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Posts published in October 2015

A sheriff scofflaw

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Some time ago, I wrote in this space of Oregon’s Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin and his 2013 temper-tantrum letter to Vice President Biden.

Hanlin was putting the VP on notice that he - and now more than 20 other Oregon lawmen - would not be enforcing any new federal gun laws. Further, Hanlin bluntly told VP Biden, his officers would arrest any federal types that came into “his” county to enforce such laws. So there!

Well now, our nation’s latest gun massacre of innocent Americans has taken place in Hanlin’s county, about seven miles from his desk. We’ve got nine grieving families, hundreds of saddened friends and relatives, the cold body of a deranged killer and a national media trying to get Hanlin to say the blood-letting has given him reason to re-evaluate his position.

I know Hanlin. And I’ll give ol’ Wolf Blitzer the Sheriff’s ultimate response. “NO! There will NOT be a change.” Wolfie can take that to the bank.

In my own Oregon county, we’ve got another badge-toter saying he has better things to do. Oregon’s scofflaw lawmen aren’t alone. Many hundreds of these artless dodgers across the country are taking a similar defiant and dangerous stance on gun laws. While all have sworn various oaths to uphold state and federal constitutions, the plain fact is - they aren’t.

Like that crazy, in-it-for-the-money Kentucky county clerk who won’t issue marriage licenses to gay couples, these guys have set themselves apart from the rest of us by openly flouting both their oaths and the law. That clerk, by the way, has signed a book deal and has an agent talking to movie and TV producers. I’m waiting for one of these sheriff guys to follow suit.

There are probably lots of excuses for these “tough” law enforcement guys to hide behind. You’re certain to hear Hanlin’s choice before this is all put to bed and we’re “shocked” by another mass killing spree elsewhere. I’ll give you one scenario I’ve thought about for awhile.

Most sheriffs I know are elected to office. They have to become politicians and openly compete. They have to solicit endorsements from other local political heavyweights, recruit volunteers and raise money. Just like others who want to be on the city council, the county commission or the legislature. Those “talents” are not in the official job descriptions we have for our local law enforcement chiefs. But they’re real.

Playing into that is the fact most people who run for sheriff - and in some communities chief of police - have many years of experience behind them. That’s their prime requirement to compete for the job. In that regard, their concern about future retirement at the public trough is no different from any other civil servant working for any other level of government. Like the rest of us, they’re looking for future monetary security.

Now, given those two factors - personal future job concerns based on all the years of employment already served and having to be a politician who doesn’t want to make enemies among the voters needed to keep you in office - you’ve got a toxic mixture. If the sheriff goes around willy-nilly enforcing all those pesky laws, that could mean stepping on a voter’s toes - or even worse, on those dollar donor’s pinkies. So, well, you can just see longevity in the job would be sorely threatened.

Over the years, I’ve known many, many lawmen at all levels of government. Private, too. The vast majority have been honorable and carried their responsibilities with courage and respectability. Until you mix politics - money and votes - into the mix. Then, my respect factors have taken hits.

I’m not saying the best course would be to appoint or hire sheriffs from the open market. Lots of problems there, too. But we can’t have effective enforcement of our laws - ALL our laws - if fear of losing votes or political support or campaign funding factors into how and which laws are effectively enforced.

Sheriffs know their constituents. They get a feeling for how much enforcement is going to be tolerated and when there will be resistance - even armed resistance- as we’re seeing across the country right now. The easy way out is to not provoke that pushback by aggressive sheriffing. In Oregon and other Western states, gun laws create pushbacks. And while that means public safety is often compromised - and it really is - by looking the other way and letting gun laws slide, some of these guys think that’s important to their political and economic futures.

That’s not the kind of sheriff I want in the job. The guy who blasted nine people off the face of the earth in Roseburg, Oregon, had no concern for the political future of his victims. Or, the economic future of Sheriff Hanlin. If Hanlin and these other guys want to choose which laws they’ll enforce for the good of their retention in office, it’s time voters who need and expect full lawful protection in all instances choose someone else to do the job.

One other thing about Hanlin’s performance bears noting. He told reporters they would never hear him say the name of the shooter. Since Hanlin made himself the chief spokesman between the sheriff’s office and the public, where should news people go to get that name?

Turns out a Los Angeles news bureau came up with it. Hanlin has yet to confirm - or deny - the information.

