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Posts published in December 2015

First take/supremacists

Turn over a rock around certain places in the Northwest and you'll see - white supremacists, usually scurrying away when the spotlight shines in their direction. But Sunday night in Seattle, that changed.

Back in and around the 80s, supremacists were highly visible and in the headlines. That was especially true with the Aryan Nations group in the Idaho Panhandle, which held cross burning events and occasional parades in downtown Coeur d'Alene. There were high profile criminal events around the region too. But we haven't heard so much of that in recent years. It's not that the supremacists aren't around, it's just that they've been keeping relatively quiet.

That changed in a big way on Sunday night. In Seattle's Capitol Hill area (generally a liberal redoubt), a crowd of (masked) supremacists took to the streets. Where they went, the sound of breaking glass was heard; in the area, a TV news van was trashed.

A counter-parade of anti-supremacists appeared soon after.

David Neiwert, a Seattle resident who has tracked supremacist activities for years, remarked, "Normally they’ve kind of hidden from view, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that white supremacists are feeling a lot bolder. After all they have a presidential candidate, obviously. I think they are feeling a lot more emboldened these days.”

So it would seem. The extremes are pushing ever outward, and where white supremacists were not so long ago beyond the political pale, they're now getting closer and closer to one wing of the political spectrum." - rs

A sales tax gamble


When the Idaho Legislature convenes next month, it will have to place its bets on the sales tax, just as the League of Women Voters already has.

The reason is a proposed initiative just released by the Idaho League of Women Voters “reducing the sales tax rate and broadening the sales tax base.” It does that most basically, by reducing the overall rate from six percent to five, and by extending the coverage of the tax to include not just many goods but also many services, which generally have been exempt.

The whole matter of sales tax exemptions has been a heavily chewed-over bone throughout the tax’s half-century in Idaho. When passed amid high controversy in 1965, the sales tax started (originally at three percent) with few exemptions, though it didn’t reach to include services. Over the 50 or so legislative sessions since, few have adjourned without some adjustment to the tax, generally by way of exempting someone or something. Lobbyists have kept busy in Boise on that front for decades.

And just as busy blocking the periodic attempts (they seem to average about one a decade) to scale back some of the exemptions, which from time to time have been the subject of study committees, sometimes legislative. Many legislators over the years have argued that the exemptions are just too many, that almost everyone who comes before the legislature asking to be exempted gets their way. Not everyone has, but the list of happy exemptees is long.

There are good reasons for some exemptions, especially in cases where the same product, because it’s passed along through a supply and delivery chain, might be taxed multiple times. (That is why retailers do not pay a sales tax when they buy from suppliers, though they collect it upon sale to consumers.) There are other rational arguments as well, though you can move quickly into the murky waters of rationalization.

In addition to the risk of advantaging the exempted over the payers in places where they may be in competition, there’s the simple money equation: Exempt a transaction from sales tax and you’re bringing in less money. The League’s proposal, driven by decades of legislative refusal to meaningfully revisit the exemption roster, makes the point. It is able to reduce the tax by one cent on the dollar and still raise an estimated $424 million more than at present, by removing a number of exemptions and covering many services.

That is not all the 20-page initiative does; it is a highly complex piece of tax legislating, and would be one of the more complex initiatives put on the Idaho ballot in many years. If it goes to ballot, a careful parsing will be called for.

If the signatures for it can be obtained – and the guess here is that a competent effort will get them – will it be passed by voters? It can after all be presented as a tax reduction measure (even if it does wind up generating more tax revenue). It might even be presented as property tax relief, if some of the money were used to replace local property tax levies for schools. It would be bitterly opposed, but the chances of passage are not bad.

So, we get to betting time, as the legislature convenes while the initiative petition signature effort begins. The best way the legislature could cut the initiative off at the pass would be to approve substantial sales tax exemption revisions this session. The point of an initiative is to do what a legislature would not; if the legislature shows it can act, the initiative may become moot. If they essentially ignore the initiative, legislators may give it an extra boost.

The League is betting too, on passage: If signatures cannot be gotten, or if the initiative fails at the polls, exemption changes may be dead for another decade, or two.

Some high stakes are emerging here.

A Hells Canyon story


A reminiscence from Brock Evans, a long-time leader in the Sierra Club and one of the original advocates for preservation of the Hells Canyon area. Now retired and living in Washington, D.C. he is a frequent contributor to magazines on environmental issues and has authored several books on environmental advocacy.

