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Posts published in May 2020

Health care showdown


Isn’t it ironic that one of the largest economic sectors contributing to the Covid-19 recession is health care? Almost half of the massive first quarter US GDP drop comes from losses in health care spending. Just when the “best health care system in the world” is needed to kick into high gear, to be on its toes, agile, responsive, it slows to half speed. Are you surprised?

Your response to this news might be foretold in your response to the above phrase in quotes:” the best health care system…”. Nearly 70% of Republicans agree with that statement, while only 30% of Democrats do. The partisan divide in this country pivots on just what we expect of health care. We need some alignment of expectations.

Many analysts considered healthcare a “protected sector” in a recession, since they saw demand as inelastic, and funding stable. In the 2008 financial sector driven recession, health care spending stayed pretty constant while people were losing their jobs and homes. Maybe that gave some heath care investors the confidence they needed. Indeed, health care spending in the US has grown to be almost a fifth of our GDP. What bubble?

I doubt many of these analysts had spent a weekend covering the ER in a small Idaho hospital. For every broken hip or heart attack that needed those emergent services, there were ten rashes and colds that could have been treated in the office on Monday, or might have gotten better with some watchful waiting. But the way we have built our health care economy, the way we pay for these sometimes-vital services, requires all those runny noses and worrisome rashes to keep the money flowing so the nurses and doctors will be there when the car crash victim rolls in. With this pandemic isolation, the true elasticity of health care demand has been exposed. Will we go back to the good old days? Do we want to?

The job losses in health care are tragic as are the deaths from this novel virus. But so is wasteful effort. We have an opportunity now to build the system we want. But first, we’ll have to be honest with ourselves about just what we want.

Most people want what they want when they want it, and healthcare is no exception. Politicians know what we Americans want from healthcare. We have had two Presidents in a row promise us just that. Remember Obama: “You can keep your doctor…”? And now Trump: “If you want a test you can get a test...”. Fools love empty promises. Let’s stop being fools.

Hospitals nation-wide are feeling the cash crunch as elective procedures are postponed and emergency rooms waiting rooms are empty. Small hospitals, always closest to the margin are looking at buying red ink by the barrel.

This last weekend, around a fire pit, safely distanced, I heard a novel suggestion from a friend. He and I are in the same high risk, older male age category. He suggested, to save our local, small-town hospital we set up a schedule amongst our similar risk factor friends. Each of us, on separate days would go to the ER and complain of chest pain. We’d get the full-bore treatment, labs, EKG, maybe even spend a night there. The hospital could bill Medicare for our services and the local institution would be saved. We all laughed, even though it’s not really funny.

The years of growth in health care spending in the US has long been held to be unsustainable. The causes, the blame for this predicament are worth understanding if we expect to turn it around.

I sincerely don’t recommend setting up a chest pain schedule with your older buddies to save your local hospital. But I do ask you to start having some considerate conversations about just what healthcare should be in this country. It’s way past time we made the effort.

Further Weiser Covid-19 thoughts


Last weekend's column on the outbreak of Covid-19 centered around Weiser, Idaho, drew quite a few responses, many of them praising the point in the article. Some sought to differ.

I thought a couple of points ought to be made in response to one of them, however, largely because the ideas expressed in this mail.

I've withheld the name of the writer, in part because what I wanted to respond to is not him personally (I intend no attack, and I want to thank him for his response; responses are always welcome) but a couple of concepts which are surely widespread at this point.

... you can stay at home and self quarantine if you like. That’s your call but most of us need to go to work and our kids and grandkids need to be in school. The truth is and you know it that 98%+ don’t even know they have it, have no symptoms and get over it in a short while. I don’t know why death is so frightening. We all will eventually succumb to it. It strikes old, young, healthy, and people in poor health. And for many, many reasons one of which may be this so-called Covid 19. But to obsess over it is ridiculous. To me it is simply a hoax and I don’t believe Governor Little said he would punish those who simply believe different.. That’s your wishful thinking. I imagine you are still receiving a paycheck so it doesn’t effect you. It’s it funny how the ones pushing this are all receiving their regular compensation.

Two basic points here.

The notion that "I don't know why death is so frightening" may be reasonable enough as a matter of personal attitude, but many of us - most of us - would far rather that day come later rather than sooner, if we can help it. The larger point he implicitly makes here is that he is willing to take that risk, of incapacitating illness or death, because "most of us need to go to work and our kids and grandkids need to be in school."

