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Posts published in October 2021

Sal Celeski

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Sal Celeski, who died last week at 87, has not really been a public figure in Idaho since the mid-80s, when he closed out a couple of decades or so as news director of KTVB-TV in Boise and host of the Viewpoints interview program.

Back then - a disclosure, I was an occasional panelist on Viewpoints - he was known as a sharp newsman (a fine interviewer), well connected, with unusual insight into the area’s business and political community.

In the years since, he has become a more significant if mostly unheralded Idaho figure, central in how many of its key people have kept informed and gotten along over the last couple of generations. He was unique in Idaho, and I don’t know how we’ll replace him, or that we will.

When he left KTVB, he founded a political and public relations company called Impact; nothing unusual in that. What was unusual was his first two major clients, announced at the same time: senior Senator James McClure, a Republican, and former (and about to be again) Governor Cecil Andrus, a Democrat. He advised the upper ranks of Idaho politics (and business, and notably the legal community) and not just one side of each: He talked to everybody. And often, he got them to talk to each other too.

He did a number of things over the years that gave force to his company’s name, such as the faxes (later emails) of Idaho news stories he’d send out daily to clients and many other people (another disclosure, I was one of them) that helped keep a lot of key sectors in Idaho up to speed.

But the social group he led may have had more effect still.

I don't know when he launched what came to be called the “Moon’s group,” probably around the end of the 80s. It was named for the long-standing combination breakfast joint-coffee shop-fishing supply store on Bannock Street, had a designated large table in the back, and more or less retained the name even after the group had to move to other locations before being crunched by the pandemic.

I started attending somewhere in the early 90s, and even after moving from Boise I’d stop in whenever I could. I hated to miss it. The regular and irregular attendees were a roster of Idaho’s political, legal, governmental, media and business old hands, people like Mike Southcombe, Perry Swisher, Allyn Dingel, Jim Lynch, Karl Shurtliff, Charles McDevitt, Darrell Manning, Bill Roden, Mike Wetherell, Mike Johnson, David Frazier, Shirl Boyce, Vivian Kein, Jim Kerns, Ernie Hoidel, John Runft, and many more (apologies to the many others not named). Pardon the short-handing here: Describing the depth of their backgrounds in Idaho would take multiple columns.

The conversations were as lively as the personalities were strong, but I never saw a discussion turn into a shouting match or angry walkout, nor did the camaraderie ever curdle. The people overall had something to do with it, but the key was the man whose group this was - it could have been called the Celeski group, though Celeski would never have permitted it. With humor and sharp observation and a quiet, subtle authority, he kept the group from flying apart, and kept people together and talking.

I sometimes thought a book by Celeski about Idaho politics, government, law and business would have been a terrific read. I never proposed it to him solely because I knew what his answer would be: He liked to stay in the background. One of his last projects, on which I’ve been working as publisher (another disclosure there), owed a tremendous amount to his relentless years-long labor on it, but his name isn’t slated for the front page, for the same reason he wanted no obituary or funeral when he passed.

Sorry Sal: You’re getting this column anyway.

Consider this a call for someone to pick up where Celeski left off. We need someone and something pushing against the idea that anyone who thinks differently from me is the enemy and should be dismissed. We must be able to talk with other, not yell at each other.

Celeski knew that and lived by it. We need more people like him now, more than ever, who do.
 

Lines crossed

schmidt

There have been recent calls from Idaho Republicans asking Idaho Democrats to cross over and register Republican for the May primary to “save Idaho Republicans”. It seems Idaho Republicans are afraid of being run over by Idaho Freedom Foundation Republicans.

I’m not sure what to call these two groups, since they haven’t picked names for themselves. But they do call each other names. The slur I hear most commonly addressed to mainstream Idaho Republicans from the Freedom Foundation faction is “Rinos”. And the backatcha from the mainstream Republicans toward the IFF R’s might be “wacko” Republicans.

Usually there are no quotations marks around wacko: I just put those there for the sake of politeness. As an Idaho Democrat commenting publicly on the Idaho Republican landscape, I feel like I’m walking on thin ice. But polite behavior in politics rarely wins any votes these days. Like I said, I’m an Idaho Democrat.

Both former Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones and former BSU President Bob Kustra have publicly made the pleas to the dozen or so Idaho Democrats remaining in the state. It was quite an honor to be recognized as living humans, since most learned individuals have accepted that Idaho Democrats are an extinct species. Like Sockeye Salmon, Chinook and Steelhead, some species just have to fade away, dwindle to nothing for our state to progress as the majority see progress in this very odd state.