Such a strange-sounding, mysterious place: a whisper of an echo of something ancient and far-off, forbidding even in its very name.

Springtime 1967.1 had just left my law practice in Seattle take on a new position as Northwest Representative of the Sierra Club—the only paid, full-time conservationist position (we weren't called environmentalists until after Earth Day, 1970) north of San Francisco. My "territory," as it turned out (my boss, David Brower, had a rather loose management style!) was everything on the Pacific Coast from the North Pole to California, plus Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Alberta, and the Yukon Territory-Northwest North America.

I had actually heard of Hells Canyon for the first time the year before. By a strange turn of fate, the law firm I worked for had as its major client, the Washington Public Power Supply System-­one of two premier dambuilding entities in the Northwest—and mortal rivals of the other dambuilders: the private power companies, equal in numbers and political power. The struggles between these two over who got to plug up the great northwest rivers seem grotesque to us today, but those were the realities of that not-so distant past—when the words "wild river" were subjects of scorn and derision from all the Northwest powers-that-be. It was in the struggle between these two dam-building titans that I was first introduced to Hells Canyon as a place.

"Brock, we just got our appeal to the Supreme Court approved [challenging a license recently granted by the Federal Power Commission (precursor to the the present FERC) to PNPC, a combine of private power companies, to build a big dam in Hells Canyon, flooding out the last 120 miles of its inner gorge]. We'd like you to work on the brief for us," said one of the firm's senior partners.

A brief before the Supreme Court—every young lawyer's dream! But I hated dams—the whole idea of dams—even then, and I knew I just could not do it. I begged off, wanting no part of what I considered a dirty business.

The wheel of fate turned again. A year later in my new position, I attended my first meeting of the Executive Committee of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Sierra Club, at a member's home on Puget Sound. Not only was the Club much smaller in those days—about 40,000 members nationwide—but its tiny membership in the Northwest was almost exclusively located in the "westside" Seattle-Portland-Eugene axis. Although knowledgeable and determined on issues there—wilderness, parks, and forests—few knew much about the vast deserts, rivers, wild mountains and forests of the Northwest interior, much less had ever visited there.

On that bright spring morning, from "Darkest Idaho," across the rivers and the deserts and the mountains, came a visitor—one Floyd Harvey, of Lewiston. Floyd, longtime boatman and guide in the Canyon, loved the great river, knew every bend and cove and cliff. His quiet earnestness, eloquence, and passion moved us all as he told us of the loss of a great living river if the dam was built, and pleaded with us to try to save it.

"OK Brock—take a look and see what we can do," said my ExCom.

Yeah, sure, I thought. I hate this river-killing dam, the whole idea of it— but what could be done at this late date? The license had been already granted, and the only issue before the Supreme Court was now only about who got to do the terrible deed-not whether. I was morose and unhappy about it for weeks, and could come up with no solution to the problem, given our very few resources in those distant times.

But hope came—and from a totally-unexpected place: the Supreme Court itself (this was long before there was any such thing as "environmental law"). That June a small headline in the Lewiston Morning Tribune screamed out at me: "Hells Canyon Case Sent Back by Court for More Hearings."

What's this?

What happened, it turned out was a now-famous opinion of the great Justice, William O. Douglas—one which had nothing to do with any of the legal arguments presented by those who argued the case. But Supreme Court Justices don't have to worry about such niceties; it is they who decide what the law is. Justice Douglas' opinion (known in Latin legalese as an opinion obiter dictum—meaning outside the parameters of the case itself) was a landmark in American environmental history. And for me and our tiny band who wanted to save the Canyon—it represented Hope, a fighting chance—if we could seize it.

Douglas said that "the Court will not now make a decision on who gets to build this dam. The first question that must be answered is whether there should be any dam at all. Therefore, we remand this case back to the FPC for a determination on this one point: should there be a dam or not." The very words themselves amounted to a stunning legal precedent; never before had the Court—any court-ever even questioned the 'common wisdom' of dambuilding.

Aha, I thought: "I'm a lawyer. I know what remand means! It means a whole new hearing, new witnesses-a new trial. YesP'At least that's what it ought to be. (I did not know then that the FPC "Trial Judge" was not only furious about this decision, but that he was irrevocably pro-dam, determined to issue a new license no matter what. But that's a story for later.)

So now, what to do? We weren't parties to the previous proceeding; would there be any chance that they would let the upstart Sierra Club into it now?

