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Posts published in March 2021

A march to the right


This year may not be a banner year for Gov. Brad Little or the Idaho Legislature, which is approaching the tail end of an 18-day COVID recess. But it has been a nice session for Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin as far as raising her political profile and conservatives in general.

Since the start of this year’s session, McGeachin – with help of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and legislators – has been doing weekly programs called “Capitol Clarity,” aimed at bringing everyday Idahoans closer to the Legislature. The segments included tutorials about the legislative process, how bills become laws and tips on testifying before committees. They also served as an outlet for conservative legislators to present their positions. Recent guests included Rep. Karey Hanks (St. Anthony), who talked about her bill to eliminate government mask mandates and Sen. Christy Zito (Hammett), who discussed her bill called the “Small Arms Protection Act,” designed to protect gun owners from regulations and eventual confiscation.

McGeachin now has an expanded audience, with Boise’s KBOI radio adding “Capitol Clarity” to its talk-show lineup on Thursday afternoons. As lieutenant governor, McGeachin has almost no say in public policy, but her higher profile certainly serves her well whether she seeks re-election or decides to take on Little in next year’s Republican primary. The governor’s race is one that she could win in light of the controversy over Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and McGeachin has made it clear that she’s not siding with the governor.

McGeachin’s base is no longer confined to the small band of conservative rebels who are fed up with the political establishment. It now potentially includes anyone who voted for Donald Trump (McGeachin was among the most avid supporters) … anyone who doesn’t like the governor’s emergency actions … anyone who dislikes mask mandates and business lockdowns … anyone who is skeptical about vaccines … and anyone who cheers the Legislature’s efforts to reform education and put the conservative stamp on social justice.

That’s a strong enough base to win any election in Idaho, outside of Blaine County. McGeachin also seems to have generous support from like-minded conservatives in the Legislature – which is growing both in numbers and stature.

For now, McGeachin is focused on getting through next year, and she provides some populist appeal in her recent newsletter.

“This means another two and a half weeks (at least) before the Legislature will take up proposals for tax relief, education reform, and efforts to constrain executive emergency powers,” she wrote. “Wouldn’t it have been better to accomplish these goals over the last 10 weeks instead of putting them off until (what was supposed to be) the very last week of the session?”

Yes, it would be nice if the Legislature could move faster, but in the interest of “Capitol Clarity,” that’s not how it works. The legislative process is slow and deliberative by design. It involves extensive committee work, lengthy hearings and exhausting floor debates in the House and Senate. The snail’s pace works well for setting budgets and public policy in the long run … not so much for dealing with emergencies, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

But conservatives, and McGeachin, have made their mark with their vocal opposition to the governor’s actions. The so-called “liberty caucus” in the House, once viewed as political outcasts, is now closer to the mainstream on the GOP side.

“Our agenda includes lowering taxes, reducing government and restoring freedoms to Idahoans,” said Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg, one of the leading House conservatives.

Republicans have been standing behind those principles for decades, but there are added features in today’s environment. They include initiatives such as molding education to conform more to “Idaho values” and abolishing the Powerball lottery because what other nations might do with that revenue.

“The House and Senate, albeit slowly, are getting the needed work done on emergency orders, gatherings restrictions, and balance of power clarity,” Nate says. “We will have tax relief, and we will have some freedom wins (school choice, health rights, business freedom).”

It remains to be seen what will get done this year and how long it will take for lawmakers to complete their business. One thing for certain is that McGeachin and her friends will continue finding ways to gain attention.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at

To serve and to profile


It turns out the Pierce County sheriff’s name is Karen. In one short episode at the end of January, the top law enforcement official in Washington State’s second most populous county not only revealed his real name, but also showcased unabashed racism, outright dishonesty and a staggering level of stupidity.

In short, Pierce County Sheriff Ed “Karen” Troyer is a proven bigot, a documented liar and a colossal moron.

You picked a doozy, Pierce County voters. Celebrations of ignorance really don’t get any more embarrassing than the one your friendly local sheriff lit off. If he was trying to make himself an international laughingstock, he succeeded with flying colors.

