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Posts published in October 2015

One giveth, one taketh away

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Duff McKee has been writing column-length pieces from time to time over the years, mainly in Facebook, and now he has agreed to become a regular contributor here. This is a recent post from Facebook about Kate's law; new pieces will be coming soon. - rs

What a week! The House announced a move to improve the criminal justice system by reducing draconian sentencing in one area, and the Senate announced a move to reverse the course and return to the unreasonable sentencing in another.

On the positive side, the House Judiciary Committee announced agreement upon a major overhaul of the drug sentencing laws, reducing prison terms in many areas and increasing the emphasis on rehabilitation. This begins to mirror extensive efforts by the states, including Idaho, to reexamine and overhaul their criminal justice systems. Significant savings in cost are being realized as prison populations are reduced. To the liberals, this is a matter of social justice. To the conservatives, it is a matter of simple economics. The product is a bi-partisan effort and the results are projected to be considerable.

On the negative side, the Senate announced it was going to take up a bill next week that will dramatically increase the prison sentence for anyone illegally entering the country after having been once deported, or having been convicted of a serious felony. New prison sentences are to be imposed for violations, starting out at five years mandatory for first offense, no exceptions.

This comes in response to the senseless murder of Kate Steinle, allegedly by an illegal immigrant. When a national furor resulted, Bill O’Reilly seized the initiative and promoted the enactment of new federal sentencing provisions, which he has termed “Kate’s Law.” This has been vigorously lobbied, mostly by Fox News, and has been taken up by the Conservative wing of the Republican party, most prominently by Senator Cruz but including others. It does not seem to matter that the immigration status of the assailant was and is wholly immaterial to any of the facts or circumstances of the murder. Nor does it appear to matter that the new provisions are completely unnecessary, redundant and inconsistent with existing law, and counter to the efforts that are being taken elsewhere to overhaul the criminal justice system.

The only justification offered for the mandatory prison sentences are that knowledge of the severity of the sentence to be imposed will deter others. Deterrence has been studied to death over the last decade as state after state has taken up the issue of sentencing reform. With detailed statistics going back almost 50 years, the studies are overwhelming in demonstrating that in the usual case, the actor gives no thought to consequences at all. Changing the mix of what might be considered will not alter this condition. In the few cases where deterrence might hold some influence, studies indicate that it is the certainty, not severity, of punishment that impresses. There are no credible studies supporting the conclusion that adding knowledge of the severity of punishment makes any significant difference.

In the general case, immigration offenses do not warrant mandatory prison sentences. There is no violence involved, the offense does not involve moral turpitude, and the direct impact of the offense does not extend beyond the individual and perhaps the immediate family. Protection of society is not a consideration. An immigration offense is “malum prohibitum,” meaning it is a public offense only because a statute declares it such, not because of any intrinsic evil in the conduct cited. For all these reasons, in the absence of aggravating circumstances, misdemeanor range sentences are adequate and appropriate to recognize the seriousness of the offense and impress the consequences of punishment upon the actor.

Illegal reentry is already a federal crime with punishment provided of a fine and incarceration for up to 20 years for extreme cases. The ordinary case, without aggravating circumstances, calls for sentences of 2 years or less. The precise sentence depends upon statutory conditions pled and sentencing guidelines found after conviction. There were approximately 16,500 prosecutions under this law in 2014, with the average length of sentence imposed being 17 months, including time served.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that increasing the minimum sentence to a mandatory five years in all cases will add approximately 60,000 inmates to federal prisons over the next 5 years, at a cost to the penal system of approximately $2 billion per year. According to one Congressional source, this will completely erase the savings expected from the overhaul of drug sentencing.

Unless reason and common sense prevails when this measure comes up for a vote, what the left hand may have provided in terms of a bipartisan proposal for reform and costs saved in the area of drug reform, will be taken away by the right hand under the guise of immigration control and in retribution for Kate’s unseemly murder.