I am so glad this is now a subject we can openly discuss. Like our nephew’s sexuality or our own gambling addiction, it’s best to get all these perplexing positions out in the open. Code words just confuse. Honesty and openness are always the best policy.

But let’s just start with what we call ourselves. If you want the dozen or two Idaho Democrats to help you out, could you fellow Idahoans asking for our votes please identify yourselves?

In the old days, political parties organized and took a name. The Bull Moose faction was a split from Republicans to support Teddy Roosevelt. They made bull moose signs and campaign pins.

Southern Dixiecrats were racist Democrats opposing civil rights. They were Democrats only because Lincoln was a Republican. They didn’t ditch racism to make Democrats look better.

At least we had a name for who we supported, who we opposed.

It’s time for Idaho Republicans to choose a name for themselves. The wackos and the Rinos must be different since they hate each other so much. Quit hiding under the big tent. I’m not sure I want in if I can’t tell who is in there and you are fighting so bitterly. What is the difference between you since you all voted for Trump?

Let me know your name! I’ll consider it. But honestly, when I register with your “normal = rhino” group (Pro Trump with a wink) , I’ll be signing up with the “wacko” group (Pro Trump with a roar) too. Or should I just ignore that? Jeez, you guys are confusing.

It would be strategic for the 10 or 11 other Idaho Democrats out there to act in unison and throw our weight all in one direction in an organized fashion. Wouldn’t that be the best way to have some influence in this unbalanced state?

But the 5 or 6 Bernie Idaho Democrats hate the 6 or 7 Biden Idaho Democrats.

Believe me, I know. I get their emails.

It truly is an honor that the Idaho “Not Crazy” (I think that’s a great label by the way) Republicans want my vote. I might love to support your needs with my vote. But can we negotiate? Since you need my vote so desperately, can we talk about some other issues? Like all-day kindergarten, or funding public schools?

Oh, I’m sorry. Was that impolite? I thought we were negotiating.
 

Not queen for a day

malloy

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who served as a state representative from Idaho Falls for a decade (2002-2012), has said often that she needed some time off from state politics to reflect and gain some perspective.

So when she was elected as lieutenant governor in 2018, becoming the first woman to win that office in the state’s history, McGeachin had a different outlook to go along with a promising political future.

Now, through a bizarre set of circumstances brought on by herself, McGeachin has turned Idaho – and herself -- into a national laughingstock. She has gained national attention from the Washington Post and CNN (among other outlets) for being that crazy lieutenant governor who decided to go rogue when Gov. Brad Little was out of the state.

In general terms, nothing good comes from a lieutenant governor who makes “news” when the governor is away for a few days. For McGeachin, a candidate for governor, it’s not the kind of attention she needs.

Personally, I prefer the “old” version of McGeachin to the one I’ve been seeing.

I had the opportunity to work with McGeachin during part of her time in the Legislature, serving as communication adviser for the House Republican caucus. She was well respected and mixed well with the conservative nature of the House. There was no pressing need for a right-wing “liberty” caucus and there was no Idaho Freedom Foundation keeping a scorecard on votes. The caucus, with few exceptions, was solidly on conservative ground.

When McGeachin was appointed to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, I saw how seriously she took that position. The preparation was extensive, and she took no shortcuts. After I had left, she was appointed chair of the Health and Welfare Committee – another challenging assignment. At home, she sailed through primary elections without opposition.

Now here she is, pathetically trying to explain away an executive order aimed at bolstering a campaign that appears to be floundering, at best. The wheels of Little’s plane were barely off the ground when she fired off a press release with this headline: “Today I took action to protect our children from vaccine passports.”

Little, who was in Texas talking with Republican governors about solutions to the border crisis, didn’t even wait to get home before reversing her action.

McGeachin says the media and critics have it wrong. “When Gov. Little has a temporary absence from the state, it is my duty and responsibility to perform such duties as acting governor until the governor returns to that state. That’s exactly what I did,” she said.

Of course, the constitution says nothing about McGeachin treating the governorship as her personal queendom – which is “exactly” what she did.

But there’s more. To McGeachin’s chagrin, the governor’s office revealed her communication with the adjutant general about deploying the National Guard, presumably to the southern border. “As acting governor, it is important that I understand all aspects of the job so that I can properly serve the people of Idaho.”