It’s almost unbelievable that, in 2021, incidents where people celebrate their most awful characteristics on marquee lights — flashing red and blue ones, in Sheriff Karen’s case — occur with mind-numbing regularity. In fact, I can’t help but question Sheriff Troyer’s mental acuity — someone this dense is surely not qualified to wear a badge, carry a gun and command a department of over 400 sworn officers. The level of stupidity Troyer demonstrated is extraordinary — the cost to his career should be commensurate with that demonstration. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

It all started like it does for most Karens: they spy a person performing a perfectly ordinary task but, since the person happens to be Black, surely they must be up to some criminal mischief, right? It’s not like a Black person can walk, drive or, say, deliver newspapers without breaking the law — at least not in Sheriff Karen’s dull-witted-yet-hyper-suspicious mind. But unlike other Karens, Sheriff Troyer didn’t just call the police. On no. Pierce County’s top law enforcement official summoned 42 uniformed officers to descend, sirens screaming, onto one quiet, law-abiding Black man who was just doing his job. Sheriff Karen SWATTED a quiet guy delivering newspapers.

Wikipedia defines swatting as a criminal harassment tactic to deceive an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing a 911 operator) into dispatching a police and emergency service response team. This is triggered by false reporting of a serious emergency like a bomb threat, murder, hostage situation or some other false report — in Troyer’s case, he lied and claimed his life was threatened.

Taken from the term for a law enforcement special weapons and tactics (SWAT) unit, swatting is most recognizable by its sheer overkill. Past swatting incidents have resulted in evacuations, injuries and deaths — and prison sentences for those who initiate them. Legislation to declare swatting a form of terrorism is being discussed in more than one jurisdiction.

But Sedrick Altheimer wasn’t thinking about getting swatted when he went to work on January 27. Like he does six nights a week, the 24-year-old Altheimer was quietly going about his job delivering several newspapers including The Wall Street Journal and The Seattle Times in the West End neighborhood of Tacoma.

Around 2:00 a.m., Altheimer was driving his Geo Prizm along his regular route when he noticed a white Chevrolet Tahoe following him. Both of Altheimer’s windows were down and, as he did every night, he was tossing rolled newspapers out of both windows as he slowly cruised the block. You might be forgiven for assuming a law enforcement professional who could decide Altheimer was acting suspiciously might also be observant enough to note the flying newspapers but not Sheriff Karen! By Golly, Troyer was determined to save Tacoma from the threat this suspicious Black man presented. Like practically every other Karen, Sheriff Karen was unable to articulate what Altheimer was doing to raise such an alarm.

Not the first time he’d been tailed by a Karen, Altheimer was annoyed that some white guy was following him again. Altheimer got out of his car and slid a newspaper into a newspaper delivery tube before approaching the unmarked SUV. When Altheimer asked why he was being followed, Troyer responded by insulting Altheimer, accusing him of stealing packages from porch steps and calling him names. Not exactly a professional-grade response but it’s becoming pretty clear Troyer doesn’t operate at a professional level. Crucially, Troyer never identified himself as law enforcement and Altheimer was unaware the nosy and rude white man harassing him was actually the Pierce County sheriff.

Later, Troyer would whine that all Altheimer had to do was identify himself as a newspaper delivery guy. Really? Sorry, Sheriff Karen. No Black man owes you an explanation for anything, especially if you’re so arrogant you can’t even bother to identify yourself as law enforcement. No, Sheriff Karen. What you should’ve said was, “All I had to do was politely identify myself as the county sheriff.” See how that works? You, Sheriff Karen, are the accuser harassing yet another innocent Black man. He has no idea you’re law enforcement. Yes, Sheriff Karen, you owe the Black man a polite explanation. He owes you nothing.

After Altheimer resumed his deliveries, Troyer apparently boxed the Geo Prizm in at one end of the street. And then Pierce County’s top law enforcement official pulled a stunt worthy of the biggest30-year-old loser who still lives in his mom’s basement: he swatted a frustrated but calm Black guy who was just trying to do his job delivering newspapers..

From multiple agencies, 42 officers responded to the panicked call from Troyer, who falsely declared Altheimer was threatening to kill him. Troyer lied. He invented a nonexistent threat, summoning an obscenely inappropriate armed response — that’s called swatting. People who aren’t Troyer earn prison sentences for it.

“Hey, it’s Troyer,” radios Sheriff Karen. “I’m at 27th and Deidra in Tacoma, in North End, about two blocks from my house, and I caught someone in my driveway who just threatened to kill me and I’ve blocked him in. He’s here right now.”

Moments later, Troyer claims the other driver had him blocked in. He derides Altheimer’s 1995 Prizm as “beat-up” and “homeless-looking.” Troyer then tells dispatch, “I’m trying to be polite to him but he says I’m a racist and wants to kill me.”

