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Posts published in December 2021

Wavering in ’22


As we stand at the top of another year-long ski run (snow at last!), we can portend a few things.

Such as better - fingers crossed - snowpacks and water levels than last year. Maybe. It's iffy. A month ago the indicators were pointing toward a parched 2022, and a wet couple of weeks isn’t enough to change the picture entirely. Still, the snowpack levels consistently across Idaho’s basins, as mostly they are across the west, are holding up decently, for now.

You'll notice a lot of weasel words in that forecast. More will follow as we hike across more political terrain. (Count them if you like, but as the Idaho State Police would say, don’t make a drinking game out of it.)

We do know positively that 2022 will be an election year, probably one of larger-than-average significance for Idaho: It could see the upending of a long-dominant Republican establishment.

Or not, or maybe there’s a mixed result. We’ll get an answer to that in May, before the year is half-done. In the meantime, what direction the state will take is not, as matters sit now, locked in place.

That means it could be affected by things that happen between here and there. Let’s review.

First comes the Idaho Legislature, which convenes in about another week. We have a good idea of what to expect there, partly since the membership is mostly unchanged from last year, and partly because many of the members told us in the oddball session just a month ago just what they wanted to do. They largely got the reply then that most of their proposals could wait until the regular session, so we should not be surprised to see those ideas return then. Whether those ideas, or how many of them, will pass is something we don’t yet know. (Also, how much ink does the governor have in his veto stamp?)

What do these legislators want to do? First, limit or combat any steps by either governments or other organizations, businesses included, to oppose the ongoing spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The odds are not many of them will succeed, but some probably will, and they will stand in stark contrast to the absence of traction of any measures that would try to fight the disease that so far has killed more than 4,200 Idahoans and sickened more than 320,000.

On that subject, in the months ahead we can expect to see Idaho, and other like-minded states, again becoming a national pandemic hotspot. The higher vaccine resistance in Idaho, than in states to its west and south, is likely to be reflected in more pandemic headlines like those of the last two years.

What else might the legislature do? Don’t be surprised if abortion returns as a major topic, coming just ahead of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision affecting Roe v. Wade. As with the pandemic, numerous ideas - on the abortion-restricting side, of course not on the pro-choice side - are likely to surface.

The legislature will be in the happy position of having stronger than expected tax revenues available. It could use some of that money to expand funding for areas - infrastructure, education, health and others - that have been shorted in the past. It probably won’t. Mega tax cut proposals are likeliest to make out well. Property taxes, which have been rising and where specific calls for adjustment really have been called for at local levels, are the subject of many complaints at the local level, but since local governments rather than the state tend to get more of the blame for those, legislative traction sometimes is hard to grasp.

Also worth watching: After last year’s near-perpetual session, will the legislature hold a normal-length session this year? If there’s an attempt to keep the session going past the primary, will that have an effect on the primary? Will it affect the primary results? (Doubtful, but some challenging candidates may take creative use of the opportunity.)

We’ll see, by mid-year, a few other things too. We may also get a sense of how the wildfire season will affect Idaho this time. Idaho has been relatively lucky in recent years in having mostly smaller and scattered fires, but conditions remain ripe for something much bigger and more destructive. We may see whether Idaho housing prices, which exploded in recent years, start to stall, and whether the economic growth, selective inflation and extremely low jobless rates persist.

It may not even take until this time next year to know. Or not.

Critical theory


Originally published in The Hill.

As the 2020 election entered its final stretch, Donald Trump was searching for a means of blunting the Black Lives Matter (BLM) fervor that threatened his electoral chances in some swing states. He’d had some success with claims that Democrats supported lawlessness and wanted to defund the police but, understanding that the best defense is a strong offense, he apparently felt the need to mount a vigorous counterattack.

Trump discovered the perfect weapon on the September 1 episode of Tucker Carlson’s show. A far-right activist, Christopher Rufo, was expounding about the dangers of critical race theory (CRT), claiming it promoted the belief that America is an irredeemably racist society. Rufo’s presentation must have struck a responsive chord because Trump immediately picked up the theme. Just 22 days later he churned out an executive order prohibiting the promotion of CRT, as well as sexism, in federal programs.