Balderdash. A few days as “acting governor” under an archaic rule does not change the fact that Little is Idaho’s duly elected governor. For practical purposes, he is perfectly capable of reacting to emergencies, or deploying the National Guard, whether he is in Texas or anywhere else.

Up to now, there has been no pressing need to change that old constitutional rule. Lieutenant governors have recognized that serving as “acting governor” does not equate to the beginning of a new administration.

But up to now, we haven’t had a lieutenant governor like McGeachin. Jim Jones, a former attorney general and Supreme Court Justice, said it well in a CNN clip. “This is the only lieutenant governor that I can recall that has acted like an idiot.”

So, how is all this showboating working in her campaign for governor? Maybe not so well. According to Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, McGeachin has raised just over $100,000 – which is well behind Little, who has not yet announced plans for re-election. She also trails in fund-raising to Ed Humphreys, a relatively unknown candidate who may emerge as the leading “conservative alternative” to Little if McGeachin continues with these stunts.

If she wants to get her campaign on track, McGeachin may need to show a little more of the old version of herself – opposed to the loose cannon that she has become.

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

A lack of permanence

rainey

A friend and I were lunching the other day, talking about this and that as friends will do. Discussions on any topic were fair game. Good guy.

One such topic was when he asked what was on my mind and I said “The lack of permanence.” I blurted it out. Then I expounded on it before giving it much serious thought. But, I gave it a lot of thought driving home. And since.

“The lack of permanence.”

For several years - and to this moment - I’ve felt anxieties, anger, a tendency to worry more about conditions and just a general unease. At first, I thought all these emotions - and more - were part of the aging process. After all, I’ve never been four-score-and-five before. And we aren’t born with a book of instructions to refer to as we go.

For nearly all my life, there’s been a sense of permanence, normalcy and order in nearly everything. Through all the troubles of this nation, we’ve survived, our living conditions normalized and our institutions stood firm. Some changes occurred and we adjusted. Returned to normal.

No longer! It just keeps changing and causing - in many - a sense of impermanence. A general lack of stability.

Take the USPS. You know, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor dark of night....” Permanence? Not under Louis DeJoy! Maybe the President can’t directly fire this guy who’s tearing our mail service apart. But, he can damn well fire the Board of Directors who keep the bastard in the job. Permanence? No!

Take public schools. Business as usual? Not since COVID, masks and “critical race theory.” Just consider the scholastic “wars” going on between school boards and angry parents nationwide. Some actual brawls over subject matter or vaccinations or just about anything. Definitely not permanence or the historic scholastic calm we’re used to.

Been shopping or dining out recently? Permanence? We tried to have breakfast out the other day. We were told we could be seated immediately but not served for an hour! Staff shortage in the kitchen? Quite likely.

Tried to drop off the family pup for a bath. Noted line from the back wall of the store to the single checkout. Poor management or staff shortage? Really doesn’t matter. That’s the “usual” in stores and other service business these days.

Church? Permanence? Ours didn’t meet in the sanctuary for months. Used the I-net. Now, meeting in person, more than half the seats roped off, no touching and masks highly recommended. No social time following services. Is that the church you remember all these years?

Car buying? Is it “business as usual” at the dealership? Not now. Inventory down to 10-12 cars on the lot. Prices at sticker. Or above. Shopping for cars online is the big thing. But, even there, sold-out or greatly reduced inventory. Chip shortage. Some dealerships closing. Try making a shop appointment. A week or two out.

Grocery stores. Same old shopping experience? Hardly. Many shelves empty. Short inventory. Fewer check-out stands open.

Personal banking? Some have closed lobbies. Others allow only two or three customers at a time if lobby is open. Staffing levels cut. Branches with four or five employees. In some, no loan officers. Business as usual?

Congress? Effective? NO! The political parties are so divided little is done while needs of citizens go unmet. Poll after poll shows where the nation is on urgent issues - jobs, infrastructure, foreign affairs - even abortion. But, none seem to matter to congressional leaders, as they ignore the will of voters who sent them to the Potomac shores.

Sense of permanence in government? Again, hardly. We’re running month-to-month paying our national bills with a total shutdown looming over our heads. We’ve got a national party hellbent on stopping any important legislation. Fractures in governance have made Congress nearly useless.