It’s extremely fortunate that other Tacoma law enforcement officials operate with professional restraint. One of the 42 responding officers quickly determined Altheimer was no threat — he was released. If it was left to Sheriff Karen’s intentional lies and utter lack of intelligence, maturity and skill, Altheimer could’ve ended up one more unarmed Black man gunned down by an overzealous and ill-prepared police officer.

In Pierce County, the sheriff is an elected position. While this makes the sheriff directly accountable to the people, it also means pretty much any yokel meeting minimal requirements can be sheriff. In Troyer’s case, he brought plenty of experience but you’d never know it from the series of unprofessional blunders he piled on, one after another.

Pierce County officials are discussing making the sheriff’s position appointed, which would make it easier to ensure only qualified candidates would be considered and that accountability wouldn’t lie solely with voters. I often decry the overuse of recalls — a recall election should never be used for mere policy disputes but should be reserved only for egregious breaches of the public trust. As luck would have it, if anyone needed an egregious breach of the public trust defined, the Pierce County sheriff just demonstrated that rather handily.

Sunshine by the billions


Sometimes it takes more than the sun to brighten my day.

Case in point: Dominion Voting Systems filing a billion-dollar lawsuit against Faux Neus. What could be a better start of another 24-hours? That makes two Dominion court actions dealing with the 2020 election. The other is against Donny Trump. Personally.
The latest Dominion action also names Maria Bartiromo, Tucker, Lou, Sean and Jeanine Pirro.

Then, the sun brightened even more with yet another action involving DJT and friends. Smartmatic Corporation, also involved in the 2020 vote counting, opened fire against Faux for $2.7 billion. This one named a flock of co-defendants including Rudy, Sidney Powell and their cohorts on the network. Individually.

The latest Dominion suit alleges Faux “recklessly disregarded the truth” and participated in a disinformation campaign against the company because “the lies were good for Fox’s business.”

Further, “Fox took a small flame” of disinformation and “turned it into a forest fire.” Dominion claims “Truth matters. Lies have consequences.” “Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process. If this case does not rise to the level of defamation by a broadcaster, then nothing does.”

In the filing, the company claims, as a result of Fox’s “orchestrated campaign against it, Dominion suffered “enormous and irreparable economic harm” and its “employees have been subject to death threats.”

The Smartmatic filing is very similar in claims and naming the same individuals.

All government, and nearly all independent observers, have said, repeatedly, there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the presidential election. But, our friends at “Faux” have continually suggested Trump’s claims of “widespread irregularities” had merit.

I don’t know much about Dominion or Smartmatic. But, their direct challenges to Faux deserve recognition for going after the company and the individual liars. Demanding facts in news reports and facing down those that don’t adhere is the right thing to do.

We media folks make mistakes. God knows, I’ve made my share in nearly 50 years in the business. But, the unwritten rule has always been to admit the error, make a correction and move on.

I don’t see a lot of that happening these days. The blowhards at Faux Nues certainly aren’t interested in truth or facts. I don’t have a problem with commentary - political or otherwise - left or right. But, even in commentary, the facts matter. You can have your “bleeding heart” or your “righteous indignation” to a fare-thee-well. But, when the “truth train goes off the rails,” you’re wrong. Individually or corporately. And, Dominion and Smartmatic have decided to point that out. By the billions!

Media - all media - must be held to a higher standard than the rest of us. There’s just too damned much at stake these days. We’re inundated with information. And, a lot of it is false. B.S. While more is demanded of the sources, more is also demanded of the recipient to sift out fact and discard that B.S..

That’s tough to do, given the immense outpouring of information. It’s tough on both sides. The media’s high charge is to wade through all of it, separate “wheat from chaff” and publish. Quickly. Viewers/readers have a similar obligation to do their own separating. And, that’s a hard job when on the receiving end of daily info dumps.

It’s a damned shame to have to have two large corporations sue purveyors of false public information. But, their “target” has deserved a comeuppance for many years. Ol’ Rupert is pretty much out of the business these days. Faux is being run by a son or two. Since their entry into the picture, the place has veered further to the right. And, in some cases, beyond.

There are others out there in the media “sphere” manipulating the truth for their own ends. Beck, Jones, Medvid and dozens more. I’d like to think that, should the twin suits against the Faux folks be successful, they’ll read the damage awards and trim their own sails. I’d like to think it. But, I doubt it.

