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Posts published in August 2021

A spiritual second opinion


To my Christian brothers and sisters who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, this message is for you. It is neither a mockery nor a condemnation of your choice — it is simply a reminder that rejecting the vaccine is not the only choice you can make as a committed Christian.

I fear the fingers of politics have wormed their way into the church on this issue. Even if your own pastor rejects vaccination, there are many conservative clergy who recommend the opposite: getting vaccinated. I repeat this message not to criticize, but because it’s only a matter of time until someone I love dies from a COVID infection simply because they chose not to receive the vaccination.

To illustrate this point, Pastor George Davis of Impact Church in Jacksonville, Florida says it better than I can. When asked why his church was hosting a vaccination event, he replied that six of his church members died in the last 10 days. Four of them under were under the age of 35 and at least one was a teenager. All were healthy. All were unvaccinated.

“And I’m tired of crying about and burying people I love,” said Pastor George. “So take the political and religious games somewhere else!”

If you believe this must be another “liberal” social justice church, you should have a look at the church’s website. Check out the “what we believe” and “core values” pages, while you’re there. URL:

Yes, I am aware some of you can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons. I understand that — this message is not for you. If you have chosen to remain unvaccinated for reasons unrelated to your faith, same thing. If your reasons are purely political, man, that’s just crazy. But if your decision to avoid vaccination lies within your faith or comes from your church family, I urge you to look at other churches and clergy to see what they say. Think of it as a sort of “spiritual second opinion.” You’ll find a lot of them are also opposed to vaccination. But I guarantee, if you look, you will find socially conservative congregations and parishes with like-minded clergy who nevertheless recommend getting vaccinated.

You do have more than one choice.

Pastor George offered this prayer:

Dear Father God,

Thank you for the wisdom and insight you’ve given to the scientists and medical community to be able to develop a vaccine that is effective against this hideous virus.

For the many of us who have been praying for a resolution, we thank you for providing one. I now humbly ask you to help us all weed through the bickering, finger-pointing, partisan politics, fear, religious extremism and conspiracy theories to see the gift that lies in front of us.

Please speak to the hearts of those who are truly seeking guidance to help them see whether it is or is not your will for them to be vaccinated. And help us to all come together with reasonable hearts to do what is best for one another.

I ask this in Jesus’ name.


All I can add is my own “amen.”

When law enforcement won’t


“There are 100,000 to 200,000 people
walking around America today who
will be dead by the end of the year.....
and mostly self-inflicted.”

Those are the words of Dr. John Moore, Immunologist, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York. For the unvaccinated, those words should be a clarion call to get the shot(s). Doubtful.

We’ve all heard a bucketful of excuses from the unprotected. Enough already! Now, when I hear some off-the-wall cretin spouting gibberish, I remember another physician and his prediction: Dr. Anthony Fauci, well-credentialed medical spokesman.

“Facing the Delta variant, without the protection afforded by the vaccine, you will be infected.”

You would think that just about anyone in a position of authority, noting such dour warnings, would be a natural leader in the drive to get people medically protected from COVID and its variants.

Not so, I’m afraid.

While I know of at least a dozen cases of lawmen rejecting the mandate
of Oregon’s Governor Brown, regarding masks and other protective measures, let’s just deal with Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin.

Physically, Hanlin’s a big, square-shouldered guy with a blond buzzcut. A striking physical presence when in his uniform with sidearm. Every bit the specimen you’d want on a recruiting poster.

Hanlin recently notified residents of Douglas County - in an overly long news release - that he will not be enforcing any mandate for anything. Period. While he notes, in his broadside, he’s “responsible for the peace and safety of those in Douglas County,” he demurs when it comes to someone making emergency safety rules for “those in Douglas County.”

Here’s another tidbit from Douglas County. Last week Dr. Martin Hill and his wife were driving through, on the way to the coast. While in Roseburg, Dr. Hill had a heart attack. His wife, a former Douglas County Commissioner, quickly drove to the local hospital.

Hill, who should have been admitted and treated, wasn’t. The hospital was at capacity with COVID patients. Packed in everywhere. So, Hill was treated as an outpatient and sent on his way.

Am I the only one who sees the link between Hanlin and Dr. Hill? Isn’t there some connection to the Sheriff refusing to enforce lawfully issued orders for self-protection from COVID and heart attack victim Hill being turned away from that hospital because COVID patients filled the place?

