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Posts published in May 2019

Civic cautions


Boise has a mayoral race, featuring long-time mayor David Bieter and an experienced council member, Lauren McLean, and this may be the first seriously competitive mayoral race in Idaho’s largest city in a long time.

The timing is good because Boise has important decisions to talk about. And think about.

Some of them are obvious. The recent battles between the city and large groups of residents over the planned massive library and stadium projects suggests a disconnect that needs addressing, one way or another. Problems with affordable housing which seem to be getting worse rather than better are another.

But some of the changes are more subtle,and may take even more nerve to address. Here too, timing is good, because some of this emerged from a report last week from the Brookings Institution called “Growing Cities that Work for All.” Boise was one of four cities around the country profiled and analyzed in it as examples of what’s going right or wrongand what cautionary notes should be hit.

The report, in reviewing the city’s (and surrounding area’s) economic and social picture, said in many ways Boise is doing well but is “a city at a crossroads. Both Boise and Idaho will require bold action not only to maintain growth, but to grow in an inclusive way that benefits all citizens. The complexity metrics suggest an unsupported tradable sector and a dearth of industries that normally complement high-tech firms. The complexity of industry has decreased in recent years as high-tech companies struggle to find talent. Recent economic growth has primarily come from non-tradable service sectors rather than from growth-sustaining, export-driven sectors. Population growth resulted in part from retirees who drive housing prices, but who have less incentive to fund public goods such as education and workforce development.”

It sounds a little ominous. But what does it mean?

Part of it is that the technology sector that has been a central motor of Boise’s economic development has become “fragile”: “The synergies that drove Boise’s growth over the past 40 years are no longer sufficient for the region’s economy to compete globally. In downturns, economies are likely to shed the least competitive industries. Therefore, that Boise struggled more than other cities during the recession implies the city’s rapid growth since 2012 may be unsustainable.”

That’s because much of the more recent growth has come in the service sector, in places like health, government, and travel, and these did not spin off additional growth the way, say, a Micron or Hewlett-Packard or Simplot does. These sectors also tend not to pay as well, even though they sometimes have the effect of driving up prices (like housing). The Brookings projections suggest significant “disinvestment” from the Boise area among key local economic engines.

The report also warns that Idaho’s educational system hasn’t kept pace. By next year, it said, nearly two-thirds of all jobs will require more than a high school diploma, and Idaho’s college education rates are not keeping up with neighboring states. “The state needs to reduce the prevalence of poverty, ensure the inclusion of rural students, and invest in specialized programs outside the 4-year degree option,” it said.

To keep growing an economy that will work for the people who live in and around Idaho, Brookings said, “the city will need to foster firms that can employ Boise’s workers, provide benefits, and pay a living wage,” and focus hard on bringing in the new generators of new business, the way Micron and Simplot once did. That may mean bypassing giving special advantages to businesses that may add new jobs for a while but aren’t as helpful strategically in the long run. It means understanding which options are most useful rather than grabbing for everything.

It requires, in other words, some real sophistication on both the state and local level in carefully planning what kind of growth it has, not simply opening the gates and letting it happen.

Is this something Idaho leaders can embrace? This year’s election for city offices in Idaho, maybe most especially in Boise, would be a good place to ask the question.

More can be less


Consider these two facts:

1. The United States spends more per capita on healthcare than any other nation.

2. The United States is the only developed country in the world where life expectancy has declined in recent years.

How does one square these two seemingly contradictory facts? Could it be that more healthcare can actually contribute to lower life expectancy?

US healthcare expenditures have long led the world. Back in the 1970’s the US was in the middle of the pack compared to other countries, but since 1980 we are number one. We’re now at the point we spend almost twice what other counties spend. So, this has been a thirty-year trend.