I’d like to think, facing billion dollar challenges, it’ll scare the others. It’s also to be hoped other companies and individuals will follow the Dominion/Smartmatic lead and go after purveyors of lies published under the banner of “good journalism.”

Dominion’s filing says “truth matters” and “lies have consequences.” Yes, they do. And, that includes the folks at Faux, too.

A message on Vietnam Veterans Day


As we observe Vietnam War Veterans Day on March 29, let’s recall the human rights disaster that resulted from the fall of South Vietnam in April 1975. Many thousands of South Vietnamese who had helped, trusted and relied upon the U.S. were murdered or imprisoned, to the great dishonor of our nation. A similar disaster is looming on the horizon in Afghanistan and we must take action to prevent a human catastrophe there.

In the case of Vietnam, even though we knew weeks beforehand that the fall of South Vietnam was imminent, we made no concerted effort to extract the Vietnamese who had steadfastly supported the United States. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese fled the country and, although we eventually gave sanctuary to many, our help was slow in coming. Policy blunders by the U.S. had placed them in jeopardy and we were honor bound to do everything possible to protect them.

During the long and tortured course of America’s war in Afghanistan, many Afghans stepped forward at their great peril to serve and protect our military personnel. As the situation continues to deteriorate in Afghanistan and the danger to those folks dramatically increases, we are morally obligated to help them because, again, we are largely responsible for their situation.

Many informed observers believe it is just a matter of time until the Taliban take control of Afghanistan. Because of America’s unforced errors in the so-called peace talks, the Taliban have a clear upper hand. Veteran U.S. diplomat Ryan Crocker, who has been involved since the start of the war, characterized the peace discussions as “surrender talks.” President Biden has presented a new peace proposal, but it is unlikely the Taliban will embrace it. They know they hold the winning cards.

The President should do everything reasonably possible to bring the war to a peaceful resolution. But, facing the realistic probability of a Taliban take-over, he should require contingency plans to be drawn up to evacuate Afghans who will be targets of Taliban reprisal--those who volunteered to help and protect U.S. forces, uncorrupted government and military officials, women’s rights advocates, educators and others who put themselves at risk by supporting democratic principles.

President Biden has pledged to substantially increase the yearly refugee cap, now at an historic low of 15,000. That is an important first step. The refugee settlement infrastructure in the U.S., which has suffered grievous damage during the last four years, must be rebuilt and adequately funded to accommodate an influx of Afghan refugees.

The U.S. must own up to its responsibility toward Afghans who trusted our stated intentions to make their country a better and safer place to live. Boise has a refugee resettlement program that is highly regarded across the country and we could accommodate many of these good people. A number of Afghan refugees have been settled in the Boise area in recent years and they have been a credit to the community.

Like many troops who served in America’s wars, this issue is very personal for me. I lived and worked with South Vietnamese soldiers in 1968-1969. I trusted them with my life, while they relied on the U.S. Government as a friend and ally. Most of my Vietnamese friends were Catholics who moved to South Vietnam from the North in 1954 to escape persecution. They were fiercely anti-communist and pro-American. It broke my heart when the Communists took over in April 1975, knowing that my friends would be killed or imprisoned, as were many thousands of their countrymen. We had a moral obligation to extract as many as possible but, instead, we abandoned them to a horrific fate.

We simply cannot allow that kind of tragedy to happen again with the Afghans. My prayer on Vietnam War Veterans Day is that this great nation does not again turn its back on beleaguered people who placed their trust in us.

Two major bills


For all its dawdling for two-thirds of the session, the Idaho Legislature moved some major legislation before taking two weeks of recess off to squelch the spreading COVID-19 virus.

When they return April 6, the measures include a major income tax reduction and an infusion of money to upgrade Idaho’s highways and bridges. These will help Idaho citizens immensely and should be applauded as examples of what can be done if there is the will.

Sure, legislators could have done more on other tax proposals, such as a sales tax reduction and local property taxes, but these are separate issues. They were included in the initial drafts, but neither gained enough broad support. That’s the way legislative politics works sometimes; ideas die if they can’t win wide backing.

Nonetheless, the income tax reduction is indeed a big deal. It drops the top tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6.5 in all brackets, saving Idaho income tax payers almost $200 million annually. That’s money left in your pocket. An additional section gives taxpayers a one-time, 9 percent rebate from state income tax paid on 2019 income; on a $4,000 tax bill from that year, you’d get a rebate of $360. That’s more money left in your pocket.
The measures still need Senate approval and Gov. Brad Little’s ok, but they’re close to what Little proposed in his budget address.