Several years ago, Sheriff Hanlin loudly took another stand that should be noted as we discuss his being “responsible for the peace and safety......etc.” That time, it was to announce - to all and sundry - he would not enforce any gun control laws coming from the Obama administration. Further, his deputies were ordered to arrest and jail any federal lawmen who tried to enforce compliance.

He’s been roundly elected since.

Many members of the Oregon Sheriffs’ Association have taken the same rejecting “hands off” position as Hanlin. If it’s “peace and safety” you want in Oregon, you might want to rethink calling 911. At least in Douglas County.

I’ve had the Pfizer shots. Both of ‘em. Each took about 20 minutes with 15 of those minutes sitting in my car, listening to the radio, while waiting to see if there were any side-affects. There weren’t.

The politicization of this shot business, and the refusal of the Hanlin’s of this world to do their duties to protect citizens that elect them, makes no sense. Throw in the picking-and-choosing of which laws to enforce and which to ignore by law enforcement leaves you wondering if you really are safe.

Counties - in Oregon and elsewhere - are not political fiefdoms for duly elected sheriff’s to decide which laws - or legal mandates - they’ll enforce and which they won’t.

In the tumult of the last five years, much has changed - with a world pandemic, the tortuous Trump years, Republicans block-voting to nearly bring our national government to a standstill - all that and more has upended our world. Stability has been in short supply.

In Douglas County, Oregon, and too many other counties in that state and elsewhere, the traditional community stability and safety of past years are also..... in short supply.

About ‘personal choice’


During an August 18 meeting of the Nampa City Council, a councilman voiced what has become a familiar refrain of late, saying that people should have the “personal choice” of whether to mask up or get vaccinated. Getting carried away, he compared mandatory Covid-19 protective measures to racial segregation. Disregarding this outrageous comparison, are people entitled to their own personal choice when the health or safety of others is at risk from a virus or other known threat? George Washington would likely say no.

When the ranks of his troops were being decimated by the smallpox virus in 1776, Washington ordered the mass smallpox inoculation of the Continental Army. He knew that the overall good of his troops and the success of the Revolutionary War were much more important than the objections of the Continental Congress or the wishes of individual soldiers. He was proven right and, as a consequence, we gained our independence from Great Britain.

Americans have become accustomed to having their personal choices limited in order to serve the public good. I’ve experienced it time and again during my almost eight decades. It used to be that a person could exercise their personal choice to light up a cigarette at almost any time or place. When we learned that second-hand smoke is deadly--each year, it causes about 7,330 lung cancer deaths and 33,950 deaths from heart disease--governments across the country banned it in most indoor settings. There was great outcry from smokers at first, but we now accept it as good public policy.

Some people griped to high heaven when governments first spoke of prohibiting texting while driving several years ago. When it became apparent that it kills around 35,000 people a year, texting-while-driving laws became commonplace. It is not a permissible personal choice.

Into the 1960s, police officers would often tell folks pulled over for drunken driving to go home and sleep it off. Tough laws began appearing on the books after that point, with the full support of the public. Drunk driving is no longer an acceptable personal choice. It killed 10,142 people in 2019.

Drug Laws prohibit us from personally choosing to smoke or inject controlled substances. Drug abuse caused 67,367 deaths in the U.S. in 2018, with 250 occurring in Idaho. We are not allowed to make that personal choice.

Suffice it to say, there are many instances where governments of the people correctly decide that the health and safety of the public overrides the personal choice of individuals. That is a necessary ingredient of a civilized nation. It is especially so where a highly communicable disease, which is primarily spread upon the breath of human carriers, threatens infection and death to thousands of others.

The death toll from the coronavirus greatly exceeds that from each and every one of the other health hazards mentioned above. There were about 380,000 Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. in 2020 and 265,000 so far this year. The delta variant is currently surging across the State, filling ICU beds to capacity, and jeopardizing any progress made thus far against the pandemic. Governor Little has correctly pointed out that since the first of this year, over 98% of Covid19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths have been among the unvaccinated.

