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Posts published in “Year: 2017”

Idaho Briefing – December 18

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for December 18. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

With the arrival of new winter storms in many areas around Idaho, the state slows down many activities for the Christmas holiday period. Around the bend: a new legislative session and renewed activity on the political campaign front.

On December 7 the U.S. Department of State announced that formal negotiations with Canada over the fate of the fifty-three year old U.S.-Canada Columbia River Treaty will begin in early 2018. A broad coalition of conservation, fishing and religious organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Pacific Northwest residents, hailed the announcement.

Members of Idaho’s Congressional Delegation praise the announcement by the U.S. Department of Energy to extend the operations contract of the Battelle Energy Alliance at the Idaho National Laboratory as well-deserved reflection of their outstanding work and contributions to U.S. energy security.

Students who enroll at the College of Eastern Idaho will now be able to automatically enroll in the University of Idaho through an agreement brokered between the two schools.

Greek housing student leadership at the University of Idaho has self-imposed a moratorium on all alcohol-related activities until specific benchmarks, created by student affairs and Greek leaders, are met by each house. The moratorium is not in response to any one incident but instead a response to the growing national crisis surrounding personal violence like hazing and sexual assault, as well as alcohol abuse.

The Idaho Transportation Board approved a resolution today (Thursday, Dec. 14) to analyze three alternate locations for the Idaho Transportation Department District 4 administrative office from its current location in Shoshone to near the Interstate 84/U.S. 93 junction.

Orgill will use a $151,032 Workforce Development Training Fund grant to hire and train 167 new workers for permanent full-time positions at its Post Falls distribution center.

The numbers are in and they’re impressive. In 2017, anglers caught and removed more than 191,000 northern pikeminnow from the Columbia and Snake rivers, protecting young salmon and steelhead from predation.

PHOTO Plans were released for a replacement hospital at Nampa, to be built by the St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center organization, at I-84 and Garrity/ (Image: St. Alphonsus)

The impact of cats

By Grant Sizemore

Domestic cat legislation is probably not the top of most people’s legislative priorities. How much cat legislation could even exist, right?

It turns out that recent years, 2017 included, have seen a flurry of introduced bills pertaining to cats --bills that could drastically affect pet owners and non-pet owners alike. These bills have implications for public health and wildlife conservation that are often overlooked and, if the past is any indication, will soon be debated in a state legislature near you. It’s time to start paying attention.

Some background: The U.S. is currently suffering a cat overpopulation problem. There are simply too many cats for the number of homes that want a pet, and we humans are not always the most responsible guardians even when we do accept these animals into our homes. Too frequently, cats end up lost or abandoned and revert to a feral lifestyle in order to survive. Animal shelters suffer under the weight of high demand for services and too few resources, and the result is a burgeoning population of unowned cats that urgently require attention and effective management.

What few people realize, however, is that these free-roaming cats are a public health risk. Cats are the top source of rabies among domestic animals and, according to a study led by scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are disproportionately more likely to expose people to the disease than wildlife. A person is far more likely to attempt to interact with an unknown cat than, say, a skunk. But mention rabies to someone today and they are more likely to think about dogs, despite rabid cats consistently outnumbering rabid dogs by approximately three to one.

The public health risk from cats, however, does not actually rely on a cat scratching or biting anyone. Felines – both domestic and wild – are the critical host for the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis. The parasite only sexually reproduces in the feline gut and is then spread into the environment in cat feces. A single cat can excrete hundreds of millions of tiny, infectious eggs called oocysts, which persist in the environment for years and can infect any warm-blooded species that might accidentally ingest or inhale it, including humans.

Most people have only heard of toxoplasmosis if a doctor has advised against a pregnant woman cleaning cat litter. Although pregnant women and their fetuses are certainly at risk, they and the immune-compromised are not the only ones. Research has shown that, in addition to maladies such as blindness, miscarriage, organ failure, and death, the symptoms of infection may also be subtle, including behavioral changes. Free-roaming cats, which are more likely to host and transmit the parasite by defecating in parks, gardens, sandboxes, or other locations frequented by people, unnecessarily increase the risk of human infection with toxoplasmosis.