Remember, no such thing then as "environmental law." NEPA and the Clean Air Act were a full three years away; the Clean Water Act, five, the Endangered Species Act not even a gleam. There was nothing out there-no guidance, no precedents, no law review articles—nothing. Not even the word 'environment.'

I wrote a letter to the Supreme Court. It read something like, "hey, you never heard of me before, but I just read this opinion, see, and I have a question: if the case has been remanded for a new trial, does that mean that any new parties can intervene [get involved]?" I can only imagine the bemused contempt at such temerity from the provinces on the part of the Court official who saw the letter!

But I did get a brief response, about a month later: "well yeah sonny, I guess you can [intervene] if you want to ..."

OK, here we go, I thought to myself- "I'm a lawyer, I know how to do these things..." I did what I had always done in my (few) years of law practice — marched right down to the King County (Seattle) Courthouse, went up to the Clerk's desk and said: "get me the Form Book for Petitions for Intervention before the Federal Power Commission, please..."

Eyebrows raised. "Sonny, what on earth are you talking about?" It was about then that I began to realize: whatever was to be done would have to be created, in its entirety — by me. There was no body of environmental law, no cases, no procedure — no nuthin'. This was to be, in lawyerspeak, a case entirely de novo (brand new).

OK. I went back to my office, read all the materials I could find about the Canyon and its values, read some of the literature about rivers, and dictated out a Petition of my own, with a whole lot of whereases and a lot of reasons why the Sierra Club — which to my knowledge had ever been involved in any sort of legal proceeding before — was qualified to present the evidence about why the Canyon was more valuable to the public as a free-flowing river.

Then another consideration started to dawn: this is going to be more than just a legal proceeding. Given the overwhelming pro-dam climate of the times, we are certain to be fiercely attacked by politicians and media. We must demonstrate that we have local support, too. Which means I've got to "find" more plaintiffs. (I also had to explain-in those innocent days—just exactly what a "plaintiff was!)

That took some doing. It was early August, and the deadline for filing the Petition was the 31st. Hurry, hurry, much to do. I tracked down the President of the Sierra Club, and the President of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs-which represented many local northwest groups. After obtaining their permission (how much easier then than the cumbersome processes of today), I searched Idaho for a likely "true local" candidate.

I found it in the Idaho Alpine Club — a FWOC member group, based in Idaho Falls. It turned out that I had, inadvertently, also stumbled onto some of the finest ecowarriors in the whole state: Jerry Jayne, Russ Brown, Boyd Norton, Pete Renault, and Jim Campbell.

They agreed to sign on IAC as a party—and then went on, a few months later, to form the organization that became the passionate heart and soul of our whole campaign thenceforth: the Hells Canyon Preservation Council itself.

Now time was very short. The deadline pressed in, and many other issues were simultaneously overwhelming my one-person operation. No such thing as desktop publishing in 1967! This was the age of typewriters and rotary phones, mimeograph machines and carbon paper. Everything was cumbersome, all logistics painfully slow. The Petition somehow did get finished, the required thirty duplicate copies painfully put together. At 11:40PM on the evening of August 31, 1967, I deposited them all, duly stamped and dated, at the Post Office desk at Sea Tac Airport, for the next flight to Washington, FPC headquarters.

It was done. Now, at least we had a chance to fight for the Canyon we loved.

PS: Of course this was only the beginning of a new chapter in the story—also a beautiful and terrible one, as they all are: a tale of joys and despairs, violent twists and turns of fortune, as the case then made its way through a three year new trial, and then five more years in the halls of Congress. The "other side,” enraged at our intervention, did its best to get us and our evidence out of the case, touting the Snake as "The River that Wants to Work. " We successfully escalated the whole cause into a major national issue. But all that is a story for another time, perhaps. (photo/by X-Weinzar)

First take/WAholiday

So, you live in or near Washington state and you're looking at going somewhere in the region for a holiday. The Seattle Times is polling on three popular choices: Victorian Port Townsend, Bavarian Leavenworth, or Wild West Winthrop?

All three have real appeal. And I have to think that all three are well-known mostly just in the region (though Leavenworth partisans may argue that). I've been in all three, and punching the button didn't make for an easy choice.

Winthrop, in north-central Washington, is surely the least known of the three. Its theme, as noted, is the Wild West, and it's started some nifty work in setting up for it. Its location in the Methow Valley is plenty eye-catching too. But it isn't quite yet developed to the point of matching the other two.