We readily accept limitations on our personal choices to safeguard society from drunk drivers, drug abusers, smokers, texting drivers and the potential carriers of a variety of diseases in our public schools. Why won’t we stand for simple limitations on our personal choices, like wearing masks and getting a couple of safe and effective shots, to protect ourselves and others from hospitalization and possible death from this very infectious virus? That would be a valid, compassionate, life-saving personal choice for all of us, while also serving the public good. The Pfizer vaccine received final approval from the FDA on August 23, so get vaccinated Idaho!



Recently I received an email from Senator Jim Risch in which he lambasted President Biden for overseeing a “disastrous exit from Afghanistan.”

He complained, “The tragedy that is unfolding did not have to happen this way. This is a result of naivety and a lack of planning. I asked the Administration for their plans for months and they offered nothing. The American people and our allies deserve better."

Senator, with all due respect, I believe your Idaho constituents deserve better.

Recall that Risch supported President George W. Bush when Bush got the U.S. into an unwinnable war 20 years ago. Consider, too, that Risch’s vague and partisan broadside is quite a contrast to his response to former president Trump when Trump abandoned Syria, evacuated none of our Kurdish allies, and handed over our military bases to Russia.

In an interview reported in the Idaho Press on October 10, 2019, Risch said, “You keep wanting me to say, ‘I support, or I oppose.’ He is the commander in chief,” Risch said. “I support that America has a commander in chief, and he has to make decisions on the battlefield, and that’s how these decisions should be made, is on the battlefield.”

He added, “Once the commander in chief makes a decision, whatever that decision is, America needs to get behind the commander in chief or we got a huge problem.”

It seems Senator Risch has one rule for Republican presidents and another for Democratic presidents.

We did not hear Senator Risch complain about former President Trump’s deal with the Taliban which resulted in the release of 5,000 of the most dangerous Taliban from Pakistani prison where they had been incarcerated. Nor do we have any evidence that Risch asked for Trump’s plans to make good on his commitment that the U.S. would be out of Afghanistan by May 21, 2021.

Likewise, we don’t recall Senator Risch bellyaching when Trump himself drew down the number of troops, nor did Risch express concern about Trump reaching this deal with the Taliban without including the Afghan government in negotiations. In fact, Risch was silent even when Trump talked of inviting the Taliban to Camp David.

Was the Senator aware that the Trump Administration had slowed down the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) review process resulting in the Biden Administration inheriting a significant backlog of more than 17,000 SIV applicants?

Did he have a crystal ball allowing him to foresee that, after the U.S. had committed billions of dollars in training and equipping Afghan troops these past twenty years, the Afghan forces would simply crumple and disband at the Taliban’s advance? Did he expect the leaders of the Afghan government to flee the country and abandon their countrymen as the Taliban approached Kabul? If so, why didn’t he speak up?

Yes, it is important to understand how the initial stage of the exit could have been better executed, but the fact remains that the U.S. has successfully evacuated more than 110,000 people from Afghanistan in two weeks’ time. We have prioritized American citizens and Afghanis who helped our personnel. Our government and our military are doing yeoman’s work.

It seems that “different strokes for different folks,” is the name of the game for Senator Risch. Instead of carping about President Biden while the U.S. is in the middle of a dangerous overseas mission, perhaps Risch should consider his own words: “Once the commander in chief makes a decision, whatever that decision is, America needs to get behind the commander in chief or we got a huge problem.”

Redistricting issues


The new census data for Idaho was released this month, and for Southern Idaho, there’s likely to be more pressure on the Democratic island of Blaine County and District 26 which could well tip to Republicans in coming elections.

The reason is in the numbers. The Wood River Valley with its traditional Democratic representation in the Legislature, is surrounded by three other counties that are solidly Republican: Gooding, Camas and Lincoln. Those three in the past have not had enough population to outweigh Blaine County’s liberals, so the district has had mostly Democratic legislators for several terms.

But new census numbers show Blaine County does not have enough population on its own (24,272) to warrant its own seats. Looking in any direction, it’s a Republican landscape, county by county all through the central and Southern Idaho. There are no adjacent areas of Democratic strength from which to draw liberal voters.

The upshot is that the district will be much more competitive for Republicans in any new configuration and thus puts at risk the long-held Democratic seats.

The really good news, from a GOP perspective, is that the rest of the Magic Valley is solidly Republican and unlikely to change much with the new census. District 24, Twin Falls city, has almost precisely the population numbers to keep its legislative profile. The same is true for District 25, rural Twin Falls County and Jerome County, which are heavily agricultural and have been Republican for decades. Population growth in these two counties fits almost exactly with the new census “target” population of 52,556 per district.