A new national budget, tailored to our needs, hasn’t been devised in many years. Pentagon spending so bloated even the military can’t conduct a complete - much less accurate - accounting for hundreds of billions of dollars spent each year. Spending completely out of control. And, for the first time in my long life, our military has lost two wars. Wars lost to people with no air force, no navy, no up-to-date military equipment. Yet, we spend some 800-billion-dollars a year on “defense.”

Government has lost touch with the people. At some state and local levels as well. The postal service is a mess with higher prices and poorer services. Our national treasury is running nearly on empty. Our vaunted military is in disarray and defeated. Civic continuity and comity are gone in many places. Institutions valued for generations are being challenged as never before and some have been rendered nearly ineffective.

Our world is unsteady in ways we’ve never known. If you, too, are searching for permanence and find it, please let me know.

(photo)
 

What is a RINO?

jones

This article was first published in The Hill on July 16.

This is all so confusing. Back in the 1990s, everyone sort of understood that a RINO (Republican in name only) was a “liberal”--someone who would have the temerity to favor any kind of tax. “Real” Republicans graphically demonstrated the fate of RINOs in 1992 when they helped to relieve Poppy Bush of a second term for violating his no-new-taxes pledge.

The no-new-tax pledge became Republican orthodoxy when anti-tax activist Grover Norquist descended Capitol Hill clutching a stone slab with the pledge newly inscribed in smoking letters. It was announced throughout the land that no Republican could ever thereafter support a tax increase of any nature. The slightest breach of the pledge was punishable by requiring the offender to forever bear the RINO label, making them ineligible to hold public office or to obtain discounts at Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A.

For the most part, the understanding of RINOhood remained pretty much the same until the Trump era, which has seen a substantial expansion of actions or statements that can trigger application of the label. Earlier this year, Trump called Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell “spineless RINOs” for failing to overturn the 2020 presidential election. This despite the fact that both had been slavishly loyal subjects in every other respect. Trump conferred the title on Representative Liz Cheney for her claim that Joe Biden became President on January 20. Indeed, Trump has labelled countless others as RINOs for any number of non-taxing indiscretions.

As a result of this confusion about the genus of RINO, it seemed advisable to do some research to determine exactly what makes one a member of the disfavored group. Seems the term came into use shortly after the Republican Party was formed in 1864. Starting in 1865 and continuing to the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, “Republican in name only” was sporadically used for a variety of purposes, some disparaging and others complimentary.

Teddy Roosevelt was often called a RINO by Republicans frustrated with his work to bust trusts and other large concentrations of wealth, something that would certainly cause great consternation in the present GOP. After a lengthy dormant period, the term came roaring back during the Reagan years and has now reached its historic pinnacle.

Since the GOP still calls itself the Party of Lincoln and celebrates his birthday in Lincoln Day events throughout the month of February, Lincoln’s view of the essential tenets of his namesake party is the best yardstick to determine who is a real Republican and who is not. Lincoln’s party was formed to oppose the expansion of slavery. The other major party, the Democrat Party, split in 1860, with the southern Democrats supporting slavery and then seceding from the Union, sparking the Civil War. Lincoln supported freedom and civil rights for the slaves, while the southern Democrats supported insurrection and opposed civil rights for African slaves.

The two parties largely maintained these opposing views on civil rights for African Americans through the 1960s. During the 1970s, they began what turned out to be a fairly complete reversal of positions. Republicans eventually replaced all of the southern Democrats and many in the border or swing states. At present, Democrats support civil rights, including voting rights for people of color, while Republicans are in opposition.

As a young Senate staffer in that period, I watched the end of one era and the beginning of the other. My boss was Len Jordan, a conservative Republican Senator from Idaho. Jordan voted for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with 26 of his Republican colleagues, and joined 29 other Republicans in supporting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Senate Democrats from secessionist states opposed both bills. Jordan voted against two of President Nixon’s appointees to the Supreme Court, both of whom appeared to be hostile to civil rights. Seventeen Republican Senators opposed Clement Haynesworth and 13 voted against Harrold Carswell. The southern Democrats vigorously supported both candidates.

Before Richard Nixon’s southern strategy flipped the roles of our two major parties, the two issues that defined Lincoln’s Republican Party were (1) the recognition that Americans of African origin were entitled to freedom and civil rights and (2) opposition to insurrection. In 1861, a mob of Democrats unhappy with Lincoln’s election victory sought to break into the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the certification of electoral votes. Unlike January 6 of this year, the mob was unable to breach the Capitol, but the unhappy states then seceded and went to war with the United States. Lincoln could not have more vigorously opposed the insurrection.