But the decline in life expectancy is recent. When we compare total life expectancy to other developed countries, we have always lagged a bit. The Japanese have outlived us for decades. But the last two years of declining US life expectancy are remarkable. When the details are teased out, the US decline can be attributed to a dramatic rise in early deaths, specifically in middle-age (45-54) non-hispanic white males. This started in the late 1990’s and continues. The increase in deaths is attributed to accidental overdose, suicide and alcohol related diseases; the diseases of despair. And when the population is further refined, this increase is even more dramatic in non-college graduates. Advanced education saves lives. Maybe it relieves despair. Higher education does promote long-term employment and thus makes employer-based healthcare more reliable.

Opioid prescribing started to go up sharply in the 1990’s. Doctor-written prescriptions for narcotics more than doubled from 1999-2011. Thankfully, it has gone down significantly in recent years with all the talk of the “Opioid Epidemic”. But I believe we can lay a lot of the blame for the recent increased mortality in this country in the lap of the medical profession. Big Pharma will get their share of the blame, but they just make the drugs; doctors prescribe.

But it’s not just the narcotic prescribing we doctors do that can harm people. We can test you into anxiety, even bankruptcy. Or we can operate on you with the promise of a life free of pain. After all, US healthcare is the best in the world, isn’t it?

Some people are cured, some pain is relieved, but has American healthcare reached the point of too much of a good thing? If we have too much, why do we over-consume?

Overtreatment (defined as care provided that causes harm) is studied. It’s higher than you think. Why would the market-driven business of healthcare sell more product than serves the health of the customer? Maybe I’m naive to think healthcare is different than fast food. Further, why would consumers (patients) buy unnecessary or harmful care?

Some may be due to perceived scarcity. We all fear the day we have a tragic accident or dismal diagnosis and inadequate insurance coverage. So, grab what you can when you have the chance; not a healthy strategy. Such a mindset is unavoidable when health insurance is unreliable.

Idaho’s fifth annual Healthcare Summit concluded this week. Six years ago, Roger Plothow, former publisher of the Idaho Falls Post Register decided such a get together would be a good idea. Get the leaders of one of Idaho’s largest and fastest growing economic sectors together and see if they can align their incentives. The conference is sponsored and attended by all the major insurers, healthcare systems, professional groups and even some legislators. Heck, Governor Little spoke over lunch.

There is hope, but a lot of work to do. Idaho has disparate communities, from frontier towns with a county ten-bed hospital to huge systems in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. But a small state with strong leadership can turn things. We just need to agree on where we need to go.

Shooting from the lip


Donald J. Trump’s penchant for making shoot-from-the-lip accusations may have given former FBI Director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe fodder for a defamation lawsuit against the president.

Last week Trump broadly accused unnamed officials of spying on his campaign and committing treason, a crime punishable by death. When pressed to identify who had committed Treason, Trump got specific, naming Comey and McCabe, and a few others.

Generally speaking, a defamatory statement is one that is: (1) a false statement of fact (2) negligently or intentionally communicated or published to a third party (3) causing injury or damage to the subject of the statement. Libel and slander are different types of defamation. Libel is a written defamatory statement, and slander is an oral defamatory statement.

Different rules of proof apply depending whether the person alleged to be defamed is a public person or private person. If a private person, he or she will typically need to prove only that the person making the statement acted negligently in making the statement, in failing to ascertain its truth or falsity.

However, if the person defamed is a public person, the plaintiff must meet a higher standard of proof. Liability for defamation of a public figure can only be established if the person making the statement actually knew that the statement was false or acted with reckless disregard as to the truth or falsity of the statement. Comey and McCabe are public figures so the higher standard applies.

The official White House transcript of a Q and A between NBC News’ Peter Alexander and the president sets out the following exchange:

ALEXANDER: Sir, the Constitution says treason is punishable by death. You’ve accused your adversaries of treason. Who specifically are you accusing of treason?

TRUMP: Well, I think a number of people. And I think what you look is that they have unsuccessfully tried to take down the wrong person.

ALEXANDER: Who are you speaking of?

TRUMP: If you look at Comey; if you look at McCabe; if you look at probably people – people higher than that; if you look at Strzok; if you look at his lover, Lisa Page, his wonderful lover – the two lovers, they talked openly.