District 23, which now includes several precincts in Western Twin Falls County, could go undergo a reconfiguration if the Twin Falls precincts are returned to their home county. That would leave district 23 with just two counties, Owyhee and Elmore, which don’t have enough population and thus would need more numbers to get the magic figure of 52,556. So the two counties might be attached to a larger physical district that would likely be closer to Boise and include towns on the North side of the Snake River.

District 27, Cassia and Minidoka Counties, could expand East to pick up precincts and communities closer to the American Falls reservoir.

There are two basic reasons behind these changes. One is rapid growth or Idaho’s overall population, but the growth has not been even across the state. Larger communities have benefited more; smaller communities and less-populated counties were either flat or in some cases declined.

The other reason is Idaho’s odd shape. Redistricting plans going back several decades start at the top of the state and continue South and East, adding districts. Redistricting law also requires districts to have common interests and to follow existing county lines to the degree possible. Any wide variation from this one-man-one-vote standard is likely to draw a lawsuit.

Thus, the Treasure Valley will pick up one new district based on population growth, which squeezes current representation of more conservative parts of the state. Depending on how that new district is drawn, it will impact Democratic numbers and seats. It is thus likely to be sharply contested in the redistricting process and subsequent elections.

Indeed, strategically thinking, Democrats may be better positioned long-term in the new Treasure Valley district than in isolated, outlying areas like Blaine County.
For those isolated Democrat islands in a Republican sea, Democratic prospects are risky and dimmer. Except for resort and college towns, (Moscow and Teton County), Democrats are likely to remain the distant minority party overall outside of Boise and Ada County.

We saw this pattern in 2018 election, where Gov. Brad Little carried every precinct in the Magic Valley outside of Blaine County. An extreme liberal Democrat candidate like his opponent, Paulette Jordan, is unlikely to substantially change the big picture, and even less likely to win the state.

This Idaho pattern can be seen in other states where political polarization is occurring by region, urban versus rural, resort town versus rural countryside, natural resource economy versus tourism and recreation.(Idaho Capital Sun, 8/20).

It’s a fact of American political life today that where you live and what you do shape your views of politics and your voting preferences. Add in other factors like family structure, faith patterns, and employment in various industries, and it’s easy to see how Southern Idaho is likely to retain its basic social profile for the foreseeable future, which means Republican. That’s good news if you’re in the GOP, less so if you’re a Democrat.

Contests will still be spirited. Traditional Republicans will continue to hold most of the region, but more ideological partisans on the right could emerge.
Redistricting thus has another level which is more reliant on local politics than ever. It’s been that way and American government for decades; the new census won’t change those Idaho patterns appreciably.

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

Our unserious politics


This week marks what would have been both the 90th birthday of former Idaho governor and secretary of the interior Cecil D. Andrus, and the fourth anniversary of his death in 2017.

For more than 30 years, Andrus stood astride the state’s politics like a colossus, a bigger than life character to many Idahoans, and arguably both the best pure politician the state has ever produced and the most successful. It’s hard to believe now, given the wacky worm hole of incompetent craziness that has sucked the life and seriousness out of Idaho’s dominant Republican party, that Andrus once consistently won elections and legislative victories against real conservatives. He even occasionally brought them along for real progress. No other Idahoan has been elected governor four times, let alone a Democrat. It was no accident.

Andrus is remembered, by those old enough to remember, for his sharp wit and his sharp elbows. He was a champion of political give and take. He picked his enemies as carefully as he picked his friends, and while he certainly had an ego – and a record to justify it – he rarely took himself too seriously.

He delighted in telling stories that poked fun at himself. A favorite he appropriated from his friend Arizona Congressman Mo Udall and used often. Andrus would say to a political crowd, usually in an election year, that he had been campaigning in some Idaho community where his popularity was in doubt – say Twin Falls or Rexburg – and had gone into a barber shop to secure the vote of the town barber. In and of itself that was a funny set up, since Andrus had been follically challenged from his 20’s.

Andrus would then recount his conversation with barber. “Hi, I’m Cece Andrus and I’m running for governor,” Andrus would say. Then he’d relate the barber’s response: “Yup, we were just laughing about that this morning.”