Based on this history, a true Republican should be a strong supporter of civil rights and strongly opposed to insurrection. Since most present-day Republicans in Congress and many residents of secessionist states are hostile to civil rights and soft on insurrection, they are the true RINOs. So, Trump was right about Mitch being a RINO, but on different grounds. Authoritative definition established, case closed.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran, an eight-year Republican Attorney General of Idaho, a twelve-year Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, and a former Republican, often mistakenly called a RINO.
 

Little’s new budget

hartgen

Gov. Brad Little gave a preview of some items likely to be included in his proposed budget for next year, and he focused on two areas which have long needed attention in Idaho: childcare and housing.

The governor is not the only one who’s raised these issues in recent months. Business leaders and economic development people have long associated both issues with the need to grow the state economy.

Without childcare, working parents and particularly single moms, can’t afford to enter the workforce or to return to work. And without affordable housing, lower income folks are priced out at ever owning a home, a major step in the development of a viable middle-class.
To some extent both problems will be solved in the private sector. As wages rise, childcare becomes more affordable, but if it’s out of reach, it’s hard to make it work financially.
The childcare industry is a relatively low margin one. Childcare providers struggle to find good help by raising wages, but just as prices rise, more people can no longer afford it. And with wages in Idaho being relatively low, potential workers today can do better in other fields. A continuing labor shortage has thus heightened the issue.

On the housing front, low-income housing, particularly in carefully selected areas, would enhance community downtowns and fill in what are now often vacant lots.

Developers can’t afford to build this low-income housing if they can’t make it work financially. So they focus on higher-end properties, such as single dwelling homes in subdivisions where the margins are better and there are usually fewer restrictions on zoning, etc. That’s an area where local governments can help by reducing or eliminating red tape and superficial zoning restrictions.

Both issues are on the radar county governments, to whom Little outlined his thoughts at the end of September. He didn’t put any numbers out there nor did he prioritize these goals with others. But it was clear from his remarks at the Idaho Association of Counties annual meeting that he wants to give both topics more attention.

Of course, the usual anti-Little naysayers in the House will object to both ideas. Taking their orders from the Idaho Slavery Foundation, they’ll spout the usual we- can’t-do-that line. That’s their line if any idea comes from Little.

When it comes to child care, this group is stuck in the past in which mothers stayed home with their children and didn’t need to work. It’s a picture from the past. As we all know that’s no longer the case.

When it comes to housing, they’ll oppose it too if for no other reason than it’s Little’s and thus will be framed as another government intrusion into what should be private sector decisions in every case. They will not put it quite this way, but what they’re really saying is that people should not have government assistance in these areas. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, a modern version of social Darwinism. Can’t afford housing or pay for child care? Get a better job or don’t have kids.

Oddly, the loudest opponents in the House are a handful of angry, strident women who wrap many issues in so-called “family” terms. Their extremist ideology puts them against a government role in just about everything.

But these malcontents shouldn’t deter Little from raising both issues. The legislature in its budget setting and policy process should give both ideas consideration. They should tell the Slavery Foundation that they shape policy, not the tiny group of noisy, big-money oligarchs from out of state and their candidate puppets.

This of course will require political courage. It’s an election year and no one wants to be thrown into the maw of Wayne Hoffman’s insidious attacks. But it’s time for legislators and the public to send Hoffman and his ilk to the trash heap of Idaho political history.

On childcare, Little said he envisions support for more training for childcare workers in positions that are notoriously hard to fill. One idea he mentioned was to incentivize small businesses to work in small groups to provide quality daycare to attract young people as employees.

Again, he didn’t throw out any specifics. Those will come later as he prepares the states proposed budget for the Legislature in January.

It’s not unusual for governors to float trial balloons ideas in advance of legislative sessions, and that’s what Little is doing here. There have been other attempts to look at both issues and with the state now sitting on a solid economic future and a large surplus, it would seem the time is right to address both childcare and low-income housing.

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 Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com
 

Our constitutional crisis

johnson

Raising the federal debt limit so our government can pay the bills it has already rung up ought to be the political equivalent of an uncontested lay-up in basketball.

Senate Republicans, willing to force the U.S. economy to the brink of insolvency and crater the recovery from a deadly pandemic by filibustering the issue, are forcing Senate Democrats to save the game by effectively making a half-court desperation shot at the buzzer.