In light of the foregoing, we must first ask whether the president made a false statement of fact.

Article III Section 3 of the Constitution defines treason in the United States as follows: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason. . . .”

Congress in fact declared the punishment of treason in 18 United States Code Sec. 2381. It provides that “Whoever . . . . is guilty of treason . . . shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

Clearly, Trump’s statement of fact was false; there are no facts to support his made-of-whole cloth assertion that Comey and McCabe committed treason. We are not at war (the last time we were at war within the meaning of the Constitution and statute was WWII) and Trump’s complaint was not that Comey and McCabe had aided an enemy of our country; rather he claimed they acted to “take down the wrong person,” namely him.

Next, we ask whether the president published his false statement of fact to a third party. Clearly the answer is “yes.” He made his accusation on national television. It had a very wide audience.

The next step is to consider whether the statement caused harm to those the president accused.

A statement is defamatory if it tends to hold the subject of the statement up to scorn, hatred, ridicule, disgrace, or contempt in the mind of any considerable and respectable segment of the community. One need only watch Fox News (briefly) to discern that, subsequent to – and as a consequence of – the president’s statement, Comey and McCabe have been subjected to such scorn, ridicule, and contempt. Moreover, many jurisdictions hold that allegations that an individual has committed a serious, notorious, or immoral crime; has an infectious or terrible disease, or is incompetent in his or her job, trade, or profession constitutes defamation per se. There can be no doubt that Comey and McCabe were harmed by the president’s false statement.

Finally, we must inquire whether the president knew, or should have known, that his accusation of treason was false. In other words, did he act with reckless disregard of the truth?

I have long doubted that Mr. Trump has read the U.S. Constitution. He may not actually have known that his accusation was false. But he should have known. He had every reason to know, every opportunity to know and, it can be fairly said, a duty to know.

When he was inaugurated, Mr. Trump took an oath of office, one prescribed by the Constitution. He raised his right hand, placed his left hand on a Bible, and echoed the words of Chief Justice Roberts who administered the oath: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

One who has pledged to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution” can be expected to know its provisions. If Mr. Trump did not know that the targets of his accusation had not committed treason, he should have known.

As long ago as 1861, a piece in the New York Times explained: “Treason has ever been deemed the highest crime which can be committed in civil society; since its aim is an overthrow of the Government and a public resistance by force of its just powers, its tendency is to create universal danger and alarm, and on this account it has often been visited with the deepest public resentment.”

The framers of the Constitution took deliberate steps to ensure that accusations of treason would not be used as weapons against one’s political opponents. Now the president, in his rage and ignorance, has recklessly leveled this utterly specious and damning accusation at specific individuals.

And those individuals just may have a case.

An education con job


Perhaps the biggest shame being perpetrated in our national K-12 public education system is “teaching to the test.”

The most significant reason for its existence is tied to how education is funded. Higher rates of student success equals more dollars for some school districts. And more students passing exams in the classroom, in too many instances, supposedly means a better school. Both “truths” are riddled with flaws.

Teachers complain about “teaching to the test.” Parents complain about it. Students trying to learn don’t like it. But it’s an ever-present fact in the business of public education.

My spouse of nearly three decades is a master teacher who, though “retired” for 20 years, is still teaching teachers. But, instead of the classroom, she teaches internationally on the I-Net for two universities. Let’s just say, her public education credentials are in good shape.

We’ve had many a discussion at our house about the product our K-12 schools are turning out. In the beginning, I faced some opposition for my feelings of systemic educational failure. In the beginning.

But recently, as my teacher-spouse began to get more involved in her ‘round-the-world instruction, she also started paying more attention to national affairs. Partly because of interactions with teachers in other countries talking about how politics affected their educational experiences and partly because of her own curiosity.

I’ve watched her education views evolve as she began her graduate level teaching some 18 years ago. Initially, she brought only her own long-time experiences. Soon, however, hundreds and hundreds of interactions with teacher-students, and their experiences internationally, began to affect her outlook. There aren’t a lot of similarities between Meridian, Idaho, and Ho Chi Minh City, Antwerp or other worldly locations on her student rosters.