Although Trump lost the presidential race, he planted a seed that has been vigorously nourished by the extreme right ever since. CRT has become the weapon of choice in the Republican culture wars. Attacking CRT and claiming that kids from pre-K to the university level are being indoctrinated in the pernicious doctrine has become commonplace across the country.

While Fox news has been the primary purveyor of CRT hysteria on a national scale, a large network of right-wing organizations has taken the fight to the state and local levels. These include the Heritage Foundation, the American Legislative Exchange and the Social Policy Network (SPN), which has affiliates in every state.

The SPN entity in Idaho bears the ill-fitting name, Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF). The organization has developed significant clout in the Idaho Legislature in recent years with its hard-edged culture war tactics. Legislators defy the IFF’s wishes at their peril. They therefore paid close attention when IFF called for legislation this year banning CRT “indoctrination” in Idaho public schools.

Idaho’s State Board of Education and teachers were dumbfounded by the allegations that CRT existed in the public schools and that kids were being indoctrinated. Local school boards, which oversee educational operations, were equally mystified by the charges. Even the legislators being urged on by IFF to put a stop to CRT could not produce any credible evidence that it existed in the state.

Nevertheless, IFF minions in the Legislature killed one school funding bill, stopped others in their tracks and made it known that nothing more would be done to fund education until a bill to combat CRT was passed. A bill drawing some wording from the Trump executive order was cobbled together and passed so that the Legislature could get back to work.

Organizations like IFF have spawned legislative battles in other states to stamp out non-existent CRT indoctrination as a means of winning elections and growing their power. Texas enacted a far-reaching CRT bill on June 17. The bill was strongly supported by IFF’s Texas counterpart and the national ultra-conservative network that has pushed such legislation in Idaho and across the nation.

The Texas concern about indoctrination is hard to square with the state’s long-standing use of textbooks having a definite racist slant. Indeed, school children in Texas and other former Confederate states were for many years fed a skewed racial history of the South. Between 1889 and 1969, almost 70 million kids in southern states were taught the “Lost Cause” version of history where plantation owners had good relations with their slaves, generally treated them kindly, and fought the Civil War on the principle of state’s rights, not slavery.

The CRT culture warfare has also infected governmental bodies at the local level across the country. Local school boards have found themselves beseeched with unfounded claims that their schools are promoting the theory, resulting in heated confrontations, contested races for board positions and recall elections. According to an analysis of recent media reports, at least 165 groups have been formed “to disrupt lessons on race and gender.”

The fight over CRT was percolating before Trump embraced it as his own political weapon last September. His adoption of the divisive issue supercharged it on the national stage. It is not just a struggle over the curriculum at state-supported schools across the nation, but a potent weapon of far-right candidates to stir division and win local, state and national elections.

And for some ultra-right organizations, like IFF and its national affiliates, it is also a tool to discredit and bring about the dismantlement of the public education system. The President of IFF disclosed the organization’s ultimate objective in a February 2019 op-ed: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today.”

The upshot is that CRT is virtually non-existent in public schools across the nation, is misunderstood or misrepresented by those using it as a political weapon, and has the distinct possibility of doing extreme damage to the system of free public schools that has brought America to greatness.

Jordan Cove and the snap decision


This column first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle on December 29.

Snap decisions, so often prized, are not always the best. Sometimes the inefficiencies of government and regulation can lead to the right result.

Consider the recently defunct - after half a year of suspended animation, and a dozen years of regulatory limbo - the Jordan Cove Energy Project.

Go back a generation or slightly more and you’ll encounter a lot of discussion about the energy crisis in the Northwest, how our accelerating use of energy is outstripping our production of it. News stories were full of plans for development of nuclear plants (with attendant financial catastrophe) and coal-fired production operations. A new federal agency, the Northwest Power Planning Council, was set up (based at Portland) to develop strategies for coping with the power gap and developing more.

Times change. There’s a good case now for scrapping the council (now called the Northwest Power and Conservation Council ans which, okay, just got a new member from Oregon, long-time legislator Ginny Burdick). And the region is floating along quite well with existing power sources.

We don’t need to do, in other words, what we once thought we needed to.

In 2007 two Canadian groups, Jordan Cove Energy Project and the Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline, started regulatory applications to import natural gas, which was then in short supply, from Asia. (The controlling partner most recently has been the firm Pembina.) The plan was to ship compressed gas across the Pacific Ocean to a terminal at Coos Bay, and then send it by pipeline to points east. Natural gas prices then were high enough that the business model appeared to work.