If what nihilistic Republicans are doing weren’t so economically irresponsible, indeed potentially catastrophic, it would be cause for a laughable case of hypocritical cynicism. After all, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, the guy orchestrating this bit of potentially fatal political theater, has voted 32 times for a debt ceiling increase during his time in Washington.

There ought to be a Mt. Rushmore for cynics like the Kentucky senator, but no block of granite exists large enough to feature all the worthy cynics. (Any monument would surely have to make room for Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a world-class enabler of federal debt with repeated votes to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and one who now refuses to pay the very bills he created.)

Yet, while this cliffhanger dominates the news, underscoring how broken our politics continues to be, an existential crisis of democracy is unfolding in real time. Tragically, this crisis remains out of sight and out of mind for most Americans. Our constitutional crisis is under the daily radar screen for two reasons: Republican officeholders are ignoring it and too many Americans have grown comfortable with the undemocratic, authoritarian, insurrectionist politics of the political right.

Let’s briefly review the path to constitutional crisis:

Months before the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump began to raise doubts among his supporters that the election would be conducted fairly. Unlike any presidential candidate before, Trump said in so many words: if I lose, the election was rigged. He repeated this fable over and over – for months.

As election day drew closer, Trump ramped up the lies about election integrity, advancing bogus arguments about mail in ballots or dead people voting. On election night – trailing in key states – Trump declared victory and began turning up the heat on local election officials to find some way to turn the outcome in his favor. Trump’s pressure on election officials in Georgia is still the subject of criminal review.

Next, and in advance of state-level certification of the election, came the lies about vote counts from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Trump lawyers went to court in several states to try to stop certification, or to advance election fraud claims. In not one single case in a dozen states has any remotely creditable evidence been presented to a court supporting the former president’s case. Nothing has surfaced because there is nothing there.

Still, the lies, aided by the silence, or even worse actively abetted by Republican elected officials, took hold. Public opinion polling indicates a majority of Republicans have now bought the lies, which Trump repeated again this week.

The lies, beyond the clear damage to the legitimacy of American democracy, have had other real consequences. Election officials in numerous states have been on the receiving end of harassment and even death threats. A group of Republican crackpots in Arizona, egged on by their lying leader, convened, as the Arizona Republic reported, their “own group of fake electors who promptly voted to throw Arizona’s vote to Donald Trump? Turns out they weren’t engaged in meaningless wishful thinking or yet another wild PR stunt to play to the base. They were involved in an actual plan to stage a coup.”

We now know that Trump enlisted the help of a conservative lawyer from California to concoct a legal rationale for a coup. The theory held that then-vice president Mike Pence could, on his own motion, reject the Electoral College votes of several states that Trump lost.

The lawyer, John Eastman, met with Trump at the White House on January 5, 2021, the day before Congress was scheduled to certify, as a purely procedural matter, the presidential election.

As a violent mob chanting “hangMike Pence” attacked the Capitol on January 6th, Pence, somewhat amazingly given his fealty to Trump, followed the Constitution.

We also know that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, convened a meeting of his top staff in this period to remind them of the military’s duty to the Constitution. Milley also spoke with his Chinese counterpart to ensure him that the U.S. was not about to launch a war. There are other reports that Milley observed that Trump was unstable and capable of precipitating a “wag the dog” type incident to hold on to power.

The incident Trump and supporters planned for and encouraged happened, of course, on January 6th on the steps and inside the United States Capitol.

If this weren’t recent American history staring us square in the face it would be a good plot line for a second rate made for TV movie, and perhaps that is why it’s easy for some to dismiss the lying, scheming and the threats. This kind of crazy, undemocratic action just doesn’t happen in our county. Right.

But dismissal of lies about election fraud, a coup plot and a deadly insurrection is a profoundly dangerous response to this web of treason. The worst is likely yet to come. By 2024, amateurish “Stop the Steal” stunts will be professionalized. Trump will run again. The election will be close. And the reaction – almost certainly chaos and crisis.

As Robert Kagan, no squishy liberal, wrote recently in the Washington Post: “As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may ‘revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election’ by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed ‘technical infractions,’ including obstructing the view of poll watchers.”

As Kagan correctly notes, many, many Trump supporters see the web he has woven “as a patriotic defense of the nation,” and therefore “there is every reason to expect more such episodes.”