It takes style, humor and confidence to tell a joke on yourself, but it also takes one thing that Andrus had an abundance of that is so sorely missing among so many of today’s political empty suits: seriousness. Andrus would often follow his “laughing about that” story with the substance of why he loved being governor – he wanted to do things. He consistently championed a better Idaho education system. He stood up for schoolteachers. He was elected the first time on a pledge to improve Idaho’s north-south highway and protect Castle Peak in central Idaho, and he did.

He stood up to the Department of Energy on the fed’s plan to dump nuclear waste in Idaho and stopped them cold. He passed the first land use and stream channel protection laws. He created kindergartens. He appointed the first women to the state’s highest courts and when the closet bigots sought to deny a holiday celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrus made it a priority.

That is political substance, what seriousness of purpose looks like. Pause a moment and think of a current politician and then try to remember what they have done to move their community, their state, their nation forward. In most cases you’ll find a pretty empty frame. Political substance is as endangered as Northwest salmon.

While I could easily make the case that the political substance problem is asymmetrical – a lot more Republican inanity that Democratic – I’ll give in to whataboutism and make this bipartisan.

Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, spent a few hours in Kabul this week, engaged in what can only be described as a political stunt. (Moulton took a Republican with him just to make the pointless stunt transparently bipartisan.) The trip only complicated security in the chaos of the American withdrawal. It had no point beyond generating attention. Will Moulton’s visit change the arc of the story line in Afghanistan? Of course not. He was engaged only in political theatre. No substance, period.

And there’s New York’s now former governor Andrew Cuomo, a disgraced serial sexual harasser who was forced to resign to avoid being impeached. Cuomo, a Democrat once considered a contender for things beyond Albany, went down whining. Cuomo could have chosen to just leave, but he left as he governed: boorish, defiant, boastful. No real apology. No self-awareness. No substance just a brooding, angry white guy whose only real purpose in politics was to wield power.

Columnist Paul Waldman recently noted that for some politicians “pandering comes naturally.” He cited the reprehensible, substance free Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who, Waldman wrote “couldn’t tell you what time it is without sounding creepily insincere.”

All true, but you have to go some distance to top the insincere political pandering of Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio. Most of us who read Vance’s memoir – Hillbilly Elegy – gave the young man the benefit of the doubt about what appeared to be his genuine effort to understand the despair and disillusion of so many folks in rural America. Vance initially rejected Trumpish nationalism, immigrant blaming and boastful bluster in favor of a real effort to address the opioid epidemic and the economic hollowing out of middle America. That was then.

Now Vance is a candidate, a Fox New hero, an immigrant basher – particularly Afghans – and he cleaned up his social media feed to purge evidence of his once and never again anti-Trumpism. Vance is the perfect candidate for our substance free politics. Do anything, say anything and hope the rubes won’t notice your vacuousness.

And then there is Jim Jordan. You’ve no doubt seen the bloviating Ohio congressman on cable TV, shouting at a congressional hearing or egging on the January 6 insurrectionists. “Jordan’s impact on broadcast and social media is extraordinary,” the website Just Security reported recently, where he has never – not once – peddled substance. Jordan is a serial fabulist who exists in national politics not because of his intelligence or accomplishment, but because he is a loud and skilled purveyor of garbage, conspiracy theories and misinformation. For Jordan substance is as lacking as the suit jacket he refuses to wear.

In a more serious country with more serious politics, these clowns and charlatans, and countless others like them, would be relegated to political purgatory, hooted out of office – or never elected in the first place – for the same reason you couldn’t stand the guy in high school who cared about nothing but himself. They are empty vessels. When the country cries out for the kind of principled, pragmatic leadership a Cece Andrus once provided, we get pygmies and pretenders.

We can do better. We have done better. But it won’t get better unless we demand it.

Reordering the list


In the 1963 territorial centennial edition of the state government’s Idaho Almanac, you can find population statistics for local areas, based on the then-recent census, that might come as a surprise today.

The list of largest cities in Idaho is topped not by the perennial big city of the state (and even territory) - Boise - but rather by Pocatello, which in 1960 had 39,194 residents compared to Boise’s 34,481.

And Boise was barely hanging on to second place: Idaho Falls, in a growth mode then with the development of the national nuclear laboratory, was close behind with 33,161, and gaining on the capital city.