As efficient and opportunistic predators, the free-roaming cat population also threatens wildlife communities. Cats have contributed to the extinction of 63 species worldwide and are the top source of direct, human-caused mortality to birds in both the United States and Canada. Cats kill an estimated 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals annually in the United States alone. For many species, this added source of mortality is simply unsustainable and is a contributing factor to the documented declines of over one-third of all migratory bird species in the U.S.

Despite these risks and the abundance of free-roaming cats, many of the bills introduced in recent years would only have added to the problem if passed. Legislative proposals have included exempting certain people from prohibitions against abandoning cats, treating homeless cats with less care and respect than homeless dogs, and commandeering public funding to purposely maintain colonies of feral cats roaming unrestricted outdoors. These bills would do more harm than good and ignore mountains of science, including the warnings of public health and wildlife conservation professionals. Rather than resolve the crisis, such bills only facilitate the problems that already exist without addressing the root issues, resulting in the needless suffering of cats, wildlife, and people.

What do we need instead? Legislation that takes a more focused and evidence-based approach to reduce the numbers of unowned cats and their impacts. To combat the problems caused by the cat overpopulation crisis, we as a society need to acknowledge the value of cats and raise the level of care and responsibility for these domestic animals to the same level now enjoyed by dogs. We do not permit hordes of feral dogs to run amok, and it should be similarly unacceptable for feral cats. Instead, we should encourage responsible pet ownership, including efforts like microchipping, sterilization, vaccinations, and containment, and support animal shelters, especially those whose doors are always open.

For more information on cat legislation based on sound science and public policy protecting human health please see American Bird Conservancy’s model companion animal ordinance.

Grant Sizemore is Director of American Bird Conservancy’s Invasive Species Program.

Polling goodness


The U.S. Senate election in Alabama on Tuesday settled not only the identity of that state’s new senator but also some open-ended questions about polls.

There’s Idaho resonance in that, since polling results lately have become a topic of discussion in the Gem state as they are elsewhere.

Several writers, including me, have been contacted about the results of a recent poll on the Republican nomination contest for Idaho governor. That poll showed the three-way race fairly close, with a high level of undecideds. (The latter point was the main focus of my column.)

The poll has been criticized since by one of the campaigns. I’ll not get into the weeds on that here (and circle around as to why), but it is good reason to talk a little about political polls . . . since we’ll surely be hearing more rather than less about them, locally and beyond, in the coming year.

Polls can be highly useful political tools, a good way to tell any candidate where they are and, especially, what they need to do, mainly in the case of well-run and highly detailed polls. Those pollsters who keep you on the phone for a longer time with more questions are likely to produce polls of more value to somebody.

But there are all kinds of somebodies, and of pollsters, and differentiating between them isn’t always easy. My website has a simple one-question opt-in poll which is fun to watch, but I make no pretensions about its scientific accuracy. When I worked for the newspaper in Pocatello, it used an informal supermarket poll - people who came by the store could “vote a ballot” - and we’d report the results. For local elections, it often proved remarkably accurate, though it would have passed no tests for professional standards.

Mainly, what you see are independent and candidate polls. Independent polls often are run by news media (though much less often than they once were) and sometimes other organizations, including interest groups. Candidate polls are, as you might expect, run for the use of candidates, who sometimes figure they have reason to release them, or release part of them, to the public.

Both kinds of polls can have issues. Usually, I tend to pay more attention to independent polls for two reasons. The more obvious is that campaigns tend to release results that are beneficial to themselves, and only those. The less obvious is that some pollsters will provide feel-good results to candidates whose business they would like to have; it’s not a common-place marketing tactic and many professional pollsters are careful not to do it, but it does happen: I’ve seen it. Independent polls can be subject to their own problems. Since money often is an object, some independent polls (not all) can wind up with cost-cutting that reduces their accuracy.

And any of these polls can vary by the way they’re conducted. Do they rely on telephone contacts or opt-in online surveys? Do they account for the change to cells phones, and if so, how? These elements and many more matter a lot.