First take/Biden

Vice President Joe Biden has steadily refused to set a firm date by which he would announce his decision about whether he will run for president. He alluded early on a decision sometime in the summer, but that ship has sailed. He could keep on delaying, but if he does want to run, he's about to hit a series of walls: Filing deadlines in some of the early states, not to mention participation in the primary debates, the first of which comes Tuesday night. Its organizers say that if Biden announces as late as Tuesday afternoon, they would give him space on the stage that evening. But this is pushing it to the edge. As an NBC report put it (in one very long sentence - deep breath please), "what is unsustainable is continued inaction, because it won't be helping his party (if the Democratic nominee needs to raise $1 billion to compete in the general election in this Super PAC Era, Biden still hasn't raised a cent); it won't be helping Hillary Clinton (see the latest CBS poll, which shows her leading Bernie Sanders by 24 points without Biden, but by a smaller amount - 19 points - with him included in the contest); and despite experiencing his highest poll numbers during this limbo period, it won't be helping Biden himself, either (if you want to compete in the early states, build an organization to win, and simply meet the upcoming filing deadlines, you've got to jump in ASAP)." - rs

Even newer media

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Last week writer Chris Carlson and I were touring around north Idaho, and when we pulled in at Moscow decided to stop in at the local paper.

We pulled up to the downtown building that for half a century and more had housed the Daily News (or, as I knew it in my Moscow years, the Idahonian). I was a little startled to find it now occupied by an economic development company, but the receptionist there helpfully pointed me to the newspaper’s new digs.

Those were located in a suite of offices on the second floor of the Moscow federal building. Chris and I inquired about the unusual situation of a newspaper whose landlord was the federal government, but that turned out not to be the case either. The federal building, which still includes the post office and federal courts, had earlier been sold to a foundation of the local hospital. Which presumably could kick them all out if it developed expansion plans in the area, as many hospitals in recent years have been known to do.

The newspaper, which had off-loaded its press years before and was using only a small part of the space in its old building, understandably wanted more cost-effective offices, and conditions were right at the federal building. But it seems a comedown to see a newspaper in an office building suite, like just another firm of accountants or lawyers.

This week also brought news of the anticipated sale of the Post Company in Idaho Falls, which operates that city’s daily newspaper, the Post Register, and three eastern Idaho weeklies. The sale is said to be final at the beginning of next month. The sale leaves the Lewiston and Moscow papers, jointly owned at Lewiston, and the Hagadone papers based in Coeur d’Alene, as the lone locally-owned papers in the state.

The surprise buyer at Idaho Falls is Adams Publishing Group, an organization completely new to the Northwest. The most common expectation, probably, was that the Post Register would go to one of the big national chains like Gannett or McClatchy, but Adams is a smaller presence in the newspaper world. The Post Register may be the largest newspaper in its organization, which has 46 newspapers but mostly very small dailies, weeklies and specialty publications, and all of them located in the northeast, from Minnesota to Maryland. It seems a surprising connection.

The Post Register is among the diminishing numbers of papers that still have their own printing presses, and that may have been attractive to Adams, which does a substantial amount of commercial printing. Still, the Post Register-Adams linkup does seem a little unusual, partly because the Idaho paper is so far outside the company’s geographic base .

Word from the Post Register is that little is expected to change, at least any time soon, at Idaho Falls: The paper should continue on generally as it has been. But once newspapers move from local ownership to the national or international marketplace, unpredictable things can happen. Over the years, for example, the Boise Idaho Statesman went from local ownership to Federated Newspapers, to Gannett, to Knight-Ridder and now to McClatchy. In large corporations, especially the largest, newspapers can be swapped around like trading cards.

Adams may be small enough that won’t happen. But keep watch on this: See how this distant Idaho property is integrated into the moderate-sized business from the east, whether by more acquisitions out west or in some other way.

It’s a new world for newspapers, and it just keeps getting newer.

First take/rumors

When House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy dropped his bid for the speakership, the general assumption was that the reason was votes - that he thought he might not be able to collect enough of them within the Republican caucus. (This is the guy the caucus previously had easily elected to the number two spot, remember). But another possible reason has surfaced as well: "it probably has something to do with the rumors that McCarthy is carrying on a Scandal-worthy extramarital affair with Congresswoman Renee Ellmers." What? First, these seem to be rumors only, and nothing even resembling actual evidence has surfaced; in addition to which both McCarthy and Ellmers denied anything was going on. From our standpoint, we'll assume innocence until proof of guilt, which doesn't seem to be forthcoming. But here's the interesting part: The flames were fanned not by media reports or by Democrats but by other Republicans. Little wonder House members with any intelligence (say, Paul Ryan) want little to do with the speakership right now. For most any of them, it looks like a ticket to a political nightmare. - rs (John Boehner photo)

A bullet for Jesus

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The extended coverage of the Umpqua Community College massacre - much of it wrong or unnecessarily overwrought - has inundated about everyone with a communications device. Lots of real and deserved anguish from and for many folk. But also a lot of fully expected “duck-and-run“ by politicians, strained voices on both sides of the gun debate with nothing helpful to add - also fully expected - with no new answers to keep these killings from continuing. Again.