The region would get new jobs, as always much appreciated at Coos Bay. The downsides were partly environmental and partly the result of running the pipeline through private as well as public lands: Property owners were hit with the prospect of eminent domain proceedings seizing land and houses.

All of that might have happened if regulation had been super-efficient. It was not.

Initial federal approval did come in 2009, and the wheels started to turn, but opposition grew and proceedings thickened. During that time, natural gas production in the United States picked up, and prices fell.

The market changed so much that not only did the original business model no longer work, but the backers of the project in 2013 asked for permission not to import but rather export natural gas. The energy needs of Americans were no longer a driving consideration, and fewer jobs probably would have been opened.

The project refused to die until the wheels came off this year. After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave its permission to go ahead, subject to Oregon state approval, Oregon turned thumbs down. Last month, when FERC asked whether the company still planned to pursue the pipeline, the Jordan Cove consortium threw in the towel and said it would withdraw its application.

Jordan Cove has advocates. Scott Lauermann of the American Petroleum Institute said the withdrawal was “yet another unfortunate example of a much needed U.S. energy infrastructure project being terminated due to unnecessary regulatory delays.”

A commonplace line of argument these days - and yet. Imagine that, back in 2007, the project had been hurriedly approved. What would have been the end result?

We wouldn’t have any more natural gas, not in the United States, since by the time construction was done the market would have forced export of the product (the direction Pembina turned toward anyway).

But we would have had more environmental damage and, a number of people (including Representative Peter DeFazio) said, it would have been one of the biggest carbon emitters in Oregon, putting more pressure on everyone else to meet carbon goals.

Others have pointed out additional environmental problems: “Dozens of animals and plants listed under the Endangered Species Act are threatened by this proposal, including iconic coho salmon. The pipeline would have to cross steep mountainous terrain that poses excessive landslide risks, while the terminal is proposed in an area at-risk of severe earthquake and tsunami damage.”

Property owners in and near the planned pipeline routes haven’t easily been able to sell or improve their property. Close to a third of homeowners in the planned pipeline area refused entreaties to an agreement to sell, a strong protest. Today, those owners are in better shape.

Sometimes when we move too fast we can jump too far ahead of our needs, and be bitten by the solutions we adopt.

Book report


What follows are some reflections on 10 of the books I read for the first time this year - not necessarily the 10 best, or those I enjoyed most (though I recommend all on both counts) but the 10 that left the strongest impression, that drew my attention back weeks and months after I first consumed them. Not all are new, though some were, but they all (with one exception) were new to me this year. Collectively, they made up for me some of the better parts of 2021. This was, if nothing else, another good year to kick back and read.

They're listed here in alphabetical order (by author name), not preferential ranking, which would be too problematic for books as different as these.

Jessica Bruder - Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century (2017). "Surviving" is the key word here. This is a portrait of a new American subculture, one of people - retirement age mainly but not entirely - who can no longer afford decent housing, owned or rental, and in most cases have run out of housing options altogether; so, they take the road. They work at temp or short-term jobs (at Amazxon warehouses, forest lands, wherever they can find something to bring in a little money) and clump together in vans, RVs or even cars in low-cost places to stay. Many approached it with the hope of finding a freer, more open life; many of them discover something else, something much harsher, a side of America most of us would rather not acknowledge. Written plainly and mostly unemotionally, it was one of the more haunting reads I've had in recent years.

Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, Jason Stanford - Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth (2021). And no, I did not include this just to tick off the state of Texas. There is a broad message here about how and why historical mythologies develop. Especially the why; the Alamo was not quite so big a deal in Texas (where it still is in fact a very big deal) until people began to figure out that emphasizing the central role of slavery in the development of Texas (specifically, its detachment from Mexico) was not especially good PR. For me, once I absorbed the fact (as I had not before reading this) that slavery was abolished in Mexico about four decades before it was north of the border, quite a few historical developments fell into place. Useful history, useful commentary, presented entertainingly. Little wonder certain power people in Texas just hate it.