I'd find that choice of carrying on in the face of pandemic defensible if the person making that decision is the only person affected by it. But that's not the case, and it cannot be. If my respondent caught the disease, he might wind up spreading it, to a few people or to many, and that could happen even if his own case is so light he shows no symptoms. If he did show symptoms, would he pledge then to isolate himself from anyone else - including medical and emergency personnel - no matter how bad things got? (Of course, if things went to their worst, the body would still have to be disposed of by someone afterward ...)

Who are you willing to risk? Sneeze in a grocery store with a bunch of people nearby: Whose grandma are you willing to kill? Such risks are profoundly wrong: You have no right to put other people at risk, even if you're willing to do so to yourself.

Going maskless and socially tight isn't just a matter of the risk you take on your own behalf. It's a risk you impose of other people. The argument is the same (sorry, I know I've made this point ad nauseum) as the one you'd have to make to argue for eliminating drunk driving laws.

Second point.

My respondent positions the tension, as many people do, as one between health concerns on one side and economic/social concerns on the other. The problem here is that the two are not separate. Take a look at the economic stats (some of the restaurant usage statistics from recent weeks are especially eye-opening) in the period of "re-opening" and you'll find the economic effects of the pandemic are not going away quickly even when the government regulations do.

Put simpler, as others have said: The economy won't recover until the sickness is under control.

I started with an extended quote; I'll end with a short one from writer Kayla Chadwick (back in 2017): “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person, and why any of that matters.”

The corona war


The President envisions himself as a military genius, leading the country in a war to conquer the coronavirus. He has characterized the public as “warriors” in the fight. We have the world’s finest epidemiologists and best medical technology to support the struggle, so we should be outshining every other nation on earth. Indeed, on May 8 Trump proclaimed that the U.S. was recognized as the “world leader” in the fight. Four days later he announced that we had “prevailed.” Let’s examine what prevailing looks like.

The United States has 4.24% of the world’s population. As of May 12, America had almost 1.4 million reported cases of Covid-19 infection, totaling 32.4% of the world’s cases. With 81,937 deaths, nearly triple the amount of the second-place country, the U.S. had 28.5% of the reported deaths on the planet. Our fatality percentage is creeping upward because we had 20.8% of world deaths on April 14 and 25.6% on April 24. A competent General strives to suffer the least casualties, not the most.

Countries close to China, where the virus originated, have reported death tolls lower than 1,000--Japan 624, South Korea 256, Taiwan 7 and Vietnam 0. Was our shocking comparative casualty count a result of China concealing information about the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan? It certainly did not help, but most nations became aware of its deception about the same time we did in January. Other countries immediately swung into action to distance the population and test, test, test. Our leader was essentially AWOL in the fight throughout February and the first half of March.

Even when Trump finally realized the danger in mid-March, he failed to implement a nationwide strategy. When a General is preparing to go into battle, it is imperative to have an overall strategy. For a nationwide threat there must be one guiding national strategy. A rational General would not send out 50 different units with instructions for each to devise its own battle strategy. That would invite chaos.

By pushing the testing and tracking responsibilities off onto the states, Trump has produced a chaotic and prolonged response to the nationwide pandemic. Had he heeded the dire warnings from his experts, starting in January, and ramped up an all-hands-on-deck national fight against the virus, our casualty figures would undoubtedly have been much lower and the economic damage much less severe.

Many other nations implemented a national strategy early on to intensively test and track infections throughout their respective countries. That is the strategy that our pandemic experts, both in and out of government, have been urging since the start of the pandemic in the U.S. It is the strategy that Trump has resisted from the start. It is the strategy that is essential to re-opening our country safely. It is the strategy that Trump finally adopted for the White House when infections were discovered in Trump and Pence aides. If the strategy is critical for protecting the top bananas, shouldn’t the rest of us have that same protection?

There has also been a leadership vacuum in the United States. Trump has failed to guide the country with compassion and a consistent approach. One day testing is essential and the next day it isn’t. The President has vacillated on opening the country. His official guidelines urge caution, while his public statements throw caution to the wind. His recent happy talk has given some the idea that the pandemic is history and I fear we are in for a rude awakening.