When reviewing reports of some of the 294 multiple gun murders in the country as of the first of the month - and throwing in Sandy Hook Elementary, Aurora’s movie massacre, the Clackamas shopping center and the rest we’ve become so familiar with - there’s not much new in this one.

They all seem to follow the same script i.e. unsuspecting victims, public areas where we’ve always assumed our safety, a depressed/suicidal/angry or otherwise deranged young male, multiple weapons, a shooter’s decision to die (most of the time), massive law enforcement response, demands for gun control, demands for less gun control, excuses, blame-casting and denial. That about covers it.

But the UCC shooting near Roseburg, Oregon, did have one new wrinkle. A shooter, with no apparent particular religious faith, is said by survivors to have tried to determine which of his targets would die immediately or more slowly for their faith. Which impending victim would say he/she was a Christian - or believed in God - and which wouldn’t. And that got me thinking. Would I take a bullet for my faith? Would I take a bullet for Jesus? Would you? Would anyone? Especially when you’ve just seen fellow classmates killed after answering?

Each person to be murdered or wounded was reportedly asked beforehand about a religious belief? If the answer was “Yes” or “I’m a Christian” or “I believe in God,” the shooter put a bullet in the respondent’s head. In the case of other answers, there was a body shot which might - or might not - kill but would certainly inflict huge pain. It can be surmised most victims - dead or alive - answered one way or the other. What’s not clear is what would’ve been the case if someone responded with “Hebrew,” “Muslim” or “Atheist.” A wound or dead on the classroom floor?

Taking a bullet for Jesus. Not something you can give a quick answer to.

History is full of instances of Christians being killed for no other reason than professing their faith. Or denying it so as not to be killed. One of the first such recorded was when Salome danced and got the head of John the Baptist as payment for services. Or, maybe when Jesus was being tried and sentenced to death. All of his followers - the ones closest to him on this earth - fled. Peter - the “Rock” - even denied him three times in a span of a few hours. No “bullet for Jesus” among even his closest companions. Of the 12, only his brother, John, came to the crucifixion. But, eventually, all of them died violent deaths for being Christians.

We’re told the UCC shooter had expressed an interest in the Irish Republican Army or Irish Catholicism or some such. But he wasn’t known to be affiliated with any religious grouping personally. So why was the questioning of a certain victim’s faith important during what he believed were his own final hours? The answers to that - if answers there be - died with him. Just as well.

Still, there’s that other question. Would you - would I - tell someone with a rifle aimed at us that we were practicing Christians? Would we do that after seeing classmates and friends just murdered for their answer? What would our responses be?

To my deep personal shame - as a self-professed “Christian” - I have to say I don’t know my answer. Believing a statement affirming my “faith” could get me killed on-the-spot, makes the stakes as high as any I’ll face in this life. Opening my mouth - much less coming up with a truthful answer - seems impossible.

But, if I could speak, what words would come tumbling out? A plea for my life made to someone intent on killing? Some sort of effort to get this mad, irrational person to stop in the middle of a mad, irrational act to which he seemed committed? Words of prayer for him and the victims he’d just created? Would I say loudly and firmly, “Yes, I AM a Christian?” Or - nothing. How would I respond?

What would be YOUR answer?

First take/gunshots

So much of the talk about how to deal with mass shootings can only leave me shaking my head, notably Ben Carson's comment that when a shooter starts up, people in the area should just rush him. He evidently didn't know how fast bullets can be sprayed by automatic weapons, or that even when automatic weapons aren't used, as at Umpqua Community College, a heroic man who did rush to try to stop the shooter was downed with seven bullet wounds. I can only assume that thinking like Carson's (which doesn't seem to be rare socially) comes from too deeply absorbing the vast number of TV and movie gunfire scenes, in which the hero may be shot, but if so almost always emerges patched up by the last scene. A better view might be the series Breaking Bad (spoiler coming), where the way through from a gun fight was actually more realistic. One of the main characters, DEA agent Hank Schrader, was shot by bad guys about halfway through the series, and spent the rest of it slowly, agonizingly, recovering from that wound. Only to the shot to death near the series' end. - rs

