hope I may see him shining brightly upon my united, free and happy Country. I hope I shall not live to see his beams falling upon the dispersed fragments of the structure of this once glorious Union. I hope I may not see the flag of my Country, with its stars separated or obliterated, torn by commotion, smoking with the blood of civil war. I hope I may not see the standard raised of separate states rights, star against star and stripe against stripe; but that the flag of the Union may keep its stars and its stripes corded and bound together in indisoluble ties. I hope I shall not see written, as its motto, first liberty and then Union. I hope I shall see no such delusion, and deluded motto on the flag of that Country. I hope to see spread all over it, blazoned in letters of light, and proudly floating over Land and Sea that other sentiment, dear to my heart, “Union and Liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Amen, Senator.

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Try to wrap your mind around 20 million bees, and how you would deal with that if they were unleashed in your neighborhood. That happened over the last few days in two places in Idaho, far apart from each other, one at Coeur d’Alene and the other not far from Idaho Falls, when in each case a truck transporting massive numbers of bees tipped over. The operators said they were swerving the avoid another vehicle. (Kind of a remarkable coincidence, no?) The location for the release at Idaho Falls may have been almost optimal, at least as far as human interaction with the bees was concerned: It was out on the desert, at Idaho National Laboratory country, far from residential centers. The release at Coeur d’Alene was in a major residential area, leading authorities to urge people to stay indoors. People in these areas need some luck – but so do the bees, which have been seeing disappearing colonies in recent years (hence the reason for trucking them from place to place). Let’s hope these don’t become among the disappeared.

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First Take

Probably the most immediate and necessary task for the Oregon Legislature this year, aside from the regular work on budget and finance, has been developing state law to fill in gaps from last year’s passage of the initiative legalizing marijuana (under state law). Opinions varied widely about how to deal with it – some wanted the voters’ decision overturned as much as possible, others would have wanted it loosened further – but now the legislature seems to have settled on its approach. (It is not all the way through the legislature, but it has passed the key committee designing the measure, and seems to broad support.)

And it seems to be, overall, a mid-level proposal, broadly in concert with what the 2014 initiative contemplated. Some sections were changed not at all, such as the provision allowing people to grow up to four plants at their residences. It sets some commercial limits on grows, and some other limitations. Recognizing the differences in attitude toward pot around the state, it varied the rules on allowing commercial pot activity different for places that supported or opposed (by more than 55% negative vote) legalization. It seems designed, really, to minimize very strong opposition to the new regime.

There are glitches. Senator Floyd Prozanski, an attorney from Eugene, cautioned that “We’re setting up a system where we’ll have a three-month period … with illegal sales to people who can legally posses recreational” marijuana. More glitches probably will be found, and have to be fixed.

Still, probably not a bad place to start.

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First Take

A guest opinion from Tami Thatcher, who has written frequently in recent years about the Idaho National Laboratory and related nuclear industry issues. She said that she “was a nuclear safety analyst at INL for several years. . ..and then “graduated” in 2005. It’s a long story. Since 2005, I have provided contractor work for the INL, Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free, and Environmental Defense Institute of tiny Troy Idaho where many of my articles are posted.”

I have been trying to piece together the history of radionuclide and chemical contamination of drinking water at the Idaho National Laboratory. US Geological Survey reports and data fill in much of the history of what was monitored since 1949.

State regulation of drinking water laws began to permeate INL in the late 1980s. INL contractors now perform the INL drinking water monitoring.

I visited the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to see the data. What I discovered was that IDEQ does not collect or post online the radionuclide data for INL drinking water, only the chemical data.

In 1995, the IDEQ granted the DOE’s request to no longer provide radionuclide drinking water results.

Few people know that the radionuclide results for INL drinking water are not available at IDEQ or the site annual environmental monitoring reports.

The DOE’s own lax limits were 100 times more permissive than current federal drinking water limits. DOE and USGS reports that did disclose highlights of the contamination often emphasized that more permissive federal limits would soon be enacted. But they weren’t.

IDEQ ceased oversight of radionuclides in INL drinking water at a time when radionuclide levels remained at or near the federal limit. A legal loophole for non-community wells means the radionuclide contaminants are not regulated by the state.

A comprehensive review of chronically contaminated historical INL drinking water does not exist. The contamination has yet to be acknowledged in National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health’s (NIOSH) energy worker compensation dose reconstruction or epidemiology studies. The energy worker compensation law enacted in 2000 has paid out about $200 million in INL claims, but NIOSH does not disclose when or which facilities exposed the workers.

Brain tumors, leukemia and lymphatic cancers were found to be elevated in INL workers regardless of their recorded dose and whether or not they were radiation workers.