Leavenworth may be the best known, and its Bavarian sheen is spectacular. It's in an out of the way location - the better part of a three-hour drive from Seattle - but definitely worth seeing. And especially appealing in the winter.

It's a close call, but I'd choose Port Townsend, because there's more to see and do, and simply more variety in the immediate area. The Victorian surface to much of the city grew naturally out of the community's history, and just exploring the downtown is a delight.

The poll takers went with Port Townsend too, about half of them.

But probably, you can't go wrong with any of the three. Good choices all. - rs

Two to be thankful for


Every Idahoan who cares about this state and how it came to be should read two relatively obscure books and be grateful the authors lived and worked here.

Through their writings and teaching these two left an indelible imprint on Idaho. Though they labored in obscurity, the political cognoscenti in Idaho know them well. Though they are fading into the mist of history, their contributions should be remembered. Any Idaho history is incomplete if it does not acknowledge their roles in shaping modern Idaho.

One book is a delightful novel, a murder mystery in fact, but chock full of the author’s knowledge of Idaho government, politics and public affairs. The other is a wonderful history of the major environmental issues that transformed and dominated much of Idaho’s political debate for fifty years, from the late 1930’s to the late 1980’s.

The novel, The Unlikely Candidate, is by the late Syd Duncombe who for 27 years taught government and political science courses at the University of Idaho. He was an inspiring influence to an entire generation of Idaho’s political leadership. Among those influenced directly by taking a class or indirectly by being drawn into out of class discussions prompted by his teachings were future U.S. senators and/or governors like Dirk Kempthorne, Jim Risch, Larry Craig and Steve Symms or future attorney generals like David Leroy. Then there are the “behind the scenes” political practitioners also influenced by Duncombe’s passion for politics, people like Phil Reberger, Robie Russell, Marty Peterson and Roy Eiguren.

Many of his former students could recall how he brought politics to life by brinigng different hats to class and then switching hats as he switched roles in the lessons he was bringing to life. His knowledge of politics was not just academic either. Before coming to Idaho he had worked in state government in New York and had been Superintendent of the Budget in Ohio.

He cultivated political office holders on both sides of the aisle. One of his great fans was Cecil Andrus who made Duncombe his Acting Director of the Budget Office upon his first election as governor in 1970. Duncombe put together Andrus’ first budget and Andrus always acknowledged his debt for Syd showing how a governor could truly shape policy if he understood how to put together a budget.

The novel’s hero is, surprise, a retired state budget director. Duncombe, however, wove into the text the kind of authentic details and knowledge that rings true with any who have been drawn into politics.

Syd had been working on the novel for several years. His beloved wife, Mary, died in 1997 but before doing so insisted Syd finish the book which he did in 1998. His passages on cancer are poignant as his writing was obviously one way of dealing with his grief.

He died at the age of 78 in Idaho Falls in late September of 2004. His legacy should live on beyond the life span of the hearts that were directly touched by his zest for life and politics.

The second book, Defending Idaho’s Natural History, is by former journalist and nine-term State Representative Ken Robison. He was born in Nampa in 1936, received his B.A. degree from Idaho State in 1957 and began a 30 year career in Journalism in 1959 as a copy editor at the Idaho Statesman. He was both a reporter and editor for the Statesman and from 1977 until his election to the Idaho Legislature in 1986 from Boise’s 19th Legislative District was the editorial page editor.

When it came to handing out charisma Ken missed the session. He always came across as a thoughtful but calm, dispassionate and objective - the journalistic version of Joe Friday - “just the facts, Ma’m” To the surprise of many though he turned into an outstanding legislator, one who always did his homework and when he spoke people listened.

He loved the Legislature, so he was one of those bulldog campaigners - knocking on every door in his district every year. Not surprisingly, his diligence and had work was rewarded by re-election eight times.

Robison brings this same diligence to his history of Idaho’s major environmental battles. He recognizes the truth in the old expression “success has a thousand fathers and mothers; failure is an orphan.”
He knows too that it is “citizen-activists” who bring change about and the parade of the involved changes inasmuch as some battles are decades long.

He does justice though to the many key folks who put forth time, talent and treasure. His account of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering is fascinating, and he exhaustively documents his sources. From the battles to restore salmon and steelhead runs, to the fight to protect the White Clouds, Hells Canyon and the Sawtooths to the creation of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway/Bitteroot Wilderness its all there.