One of the prime duties of law enforcement, when acting as the lead agency in an emergency or crime, is to get as much information to the public as possible in the shortest time. Hanlin personally put himself in that spot, yet wouldn’t disclose important information his staff had developed and confirmed. And which the public had a right to know.

Seems Sheriff Hanlin won’t enforce laws he doesn’t like and won’t fulfill his public obligation when faced with a situation he finds personally objectionable. Could be he should consider another line of work where the duties he swears to uphold aren’t so personally distasteful.

First take/immigration

This should come as common sense, but it helps make some sense of things. Pew Research, which is as close as we get to a gold standard among pollsters, has some new data about presidential politics and immigration, among other things. Its numbers show that, in the Republican contest, Donald Trump remains in a strong lead (about 25%) over Ben Carson (about 16%) and others far behind. Still no significant change there. Pew also asked questions about several specific issues, including immigration, and among other things emerged with this: "Eighty-four percent of those who favor mass deportation say immigration is the most important issue in the 2016 election, while only 44 percent of respondents who do not favor deportation say immigration is their top priority." That fits: The most extreme response matches with the people who are most emotionally invested in it. - rs

No refuge

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Last week’s column on Muslim refugees coming to Idaho drew enough response that a follow seems warranted.

One respondent opined (in an attachment), “the bottom line is that the [College of Southern Idaho] refugee program must be terminated to prevent potential Islamic jihad terrorism and immigration jihad with increasing numbers of muslims.”

Another more measured reader: “You'll notice most of the fear is fear of people from countries that are Islamic states. If Europe and America are going to bring in hundreds of thousands of people - many young men - from countries like Syria that are being overrun by ISIS (a Muslim terrorist group), don't you think there's a chance some of those ISIS fighters could enter our country along with the thousands of Syrians who don't pose a threat? As we saw on 9-11, it only takes a few to cause a lot of chaos.”

Okay. A few thoughts then for your consideration.

First, because it’s so oft-forgotten and not irrelevant: The United States is militarily impregnable. Our military is nearly as powerful as the rest of the world’s put together. Ain’t nobody from any other country, or from the United Nations, imposing their will on us. America is going to continue to be run by Americans. If anyone suggests otherwise to you, they’re conning you.

The best way America can avoid attracting the attention of the violence-prone of the Middle East would be to lighten our footprint there.

Coming in with a group of refugees would be the dumbest way for a terrorist to enter. Every real refugee in the group would have extremely strong incentive to turn in a would-be bomber to the authorities.

Obviously, there are Muslim extremists. But obsessing on them gives them a lot more power and credibility than they warrant. They aren’t that numerous - and before you point out the more than billion adherents to Islam around the globe, bear in mind that they consist of many segments, people who have many ways of interpreting Islam and the Quran, just as the vast number of Christians do. Mostly, they have found ways to peacefully coexist with each other and the rest of the world; if that were not the case, the world would be one vast war-pit. (Which, the lunacies of cable TV news notwithstanding, it is not.) If you still doubt the many variations within Islam, look at the various segments of Christianity (say, Unitarians, Church of Christ and the LDS Church, and dare I add the old Aryan Nations church from northern Idaho) and try saying with a straight face that they’re all the same, that they all see their theology alike and that they interpret and focus on the Bible identically.

With one obvious exception, there have been few actual instances of Muslin-based terrorism in the United States. On those few occasions, the perpetrators have been either U.S. citizens or in the country on visas. They’ve had no trouble getting in through conventional means. Not only that, the borders of the United States are vast and, as we know from long experience, porous. If someone really wants to enter the United States bad enough, he or she can find a place and a way to do it.

I write this while monitoring a terrorism-related incident that has become personal and close to home. My sister, a professor at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, was teaching class Thursday afternoon in a building next to where a crazed gunman was opening fire on students and a teacher, killing 10 people and injuring seven more. The shooter has described himself as “conservative”, a supporter of the Irish Republican Army and “not religious but spiritual”. That incident was the 294th person killed in a mass shooting in the United States in the 274 days to that point this year. As in almost all of those other incidents, the perp in this case was not Muslim.

Would I be okay with Syrian refugees living in a house on my block? Yep.