In the past, workers at INL’s Central Facilities Area were drinking up to five times the federal drinking water limit for tritium, 70 percent of the limit for iodine-129, and a host of other contaminants for decades. Drinking water wells at other INL facilities were also contaminated.

The full extent of Snake River Plain aquifer contamination from reactor operation, fuel tests, nuclear fuel reprocessing and waste burial remains obscured behind overly simplistic presentations that promote the idea that as long as current contamination levels don’t exceed federal limits, there’s no reason for concern.

There are serious radioactive omissions when it comes to describing current and historical drinking water contaminants at the Idaho National Laboratory.

Piecing together the full picture of all historical INL drinking water contaminants would require filling in those not monitored but later discovered to have been present.

Former workers (and their children) may wonder what they were exposed to. When weighing the benefits of future operations at INL, the public needs access to the full story of INL’s past and current contaminated drinking water.

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And that’s that. The practical legal questions around same-gender marriage are now pretty much done; the Supreme Court has ruled flatly that the terms of the Constitution simply provide that, under the law, sexual orientation isn’t a bar to marriage.

That was probably going to happen regardless; the trendline was moving steadily in that direction. A clear majority of the population of the United States is now in favor, as is a very strong majority of younger voters. many of the states that now have same-sex marriage owing to court decisions – Oregon is one of them – would without doubt have changed its still-on-books ban provisions quickly in the even the Supreme Court had ruled otherwise. And the pressure on the remaining states soon might have looked a lot like the pressure related to official entities flying the Confederate flag.

As it is, the only legal recourse to opponents would be a constitutional amendment. That may materialize in some places – might we see that in the next session of the Idaho Legislature – but it wouldn’t go far. The real question now is how rapidly reconciliation goes.

Meantime, the core of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision express quite well what advocates for extending marriage rights have been saying, and it will be hard to counter: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. … They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

(photo/Joshua Hoover)

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Dozens of people, tribal leaders, public officials (including Yukon’s premier and the area’s Member of Parliament) gathered around a fire in a prayer circle. It’s the solstice, the longest day of the year, and National Aboriginal Day. For nearly two decades, Canadians have celebrated June 21 as a national holiday to honor the Inuit, First Nations and Metis people.

“For me, National Aboriginal Day is a day of celebration, acknowledgment, and remembrance,” said Jessie Dawson, a councilor with the Kwanlin Dun First Nation Government.

Especially this year. The recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission report chronicled what it termed as Canada’s physical, biological, and cultural genocide against Aboriginal people. Yet the report said: “Despite the coercive measures that the government adopted, it failed to achieve its policy goals. Although Aboriginal peoples and cultures have been badly damaged, they continue to exist. Aboriginal people have refused to surrender their identity.”

Dawson said that “report represents a break through in time and a new day for our people. It calls on our citizens to make peace. It gives us hope and a restored faith that appropriate measures will be taken.”

It’s that very debate, about what is “an appropriate measure” that Canada has yet to conclude. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission proposes one standard: “Reconciliation is about establishing and maintaining a mutually respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples in this country.”

On Friday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police updated its report on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, saying that while Aboriginal women make up 4.3 percent of the population, they account for 16 percent of all female homicide victims. The federal policy agency once again said the overwhelming majority of those murders stemmed from family violence.

However First Nations advocates say the report is not broad enough because it does not include statistics from municipal governments.
“All jurisdictions need to look at what they can do to ensure that Indigenous women and girls are safe and secure,” Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Cameron Alexis said in a news release. “We need a national inquiry to get to the root causes and find long-term solutions, and we need immediate action to ensure they’re safe now. All municipal and accredited police services in this country including the military police need to work together on Aboriginal policing issues such as missing and murdered Aboriginal women.”

That again begs the question about appropriate measures as Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has dismissed calls for any national inquiry. But federal elections are coming in October. The leader of the New Democratic Party, Tom Mulcair, tweeted:”On #NationalAboriginalDay, the #NDP stands w/ Canada’s Indigenous peoples to celebrate & work towards a better future.” The Liberal Party, too, has demanded action. Its leader, Justin Trudeau, said “Harper is on the wrong side of history. This issue requires national leadership and action to put an end to this violence.”

A three-party election will be an interesting one to watch — as well as how and where Aboriginal voters participate. In a recent provincial election, Alberta voters tossed out the Conservatives after a 44-year run. According to the Aboriginal People’s Television Network, a high number of Aboriginal voters turned out for the New Democratic Party. The new premier, Rachel Motley, is promising a stronger partnership with Aboriginal people. (The big question in any three-way election is can any party win a majority? In nations around the world, multi-party elections mean that governing coalitions must be formed, something that’s rare in Canada.)