Barb works with hundreds of teachers a year. She gets a tremendous amount of feedback from her “students” who work in all sorts of environments. One of the continuing threads is teacher disgust with “teaching to the test.”

Instead of using the skills of trained professionals to excite, motivate and engage kids, much of the classroom time is dedicated to mandatory test passage. What a waste.

For anyone thinking these complaints are ill-founded, here’s just one sentiment - from a fifth grade teacher in Oklahoma - Barb received.

“We also overlook the factors teachers can’t control. I have two students who are homeless. I have one who’s been in and out of a mental institution all year long. Another who arrived from Mexico the day of the test who did not speak English but still was required to take the state reading and math exams. Two others had a parent die this year - one from a gunshot that happened in her house and the other while the parent was committing a robbery. I had a fantastic young man who went home to find his mother passed out with a needle hanging from her arm and had to call the police. Sometimes, passing a test is not the priority for all students.”

If you think that’s extreme, you should read more of the other feedback Barb gets on a daily basis.

“Teaching to the test” is a waste of not only time but of the classroom environs to actually to create a better, smarter, more well-rounded citizen. It also diverts teachers motivated to teach from accomplishing what should be done and dilutes use of their talents school systems desperately need.

Our existing national education requirements are rife with other examples of how the “rules” actually work against the desired learning experience. Teachers, hamstrung by them, have precious little time to actually teach. As a result, many quit to pursue other careers.

What results is the system loses talented, motivated, eager people who chose the difficult path of teaching because they thought they could make a difference.

Our national public education efforts need to be overhauled in so many ways. For years, we’ve thrown more and more dollars into it, expecting to “buy” better results. Politicians and bureaucrats combined their lack of classroom experience to create educational conditions that, too often, are doomed to fail. “Teaching to the test” is one con game they created.

That Oklahoma fifth grade teachers is one voice that needs to be listened to. Classroom teachers like that need to be given the opportunity to help create a system that might - just might - succeed.

Memorial Day


Memorial Day is a time set aside for Americans to remember and honor those brave souls who died serving this wonderful country. They include men and women from all walks of life, from every corner of America and of every race, ethnicity, religion and creed. From the beginning, the sons and daughters of this great melting-pot nation have selflessly put their lives at risk to protect and uphold our precious freedoms. They have earned and deserve our undying gratitude.

This Memorial Day is an appropriate time to recognize the service contributed by the very first residents of North America. Native Americans have served and died for the United States from the beginning. Almost 3,600 served in the Union Army during the Civil War, including General Ely S. Parker of the Seneca Tribe, who served on General Ulysses Grant’s staff. Parker’s father had fought for the country in the War of 1812.

Even though American Indians were not considered U.S. citizens when World War 1 broke out, 12,000 of them volunteered to serve the country in the Great War, including 14 women who joined the Army Nurse Corps. By the end of the Second World War, 44,500 Native Americans had taken up arms for the country--about one-third of the able-bodied Indian men of service age. Had the whole population enlisted at the same rate, the draft may not have been necessary.

Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, a Brule Sioux tribal member, who was born in Coeur d’Alene and grew up in St. Maries, earned the Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism as a combat pilot in WW2. A 1970s television series, Baa Baa Black Sheep, was inspired by Colonel Boyington and his Black Sheep Squadron. Medals of Honor had been earned by 28 other Native Americans.

Pascal C. Poolaw Sr., a Kiowa tribal member, served in WW2, Korea and Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart in each war. He died near Loc Ninh, Vietnam, on November 7, 1967, where he earned his fourth Silver Star for bravery under fire. More than 42,000 other Native Americans served in Vietnam and the names of 232 of them show up as this nation’s honored dead on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

Raymond Finley, a member of the Flathead Tribe who grew up in St. Maries, enlisted in the Marines, just as his brother had. Raymond died in combat in Quang Nam Province, Vietnam, on October 1, 1967. He is honored on the Wall in Washington, on Idaho’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Idaho Falls, and on a special memorial at De Smet, Idaho.