David Graeber and David Wengrow - The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity (2021). Many people may read this as a counter or even a rebuke to among other books Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, and the authors (one of them now deceased) might not have had a problem with that, since they took on several keynotes of the GGS approach to broad human history. Take a step further back and you find those books, and others, working together: Each contributing large chunks to a very large puzzle. That puzzle lies in working out of the contours of how human beings got from where they were 100,000 or so years ago, to now - and to what extent those developments, in broad strokes, were inevitable. The Graeber and Wengrow addition to this discussion centers on the useful idea that human development was hit and miss, trial and error, and that we had and still have the ability to construct our societies in different ways. Every attempt at "big picture" human history I've seen has been married somewhat by authorial biases, and this one is no exception (Graeber was a long-time outspoken anarchist). But this is one of the most useful pieces of analysis about our history anyone has developed in years. So long as you read it in context ...

Mark Harris - Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood (2008). America, and the world for that matter, changed enormously in the sixties, and this book offer an unusual and smart way of approaching that - why the changes happened, the nature of them, and what in many cases did not change. The book's discipline was to focus on the five movies that were Oscar nominees for 1967 (Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? and, oh yeah, Doctor Dolittle) and work through how they came to be, the sometimes surprising connections between those and other movies (and other developments at large), the debates and arguments over them during and after production, and what all that says about the changes of that day. The movies themselves are interesting enough (well, except for one) but the depiction of the world around them will stick in and broaden your mind more than you might expect. A good slice of history.

Elizabeth Kolbert - Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future (2021). Considering the subject - the impact, often negative but sometimes positive - of human beings on their environment, you might be expecting a doorstop-sized tome. It isn't; Kolbert's approach here is to report carefully on several specific case studies (widely varied, from Asian carp to Icelandic gas recycling to the fate of the coral reefs) and then, without overreaching, draw lessons from them. I like the approach, because it allows the non-specialist reader to more easily absorb a complex subject. I also appreciated her attitude; much of the book relates of course to climate change, but she is neither as dogmatic nor as gloomy about it as you might expect; she seems to take a well-informed middle road with some room for hope, sometimes in unexpected places.

Hervé Le Tellier (Adriana Hunter, translator) - The Anomaly (2021). The news reports around this book centered on how it was a massive bestseller in France, where its author lives. But it also deserves strong bestseller status in the United States (where it is mostly set); it is absorbing in some of the same ways the TV series Lost (at its best, and to which it has been compared) once did: You couldn't be certain where this thing was going, or even what genre you were reading. In the end, as the novel's title seemed to suggest, it was a genre-buster about blowing iup expectations, even our most human and basic expectations. Getting any clearer than that would constitute a spoiler, which you really should avoid in reading this book. Which, if you're interested in mind-twisting but highly readable stories, you really should.

Peter Maass (translator) - Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil (2011). People who live near industrial oil plants or other facilities most of us would rather be located far from where we are, frequently offer the argument that "it smells like money" - there's a big economic benefit, and our jobs and society wouldn't be here otherwise. Maass' book, thoroughly reported from around the globe, is an immensely powerful takedown of that argument, at least as applies to oi extraction and production. In case after case he shows what has happened in places where oil development came to town in a big way, and what happened during and after - very little of it good, and that's leaving aside the environmental considerations (which he touches on as well). I'd be fascinated to see a rebuttal to this, but I find it hard to imagine a good one.

David Unger - The Mastermind (2016). As I started reading this I was expecting something on the order of a caper or swindle novel, one set in an unusual location, Guatemala City. The setting was as expected, and in fact much of Central America - and its view of itself from the inside - was expertly delivered. (Don't let the author's name throw you; he lived there for many years.) The story was plenty suspenseful, but the book title was somewhat ironic, and just how ironic we could discuss. The tale of a wealthy businessman, based around a real incident involving the Guatemalan government, is worth the read, but so is the psychological suspense, and the human question of what is and isn't worth giving up, and for what.

Isabel Wilkerson - The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2017). Most people who have read much American history know that in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, millions of Black residents of the south headed north and west, largely in search of better opportunities and escape from Jim Crow. That is, many of us know this as a matter of demographics and social trends, but not more specifically: How the migration worked, what pressured many people not to go, what the migrants found when they reached their destinations, what varied stories were involved in this massive movement. Telling it all would be beyond the scope of any single book, but Wilkerson gives this epic story its due by focusing on a few individual lives, and the details of what happened. Nearly an oral history, it is one of the most affecting works of history I've read in recent years.