Those are some of the reasons one independent poll in the Alabama race showed one candidate ahead by about nine points in one poll, and another poll showed the other ahead by 10. Many polls also weigh their results to match demographic (gender, race and other elements) of a population. One pollster showed how, in that Alabama race, you could shift those assumptions, each time in a plausible way, and drastically shift the poll’s bottom line outcome. It took the same polling data and applied a different filter to give of the two Senate candidates a big lead, depending on which assumptions were adopted.

So what to do? Best thing to do is to balance or average out the results from a bunch of polls, and recent history shows this tends to yield closely accurate results.

The catch in Idaho, of course, is that polling is sparse. There are neither a lot of polls nor a lot of providers. That creates a problem in depending on them. It’s why I was willing to use just one poll in writing that earlier column: There’s not a lot else available. But I’d be a lot more comfortable talking about Idaho poll results if there were.

Politics is local


In the aftermath of the Alabama special election for the U.S. Senate, national Democrats, along with their stable of strategists, pundits, and pollsters, need to wake up and smell the coffee. Labeling a state as “red” or “blue” – winnable or not – based solely on the results of the last presidential election is a narrow, self-defeating perspective. Alabama is a case in point.

Most pundits, eyes firmly fixed on the rearview mirror and focused on the 2016 election, doubted Doug Jones would win. After all, they explained, Trump won the state in 2016 with 62.9% of the vote.

And, they were quick to opine, “Trump remains very popular in Alabama.” Exit polls gave the lie to that opinion.

Indeed, exit polls showed that Trump’s support in Alabama has eroded considerably in just a little over a year. In fact, he is now ever so slightly under water, with only 47% of Alabama voters approving of Trump’s performance in office; 48% disapprove.

In advance of the election, pundits were also quick to obsess about the partisan leanings of Alabama. No doubt it is a red state and tilts decidedly Republican, but here too the exit polls give us pause. Those voting in the special election actually gave the Republican Party lower ratings than they did the Democratic Party – Republicans 43% favorable, 52% unfavorable; Democrats 47% favorable, 50% unfavorable.

The political odds-makers need to move beyond past assumptions. The political climate is dynamic; the electorate is changing, and predicting the outcome of down ballot races by fixating on past presidential returns is simplistic and unwise.

As former House Speaker Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local." He was right, and Alabama is Exhibit "A."


General interests, special interests


What do Public employee union leadership, industrial polluters, traded sector (the largest) corporations, and social conservative organizations all have in common?

They want to impose policies on Oregonians that most Oregonians don’t support.

How do they do that? They exert control over some part of the Democratic or Republican agendas ( or in some cases, such as traded sector corporations both Democratic and Republican policies on special tax breaks.) They all understand that the more expensive political races are, the more money politicians need, and the more beholden they are to their largest contributors. That means the contributors can ask for virtually anything regardless of whether it’s good public policy. They also seek to narrow the number of actual powerful decision makers by making entry into the decision making club as difficult as possible.

Their tactics:

    They all support the undemocratic way we elect people to office (closed primaries, first past the post voting, major/minor/non affiliated differentiation)

    They all support gerrymandering

    They all oppose campaign finance reform

These “special interests” all oppose any attempt by independent voters to organize into a political force for “general interests”.

They support the revolving door the regulators and the regulated by financing the political operatives who make their livings running the Democratic and Republican Parties, through lobbying and consulting agreements and offers of private employment.

They will not support any potential candidate for office that threatens their power.

Most of the media has been cowed into believing reform and change is impossible. Derision towards reformers by insiders and “experts” and concerns about continued advertising and access play a part.

The result: Oregon has some of the biggest gaps between policies the people want, and what policies we get.

A wish and a prayer


When Senator Mike Crapo was campaigning for re-election last year one of his set talks was an eloquent plea for the nation returning to fiscal sanity and getting to balanced budgets so that we quit kicking the can of the spiraling upward unsustainable debt down the road to be be paid by future generations.

Crapo was one of the 18 members of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, a bipartisan effort by President Obama early in his first term and Congressional leadership whose purpose was to draw up a plan that through a combination of spending reductions and some modest tax hikes would over the next ten years pay down the deficit and get America on more solid economic footing.