The vote on the income tax reduction in the House was 54 Republicans voting yes and all 12 House Democrats voting no. How can Democrats not want you to keep more of your own money? Simple. They and their liberal friends in the media prefer a larger government with more and more spending on social programs. What they really want is to take more of the money you earned and give it to someone who didn’t earn it. That’s pure “wealth distribution” right out of the Bernie Sanders economics textbook.

But this tax reduction is, by definition, a reduction of taxes for those who pay them, not a gimme-gimme entitlement for those who didn’t. You work, you earn income, you pay taxes on it. Wisely, the House vote leaves you with more of your own money, and returns some beyond that. Simple, really.
So the next time you hear Idaho Democrats or media guru say they support tax reductions, you can ask why they didn’t support this one, totaling almost $400 million? Get ready to hear the usual cries of “we-need-this, we-need-that” rhetoric, or listen for the to try to shift the discussion to so-called Republican failures. It’s classic ‘what-about-ism.” Humm. there are a lot of folks in other states who’d love to have the coming tax reductions and rebate, much less both. (Idaho Press, 3/17).

The transportation bill will open the way for major upgrades to the state’s highway corridors which we all know are barely keeping up with traffic increases. Idaho is one of the fastest growing states; more people mean more vehicles, from autos to trucks.

The new bill allows transportation projects to come on line faster, from design to build to opening. It allows the state Department of Transportation to bond construction costs, with the bonds secured by sales tax revenues coming from increased online purchasing. Up to $1billion could be available.

The new bill also diverts more money to local highway districts, which have generally not been able to stay ahead of heavier use, but doesn’t fall back on local property taxes. That should help the many local highway districts which often have responsibility for county roads.

Both income tax reduction and the highways proposal will need Senate approval and there may well be alterations as both bodies reconvene in nine days. And there are some other important issues to be resolved, including COVID-19 federal stimulus money (Associated Press, 3/20), property tax fairness, limitations (if any) on the governor’s emergency powers and revisiting the initiative process to limit undue out-of-state influence.

The Legislature also will use the recess to examine federal guidelines on the latest COVID-19 stimulus package, estimated to bring an additional $2 billion to Idaho. The recess will also give legislators and Gov. Brad Little a chance to do further planning on how to best allocate those funds in a “prudent” fashion. (Associated Press, 3/18).

There’s a lot on the legislative “to do” list, but the tax measure and transportation funding are good starting points.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at

How conservatism became radical


In the late 1970’s a trio of young and very conservative political activists created a new organization that aimed to takeover and then remake the Republican Party. The state of our current politics is proof that they succeeded.

John T. “Terry” Dolan is mostly forgotten now, but he was a true architect of the modern GOP. Dolan had been a paid organizer for Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign and became the executive director of what he and his colleagues – Charles Black and Roger Stone (yes that guy) – called the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC).

NCPAC helped upend American politics, arguably as much as Ronald Reagan’s landslide presidential election victory did in 1980. The group used the dark political arts of direct mail fundraising, negative attack ads and third-party “independent expenditure” campaigns to take over conservative political messaging and then take over conservatism. The shrill attack ads, the politics of anger and grievance, the deep partisanship of our time didn’t just happen. There is an origin story, and the 1980 election is as good a place as any to see how the next 40 years of American politics unfolded.

Ideology – think of it as what voters believe versus what is real – has increasingly shaped both parties, but it entirely overtook only one of them. We live largely in the world young, brash, ambitious Terry Dolan envisioned when he said he wanted to create a conservative ideological movement.

Dolan was a fascinating character – charismatic, charming, cunning and frequently cruel. The photo above captures some aspects of his personality, I think. He could turn a pithy phrase, as when he said of NCPAC’s attacks on its Idaho target in 1980. “We’re out to destroy the popularity ratings of several liberal senators,” Dolan said, “and it’s working. Frank Church [a 24-year Senate incumbent and Idaho’s senior senator] is screaming like a stuck pig, and I don’t blame him.”