I was reminded of the Native Americans’ dedication to service of country when I recently spoke with Phil “Bart” Sagataw, whose father was a Potawatomi Indian and mother a member the Ottawa Tribe. Bart is a long-time resident of Boise and telephone company retiree. He and his seven brothers all voluntarily enlisted to serve this country.

Bart served in Vietnam in 1969 with the 173rd Armored Cavalry and 101st Airborne. His oldest brother, Kenneth, served in the Korean War, brother Larry began years of service with the Special Forces in Vietnam in 1964, Mike was a Marine at Khe Sanh in 1966, Harvey served on a Navy gunboat on the Mekong River, Levi served with the Army in Germany, and both Donald and Faron served stateside with the 101st Airborne.

A national memorial to honor the many thousands of Native Americans, like the Sagataw brothers, who have served and are serving our country is expected to open in Washington on Veterans Day next year. Congress authorized the memorial in 1994, but legislation allowing fundraising was not approved until 2013.

The memorial, called the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor,” will be located next to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It will be a fitting and long-overdue tribute to the patriotism and dedicated service of the roughly 156,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives who are veterans or active duty military.

Abounding with growth


As president and chief executive officer of Idaho Central Credit Union (ICCU), Kent Oram oversees operations of the 50th largest credit union in the nation and one of the country's fastest growing for five consecutive years. Its net income last year totaled $18 million, and its assets amount to $4.2 billion. Its 36 branches serve more than 353,500 members, making it Idaho's largest credit union.

During an informal presentation Wednesday night, May 22, Oram told a small group gathered at the Portneuf Brewing Co. for a Think B.I.G. (Bannock Innovation Group) fireside chat in Pocatello that ICCU officially opened on May 1 its new multi-million-dollar data processing center adjacent to its Idaho headquarters in Chubbuck, where more than 700 employees work.

The data center is replete with all-new infrastructure and hardware to manage more than 1,000 ICCU servers and countless electronic functions. “The complexity of all that is nuts,” Oram remarked, noting when he started as ICCU's data processing manager in 1985 “the world wasn't connected to anything. Our computer was connected to a wall.”

One of the largest employers in the Pocatello/Chubbuck region, ICCU has been rapidly opening branches throughout Idaho, most recently in the state's Panhandle, bringing its total work force to about 1,150 – a far cry from the few dozen on the company's payroll some 35 years ago. When Oram was promoted ICCU's top executive 11 years ago, the company's total employment was in the 260 range.

(photo: Idaho Central Credit Union CEO/President Kent Oram converses with a couple at the Portneuf Brewing Co. in Pocatello/Mark Mendiola)

In 2000, ICCU's board decided against moving the company's headquarters to Ada County, instead keeping it in Bannock County, prompting a director to resign. Over 36 months, ICCU invested $65 million in construction projects in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area, Oram mentioned, praising Chubbuck for its planned construction of a new city hall.

From 1985 to 1995, Pocatello suffered a “sour attitude about itself,” he said, adding the Gate City now seems much more upbeat and optimistic. “We've had enough negativity already.”

Oram said he believes the Northgate Project under development as a master planned community will prove to be a success and a major new LDS temple there will be a boon to the local economy. ICCU has committed to constructing a new branch there eventually.

Lamenting the lack of affordable housing in the area, he cautioned: “The housing shortage is very dire and real,” noting less than 100 homes are for sale in the local market. “Trying to find the labor and builders is so tough.”

Idaho Central re-invests up to $750,000 each year in local communities, charities and economies, a large amount his financial industry counterparts find astounding, asking how ICCU can afford to do so, Oram said.

When an ICCU employee told him that she could not afford tickets and a hot dog at an event, he said he was determined to resolve that issue. At the company's annual strategic planning session, it was decided that up to $4.5 million would be allocated annually so salaries and wages of ICCU employees could be increased. Most of them have been educated at Idaho State University (ISU), he noted.