Back to Aboriginal Day and why it matters. It’s true that holidays are often dismissed as merely days off. It’s too easy to forget why there’s a Veterans’ Day or especially a Labor Day. It’s true that Canadians are no different — as is this holiday.

But National Aboriginal Day does have the potential to change the conversation. On Saturday, for example, a Aboriginal Day Live broadcast from Winnipeg and Edmonton showcased the incredible wealth of native talent. Thousands of people attended the concerts and shows and more than a million people watched on television (and tweeted their reactions).

That’s not bad. Perhaps every year more people will be inspired by the native artists who are raising issues that celebrate, acknowledge, and remember, the Aboriginal place in modern Canada.

It’s also an idea worth emulating in the United States. It would be fantastic if for a moment, even for a single day, we were defined by our remarkable talent, and not our challenges.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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There was a period in my earlier years when one would have thought my name was ‘knucklehead.” Everything I did, I did incorrectly, or in an inefficient manner. This would prompt my uncle, Rolla (pronounced Rol-li) Briggs, to look up to heaven with a wry smile and say, “You knucklehead.”

Then, he explained how it should be done correctly. He had a knack for teaching, for imparting the lesson without making one feel stupid. Because of that wry smile one knew he was saying listen up and smarten up. He never berated in a manner that humiliated.

The summers I was 12, 13 and 14 years of age I worked for Uncle Rolla and his wife, Ardis, in Salmon at the family-owned National Laundry. The “home” plant, in Pocatello, was owned and operated by my grandfather, Fergus Briggs, Sr. (Troy Parisian bought them out a few years back).

There were four Briggs boys (Fergus P. Briggs, Jr.; Robert L. Briggs, Rolla and then Jack Briggs) plus my mother, Margaret, and a much younger sister, Mona. All spent many hours working in the laundry, folding towels, shaking sheets or driving delivery routes. The Depression as well as slim profit margins forced some consolidations, but business was good enough that three of the four boys were able to join the family enterprise.

“Junior” took over in Pocatello and Rolla started running the Salmon facility. Neither Rolla nor Jack went to college but both were blessed with a ton of common sense, country smarts and embodied an ideal work ethic. Additionally, they read assiduously.

They also married sisters; Rolla married Ardis Lowers of Pocatello on December 31st, 1946. Jack married Lois Lowers shortly thereafter. When Rolla passed away recently at the age of 87, he and Ardis had been together 68 years. Neither thought that as exceptional—-they had taken vows, kept those vows and grew closer together as they gracefully aged. Rarely did one hear them referred to separately—it was almost always, Rolla and Ardis.

Among their shared passions, besides their four children (Larry, Debra, Pamela and Freida) and their grandchildren, was a love for Idaho’s out-of-doors, especially the Salmon River back country; and, a love of flying. Both were pilots.

For 20 years they were stalwarts in the Salmon community—both were JayCee’s and Rolla belonged to the Elks, Rotary, Masons and the Knights of Columbus. He was voted the Distinguished Citizen of the Year and he was a volunteer fireman.

I will always remember the summer night the fire siren began to wail. Being close to the fire station, half-dressed Uncle Rolla went rushing over to the station only to discover it was the station itself that was on fire. Despite the fire already being well along he and several others were able to rescue the all important fire pump truck before the building collapsed to the sound of one long lasting final siren wail.

This knucklehead learned what hard work was, working mornings as the town dry cleaner, and in the afternoon feeding sheets into a large barrel press in heat that reached 130 degrees in August—-all for the princely sum of .75 cents per hour.

I rapidly concluded that hard labor was not the way to make a living. Nor were we done after work. Rolla would send us off to Williams Lake to assist in the construction of some A-frame summer cabins he and several friends were building. I learned just enough about carpentry to be dangerous.

Uncle Rolla also taught me how to drive before I was 14—-a young boy’s dream—-but somehow it was building materials I was carrying around, not hot young girls.

In the mid-60s he and Ardis bought into the fly-in only Selway Lodge deep in the heart of the Selway/Bitteroot Wilderness. Several Septembers, before returning to New York City and my undergraduate school, Columbia, Uncle Rolla or Syd Hinkle would fly me into the Lodge for a few days. Rolla knew my “mountain batteries” needed recharging.

Rolla was the first to recite to me a wise saying: “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are no old, bold pilots.” This may explain why he was able to walk away unscathed from the one mountain crash he ever had.

His eternal Co-Pilot called him home to the Backcountry airstrip in the Sky on April 23rd in Boise.

In many respects he was your typical, common sense, hard-working Idahoan. He thoroughly enjoyed Idaho’s bounteous beauties and was always grateful for his blessings. He had that wonderful wry smile and sometimes a witty comment to go with it when calling me knucklehead.