It’s difficult to remember these days that the Republican Party once was home to moderates, even liberals, politicians like Oregon’s Mark Hatfield and Tom McCall, Washington’s Dan Evans, Charles Percy of Illinois, Jacob Javits of New York and John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky who once held the seat now occupied by Mitch McConnell. Terry Dolan detested Republican moderates and aimed to purge the party of all of them. It’s taken a while, but Dolan’s vision of 40 years ago has been realized and in the process the Republican Party has become the radical outlier of our politics.

When a political party’s basic ideology embraces the radical it soon follows that many party supporters are radicalized, too. Both major political parties have clearly moved toward their extremes, but the evolutionary evidence of an extreme conservative transformation is easy to see, and radicalization on the right is vastly more pronounced than anything on the political left. A couple of examples of how this has worked.

Conservative legislators from Boise to Birmingham have broadly rejected the scientific evidence related to coronavirus, shunning mask wearing and rejecting vaccines. These ideological radicals have largely chosen to believe not what their eyes – or science and experts – tell them, but what their ideology espouses.

It would be simply ironic if it were not so obviously tragic that while the Idaho legislature was debating a measure last week that would prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing a mask mandate, the one step backed by vast scientific consensus that is effective in controlling the spread of a deadly virus, it was forced to shut down for two weeks when several members fell ill to the disease. Yet, because of the pull of ideology the legislature almost certainly will return and pick up right where it left off.

Most conservative legislators have, of course, refused the simplest, most effective public health action in favor of minimizing the disease, embracing the fiction that it is overblown or that it will, as their clueless leader infamously proclaimed, just go away. Remember when he said the country would be back to normal by Easter – last Easter?

This attitude is roughly the equivalent of hitting your thumb repeatedly with a hammer and proclaiming there is no correlation between the cold metal and a sore thumb. It is the triumph of belief over reality.

There are a thousand other examples of this magical radical thinking. The crackpot lawyer who helped spread the big lie about the presidential election being stolen now admits in a court filing that “no reasonable person” could believe her assertions, but millions still do believe.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, a born-again reincarnation of his state’s 1950’s senator Joe McCarthy, is another prime exhibit. Johnson is a conspiracy theorist’s conspiracy theorist, a wide-open conduit for Russian disinformation, a guy whose basically been rewriting or denying the reality of a pro-Trump mob’s attack on the U.S. Congress in January.

Johnson initially and absurdly claimed that assault was the work of leftwing provocateurs and then more recently allowed that the deadly attack was the work of “people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law.” Johnson is articulating an ideology belied by hours of television footage of the attack. His opinions, no matter how obviously wrong, trump objective reality. Yet, as conservative columnist Michael Gerson noted, Johnson suffers no pushback from his fellow conservative ideologues because he’s channeling the belief system of most of the Republican Party.

“One of the United States’ venerable, powerful political parties,” Gerson wrote this week, “has been overtaken by people who make resentment against outsiders the central element of their appeal. Inciting fear is not an excess of their zeal; it is the substance of their cause.” That brings us back to the aforementioned Terry Dolan.

Dolan and the people who helped him, North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms and direct mail impresario Richard Viguerie among them, realized more than 40 years ago that they could traffic in fear and big lies about their opponents and be successful, because, as Viguerie candidly admitted, fear, breeding resentment and grievance, is the powerful motivator of political behavior.

Dolan’s enemies were “elites,” clueless liberals, “baby killers” and politicians he defined as dangerous to families and national security. The right’s bogeymen now include new evil forces – “cancel culture,” socialist indoctrination of young people and nefarious plots such as early childhood education. It’s not a political agenda designed to address any real problem, but it has been the centerfold of the Republican playbook for a long generation. And it truly is the substance of the angry ideology of the modern conservative movement.

Universities, ethics and social justice


In 1976 Harvard University President Derek Bok wrote an article asking, “Can Ethics Be Taught?” Concluding that it could and should be, about a decade later (no point in hurrying these things) he asked a new hire to set up a system of "problem-oriented courses in ethics" covering a range of disciplines.

The ethics center at Harvard grew rapidly, as a history of it recounted: “The Center's accomplishments have multiplied exponentially, but so have the complexities of modern life. As the need for leaders who can make sound moral judgments in public and professional life increases, the wisdom of establishing a Center with the mission of promoting ethics teaching and research is more apparent today than ever.” There is some logic to that - to at least developing thinking, not necessarily prescription - to the subject, because our knowledge so often outruns our moral wisdom.