Oram pointed out that Bank of America announced Tuesday that it will raise the minimum wage for its employees to $20 an hour the next two years, which he called “a very expensive proposition.” The bank also said it would freeze health care cost increases for lower-paid employees.

Oram said he regrets not addressing a weakness in ICCU's internal culture with his boss 20 years ago or sooner than he did after assuming its helm 11 years ago. The company, however, has made a dramatic turnaround and was voted the best place to work in Idaho for five years straight. “We could have been double our size if we had confronted a cultural change,” he said.

Calling himself a voracious reader, Oram said he typically starts his day reading Twitter news feeds while riding an exercise bike. He then goes to work where “Handle Daily Logistics” or HDL (pronounced “huddle”) meetings are held each day at 8:30 a.m. He estimates he attends 80 percent of them. An ICCU innovation department was created 3½ years ago in which seven employees pore over data and suggestions.

Reared in Blackfoot, Oram said he “grew up on a car lot washing cars” at his father's vehicle dealership and moved irrigation sprinkler pipes, which he called a character builder. His mother was a school secretary. Both his parents achieved only eighth and ninth grade educations, but three of their five children earned college degrees.

Oram attended Ricks College – BYU-Idaho's predecessor – for 1½ years and then transferred to ISU's College of Business, where he earned a degree in information systems management. “I would do it again 100 times over,” he said. “College provides critical thinking.” He recommended that high school graduates major in technology, health sciences or a combination of both.

Asked about his greatest achievements, Oram praised his wife of nearly 40 years, his three daughters and 13 grandchildren. “They're always the number one source of my pride and joy,” he said.

One speaks up


One of the great ironies of modern American conservatism is that the party that claims to champion “limited government” is really in a constant push to expand the scope and power of the executive branch.

It amounts to the political equivalent of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous observation that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

The concept – expanding the power of the presidency, while seeking to limit power everywhere else in government – may not equate to “first-rate intelligence,” but it certainly has become the mantra of a host of Republicans dating back to at least the presidency of Richard Nixon.

Nixon, of course, made the laughable claim that “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” The same logic was applied when then-Vice President Dick Cheney adamantly refused to disclose whom he was consulting with in crafting an energy policy during the George W. Bush administration. Even more importantly Cheney invoked the concept of an ever-expanding power of the executive when he aggressively defended a president’s power to conduct domestic surveillance without a warrant.

Remembering what he saw as a diminishment of presidential power during the post-Watergate period and during his time as chief of staff to Gerald Ford, Cheney questioned whether Congress had erred in creating the War Powers Act, a 1973 response to presidential overreach in Southeast Asia. The law was “an infringement upon the authority of the president.” Cheney said, and may be “unconstitutional.” Never mind that the Constitution grants the exclusive power to declare war to Congress.

The effort to expand and then defend executive power has found a new conservative champion in Attorney General Bill Barr. “I don’t know anyone that has a more robust view of inherent presidential authority than Bill Barr,” says Walter Dellinger, who, like Barr, once ran the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. “There is nobody who is to his right on this issue.”

After 40 years of diligent work in and out of government by conservatives like Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General Edwin Meese, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and one-time Solicitor General Robert Bork, among others, Barr’s views of presidential power are widely shared by most on the political right.

Yet, these are many of the same people who decried Barack Obama’s widespread and often questionable use of “executive authority” on all manner of policy where he could not convince Congress to act. Conservatives still bemoan, and correctly so, the expansion of presidential power when Franklin Roosevelt pioneered the “imperial presidency” in order to respond to the Great Depression. Yet, most conservatives acquiesced – the entire Idaho delegation included – with hardly a whimper when Donald Trump declared a “national emergency” and unconstitutionally appropriated money to build his border wall.