Robison has done an invaluable service in documenting the fight and the fighters.

Like Duncombe he too has labored in obscurity, but all Idahoans owe them both a tremendous vote of thanks.

First take/two views

Two exceptional reads to recommend today, both providing some explanation and understanding of one of the opposing sides of the great divides in American culture and politics.

One is personal, or from a personal angle, and ought to be read by anyone on the other side of the fence - though it likely won't be, since it would be too disturbing. On the surface, it was a first-person story about a woman, a mother of two, who recently decided to have an abortion. Her reasons why, and her description of life on the front lines of the culture war, make for some raw reading.

Previously she had written a piece on line, which got some attention, "about what it was like to be exhausted and hopeless and be told that you simply needed to work harder or give up more. It was about my life, and the lives of millions of others." It generated violent reaction including plenty of threats against her - and her children.

She wrote about "the worry that I, and millions of women across America, have felt is the only rational response to life in a country where it’s perfectly legal to scream epithets like a banshee inches from a woman’s face simply because she wanted another Depo shot. We all have to think about that, about the fact that any one of those people might be homicidally misinformed, that one of them might decide that today is the day to martyr themselves or us."

The other article helps make some sense of where some of that anger and violence is coming from by looking at a symptom of the problem from a non-political angle: From that of health.

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo writes about a study that's been out for a few weeks - you may have have briefly seen a headline about it - the finding of an unusually high death rate, since the late 1990s, of middle-aged and non-college educated non-Hispanic white people in America. The death rate in the last 15-plus years in other sectors in the American population (and in that sector in other countries) has been gradually falling, but among white middle-aged non-college people, men and women, it has spiked upwards sharply, a great contrast to everyone else. One more thing: The specific cause of death driving that spike is this: "drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide and chronic liver disease. In other words, either literal suicide or the slow motion suicide of chronic substance abuse."

Why is this happening? Marshall starts by noting "On the one hand, the correlation with lower education levels points us to a phenomenon we've known about for years: the declining economic and life prospects of less educated, less affluent Americans who are taking the brunt of the great divergence between the ten percent or so of the population that is getting ahead in today's economy and everyone else who is just struggling to hold their own or falling behind."

But why are other ethnic groups - Hispanic, black, others - not spiking upward as well? Marshall suggests "the stressor at work here is the perceived and real loss of the social and economic advantages of being white."

Marshall couches this in terms of theorizing, not a finally established conclusion. But I'd be surprised if he's not at least mostly right: It makes so much sense of why so much destructive, and self-destructive, activity is happening in America.

The plus side of the picture may be that younger cohorts seem not to be reacting this way - they may have grown up with a different social view and set of expectations. That might mean we will eventually grow our way out of this. But it may take a long time. - rs (photo/Dave Pape)

Obama’s foreign policy


Contrary to what Republican presidential candidates keep trumpeting, in the area of foreign policy Obama is doing just fine in the eyes of the rest of the world.

The redoubtable Brookings Institute, the original middle-of-the-road think tank and an icon in this arena for over 100 years, carefully acknowledged this in a May of 2015 report. “Both his critics and his defenders tend to use unrealistic benchmarks in grading his presidency,” the report first observes. “If we use the kinds of standards that are applied to most American leaders…” it concludes, “Mr. Obama has in fact done acceptably well.”

This conclusion is confirmed by results released in October of 2015 by the Pew Research Institute. In a poll of over 40 countries world-wide, Pew reports that Obama enjoys an average approval rating of 65% in world affairs. In the important four countries of our closest allies in Western Europe – the U.K., Germany, France and Spain - it is even higher, with an average approval of 75% or better. Only in Russia, China and the Middle East of the major countries of the world does Obama receive truly bad ratings, but these regions also gave Bush terrible ratings. The most that can be said here is that Obama has not been able to improve upon the positions he inherited from the Bush administration.

In fact, Obama has racked up a remarkable record of accomplishments in foreign policy in the last seven years. Consider: he (1) rebuilt the worldwide reputation of the United States from its lowest point ever during the last days of the Bush administration to one of general approval and good relations with most countries by mid-2015; (2) cautiously improved relations with Vladimir Putin of Russia; (3) significantly improved relations with Xi Jinping of China; (4) reopened the embassy in Cuba; (5) successfully completed implementation of SALT II; (3) successfully reached a diplomatic solution to the nuclear issues with Iran; (4) achieved working trade agreements with Europe, China and the Pacific Rim countries for new multi-national trade pacts; (5) is on the brink of achieving the first ever multi-national agreement on climate change; (6) withdrew all troops from Iraq on schedule; (7) significantly degraded al Qaeda, including the killing of Osama Bin Laden; and (8) is on-target for significant reduction in troop requirements in Afghanistan.