The exact numbers may seem a little quaint now, six decades out. And they - and cities’ rank orders - got that way partly because of several flukes. Pocatello had only recently swallowed the neighboring city of Alameda (and wasn’t far from doing the same to Chubbuck), while Boise had been holding off for some years annexing nearby unincorporated areas that were rapidly urbanizing, especially on the south side of town. Soon after (and maybe prompted by some light embarrassment at losing the state’s pole position to Pocatello), Boise did annex new areas, and gained the most-populous label it hasn’t come close to relinquishing since.

Pocatello, on the other hand, now ranks sixth in population among Idaho cities.

It’s been quite a drop in rank order, and relatively recent. When I lived in Pocatello in the 70s and 80s it was firmly ensconced as the state’s second city, albeit well behind Boise by then. Since then it hasn’t declined; the Gate City’s population has continued to grow, and it did in the last decade. It just didn’t grow by nearly as much as some of the other cities.

If that sounds like a sad story for Pocatello, don’t be so sure. Some of the advocates for boom growth may fall into the category of being careful what you wish for.

The molten hot engine of population growth in Idaho is the city of Meridian, which in 1960 had just crossed the threshold of 2,000 people. (I remember it most clearly, from my early visits there in the 70s, when it still was about that size, and just a tiny country farm town.) Now, 60 years later, it is more than 50 times as large, a close match for, say, Scottsdale, Arizona, featuring the most stunning local growth trajectory in Idaho.

Such growth was not opposed by people locally, at least in general; population and economic growth long have been considered an overwhelming good in those parts. Some of those effects clearly are good, and much of the city has a prosperous feel, but Meridian still is a mixed bag. Its crowding (not only in traffic but in residential locales too) has become uncomfortable for some people. Its taxes are rising, ironic for an area that long has been anti-tax, but inevitable for a place needing new schools and police and fire stations, added infrastructure, and much more. Fast-growth cities are expensive places for home prices, government costs and other needs.

Next door in Caldwell - the city that grew so fast it bumped Pocatello from fifth to sixth - the pressures have become visible and public. In some parts of town, city officials are trying to draw a slowdown or maybe halt on residential development, in large part because there’s not enough room or capacity for commercial and service growth to serve all those new residents. Caldwell, another of Idaho’s hot growth spots, has a proverbial tiger by its tail.

Growth trajectories often have unpredictable lines. Where will the growth come from - and where might it avoid - in the next six decades? No telling.



It was back in my elementary school days when I could have political and philosophical discussions with my father. It was the golden years, before Viet Nam, and his Greatest Generation, WWII credibility still glowed for me. It didn’t matter that he had no visible skills or initiative, other than playing poker and dreaming, I still held him in regard, probably like most children do who aren’t abused.

He would talk about how our society wasted it’s time and effort prosecuting “victimless crimes”. To his way of thinking, prostitution, narcotic use, and his vice, gambling shouldn’t be illegal. “Society has no place victimizing, prosecuting, fining or jailing people who are just hurting themselves.” You can imagine a third grader pondering such wisdom.

But I did. Then, I found myself in medical school. The chronic alcoholics and drug abusers filled the ER bays and hospital beds. They took up my time, my energy. My fatigue, both physical and emotional made me start to feel victimized. Maybe that helped me learn to keep an emotional distance from others’ woes. It sure reminded me of my now estranged father’s wisdom.

When I came to Moscow, Idaho we would take turns being the “on call” doctor for unattended (non-paying) ER admissions. I remember watching one young man dying from his chronic alcohol use. His third admission in two months was particularly rough. He came to the ER skinny, covered in his own feces, unconscious, near death.

By the luck of the draw, I had been his doctor for the previous two admits and got him this time too. When he could talk, I asked him if he wanted to die. He would not answer me.

From all evidence he was doing just that, killing himself.

I had settled in Idaho, a state with my father’s political slant. If people are actively suicidal, they can be declared by the court to be a danger to themselves or others and committed to state custody. I asked the social worker if this man met those criteria. She shook her head. “Idaho statute prohibits commitment for alcohol abuse.”

Thus, to some extent, Idaho law protects the freedoms of people so inclined. I smiled as the quiet social worker explained this distinction to me. People with a mental disease who wish themselves harm and are going to act on it can have their freedoms taken away, but if they wish to drink themselves to death, the state keeps hands off. I think my dad would have appreciated this legal sentiment, though he might have taken it a bit further. “Why commit anyone to protect them from themselves?” I can imagine him saying.