Which brings us to the news of the week. A Republican congressman from Michigan, once a Tea Party darling, defied his party and came to the conclusion that anyone who has dispassionately read the Mueller report would reach. In fact, more than 800 former U.S. Justice Department officials have come to the same conclusion. The president did attempt to obstruct justice to derail the investigation into Russian election meddling and was clearly open to “collusion” even as the special counsel determined the threshold of proving a conspiracy was difficult to meet. Crossing the threshold, of course, was made more difficult, even impossible, by Trump’s own refusal to be interviewed and his active efforts to prevent others from talking or telling the truth.

“They say there were no underlying crimes,” Republican Congressman Justin Amash said in a Tweet that will surely find its way into the history books. “In fact, there were many crimes revealed by the investigation, some of which were charged, and some of which were not but are nonetheless described in Mueller’s report.”

Amash, it must be remembered, was described in March of this year, as “probably one of the most, if not the most consistent and honorable members of Congress that I met in the eight years I was there. He always outlined what he believes in, why he believes in the things that he does and why he makes the decisions that he makes.”

The former Republican congressman who said that was Raul Labrador.

The president of course immediately denounced Amash, the House Freedom Caucus rumbled about how misguided he is and the minority leader made noises about his party loyalty.

Meanwhile, a federal judge ruled this week that the chief magistrate is not above the law even as he continues to “fight all the subpoenas,” refused to allow even former White House staffers to testify before Congress and, predictably, fights a legitimate request by a congressional committee to review his tax returns, which he promised repeatedly before the election to release. A man not hiding something doesn’t work so hard to hide something.

The attorney general, now largely serving as the president’s personal lawyer rather than the nation’s top law enforcement official, seeks to limit the legitimate investigation of a president plausibly implicated in real crimes. But the argument is a chimera, a constitutional illusion that actually amounts to yet more obstruction of justice.

If you’re a Trump partisan try to put those sentiments aside for a moment and pull out your copy of the Constitution. Ask yourself just two questions. If the name attached to the facts so obvious to Rep. Amash were Obama or Clinton would you see all of this differently? Would the assertions of presidential authority, the idea that the president isn’t answerable to Congress or really to anyone, would this wholesale resistance to transparency be as palatable then?

James Madison, that fussy old Founder, wrote about this in Federalist 51: “If [people] were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern [people], neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The Constitution wasn’t written for angels. It was written to constrain the ugly impulses of men and presidents.

High traffic, no bypass


Last June, the Lewiston City Council had two decisions to make, one easy and one hard.

The easy one had to do with one of those mostly invisible local government services no one notices unless something goes wrong: Wastewater treatment, which was becoming not exactly an immediate crisis but surely a pressing need. The city’s wastewater facilities were aging and needed replacement and upgrade, soon, and that work isn’t cheap. Tens of millions of dollars would be needed, in the neighborhood of $70 million. The council evidently had no difficulty seeing the need for the work or for raising money for it.

Leading to the second decision. Local governments have two basic ways of going after that money, which would have to be paid ultimately by taxpayers or ratepayers - mostly, that is, the same people, residents of the city. They could put the question, which would be in the form of request for approval of issuance of financial bonds, on the city election ballot. Or they could do something called a “judicial bypass” - a formal request that a district judge unilaterally approve the rate or tax increase, avoiding the vote, on grounds the situation was an emergency.

The council was deeply split. It tilted toward asking a judge to grant permission, which is what happens most often when a local government either doesn’t want to bother with trying to sell the issue to the public, or thinks the voters might turn it down, as they often do in the case of finance issues. Then the Lewiston officials got what might have come to some of them as a shock: two district judges rejected the request.

City Hall then changed course. It launched a large-scale public education campaign, working through social media, community groups, news media and elsewhere to pitch the need for wastewater upgrades.

Back to Lewiston in a moment; here’s some statewide context.

First, the biggest story from the local government finance elections last week came in Canyon County, which for years now has needed a new, or vastly expanded, jail. The county has grown enormously since the last jail facilities were built, and there’s no serious debate about the need. County officials (be it noted: there are not a lot of big government advocates in Canyon County elected office) three times put ballot issues before the voters asking for money for jail expansion; three times they were turned down. On Tuesday they tried again, and lost for the fourth time in a row. And not only did they lose: The vote was about two-thirds in opposition, while a two-thirds favorable was needed for passage. It was a definitive loss.