Crapo received justifiably warranted praise for his constructive work and that work increased his reputation as a compassionate conservative deficit hawk. Unfortunately, the praise was premature for this past week the Senator succumbed to political expediency and endorsed the smoke and mirrors Republican purported tax cut plan that in reality is nothing less than a massive shift of further tax relief for the wealthiest one tenth of one percent at the expense of the middle class.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget office estimates that the plan will over ten years add $1.5 trillion to the national debt and seriously doubts the growth in the economy projections Crapo and his colleagues cite as their reason for supporting this gift to the wealthy. It’s a classic “wish and a prayer” approach to public policy and ignores the consensus among the vast majority of economists that the GOP is living a pipe dream.

Senator Crapo also is ignoring the strongly expressed opinions of his former Senate colleague, Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson, and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairs of the Reform Commission.

In a joint op-ed to the Washington Post, the co-chairs wrote: “With debt already twice as high as the historical average, financing tax cuts with even more borrowing is reckless. And the actual bills in the House and Senate are even worse than the $1.5 trillion sticker price----because both include about a half-trillion dollars in phony savings from artificial “sunsets” and other gimmicks. With interest that means these tax cuts could add $2.2 trillion to the debt.”

They went on to write further “If the tax cuts in the current bill are adopted, deficits would exceed one trillion dollars by 2020 and debt would exceed 99 per cent of GDP by 2027. Economic growth isn’t going to wash away this debt. Real tax reform can provide a boost to the economy but higher debt works in the opposite direction. This country cannot afford another debt-busting tax cut.”

Pretty straight talking, fact-based language. For someone like Senator Crapo it should have been cause for a pause and a thoughtful re-examination of the largely political position he was assuming despite holding the safest seat in the U.S. Senate.

So it comes down to who does one believe: former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson or Senator Mike Crapo? Both are Republicans, both radiate sincerity, both believe they have the best interests of the nation at heart.

One of them though is hypocritical and expedient. And only one is still a sitting member of Congress. And only one of them is gambling that despite all odds this taxpayer give away to the rich won’t further add to the high probability of a decreasing standard of living for his grandchildren stuck with paying the bill for his profligacy.

If Senator Crapo had a conscience he would recognize he has no skin in the game, and he has no risk because the bill will come due after he is out of office. He should go back to every one of the 200 cities and burgs he visited while campaigning last year and apologize for not being the fiscal deficit hawk he claimed to be.

It is also obvious that he will never rate a chapter in a new edition of Profiles in Courage.

What a difference a year makes


Just over a year ago, Republican Donald Trump won the vote in the state of Alabama. To no one's surprise, it was nowhere near close: He won with 62.1% of the total, leading Democrat Hillary Clinton by about 600,000 votes.

A little more than a year after that, today to be exact, the state held a Senate election, and this time the Republican, Roy Moore, lost to Democrat Doug Jones. The margin was tiny, and it was a close election. But the fact that it was even close is astounding. That he won is more than that.

Before the November elections in Virginia (and elsewhere) it would have been possible (not convincing) to argue that the Democratic wins for numerous lower-level offices were simply a normal readjustment after a couple of strongly Republican national elections. Or that they didn't necessarily mean much on a national level, since congressional offices didn't change.

Then in Virginia came wins by Democrats so sweeping they put three or four Republican congressional seats in the state instantly at high risk for next year. (At least one of them probably is a lost cause for Republicans already.)

And now we have the results for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, one of the most Republican states in the country. Only five states gave Trump higher percentages last year, and even there not much much. Alabama voted harder for Trump than Idaho.

And now it has elected a left-of-center, up front and no apologies about it, Democratic senator.

The immediate analysis in national quarters was that Republican control of the Senate post-2018 is abruptly a lot shakier than it was just a short time ago. (Democrats will now need two seats to flip to gain the majority, and Nevada, the Flake seat in Arizona and the Corker seat in Tennessee are all strong prospects.) And that's true.

But the implications of this are much bigger. You may have noticed Democratic candidates for office emerging, in large crowds. After seeing how Doug Jones went from a long-shot to a newly-minted senator, just watch what happens next.

This isn't 2016 any more. The United States is changing ground, fast.