So, when people refuse to be immunized or wear masks, I have an understanding of their choice. The fact that their choice affects others around them is not unlike the young man’s alcoholism. His family was distant, estranged. He lived on the street. If the ambulance hadn’t picked him up and brought him to the hospital, he wouldn’t be causing me problems.

The full hospitals now, the overflowing ICUs, the tired nurses and doctors have my sympathy. I can understand their frustration with the work they have to do.

But similarly, I can understand the refusers perspective too. I have chosen to be immunized. I think it will protect my health and those close to me. Other choices are valid but have their consequences. I do not feel safe from infection because of my immunization, and evidence suggests I am right. But the evidence is still coming in. We could fight about it all day.

Maybe that’s why Dad liked poker. He had to use the evidence he had and make his decision and the flop told you who won. This pandemic hasn’t come to the flop yet, though for many of its victims, it has.

Afghanistan bashing


Republicans are having a field day going after President Biden … and to think, we’re more than a year away until the mid-term elections.

The president already has been catching heat from the GOP on his proposed $3.5 trillion spending spree that’s before Congress, which has provided plenty of press-release fodder for Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo. Risch has branded the plan as an attempt by Biden and Democrats to turn the U.S. into a socialist nation. Crapo has called the plan “reckless.” Being in the minority, there’s not much Risch and Crapo can do to stop that Democratic steamroller, aside from expressing their objections and casting “no” votes.

But the spending package is, excuse the pun, small potatoes compared to the president’s recent actions in Afghanistan. And not all the heat has come from the GOP side, although Republicans have been quite vocal.

Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the president’s action was taken “without any clear plan to protect our interests, our citizens and our closest friends.” Afghanistan will now serve as a future platform for terrorist attacks against the United States and allies.

“The Taliban always has and always will be a terrorist organization, and it will support al Qaeda’s re-emergence. We cannot treat it or its leaders as a legitimate government,” Risch said. “The situation at the Kabul airport only highlights how little thought the Biden administration put into taking care of American interests. President Biden and his administration must answer for this disaster. It didn’t have to be this way.”

Crapo said the “haphazard withdrawal” from Afghanistan “is a failure of presidential leadership and was based on an arbitrary timeline, not on-the-ground intelligence.”

Former President Trump weighed in, calling Biden’s action “an embarrassment.” Of course, there’s no guarantee that Trump – who wanted American troops out by May 1, would have produced a better result. He talks tough about what he would do with the Taliban, but any kind of retaliation would have been tough with American troops getting out of Dodge4. One thing that is fairly certain is that Idaho senators would have put the best spin on the situation if Trump’s exit plan had failed.

But political speculation only counts in coffee shops. Whether Trump would have done better or worse is a matter of debate for the television talking heads. Biden has to live in real time and should be judged accordingly.

One point that most people seem to agree with is that withdrawal needed to happen at some point – whether it was May 1, or today.

“President Biden is right to call for an end to the 20-year war,” said former Idaho Democratic Congressman Larry LaRocco. “Like the English and Russians before us, we were viewed as invaders and occupiers. This perception fueled the national will of the Taliban. Our mission in Afghanistan ended with Bin Laden’s death. President Biden kept his word. The focus on counter-terrorism, humanitarian relief and refugees must now begin in concert with the world community.”

But did it have to be this messy? The president expressed “surprise” that the Taliban worked so rapidly in taking over Afghanistan. This revelation came from a man who served eight years as vice president and a long career in the Senate overseeing foreign policy.

Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, for one, isn’t buying the president’s explanation.
“He miscalculated? We saw them riding to Kabul on their horses. Hell, you could see the dust clouds on the horizon. They were coming – and in many ways, they are still that primitive,” Craig said. “For (Biden) not to know, not to be informed, not to have advanced with his military a strategy to require a staged exit before the military is unbelievable. It’s not just unbelievable, but inexcusable.”

Craig, a Trump supporter, thinks the former president would have handled the situation better – working with the military and others to produce a more graceful exit strategy.

“If this style of exit happened under Trump, you can rest assured that I would be every bit as critical. This was a boondoggle under the first order,” Craig said.
And one that will live in infamy – or at least until the mid-term elections.

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