Around Idaho, a number of relatively routine school issues passed, but many of those for specific new projects failed. A library bond effort failed in Chubbuck, two significant ballot issues in fast-growing Kuna went down, as did a proposal for fire station development in expanding Twin Falls.

But a police station plan in Moscow passed.

And then there’s Lewiston, where the ballot result was really unusual:

Not only did the two wastewater bond issues pass, but they received about 90 percent of the vote. It was a stunning, overwhelmingly favorable vote.

That’s a result worthy of some further study. But one immediate statistic that could be a partial explanation was this: Voter turnout was 22.5 percent, which would be poor for a general or primary election but was actually very strong, uncommonly strong, for a special election like this one.

It was significantly stronger than most of the other bond and levy issue turnouts around the state.

Local governments might take a clue from that. Maybe they don’t need judicial approval as much as they think; what they really need is to spread the word about the needs when they happen, and then get enough voters out to the polls.

Getting better


Maybe you’ve heard the statistic quoted that Idaho is last (or near) among states in doctors per capita. If medicine was a simple business that ratio might mean the dearth of physicians would ensure doctors in Idaho are among the best paid, supply and demand being what it is. But in fact, Idaho doctor salaries are about average to below average. Medicine may be a business but the economics are complicated.

Former Governor Otter’s commitment to boosting medical education in Idaho was supported in the legislature when I was there. In that tenure, the Idaho WWAMI program grew from 20 seats to 40. WWAMI is a medical education consortium of 5 states: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and IDAHO. Those 40 seats are reserved for Idaho resident applicants. Idaho students now spend their first year and a half of the four years of medical school in Idaho. Many are based in small towns and rural communities, learning from the local physicians and patients about managing disease and chronic illness.

Medical training takes many steps. After receiving a bachelor’s degree (usually a four-year process) the next step is four years of Medical School. Then there is the residency step that takes 3-10 years, depending on the specialty one chooses. After residency docs go hang a shingle and see what they will be paid. Most doctors in Idaho make over $150K, so it’s not a shabby income. But many could do better elsewhere; market forces are real.

But for most doctors it’s not just the money that motivates. Most want to serve; their patients, serve their communities, serve their profession, serve their families. Unfortunately, many doctors put their service in that order. Families can suffer. If you are a small community in need of a doctor, think about what you can do to make a family thrive in your community. Could the schools be better? Do you have a good library? Do you have opportunities for a spouse, a family to thrive? Doctors will like such opportunities; so should you.

But getting a doctor is just part of the process. Keeping one and keeping them good is another. The Idaho WWAMI program is not just about running students through the four years, they are also committed to supporting doctors in small communities stay strong, stay informed, practicing good medicine.

Two of the toughest fields of practice for rural family physicians is behavioral health (the new term for psychiatric-emotional-personality-addiction problems) and chronic pain. The explosion Idaho and our nation have seen in overdose deaths from narcotics is just one indicator. Docs haven’t been doing the best managing pain. And most psychiatric care in Idaho is provided by primary care providers; we are last in the country for psychiatrists and behavioral health specialists. WWAMI saw this need and responded.

Two years ago, WWAMI set up the ECHO program. Providers (physicians and nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers or counselors) participate remotely in an interactive online session to discuss the difficult problems they face. The sessions focus on how to prescribe narcotics appropriately and managing behavioral health. Such support will go a long way to keeping providers at the top of their game in this rural and frontier state.

We hear about the cost of care, Medicaid and Medicare, who pays and who doesn’t. There is no doubt that the medical industrial complex has a strong presence in “the swamp” as our president refers to the business-political morass. And I’m sure there’s plenty of ideas about how to get out of this mud hole. Payment affects behavior; sometimes. But we, in our communities can make health care about being healthy. I would hope our dear state of Idaho has such a vision.