First take/travels

After an enjoyable four-day run through the mountains and forests of northern Idaho, it's hard to miss the growth and expansion in the area again. That's notably true around Coeur d'Alene, but visible in many spots other than the more remote. (As usual, the really rural areas aren't keeping up.) Since my last visit to the lake city a couple of years ago there's been a massive new development off Northwest Boulevard, and the downtown area seems notably more prosperous. Moscow seems to be prospering too, and Lewiston at least hanging in there. Of course, all this is part and parcel of the national economic recovery in recent years, but it ought to generate a positive attitude locally. Not that you could tell, yet, by the votes. - rs (photo)

Three to watch

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There are three people, two of them aspiring public office holders, and the third a long-time veteran that political junkies in Idaho should keep their eye on over the next few weeks and months. I’ll admit bias right up front: one aspirant is a former student of mine and the other is a talented attorney I have known since he was “knee high to a graas-hopper.”

Both are answering a call to public service and are the kinds of folks we should want to serve. The veteran has proven time and again that he relishes public service and is exceptionally goodat it. He now may be the answer to a problem confronting his party.

The former student is Kathy Kahn, an outstanding educator who teachesEnglish Literature at St. Maries High School. After 27 years Kahn will retire next May, but only to take on a new challenge. She is seriously weighing taking on Second District State Representative Vito
Barbieri. Demonstrating a degree of sophistication few rookies evidence she has formed a political action committee to accept contributions while she travels the district to assess her prospects.

She intends to run as an “Andrus Democrat,” but the district is solidly a 2:1 Republican district and she is well aware that despite numerous gaffes by the incumbent it will be an uphill battle to unseat him.

She has turned heads though by attracting former veteran State Senator Mike Blackbird to serve as her campaign chair and is raising money as well asputting together a string of visits after work hours and on weekends with the
interest groups around the district.

Her first bumper sticker is already showing up on autos, particularly on the cars of a cadre to North Idaho College students, which says “Kathy Kahn Can” and leaves one saying “can do what?” The answer is Kathy Kahn can win, Kathy Kahn can do better, Kathy Kahn cares.

Vito Barbieri may still win, but he’ll know he was in the
fight of his political life. My money says Kahn will run and win.

The second aspiring public servant is attorney Andy Hawes, grandson of the almost legendary Rodney Hawes, publisher of the Owyhee Nugget, literally the last hotlead set printing press in the west. Grandpa Hawes was a classic but charming curmudgeon. Young Hawes, besides inheriting grandpa’s intelligence got the charm also. He turned a few heads when he filed for the seat on the Boise City Council currently held by three-term incumbent Elaine Clegg.

Hawes has nothing against Clegg. He goes out of his way to say his campaign will build on the good work done so far by Mayor Dave Bieter and the currrent Council. “But Boise can and must do better,” Hawes says. He then smoothly moves to his list of issues: Boise has to come to terms with the homeless issue and in a compassionate manner get at the root causes; continued support for open space, the greenbelt and foothills expansion (He supports the Clean Water bond also); and, working with downtown business, both large and small, on street parking and the
over-regulatory approach the city has towards new, small business.

Though only 35, Hawes already has served as president of the Idaho Bar and was one of the leaders in saving Boise High from the wrecking ball. He recently held a quickly organized fund-raiser that attracted 75 folks and garnered $10,000. He says people should thank Clegg for her service but 12 years is enough in any one office, that its time for a change and new energy. He’s a solid bet.

The third name Second District Congressman Mike Simpson. For many reasons the former Idaho House Speaker and dentist from Blackfoot has decided to retain his House appropriations subcommittee chairmanship and not get into the current cat fight between the hard right (Which is where one finds First District Congressman Raul Labrador) and the Tea Party wing of the GOP that favors Utah Rep. Jason Chavetz for Speaker and the moderate to conservative wing which supports Majority Leader and California congressman Kevin McCarthy.

Some observers had thought that when John Boehner gave up the Speakership he might support a bid by Simpson. Simpson, however, has reportedly told friends he would not run for Speaker. He enjoys being a“Cardinal.”

This, however, is a smart strategy for it appears that over the next two weeks Chafetz with the aid of Idaho’s other congressman, Rep. Labrador (The Spokesman-Review reported this week that Simpson and Labrador have not spoken to each other in months) will be able to deny McCarthy the votes he needs (218) to be elected.