There are huge problems that have cropped up, or remain, and which overshadow some of these gains.

He clearly has not succeeded in all that he set out to do. He has been unable to close Guantanamo. We continue to struggle in Afghanistan. Iraq is coming apart. The emergence of ISIL is a real threat. The situation in Eastern Europe is tense. Some of these failures were inherent and left over from the days of Bush and prior, some were the result of early mistakes by Obama in resetting the direction of his policies, and some are simply works still in process as a result of a constantly changing dynamic in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

One area for which he is roundly criticized by the Republicans is not a mistake. The concept of “leadership from behind” is the product of his decision to change the direction with which we implement operations in foreign policy; to build coalitions and seek consensus before action, and to defer, where appropriate, and allow others with greater interest or greater proximity to the crisis at hand, to take the lead both in planning and implementation. He has said repeatedly that it is not necessary for the United States always to be the first ones in, always to own the plans or concepts of operation, or always to position itself as the ultimate leader.

This is true not only in Europe but also in the Middle East, where the ills and mistakes committed in “The Ugly American,” Lederer’s and Burdick’s classic of the late 1950’s, are illustrative of why the mere presence of the United States can be toxic to any situation. The animosity towards the United States by the countries of the Middle East erupted with the disastrous decision to go to war against Iraq, then continued through the series of mistakes, incompetence and egregious mishandling of the post-war developments under the Bush administration. It has not abated during the Obama years.

Given this situation, plus the outbreak of Arab Spring and the uncertainties surrounding Putin’s intentions in the Ukraine and elsewhere, it is not feckless to be cautious, nor to wait until a concept of operation had matured to the point of mutual agreement among allies, before proceeding. To have followed the hawks’ cry of “Ready! Shoot! Aim!” would, in most analyst’s eyes, have landed us in a much more precarious situation with respect to Eastern Europe and conditions in the Middle East than we find ourselves in today.

We may not be in a good position yet in all the hot spots of the world, but it could have been much, much worse. It is instructive that, aside from the few regions mentioned above, the only entities truly wringing their hands over the choices Obama has made in these areas are not among our allies or even among those directly affected, but rather are only from the right wing media crowd and the Republican presidential candidates, all from within our own country.

No one knows where history will eventually place Obama in his management of foreign policy. Surveying the current writings, and sifting out the obviously politically biased commentary, one might expect the grade somewhere in the high C to mid B range – perhaps even an A minus, depending upon unfolding developments with ISIL and the Ukraine.

One thing is certain: Obama does not deserve the label of being the President responsible for making the worst foreign policy decisions ever. That badge of dishonor clearly and demonstrably continues to belong exclusively to the 43rd President, George Walker Bush, and to his cabal of cronies, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Sununu, and Rove.

First take/Dear

It's unwise to jump to conclusions about why someone did something - as, in this case, the loner Robert Dear taking hostage and shooting up a Planned Parenthood location at Colorado Springs - but as details emerge, substantial conclusions become more reasonable. Little has been released by law enforcement in the case so far, and little has emerged directly from Dear about his motivations, other than a passing phrase about "no more baby parts."

But today the New York Times has released its examination into his background, talking with ex-wives and others who have known him over the years, tracing his path around the country. Some clear impressions start to emerge.

The Times writes, "He was a man of religious conviction who sinned openly, a man who craved both extreme solitude and near-constant female company, a man who successfully wooed women but, some of them say, also abused them. He frequented marijuana websites, then argued with other posters, often through heated religious screeds. “Turn to JESUS or burn in hell,” he wrote on one site on Oct. 7, 2005."

And, referring to an incident from several years ago, "A number of people who knew Mr. Dear said he was a staunch abortion opponent. Ms. Micheau, 60, said in a brief interview Tuesday that late in her marriage to Mr. Dear, he told her that he had put glue in the locks of a Planned Parenthood location in Charleston."