Time for immigration reform


A September 16 article on the Politico website caught my eye because of its Jerome, Idaho, dateline. It is not often that my home county gets national coverage, so I obviously had to read the article. It was written by Susan Ferriss, a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, and titled How Trump’s Immigration Crackdown Threatens to Choke Idaho’s Dairy Industry.

The article points out that Idaho has become one of the nation’s top milk-producing states, with 2012 direct sales by dairy producers and processors in the amount of $10.4 billion. In 2015, Idaho dairies employed about 8,100 workers statewide and their work supported 3,700 dairy-processing jobs, as well as 27,600 jobs in other businesses. Idaho’s producers of cheese and yogurt are reliant on the dairy industry, which in turn relies on a steady supply of labor.

The problem is that dairy jobs are not particularly desirable and dairymen have a hard time finding reliable local labor to keep their operations running. Most home-grown folks won’t do the work. Because of that, the dairy industry has come to rely upon foreign-born workers. Some of them are lawfully in the country, but many are not. It is estimated that 85-90% of Idaho’s dairy workers are foreign-born and about 70% of those are undocumented.

How did we get here, what are the problems, and what should be done to fix them? When I was growing up on the family farm near Eden in the 1950s and 60s, it was just assumed that farm kids and local hired hands would do the hard work. However, beginning in the 70s, farmers had increasing difficulty in finding reliable workers to handle that work. Workers started coming from south of the border to fill the gap, some of them with temporary work permits but many without any documentation. The northward flow of workers increased after the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994. Hundreds of thousands of Mexican farmers went out of business because they could not price-compete with U.S farmers. Many headed North to get farm jobs that Americans did not want.

Many of the undocumented workers put down roots in Idaho because of the difficulty of going back and forth each year. They had children in this country who became U.S. citizens. Those who came seasonally had to do a lot of paperwork and there were generally not enough temporary permits to fill the need on Idaho farms. Temporary permits did not allow workers to spend the entire year, which was a necessity for work on the dairies.

With the increased enforcement effort by the current administration, there is concern in the dairy industry that essential workers will be deported. Workers are concerned about losing their jobs and having their families broken apart. Some say the workers could not have expected to be able to stay, but it is more complicated than that. For decades, the government and U.S. employers have known what was going on but little was done to develop a policy of allowing sufficient foreign labor into the country to meet the needs of agricultural employers. If undocumented workers are deported in order to get in line for legal entry, what are the farmers and dairymen to do in the meantime? You can’t just mothball the dairies, cheese plants and yogurt factory, while waiting years for papers to be shuffled and processed for legal entry. Idaho’s multi-billion-dollar dairy industry depends upon year-round workers.

And, the problem is not confined to Idaho or its farms. There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. About 800,000 of them came as children--the so-called Dreamers. Many of the undocumented people have children who are American citizens, which complicates the situation as to who is subject to deportation. With the low unemployment rate in our country, deportation will injure many employers, as well as the national economy. The American Action Forum estimates that deporting all undocumented immigrants would cost between four and six hundred billion dollars and reduce the country’s gross domestic product by one trillion dollars. And, quite frankly, about everyone knows that such a mass deportation won’t happen.

So, what should we do? Our members of Congress need to develop backbones and deal with the problem. Former President Ronald Reagan inspired Congress to deal with comprehensive immigration reform in 1986 and the current situation cries for similar action now. If members of the House and Senate were more interested in solving difficult national problems, rather than keeping their jobs, the immigration problem could be resolved. That would give employers and workers certainty and also contribute to economic growth in Idaho and the country as a whole.

Notes . . .


Got a call today about a column from a few weeks back relating to a polling result in an Idaho contest. The point of the call was, there's reason to think the poll result was flawed.

Which may be fair enough. No one polling approach is perfect, and some are more flawed than others. The best approach in analyzing them is to compare and contrast and maybe draw averages, from a bunch of polls. That presents a problem in a place like Idaho, where not a lot of polls are conducted, and many of those that are will be done for private parties. (Beware of putting too much certainty into private polls.)

This may be grist for a column . . .