The basic problem is that Trump is being guided by his political fortunes--his words and actions are primarily designed to enhance his re-election prospects, rather than to suppress the virus and save lives. A competent General understands that political spin will not win a war—think Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan …

Selective thinning


Several days ago, Kevin Vesey, a young “reporter” for a TV station in Commack, New York, was sent out to cover a gathering of anti-lock down folks at the county court house. A rather routine assignment.

I should also note, when he got to the court house, he was the only person present wearing a face mask.

As his cameraman started to shoot, the assemblage of some 50 people - many wearing Trump hats and shirts - turned on our young reporter.

He was confronted with raised, angry voices calling him “fake news” and “libtard” and told to “get out of here.” etc.. Several leaned over the temporary barrier the county had set up and got right in his face until he retreated a few steps. He tried to reason with them but that was a wasted exercise. He got his video and left.

I’d like to report this was out of the ordinary. But, you already know of the armed confrontations at the Michigan and Wisconsin state houses. And there have been more. Florida, Illinois, several in Arkansas, Tennessee and Oklahoma, and here in our desert oasis.

Fact of the matter is, these aren’t peaceful protests. Many border on outright physical confrontations. They’ve become more “in-your-face,” ugly, loud and threatening than we’ve been used to. Most attendees appear to be between 30 and 60. Some carrying sidearms or heavier weaponry. Nearly all include Trump wear and Trump signs.

But, the thing I can’t get my head around is they’re being given tacit approval by the President of the United States. More than that, verbal outpourings of encouragement. Trump didn’t start these angry scenes. But, he lit the match that started the fire. And he seems O.K. with that.

In several confrontations, the anti-lock downers have been joined by the anti-vaxxers. Now, there’s a marriage made in Hell. Nothing good can come from that.

Maybe the most damning evidence of ignorance represented by these cretins is their refusal to accept hard scientific facts in either case. For the anti-lock downers, scientists tell them the most effective thing they can do - short of a proven vaccine - is to just stay home. For the anti-vaxxers, the same learned medical community says evidence proves denying their children typical vaccinations can expose them needlessly to dangerous diseases or even kill ‘em.

And the really hard part is, neither group will listen to the experts - the educated people armed with hard facts. The oft-proven evidence the science is right.

If, like me, you’re occasionally venturing out for groceries or a prescription but, otherwise, staying home, I’d bet you’ve already found “life on the outside” has changed. In some stores, masks are mandatory. Signs on the floors tell you where to stand and clerks remind you to observe “anti-social distancing.” Grocery carts on one side of the entrance have been “sanitized,” the rest haven’t. Most “self-checkout” stations have been shut. And there’s a cover protecting the keypads on credit card machines.

Admittedly, we live in adjoining communities of about 90-thousand seniors. So, a lot of folks are used to staying home. That means, even though movie houses are reopening, there are lots of empty seats. Very few takers for the brew pubs now back in business. Not even lines at Golden Corral.

But, that’s not the case everywhere. Seems there are plenty of others willing to test their immune systems against COVID-19. Traffic on our streets is back to its hectic - and dangerous - level. Newly reopened stores seem filled with the adventurous. Parking lots are busy. Looks almost normal.

Many seniors hereabouts are ignoring the “back-to-business-as-usual” entreaties of our pres-ee-dent. Most folks, I’d guess, are in the Dr. Fauci camp, awaiting more scientific disclosures. We want to hear more about vaccine development and testing. We’re awaiting the flattening of more of the important statistical curves being watched by the medical folks.

We’ve already seen hard evidence brought about by those who’ve taken this Coronavirus business too lightly. In Texas, where the top two officeholders are Trumpers, the early openings of a few weeks ago, are coming back to haunt them. Their curve is ascending while the one in New York - the most devastated state yet - is beginning to flatten.

Other states would be wise to follow daily events in New York. Hit harder than anyplace else, authorities there have used many effective tools to get things under control. More than 19-million people have begun to turn things around. There are many important lessons to be learned from their experiences.

Americans are not used to being cooped up. We’re unaccustomed to having our “liberties” curtailed, even if told “shelter-in-place” is the best advice. We, more than any other nation, are a mobile society, used to responding to our urges.

This “stay-at-home” business is not some sort of “deep state” plot. It’s not the Clintons or the Obamas running some scam on society.