Europeans all too easily slipped the bonds of democracy less than one hundred years ago to follow charismatic, authoritarian leaders into fascism and dictatorship.

It’s often said: “But, it can’t happen here.” Are you sure about that?

Better yet, what are you doing about it?
 

By the numbers

stapiluslogo1

We know where Idaho ranks among the states in the per capita number of most cases of Covid-19 (spoiler: above the national average, though a little further from the top than some might expect).

But what about Idaho’s counties? On a per capita basis, so the large counties and small ones are fairly considered (and with a 2020 census conveniently able to help), how do they stack up for most pandemic cases and deaths?

It’s a mixed bag, and reading through lines among the 44 counties isn’t especially easy.

The caveat is this to begin with: Reporting is sometimes delayed, and sometimes more so in scattered areas. How cases are attributed to various counties can be a judgement call; on the daily lists of how many cases each county reports, the numbers sometimes have shifted downward (it happens, but not often) as a case is assigned either to another county or is designated as something non-Covid.

So which county currently has the most cases and deaths per capita?

The same one: Lewis County in north-central Idaho, small and rural, but reporting 696 cases among its population of 3,533 - or 19.7 percent, about a fifth of everyone in the county; and 17 deaths (meaning that just under half a percent of all the people in the county have died from Covid-19).

The numbers for other counties fall from there, but not drastically. The statewide average is 14.1% of all Idahoans reporting a case of Covid-19 so far (260,012 cases). Ten counties in addition to Lewis have per capita rates above the state average, and most of them are the largest counties in the state, such as Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bonneville,Twin Falls and Madison. (Twin Falls County ranked third, Canyon sixth, Madison seventh, Kootenai eighth.)

The local jurisdictions in those areas have been all over the map in how they have responded: whether to require masks, how well vaccination has gone, and so forth. The most logical conclusion is that Covid-19 is porous, spreading throughout areas, and spreading fastest and biggest where the population centers contain the most people. In that context, Ada County’s tenth-place ranking … could be worse. Little Lewis County’s high ranking seems a little out of place, and could be accounted for largely via a few super-spreaders.

It also helps explain the counties at the bottom of the list, the ones with the fewest cases. Rural and remote Custer County has the lowest rate in the state, though the 343 cases it has reported means that even there, eight percent of the population has reported catching Covid-19. Just eight counties reported a percentage of infection under 10 percent, and nearly all of those are low-population or far away from metro areas (Camas, Clark, Boise, Lemhi, Bear Lake, Boundary).

The death rates per capita actually do look a little different. Some of the larger counties have death rates lower than state average (Bonneville, Ada, Madison). Among the big-population Idaho counties, Twin Falls has the highest death rate (with 183 deaths, a fifth of a percent of the county’s population); but it ranks tenth highest among all 44 counties. Nez Perce, Bingham, Canyon and Kootenai bunch closely behind, however.

You may wonder whether these rankings looked different some months ago, earlier in the pandemic. They do, to an extent.

In early May, the highest-ranking county per capita for cases was one of Idaho’s larger counties, Madison (though even then it did much better by setting a lower rate on deaths; the younger college student population at Rexburg may have helped in that regard).

But Madison was an odd shifter. Most of the counties ranking high or low last spring still are ranking somewhere around the same place now.

There is also this: The per capita case rate is about twice as high at the top of the list - most-infested counties - as at the bottom. That means there’s a serious difference.

It also underscores what may be the larger point: This pandemic is everywhere, and it spreads quickly and widely. Idaho is not exempt, and neither are any of the parts of it.
 

A bitter pill

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I yelled at the people who run my pharmacy this week. Well, it wasn’t exactly yelling but it was definitely an angry tirade. Staffing shortages have caused them to fall far behind in filling prescriptions — sometimes threatening to deny patients medications they need now. I got angry with several staffers who were doing their level best to serve me but I selfishly overlooked that detail and let loose.

I know, I know. More than once in recent months, I’ve preached patience as we navigate this part of the COVID economy. But I lost my composure and took it out on the harried staff at my pharmacy. I’m only human and I can be a not-so-nice human once in a while.

In my defense, the impetus for the event involved filling a prescription with which I’ve experienced trouble from the pharmacy before, more than once. But one of the longtime pharmacy technicians who I greatly respect took pains to calm me down and I soon realized my horrible behavior was neither appropriate nor deserved. I apologized profusely and sincerely. Most of the staff graciously accepted my remorse.