But in mulling over the subject, I spotted a new Nate Silver article on polling, always worth the review, pointing out the wide disparity in pollster results in the upcoming Alabama Senate race. Recent polls have shown everything from a Roy Moore win by nine points to a Doug Jones win by 10.

Most illuminating, though, is an online poll done by the company Survey Monkey, which actually shows that full range of prospective results using the same set of information - the same data set. Political pollsters generally don't run out the data they receive unfiltered; usually they weight it so the response base they receive matches the local demographics and political leanings. It usually works, sort of.

But the Survey Monkey results show just how much the "polling results" vary depending on what kind of assumptions you attach to it. If you use standard demographic weights and count responses from all available registered voters who will certainly or probably vote, then Jones is ahead by nine points. If you use a standard set of demographic weights filtered through the 2016 results, and counting people who voted in 2014 (with newcomer certain voters added), then Moore wins by 10 points.

So what happens tomorrow? Hey, no predictions here . . . -rs

Wait just a minute here


A couple of weeks back, I opined all this sexual assault business had a good chance of going too far and could end up ensnaring some men - and women - who might be innocent of major wrongdoing. Seems now, it probably has.

An innocent friend’s experience years ago has made me leery of taking every charge and every complaint at face value. Not to say some high profile cases we’ve seen aren’t true. Most evidence has been convincing. And perpetrators exposed.

But, the sudden spate of instantly going after each big name is also a shameful example of the “herd” mentality of our present day media. All running after the latest personality in order to shine the light of guilt on a fresh face. With nothing more than a charge. Not asking for evidence or other substantive facts. Guilty as charged.

I’m not going to defend the guilty nor offer alibis for anyone. Not just yet. But a learned friend has suggested we may need another step in the process. And that is some sort of gradient scale while taking into consideration what was acceptable 30-40 years ago, given the morality and other factors of the times.

For those of us who lived through the ‘60's and ‘70's, much of what’s now considered “over-the-line” wasn’t. We remember that era as one with damned few lines. “Free love” we called it. Musicals (‘Hair,’ ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’) and others were common fare. Songs about open sex and nudity were on the radio and in record shops. Topless marchers and bra burning were not unusual. Pairing off on a whim was acceptable. Bedding down with someone whose name you didn’t know was commonplace.

In other words, without excusing acts of perversion or violence nowadays, there should be some consideration of the times then - and the times now - when considering punishments.

Yes, some of the big names in the spotlight were abusers. Some charges have been accompanied by ample evidence. But, is it all on the same par? Is a case of rape on an office couch the same as giving someone a hug who might have been offended? Do all of today’s charges require the same career-ending punishment?

Then, there’s the issue of massive media exposure after someone simply makes a charge. Has the media become the judge, jury and executioner when someone - anyone - says they’ve been wronged? Seems so.

It’s handy when a charge is made and the guilty party confesses so societal punishment can begin. But what about those who’re either not guilty or simply violated someone’s “personal space?” Are public banishment and embarrassment proper punishments for both examples. Seems to be. And it shouldn’t be.

I’m a hugger. Always have been. I was raised in a family of huggers. Church, service clubs, reunions, social gatherings - we hugged. Now, hugging is not for everyone. But it’s who I am. And many of my friends, too. We don’t do it wantonly or to be invasive. We’re social beings. Anyone who wants to call that “assault,” needs some special help. So, we hug less today. That’s a shame.

When I lived in Washington D.C. 50 years ago, I remember women at cocktail parties and other social gatherings prowling for someone important in politics and the media. One young lady walked up to me at an embassy cocktail bash and asked “Are you anybody?” At that time, women outnumbered men about ten-to-one locally And many were there to meet Ted Kennedy or other males in politics and do what they had to do to get their attention. Anything.

While sexual abusers need to be exposed and reckoned with, let’s consider what that reckoning should be. There are misdemeanors and there are felonies. Is punishment for a serial abuser like Charlie Rose or Matt Lauer or Roy Moore fitting for Garrison Keillor or Al Franken? Given evidence so far, I don’t think so.

If we’re going to demand punishment for the guilty, there has to be some correlation between gravity of the crime and the punishment of ending someone’s career.

At the present time, that doesn’t seem to be the case.