In a few weeks, we’ll know a lot more about resuming our normal activities. We’ll have statistical evidence from those states that have opened up. We’ll know more about the likely contagion - if any - brought about by being part of the crowds we’re seeing today. A few weeks will tell us a lot.

Trump is not the “pied piper” of the nation he thinks he is. Oh, there’ll be those who continue dancing to his melodies. They’ll continue their protests and confrontations. They’ll do so in their loud and angry crowds. The sorts of crowds the experts have told us to avoid.

Maybe we’ll see some “selective thinning.”

The next wave


“The Republican states are in strong shape,” Donald Trump said last month. “I don’t know — is that luck or is that talent?”

The president made that comment when he was asked if state governments need a financial transfusion in order to staunch the flow of budgetary red ink in the wake of the double whammy of a pandemic and a massive economic decline. Republicans in Washington seem dead set against help for the states, apparently in part because Trump and his congressional boot polishers – read Mitch McConnell – don’t want to help Democratic states. McConnell has also suddenly discovered that the nation’s debt has exploded while a Republican has been in the White House.

Here’s the reality. Every state – every state – is going to be staggered to its knees by the double whammy. While Idaho Governor Brad Little has received generally good marks for competently relying on sound public health advice to manage the COVID-19 impact, the governor will find that his is merely transitioning from one hourly crisis to another.

“Right now, state governments are facing several types of fiscal challenges,” Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler told me this week. She studies state governments and how they manage budgets. Budget cuts, as Idaho has already announced, including at minimum a 5% reduction in education funding, are a given, but Kettler says the vast uncertainty about how deep the economic downturn will be complicates the state’s response.

“This is a challenging time when many citizens need more services or support from their state and local governments,” Kettler said, “which will make decision-making potentially quite difficult for state leaders on what to cut.” But knowing Idaho’s legislature, cutting will the first and last option. Expect 5% reductions to be more like 15% by Labor Day.

Idaho’s revenue pipeline has already been plugged. April revenue declined by $470 million, a 60% reduction in what state economists had predicted before the virus came calling. Some of that downturn may be attributed to delayed tax payments since the income tax filing deadline has been pushed back, but it’s a safe bet that revenue will be significantly off – perhaps wildly off – for months if not longer.

The happy talk emanating from the White House about the economic recovery being V-shaped – a steep downturn followed by a sharp rebound – is delusional.

“The second quarter hole is so deep that it’s going to take several quarters to get back,” Robert Dye, the chief economist at Comerica Bank, told CNBC, “and that’s going to have an impact on state and local government budgets because that has a direct correlation to tax receipts. The economy is not going to get back to that level for two years or three years, and tax receipts are going to be weak for quite some time.”

The fiscal orthodoxy that has long governed Idaho’s approach to state spending, namely that tax cuts are always the answer to every problem and reducing spending, even if it means that teachers and state employees get laid off, is going to collide with a grim truth. If Idaho’s response to the worst economy since the Great Depression is to cut and then cut some more the state’s eventual economic recovery will take longer and be even more painful.

“Large state budget shortfalls could prolong a recession by prompting a cascade of layoffs that ripple across the economy, Emily Cochrane noted recently in the New York Times. She was quoting economists who have said that in April alone, “state and local governments laid off one million people, a number that could continue to climb without additional assistance.”

Idaho’s higher education system continues to be a key to a strong, more sustainable state economy, but higher education is certain to again be on the legislative chopping block. College and university presidents are trying out furloughs and other cost reduction strategies, but as Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News noted recently the cuts currently anticipated may need to be “much deeper if enrollment plunges in the fall.”

So far, Idaho’s Trumpish congressional delegation has been silent about any federal help for Brad Little’s next wave of crisis, a particularly stunning silence when you consider that every one of the state’s federal officials once served in a legislature that must by law balance the budget. These Republicans seem content to follow McConnell’s advice that Republicans “tap the breaks” on additional aid, even as the Senate majority leader’s notion of letting states go bankrupt crashed like a lead Zeppelin.

McConnell has tried to score political debating points by saying he has no interest in bailing out public pension plans in blue states, but with his home of state of Kentucky facing huge budget shortfalls much like Idaho’s you have to wonder how long this GOP’s fiscal nihilism will remain politically viable. And in Idaho the issue isn’t propping up the state pension fund but simply preventing state government from taking the state economy farther into the ditch.