But the whole experience got me thinking.

I’ve been aware of a region-wide staffing shortage for some time. What restaurants survived the first year of COVID are now having trouble staffing to even a minimum level — many are open sporadic and unpredictable hours, as they are able to meet staffing requirements.

For months, I didn’t really think about it and believed what everyone else believed. I was vaguely convinced these personnel shortages were vestiges of COVID benefits. But when I pondered the issue, I realized many benefits ran out long ago and what’s left will stop soon. I realized the shortage is a far larger issue than unemployment benefits.

Like many people, COVID caused a major reset in my life. I lost my jobs, I lost my income and — much more happily — I lost a great deal of weight. COVID forced me to reexamine my priorities. I know I am not the only one who experienced this COVID-era phenomenon.

After talking to half a dozen people at two different local pharmacies, I discovered the staffing shortages we’re seeing everywhere are largely due to a workforce that’s tired of toiling away for near-minimum wage under the banners of companies that care far more about their shareholders than they do about the people who work the counters, generating the revenue to make the shareholders happy. When a certified pharmacy technician who’s worked for a national pharmacy chain for 15 years earns only $16 an hour — and two of her pay raises were a result of mandatory state increases in the minimum wage — it’s not difficult to imagine why she no longer wishes to work as a pharmacy tech for that employer. When I asked her if she’d ever consider going back, she said the company would have to offer her $22 to $24 per hour just to get her to consider returning. And I would wager she’d end up declining.

To be clear, I’m not spouting the popular “$15-an-hour living wage” line. As much as I like the concept, I recognize there are certain economic factors that affect wages and that it might make sense to exempt certain positions or develop a minimum scale for different parts of the workforce. Nevertheless, when employees routinely qualify for state aid as a result of their low earnings, something is broken. When retail employees cannot afford to live in an unpretentious town like McMinnville, Oregon because rents are out of their reach, perhaps we need to reexamine what we pay our workers. I, for one, could understand paying more for a hamburger, a loaf of bread or even a prescription co-pay if I knew my money supported the people who wait on me every day.

The former employer of the pharmacy tech I mentioned above generated over $6 billion in revenue in the second fiscal quarter of 2021.

My angry tirade was directed at a frazzled pharmacy staff — half the number it should be — and a pharmacist who went from being fresh out of pharmacy school to being the managing pharmacist almost overnight. Prior to the staffing shortage, this pharmacy typically filled between 300 and 500 prescriptions a day. They’re running at around only 300 now. Floor staff are filling the roles of pharmacy technicians because there are no certified technicians willing to work. This costs the pharmacy even more time as non-certified personnel require greater oversight to make sure prescriptions are being filled accurately. My ire should’ve been directed at a company that insists on offering pre-COVID wages even though it’s absolutely clear by now that no one wants to work on those terms in 2021. If you want to argue the point, I suggest you look at my pharmacy which has been running with a neophyte manager and less than half the necessary staff for going on eight months.

The realities of COVID forced a host of people to reexamine their priorities, many of them deciding the endless toil for unappreciative employers just wasn’t worth it. Now, the COVID economy and associated staffing shortages should force pharmacy chains and other large employers to reexamine the way they compensate the front-line people who gather the $6 billion-plus they reap in a quarter.

Every pharmacist and certified pharmacy technician I spoke with this week echoed one overarching complaint: they’re exhausted and they feel utterly unappreciated by their corporate employers. At the risk of sounding like a communist, it may be the American way to let the market determine factors like wages, but conversely, it’s a worker’s right to decline inadequate compensation. In the case of my pharmacy, how many more months must an exhausted skeleton staff endure? How many more months does a patient like me wonder if he can get his refill medications less than two days after he runs out? Do the pharmacy’s truncated operating hours mean anything to corporate headquarters?

At least I know they must be noticing the reduced insurance billings from lower volume — but I don’t hold a lot of hope that company managers will suddenly see the light.

I regret losing my cool at the pharmacy. The weary pharmacist, pharmacy technicians and floor staff are working full-tilt to fill prescriptions accurately in unprecedented conditions. The last thing they needed was my mis-directed rage. But I’m sure not feeling a lot of love for their employer. What will it take to get the company to offer compensation that will actually attract workers?

While we wait and wait and wait for that answer, remember to be patient and kind when you’re dealing with the people who work hard to serve you. Chances are, they’re in need of an appreciative smile.