Ethics instruction in American colleges, and even in public schools, goes back many years, but it has expanded into practical ways in recent years. One website noting some of the courses available listed, for example, Moralities of Everyday Life (Yale University), Ethics, Technology and Engineering (Eindhoven University of Technology), Data Science Ethics (University of Michigan), and Effective Altruism (Princeton University) among many others.

Might this become a subject of controversy? Easily, and has at Boise State University. There, a couple of weeks ago, the institution suspended its main set of courses in the area, under the grouping of University Foundations 200: Foundations of Ethics and Diversity, after “We have been made aware of a series of concerns, culminating in allegations that a student or students have been humiliated and degraded in class on our campus for their beliefs and values.”

There was no further explanation. About the same time, the Idaho Legislature took the unusual step of budgeting for each individual higher education institution - instead of, as traditionally, leaving the higher education split to the state Board of Education - and cut $409,000 from the Boise State budget … with the intent of slicing into any nefarious “social justice” activity.

This week (with the legislature in recess?), the university reversed and said UF200 “will resume immediately online and asynchronously. Students will engage with faculty, receive and submit assignments, complete the course, and achieve their learning outcomes online …”

Why was any of this controversial and a reason for a slashed budget by the legislature? In the rhetoric of today’s culture wars few phrases evoke more visceral disgust than “social justice,” unless maybe “diversity.”

To get more specific, we can look at what’s under this University Foundations 200 umbrella. How radical is it? Look for yourself on the university’s UF200 webpage, which describes the course options (students can choose up to a few among several dozen).

The summary says, “Ethics guide how we ought to live, and we live in a diverse society with other individuals and groups. UF 200 courses help students investigate how we practice our ethics together as engaged citizens creating an inclusive community.” That sounds not far off from the kind of university ethics courses higher education students have encountered for hundreds of years.

The various courses cover such topics as hospitality, community, “refugee immigrant,” moral courage, technology, film/literature, social inequality, and moral issues that crop up in specific places (such as a course looking at morality in the Harry Potter books). The idea, in a well-taught course (and some may be better-taught than others), is to open students’ minds to a range of ideas and perspectives they might not otherwise have encountered. Could this be the legislator’s real problem with the whole enterprise - by which I mean higher education?

Some course elements - a few among the many options - do get into contentious terrain. The course on intersectionality, for example, is described this way: “we first delve into intersectionality, a lens coined by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw. We then begin to explore how power and privilege impact the way we live our lives and what we have and don’t have access to (i.e. healthcare). Once we have a solid understanding of identity, power, and privilege, we explore different families of ethics: the ethics of the person, the ethics of happiness, the ethics of virtue, and the ethics of relationship.”

The key to something like this, as with many university courses, is in the specific approach: Offering exposure to new ideas and challenging minds to critical thinking, as opposed to insisting upon the rightness of those ideas.

The fact that there’s a public controversy about this proves the need for it.

The Idaho herd


Despite the behavior of most Idaho legislators, not wearing masks, umbrage about social distancing, it seems many Idahoans have taken COVID seriously. Folks are getting immunized.

So far, about 22% of the state’s population, 372K people have received an immunization. The new scheduling website put up by the Department of Health and Welfare should make it easier for people who want a shot to get one.

We’ve sure had trouble scheduling folks at our clinic. It doesn’t make it any easier that we have three sources of shots, all with different rules as to who you can give it to. But we’re working hard, and it seems people still want them.

Idaho isn’t leading in this race, by any means. In fact, we’re down between Arkansas and Mississippi, familiar territory for us.

If you add the number of Idaho COVID cases (177K) to those with immunizations, we are at about 32%. Mild cases of COVID do not seem to give long lasting immunity, though it seems the shots do, as far as we know.

Which, honestly, isn’t far. COVID is a brand-new virus for us humans to deal with so we have to learn as we go. We’ve had some interesting evidence from other places. Manaus, Brazil had serious infection rates and deaths last spring. It was figured 75% of the population had been infected. Their cases dropped all through the summer and fall but spiked again in December. So, the concept of herd immunity is being tested.

Despite the shot rollout, Idaho hit the news last week with two hot spots, Idaho Falls and Rexburg leading the nation for infection rates. They don’t count the Capitol Building as a region, but there were enough cases popping up there last week for the legislature to suspend itself for a couple weeks. When they come back, they’ll get back to work banning mask mandates.

We all want to get back to “normal”, don’t we? I keep asking my buddy when we can play pool again. He gets his second shot next week.