There were, in other words, a number of indicators that screws were loose - maybe just a couple of turns looser than is much more widespread. - rs

Facts often hard to find


I’ve been a morning news hound most of my life. New information and several cups of black coffee usually kickstart my days. Guess that extra time is a retirement benefit. Gotten so I don’t fully trust any one portion of the media now so I scan about a dozen sources, cross-checking for accuracy. That’s a handy thing to do - especially in the last few years.

Several reasons, I believe. First, newspapers are disappearing. And not just in small towns. Some gone forever. For others, new electronic versions replacing them. While usually more flashy and formatted for easier reading, they’re not as “newsy” as their print forebearers. Stories are fewer and shorter. “Consultants” - bastards of the media business - have ordered “shorter, peppier, crisper, lighter.” Nothing about more accurate.

Second reason I check more sources is for facts. Like a lot of things these days, that accuracy “ain’t what it used to be.” Sometimes the “facts” are wrong. Sometimes writing is so filled with spelling, grammatical and informational errors you have to read several times to figure out what the facts are. Here are a few examples just this morning. Somewhat unimportant, I grant, but they make a point.

Huffington Post promoting a feature story with a picture showing actors Don Knotts and Myron McCormick. The cutline was about life in “Mayberry” promoting reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Problem is the picture was from a 1958 movie entitled “No Time For Sergeants.” McCormick never appeared on the Griffith show. Small thing? Yes.

HuffPo again. Headline about the latest cop killing in Chicago and how the damning video of the murder came to light. International headline read “Blowing the Whitsle.” Another small thing? Yes. But around the world.

More and more, I’m seeing headlines like these: “Car loses control” or “Driver killed after crash.” Cars don’t “control” or “lose control;” The driver - if you read the story - was killed instantly when the car hit that tree.
Story in our local weekly this morning about the end of a long highway construction project that’s been a headache. The line: “Roadway improvement project is new completion.” Small? Yes, again.

Or how about this? Last week, national media was headlining the shooting down of a Russian jet over Turkey. In nearly all coverage, the reference - headline and body copy - has been about the two “pilots.” Over and over again. Problem? No jet fighter has two “pilots. Just one. The other is a crewman - usually a weapons officer who’s NOT a pilot.

Most of these examples are small, I grant. But, if you can find so many in so many places, it’s reasonable to become suspicious of reporting on more significant events. And this doesn’t even speak to the constant wrong reporting of events in a true “breaking” story because all sources want to be “first” rather than “accurate.” But that’s a whole ‘nother story.

Here’s a personal third thought about so much misreporting. I’ve long maintained the way to truly corrupt a good reporter is to insist on attendance at a journalism school. “J” schools have long been an unreliable training ground for reporters. Might make a resume look good but that’s all. Give me a bright, strong liberal arts or history major with an outsized sense of curiosity. If they want to know how things work, why things work, what really happened and what it means, I’ll teach ‘em to spell and write. Just keep following that curiosity and the rest of us will do the backup.

We’ve never lived in a time when more information has been so easily available. Problem is, we’re not being informed of what we need to know. Few newspapers regularly report on - or staff - city hall, courthouse or the school board. Broadcasters only go when there’s likely to be controversy. Or “visuals.” Yet most government news truly affecting us comes out of city halls, courthouses and statehouses. When TV “reporters” do go, they usually come late, grab someone near the door and ask what’s been going on and how that person feels about it. That’s not news.

Newspaper and broadcast chains are gobbling up local news outlets. New management often has no local ties or background. Fender-benders, personal hygiene tips, care of the family dog, what’s new in Hollywood and how to more effectively deal with a bad complexion make up the content of too many local broadcasts. About once a month, I try to watch one. Haven’t gotten past five minutes in years.

I’ve spent most of this adult life in and around media and I’d like to ask you a question and issue a warning. The question: why does the national media staff Trump daily speaking appearances for cut-ins if he should say anything controversial? Or exceedingly stupid? They all do it. But what about Sanders or Kasich or Clinton or Bush? Any of them regularly staffed for “breaking news? Is CNN or Fox ready to pounce there, too? No way.

And the warning: be careful what you accept as fact. You may hear something you want to hear - something that affirms what you already think. But is it fact? Right or left? Is it true? Have you checked any other source for the same “facts?” I do. Every day. Old habit. And, every day, I find “facts” at odds with truth or what really happened. Or what was really said.

In too many instances, accountability and responsibility for accurate reporting has been lost. We now read, watch and listen at our peril.