So far Little, with minimal help from fellow Republicans and second guessed by lots of stupidity from his own lieutenant governor, has navigated the public health crisis with a sure hand. He’ll need a more united and more creative party to manage the next crisis, a party willing to think big and beyond the orthodox.

“The scope and speed of this downturn are without modern precedent, significantly worse than any recession since World War II,” Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said this week, as he bluntly called for more, not less government intervention to prop up the economy.

For Powell, who has spent most of his career as a deficit hawk, the warnings are chilling. In the worst case, and case that appears all too likely, the country – and Idaho – faces what the Fed chairman called “an extended period of low productivity growth and stagnant incomes … Additional fiscal support could be costly but worth it if it helps avoid long-term economic damage and leaves us with a stronger recovery.”

The soulful 19th century Stephen Foster tune – a ballad for our times just as it was prior to the Civil War – holds out hope that “hard times come again no more,” but the worst hard time is hardly behind us. In fact, it may just be beginning.


Only takes one


About a week ago, according to news reports, a family-and-friends get together was held somewhere around the vicinity of Weiser; the kind of ordinary social event no one else would ever know or care about. But in the week to come that little gathering - one report said it involved around 30-plus people - changed a lot of lives.

That is because, almost certainly unknown to anyone there, someone brought the coronavirus to the party. And the coronavirus, as it is wont to do, hitched a ride to new homes with several of the guests.

We don’t yet know how many guests carried the virus back home with them; health officials are trying to figure that out. We do know that several of the guests work at the Fry Foods plant at Weiser, at least one tested positive for Covid-19, and within days so did at least seven employees there.

Health researchers have been trying to corral the threads that have spun out since the social gathering, but the impact already has been significant. After a series of tests and careful cleaning and new procedures at the Fry Foods plant, the Southwest District Health Department okayed it for re-opening, but the plant’s owners declined, saying the “best interest” of the community and workers - and in truth, probably the company as well - would require keeping the plant closed until more testing is done. The choice was ethical and smart. But those executives must feel a little burned: How could a small, simple get-together have so much effect? How can their business, or any business, plan for the future under these conditions? (What might the company very reasonably require of workers for their off-duty hours?) Jobs are on hold because someone, or several someones, decided to go to a party. And the impact on Fry Foods may be only part of it; who knows where else the virus may have gone?

The Weiser story illustrates the point of the state shutdown and social distancing orders, aimed at clipping the lines of contagion before they spread too far. The orders by Governor Brad Little in Idaho, which are similar to orders imposed by governors (of both parties) in most states, are being eased, but gradually, and Little (again like most other governors) has said the lift could stop or reverse if contagion worsens.

Will it?

Nationally and even internationally, and in Idaho too, most people appear to have recognized the problem, seen the need to avoid putting themselves or other people in Covid-19’s way, and have complied. Nobody likes it. But polling consistently shows that a large majority of people do see the need to keep the disease at least under some control. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it takes very few people to have a big effect on a contagious disease.

The first really large American bloom of Covid-19 cases in a mid-sized community was in Albany, Georgia, triggered by a single person who visited two funerals in town. Hundreds of cases resulted and many deaths. Covid explosions nationwide have resulted from the actions of individuals.

Remember that … when you see stories about the brewpub in Kendrick that chose to violate the governor’s shutdown orders. Or about the sheriffs (such as those in Nez Perce and Clearwater) who decline to enforce them. Or the Idaho Falls restaurant “just exercising our constitutional rights.” Or the Nampa bar whose owners just decided to open up and said “we truly do not care if you disagree.” Or the elected officials in Boise County suggesting to local business owners - “this was all kind of hush-hush” - that, hey, go ahead and reopen, no one’s going to bother you.

You can never be sure about these things. Maybe we’ll all get lucky and dodge the bullet, and what these people are doing won’t have mattered.

Or maybe, like that social gathering somewhere around Weiser, one or more of these anti-shutdown activists will turn hundreds of lives and key businesses upside down.

Which is why, after Little mentioned the possibility of pulling business licenses for violators (and possibly other actions?), he might want to consider putting sharp teeth into his threat.