I knew though he saw some potential and was proud of my accomplishments in later years. I hope he knew how proud of him I was for no matter how you say it, he was also a rarity in this old world—a real man’s man. As Will Rogers once said of mother earth, they just ain’t makin’ ‘em anymore. Rest in Peace, my uncle. Your old knuckleheaded nephew, Chris.

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In the wake of the bloody church massacre in South Carolina, this nation – with the electronic aid of a frantic national media – is entering into an asinine debate: the end of Confederate flag displays. The mindless media is busy taking quotes from people who haven’t thought the issue through or don’t see the racism of it’s own such action represents. Breast beaters and vote chasers. Or both. Mindless because banning the Confederate flag from flying in the so-called Confederate states is not likely.

Commonly accepted use of the words “Confederate states” says it all. Yes, the North won the war. At least on the battlefield. But, to millions of Americans in the South, their former flag is still the most powerful visible reminder of their true history. Offensive to most of us? You bet! But, to many of them, it’s history and tradition. Racist representation? To some, I’m sure. But not to many. Not as is to the rest of us.

Then there’s this. Can you say “First Amendment?”

Freedom of speech is not “freedom of good, likeable speech.” Freedom of speech is all speech no matter how distasteful – no matter how wrong – no matter how hateful. Whether our founding fathers intended it to be that way, I don’t know. But for 239 years, the nation’s courts have pretty much interpreted the issue to include nearly every utterance. It exists to protect the speech you don’t like – not the speech you do.

Yes, the U.S. Supreme Court recently let stand a lower court order to remove the C-flag from license plates in Texas. Keep an eye on that because I doubt those plates will disappear. Just the Texas way of ignoring laws Texans don’t like. Germany outlawed use/display of the Nazi flag many moons ago. But, surf the I-net for a few minutes and you’ll find Nazi flags all over the Fatherland. The rest of the world, too.

There’ll be thousands of hours of time and millions of dollars wasted in various legislatures and Congress as bills are introduced to sweep the Confederate flag into history’s trash can. You can already hear the chest-pounding. Some may become law. For a time. Then will come the challenges in many courtrooms. Taking passion out of the issue, it doesn’t seem reasonable to expect banning the C-flag will be achieved. And, even if it does become the “law of the land,” it’s equally reasonable to expect thousands and thousands of southerners – and racists – will ignore it.

We have a lot of that going on within our borders now. People ignoring law, regulations, rules, human rights, tradition. Even common courtesy. All of us do it. Some by speeding. Some by throwing trash out the window. Shooting off illegal fireworks. Smoking in non-smoking areas. Sneaking liquor into sports activities. Not shoveling snow off our sidewalks after a storm. Drinking underage. Ignoring curfews. And on and on and on. We do it without thinking because we do it so often it’s a matter of course.

Someone once told me a law can be enforced only so long as a majority of people abide by it. One example: a stretch of highway posted at 60 mph. But authorities have found most people drive 70-75. Sooner or later, the speed limit is usually raised. Oregon’s legislators play with that constantly on I-5 and I-84 because state cops have found drivers routinely drive 10-15 mph faster than law allows. We’ll get it raised one of these days. By continuing to break existing law.

There are many instances when most of us who call ourselves “law abiding” actually violate law, ordinances, rules – thinking or not. Sometimes laws are changed to accommodate what has become fact. Sometimes laws stay on the books but enforcement stops. Look at public lands welfare queen Clive Bundy in Nevada. He owes the BLM over a million dollars in unpaid grazing fees but now the feds are talking about writing the whole thing off – much less not enforcing existing contract law.

With police officers being killed at record rates, murders of school children by the dozens, massacred church worshipers in a Bible class, thousands of illegal and unchecked gun sales, hundreds of unpunished Wall Street crooks damned near wrecking this nation’s economy still enjoying their freedom, illegal protests in our streets, racists ignoring our first Black president’s good works while spreading unbridled trash at will in social/public media, a Congress ignoring laws requiring voting decisions on declaration of war for more than a decade, a government operating on a federal budget that hasn’t been changed, updated or even thoroughly reviewed for years. Wanna keep going? With the exception of the poor and most minorities, too many of us break laws with impunity.

In their efforts to become our next president, Rick Perry calls the Charleston murders “an accident,” Rick Santorum blames those killings on the current president, Ted Cruz is on the campaign trail cracking jokes about guns and gun control, Mike Huckabee refers to a case of well-publicized incest as just “kids experimenting” and they’ll “outgrow it.” Anyone there you want to install as a new president of a nation already having problems of civic order?

If all the money and all the time and all the talent sure to be wasted on futile efforts to outlaw display of the Confederate flag could be directed to some more useful civic purpose, we might get a handle on some of the other, vastly more important issues going unchecked in our nation. I’m sure even ol’ Bobby E. Lee would agree.

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