Writings and observations

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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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Carlson

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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Reading

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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First Take