First take/names

Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin has been wrong about a number of things related to this week's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College at Roseburg, but one general impulse he got at least sort of right was downplaying the shooter's name. He got wrong the matter of releasing it at all: We needed to have that much. But news editors might bear in mind the problem of glorifying these guys. The tangled strands of motivation behind their horrific acts may be tough to work out perfectly, but one that can usually be found somewhere in there is a place for fame and immortality: A thing wanted badly by the ignored and lonely. That certainly seems the case with the Umpqua shooter (who will not be named here). He apparently spent a good deal of time studying past shooters, and an online posting found by the site Gawker, which appears to have been written by the shooter, said: "I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone. His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more your’re in the limelight." Not that it's a solve-all, but giving these people less personal attention, running their names in less visible ways and pictures sparingly and in an low-key way, might be the right thing to do - as a pushback and out of relative respect for the people who died. - rs

First take/Umpqua

Yesterday, for me, mass shootings in America got personal.

A year ago my sister, who had been teaching geology in the Portland area, was hired as an assistant professor, teaching geology, at Umpqua Community College at Roseburg. She's had an enjoyable year there and was beginning on a second yesterday afternoon, teaching a class as usual, when a student came into the classroom saying a shooter was killing people in the building next door.

Karen and her students were lucky enough to get out uninjured, but the 10 people who were killed and seven more injured were less fortunate. Umpqua, and Roseburg (a town of about 20,000 people), is in shock.

These shootings are getting personal for more and more people. The FBI reports that the number of mass shootings so far this year in America are coming at a rate of more than one a day.

So take care. If we don't at some point try to get a handle on this, a mass shooting coming soon down the road may get personal for you. - rs

A quote Thursday from President Barack Obama: "And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue. Well, this is something we should politicize. It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic. I would ask news organizations - because I won't put these facts forward - have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports. This won't be information coming from me; it will be coming from you. We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so. And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths. How can that be?"

The website Vox did what Obama suggested, and came up with this.

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Airport turbulance

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Neighbors from the Hillcrest Place Homeowners Association, Vista Neighborhood Association sounded off over a noise survey conducted by the Boise Airport, but with very little notification of homeowners.

It looks like the 75 property owners who attended the meeting at Whitney Community Center Thursday night were roused to action by social media posts on the internet. One owner told the GUARDIAN a “neighborhood” site was buzzing with folks who feared their homes would be purchased out from under them or severely devalued following a noise survey conducted by the airport.

In a nutshell it is a continuation of the quest by Boise’s City fathers and mothers to get the U.S. Air Force to base high powered fighter jets at Gowen Field when the A-10 is eventually phased out of service. The big fear is having the thundering roar of F-35 or F-15 fighters rattling windows and making life south of Overland nearly “unlivable.”

Henry Wiebe appeared to ramrod the meeting. He created a playground-type confrontation with area resident Elliot Werk (former state rep) at one point when he interrupted a presentation by BOI airport manager Rebecca Hupp with a noisy battery powered electric drill–a stunt to emphasize the annoyance of military fighter jets.

Werk demanded that Weibe stop the noise, jumped out of his seat and rushed Weibe. Weibe shouted, “Don’t touch me,” and they eventually parted. The incident was indicative of how upset the neighbors are over the city efforts to justify the noise through an expensive survey which they claim could qualify some residents for “mitigation” or even purchase of their homes. They claim the Federal Aviation Administration would provide financial grants following the noise study. It is all aimed at expansion of the airport and retaining a military presence.

The simple solution was voiced by many of the folks attending. They favored having quieter military aircraft or moving the Air Guard to Mountain Home.

City Councilor Elaine Clegg promised to call for more citizen comment for the noise survey in an attempt to calm the audience, but most were unconvinced.

First take/poverty

In his New York Times column today Nicholas Kristof talks about global poverty, which isn't a new subject for him - but the angle is, and it surprises me, and probably will surprise you. What I thought I knew, at least in the back of my head, about global poverty is that it's always there, we're stuck with it, it's more or less insoluble; we can try and do good deeds here and there, but they really on scratch the surface. Surveys say most Americans think it's worse than that, that global poverty is on the rise. But is that true? Kristoff looks at the best available studies and finds that the portion of the globe's population enduring "extreme poverty" did rise through the middle of the last century but then plateaued and since has dropped from 35% in 1993 to 14% in 2011. Worldwide, the number of children who die by the end of five has fallen by more than half. Among other conclusions, Kristoff writes that "Cynics argue that saving lives is pointless, because the result is overpopulation that leads more to starve. Not true. Part of this wave of progress is a stunning drop in birthrates." Hopelessness is overrated. - rs (photo/Poverties.org)