Counting deaths


I have written before about the value of knowing the cause of death to a community. Obituaries used to be reported in the newspaper, not paid personal notes as they are now. The cause of death was usually included in the reporter-written, editor reviewed piece. But the business of reporting the news has changed, and now obituaries, written and paid for by the family, rarely include cause of death.

Then I was referring to the “opioid epidemic”, since the wave of deaths from that cause seemed to sneak up on the general public. I argued before that public awareness of the growing numbers might have raised an alarm and changed some things earlier in that “epidemic”.

But now we are in the middle of a different epidemic, and the number of deaths attributed to Covid-19 are reported daily on the news. But the accuracy, the validity of these numbers is easy to question. We all know the inaccuracy of the testing. Are we undercounting Covid-19 deaths? Probably.

There is a way to get around this issue of squishy test accuracy. It has to do with measuring “excess deaths”. This is calculated by comparing the average number of deaths from all causes in a region for the previous three years to the current reporting period.

The CDC updates this information regularly, but there is a significant lag in reporting time. As of May 11th, the CDC listed 49,000 Covid-19 deaths, while most news reports put the US total at almost 82,000. Currently, according to the CDC, the United States has only 95% of the expected deaths for the period February 1st 2020 through May 9th. No big deal, huh? Don’t forget the lag time.

So, if you don’t have confidence in the accuracy of testing to give the cause of death, “excess deaths” might be a better figure. Maybe it tells you if you are being hit by a train, or just panicking when you hear a whistle. But a long lag time before you respond to a warning whistle can be fatal. Most regions are right near baseline. Idaho has only 16 Covid-19 reported deaths (to date) and our number of total deaths for the period February 1st to may 11th is right at 93% of the previous three-year average.

Further, Idaho has very timely reporting to the CDC. On average, it only takes 8 calendar days from death for Idaho to submit data to the CDC. That ranks us at 10th nationally for how well this small branch (Department of Vital Statistics) of Idaho government is doing its job.

So, what’s the big deal, why not open up the doors of businesses or go to a baseball game? We’re safe here in Idaho, right?

But some states are well above average for this period: New York State at 123% and New York City at 224%.

This sort of comparison has been done for countries too. In almost all cases, the number of excess deaths above baseline is significantly greater than the number of reported deaths from Covid-19. This supports that we just don’t have accurate testing.

Maybe more people are dying for other reasons in this “excess death” category. I have heard it argued by folks wanting to reopen our state that the excess deaths (in other states) could be attributed to people not accessing care due to the shutdown. Many ongoing treatments have been suspended and elective procedures have been postponed. Hospitals are bemoaning this loss of revenue. Health care workers are unemployed. Interesting argument, since I would have thought that most such believers agreed with Raul Labrador’s statement: “Nobody dies from lack of access to healthcare”.

I respect our governor’s caution in response to the train whistle. Some places have been hit by the train. Let’s be safe.



The thing about ‘snowflakes’ is this: They are beautiful and unique, but in large numbers become an unstoppable avalanche that will bury you.
George Takei, actor

Another insult term found in some conservative and most alt-right circles. A 2016 Los Angeles Times article compiled a list of them, including beta (in contrast to alpha), crybaby (not really new, but with juvenile connotations), cuck (see that entry), human biodiversity, libtard, masculinist (in opposition to feminist), and SJW for social justice warrior. More materialize regularly, some more very specific uses; Goolag is used as a criticism of Google; femoid, intended to suggest women are less than human; and GEOTUS, “God-Emperor of the United States,” intended to refer to Donald Trump.

But this one, more than most, making a particular point that ought to be more generally addressed and considered.

The political term comes from the sort-of scientific one, the crystalline singularity of a piece of snow; it draws off some of the flake’s more obvious qualities, such as its fragility and delicacy, the unique structure of each, and (less often but occasionally) its whiteness.

The recent political use of it may have its unlikely origins in the 1996 novel Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk; its most famous quote may be the one about not talking about Fight Club, but another had more political import: “You are not special, you are not the beautiful and unique snowflake. You are the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” The use of the terms seized on the idea of self-important people who, perceiving themselves as “special,” demand either various entitlements or extra praise or consideration.

The term began to take off after a 2015 YouTube video of a shouting match between students and faculty at Yale University went viral; the students were widely slapped with the label of “snowflake generation.” That phrase became a “word of the year” the next year for Collins Dictionary, but it was soon shortened to the more generic snowflake.