Then all hell breaks loose. A possible compromise candidate, when the smoke clears, could be Rep. Simpson, who, an educated guess says would let the crown be hoisted onto his head at least until this session of Congress ends.

Keep your eye on all three of these folks: Kathy Kahn, Andy Hawes, and Mike Simpson.

Making good, giving back

A guest opinion by Michael Stricland of Boise State University.

"I teach from the Harvard Business School cases; they're not as exciting as what's on 'The Apprentice,' " said Beth Goldstein, an adjunct professor at Brandeis University's International Business School, who used the show in her consulting class. "If there (was) a lesson on (the Donald Trump show), it can become integrated in the whole learning opportunity." There has been an entire management class at the University of Washington in Seattle that is devoted to 'The Apprentice,'. From Georgetown to Harvard Business school, the DVD from that first season is still discussed.

Fortunately that magic extends, in an even more special way, to Idaho …

I first met Troy McClain a month ago and can safely say that I am amazed at an opportunity I have to work with him on some writing. With Trump's popularity booming, it is fascinating to take a look at this Idaho legend who first rose to the big stage on one of Trump's reality TV shows.

"Who would have thought a country boy from Idaho could go on national television, be seen by 28 million Americans every week and still appreciate the simple things like fly fishing on a backcountry stream?" Troy's official website reads. "That is Troy McClain. Troy’s rise to prominence happened as he climbed Donald Trump’s ladder on NBC’s 'The Apprentice,' advancing all the way to the finals."

Called a “Living Energy Drink” by the Idaho Press Tribune, Troy is a ball of energy and enthusiasm who seeks to utilize his success to Give First to his community and to those who need help the most. Beating all odds, Troy rose to the top from the original 250,000 contestants, landing second only to Harvard MBA Kwame Jackson.

Starting from a challenging, low-income country upbringing, Troy's philosophy is: The best way to get ahead is to give back. A classic rags to riches story, he has collaborated with the top names in business, including Warren Buffet, and has shared the stage with with Tony Robbins, Mark Victor Hansen (of Chicken Soup for the Soul) and many other influential leaders, athletes and entertainers. He’s served and been honored by Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, the Kellogg Innovation Network, Special Olympics International and a long list of others.

Troy has been outspoken about literacy and what he says educators and businesses need to do to improve the country. "We're neutering the American entrepreneur because we don't nurture innovation. Success leaves tracks. So follow them."

The Gem State was not only Troy’s springboard, but the place to which he returned. Shortly after the Apprentice, he received scores of offers from all of the big cities. "Most people in business will tell you you've got to have your Ph.D., you've got to have an MBA. I tell everybody, I got my Ph.D. a long time ago. I was Poor, Hungry and Driven. That's my Ph.D. Today, what I'm working on is my MBA. My Massive Bank Account. ... But I'm going to give back. Why Idaho vs. LA or New York? The answer is that Idaho took care of me. Idaho embraced me and my family."

Even before The Apprentice, Troy was a successful business man having owned, operated and sold his companies, from health clubs to lending institutes. Today, he is a sought after consultant, investor and mentor for business men and women looking to accomplish what he has done. He invests in Idaho and innovation and currently runs an online success club. Since the Apprentice, Troy has built up and invested in two Idaho companies.

I love the fact that he spends so much time working to pass the American Dream that he is living, on to others.

First draft/opinions

The poll in this week's Idaho Politics Weekly takes on the question of Idahoans views on the "ag-gag" law. That law was passed in 2014 in overwhelming votes by the Idaho Legislature, with few Republicans (and many of the Democrats) voting against. That would seem to indicate legislators, in general, felt they were representing constituent viewpoints in supporting the measure. But that doesn't comport well with the reports in the IPW poll, which asked whether Idahoans agreed with Federal Judge Lynn Winmill's decision killing the law as unconstitutional. "Pollster Dan Jones & Associates finds that 53 percent of Idahoans support the judge’s ruling, 32 percent oppose it, and 16 percent don’t know. Jones polled 508 adults from Aug. 20-31; the survey having a margin of error of plus or minus 4.35 percent." Not only that, Jones said, "Republicans agree with the striking down of the law, 47-35 percent with 17 percent “don’t know.”" Just how closely do Idaho legislators represent the public? A review of previous IPW polls, among other things, seems in order. - rs