But that “back to normal” thing just might not happen. Nobody really knows.

We are getting advice that you can meet with folks if you’ve been immunized, but you should still wear a mask. Truth is, most of us will survive this pandemic, wearing masks or not. But many won’t. Over half a million dead, nationally, attributed to COVID. Excess deaths are higher.
“Back to normal” implies the bad thing that has happened can be forgotten, ignored, denied. Maybe we can pretend it didn’t happen. I think many are hoping with adequate immunizations we can reach “herd immunity” and the normalcy door opens up. Nobody is sure where the herd immunity number lies.

I prefer to try to learn from the bad things that happen, not deny them. But the lessons from a pandemic might be telling us something we can’t really do much about, individually.

Are there just too many humans on this planet? It sure seems that way to me.

Back last spring when we had the shut down and my buddy and I stopped playing pool, I went up to check on him where he lives on the mountain. He had a down fir tree I could cut for firewood. Big one; needed the McCulloch CP125 with the three-foot bar. We chatted, out in his drive at a distance.

He remarked that he hadn’t heard the jake brakes on the highway a couple miles off like he usually did. And there had been no contrails in the sky.

“Weird, isn’t it?” says I.

“I love it.” He replied and grinned. He’s got most of what he needs up there.

Come to think of it, I do down here too. But I do hope we can play pool again.

A mad, mad, mad, mad county


We pay them each $78,265.44 per year.

Every month, we pay them $6,522.12 apiece to oversee the county’s various departments, to liaise with department leaders, to make sure the business of Yamhill County gets done.

At a time when the nation is starved for unity, two of our so-called nonpartisan county commissioners are going well outside the scope of their duties to enact pointless, divisive, unnecessary hyper-partisan legislation. After a year of quarantine, we have an anxious public, some worried about the safety of COVID vaccinations, others scrambling to secure a vaccination. The local economy is in shambles after a year of lockdown. Homelessness is rampant, worse than it’s ever been in this area. Yet Yamhill County Commissioners Mary Starrett and Lindsay Berschauer are focused on getting a high-profile and largely pointless gun sanctuary measure passed. And we are paying them handsomely for this exercise in personal grandstanding.

I want to be clear it’s not the subject of firearms that chafes me. In fact, I’ve participated in a great deal of recent discussion on firearms regulation and I am convinced a firmly centrist approach with two-way dialogue is the only way to proceed on that issue.

No, it’s not the issue that bugs me. It’s the overwrought departure from the traditional duties of a Yamhill County commissioner. Even though positions are technically nonpartisan, everyone knows Commissioner Casey Kulla is a pretty firm Democrat. Likewise, Commissioners Starrett and Berschauer make no secret of their hard right tilt. But at least Commissioner Kulla has the good grace to pretend like he cares about the spectrum of his constituents. Many people even believe he actually tries to represent a broad swath. By contrast, Starrett and Berschauer seem to enjoy nothing more than giving a hearty “up yours!” to Democrats, centrists, moderates and even some sane Republicans. No pretense of consideration outside the base.

We’re paying $156,530.88 of county money to two commissioners who do not give the tiniest crap about half of their constituents. Not even enough of a crap to pretend they like us.

On the heels of the unnecessarily bloody death of the Yamhelas Westsider Trail and the potentially huge debt liability attached to its demise, we were told with a straight face that saddling the county with a two million dollar debt was the correct conservative action — apparently, no one remembered fiscal conservatism. Not a trace of irony and not a shred of concern for the other half.

When challenged about the inappropriate, unnecessary, totally out-of-the-scope-of-their-duties nature of this ridiculous gun sanctuary measure, we’re told gun rights are an important part of life in Yamhill County. So is social security. So is health care. So is the economy. But apparently silly things like health care or the economy aren’t important enough to earn a grandiose look-at-me virtue signal from Starrett and Berschauer. Coming as it does after a year of lockdown, I can’t believe guns have more immediate importance to two of our county commissioners than health care or the economy.

We elected them to run the county, not embark on personal, controversial crusades. If they can’t pretend they like the other half, the least they could do is pretend to be focused on the county — you know, the mundane, administrative tasks they’re supposed to oversee. But that’s the boring stuff that doesn’t garner headlines and attention.

Meanwhile, we’re paying $156,530.88 a year for this giant, unnecessary, pointless exercise in divisive politicking. So many terms come to mind. Out of touch. Tone deaf. Self-serving. Those are the polite ones.