In keeping with the shorter usage, the meaning was broadened at bit; Urban Dictionary in 2016 had, “an overly sensitive person, incapable of dealing with any opinions that differ from their own. These people can often be seen congregating in ‘safe zones’ on college campuses.”

As that might suggest, the term has been flung more by the right at the left than the other way around. Examples: “Devastated by Brexit? Snowflake. Protesting the election of Donald J. Trump? Precious snowflake. Asking to take down a statue of a racist on your campus? Classic Generation Snowflake. Sexual assault survivors requesting trigger warnings on texts that include graphic rape scenes? Special snowflakes.”

Of course, this does nothing to say whether these things upsetting a person ought to be upsetting; it makes no argument for any of them. It’s an ad hominem attack, of a simplistic kind.

Of course, the word can as easily be sent in the other direction: “Maybe it’s President-elect Trump. He is, after all, a man who has yet to display an ability to laugh at himself. He is offended by, seemingly, everything anyone has ever said about him that is not sufficiently glowing. He is a man who cannot even bear the (really rather soft) satire slung his way by Saturday Night Live.”

There is one other aspect to this that should be mentioned. In fact – in reality – we are all different, unique, with particular qualities to offer. Or at least we’d better be. If we’re nothing more than “you are the same decaying organic matter as everything else,” then what gives any person the right to fling a snowflake at anyone else? Or is the flinger simply another snowflake who can’t handle the world as it is?

Wrongful convictions


Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue has brought closure to the brutal murder of a nine-year-old girl in Nampa thirty-eight years ago. On April 5, Donahue announced that recent DNA testing incriminated a former Nampa resident, David Dalrymple, of the abduction, rape and murder of Daralyn Johnson on February 4, 1982. Dalrymple is currently imprisoned for abusing other children.

Charles Fain, a Vietnam veteran who lived in the vicinity, was convicted of the crime in November 1983. As Attorney General, I decided to personally argue against Fain’s appeal of the conviction and death sentence, mainly because of the heinous nature of the crime against a child victim. I also felt that Fain’s actions played into a popular narrative of the day that Vietnam veterans were depraved baby killers and that he had brought disgrace upon those who had served in Vietnam

Fain appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court twice and I argued against him both times. Hairs found at the scene of the crime, which the FBI examined and proclaimed to be Fain’s, were the strongest evidence against him. The hairs did not contain enough DNA to effectively analyze at that time. Fain spent 18 years on Idaho’s death row, largely because of the FBI’s findings and testimony about the hairs.

Fain was able to have the hair samples reanalyzed in 2001 when DNA technology had greatly improved. It was determined that the DNA in the samples did not match his. Al Lance, who was then AG, made the correct decision to seek Fain’s exoneration of the crime and he was released from prison on August 24, 2001.

Fain’s exoneration raised the troubling questions of who had committed the crime and whether that person was still at large in the community. Some people expressed lingering doubt regarding Fain’s innocence. Those questions were answered by Sheriff Kieran on April 5.

In April of 2015, the FBI made the stunning admission that most of its hair-comparison expert witnesses had regularly skewed their testimony in favor of prosecutors in the eighties and nineties. It was disgusting to learn at that late date that the FBI had given questionable testimony in life or death cases. The questionable testimony in Fain’s case resulted in a Vietnam veteran wrongly spending a good portion of his life in prison, based on a faulty conviction.

I met Mr. Fain in the fall of 2004 at the office of the late Fred Hoopes, the attorney who worked doggedly to clear Fain of the crime. He was cordial and did not seem to hold any bitterness about his case. He and Fred had been on the speaking circuit together, telling his story and speaking of the fact that wrongful convictions do occur in this country.

Identification of the person who likely killed Daralyn Johnson provides relief to the community and some closure to the Johnson family. The State should provide relief to another victim of these sad events--Charles Fain. The Legislature approved legislation this year to do just that. Its sponsor, Representative Doug Ricks, intended the legislation to compensate wrongly convicted individuals like Fain, as well as Chris Tapp who was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of an Idaho Falls woman.

Unfortunately, the legislation was vetoed by Governor Little. That was a mistake. The bill was carefully drafted to ensure that compensation did not go to those who did not deserve it. When people lose a significant part of their liberty through a malfunction of the legal system, the State has a moral obligation to step up and make it right.