Lawrence Wright - The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006). I passed on this one, despite its glowing reviews, for years because I thought: "I've read all kinds of stuff about Al Quaeda and 9/11; what more is there to know that's worth knowing that we're going to see in publication?" Wright's answer to that is compelling: He tells in remarkably complete fashion the story of where the terrorist organization came from and what it aimed to do, and the environment it developed within. I thought I couldn't have been surprised by much of what was here; I was wrong.

A nation of the angered


I’m awfully glad to see 2021 coming to a close. No. Make that damned glad.

You and I - and everyone else in this nation - have been under so much pressure from just about any identifiable source. Pressures. Changes. Closings. Loss of services. Access denied. Safety lost. Stores and businesses disappearing. Movements restricted or cancelled. Our ways of life disrupted, distorted, diminished.

I’m just plain, damned tired! The world that has become is not to my liking. Nor is it to millions of other people.

Let’s deal with a couple of real-time examples.

I have no more patience or sympathy for anyone - of any age - of any sex - of any race - of any color - who is still unvaccinated. Except for medical reasons. None! No way! No how! Nada!

Health experts worldwide are now warning of even darker COVID-19 times ahead. Delta variant. Omicron variant. And unnamed variants yet to come. They’re talking of a “viral blizzard;” of even more deadly times in our futures. Some - including Dr. Fauchi - are talking about Covid and its family of killers becoming permanent fixtures in our lives. Quite likely, with us forever!.

Those who’ve consistently chosen to ignore the advice of experts, who’ve been pleaded with and cajoled by just about every medical practitioner known to God, those who can but won’t - those people - deserve no more sympathy, no more accommodation of any kind. They are willfully and ignorantly playing Russian Roulette with their own lives. An ever-present danger to your life. And mine. And any poor bastard with whom they come in contact.

Enough is just damned enough! Because of them, Covid will likely be with us from now on. Because of them, our families will continue to be exposed as we lead our daily lives. Because of them, masks will become permanent fixtures. Because of them, our normal movements of life will be restricted. Many services denied. Schools and even churches forced to change their services. Medical facilities will continue to be filled with the afflicted. And the dying. And we’ll pay. And pay. And pay.

No, Sir. A year into this damned Covid business, the time has come to cut ties with people who refuse to live up to the responsibilities we all have to each other. To avoid - to shun. This minority of cretins has no societal right to threaten the majority.

And another thing.

At last count by CNN, there were at least 23 open and ongoing investigations of D. J. Trump. Twenty-three! Some have been open and active for several years. And none of those still open - not one - has resulted in charges - criminal or civil.

We’ve put up with this lying miscreant for more than five-years.
We’ve seen large portions of our government decimated under his hand. We’ve watched him acting like some kind of dictator and listened to his lies. The lies. By the hundreds. The hundreds! The running count by The Washington Post is in the thousands.

Some two-dozen women have filed charges of sexual exploitation or actual damages caused by Trump. Going back years. His former “fixer” - Michael Cohen - is suing the guy for having him re-arrested and held in solitary confinement because of Cohen’s book about Trump. Blatant retaliation! Our former “president” has filed dozens and dozens of frivolous legal cases and lost nearly everyone.

Trump’s been gone for nearly a year. Yet - largely due to exhaustive media coverage - he inserts himself into our lives every day. He’s living “the good life” and will likely avoid jail time by filing appeal after appeal after appeal until he’s passed from this world.

Somebody. Somewhere. Pull the trigger. Tax evasion. Fraud. Ignoring the emoluments clause of the U.S. Constitution. Sexual abuse. Attempting to overthrow a national election. Fomenting an attack on the nation’s Capitol and endangering the lives of elected officials and police.

Somebody. Somewhere. He’s been out of office nearly a year. Surely some state or federal prosecutor has “the goods.”

Lastly, our Congress. Or, what’s left of it. The needs of this nation have been put “on hold” while the bickering, stone-walling, personal attacks and outright lies have taken center stage. Good legislation, necessary legislation has been buried and defeated by a political party that’s gone to the dogs.

Republicans have become an actual impediment to having an effective Congress. Fealty to Trump - gutting a formerly effective national political party - damaging the Constitutional balance of power by daily self-service and ignoring responsibility - this is what the “legislative” branch has become.

Yes, Virginia, I’m angry. Angry and tired of the same old B.S.. Given just these examples, it is any wonder?

A distinguished Bengal’s warning


A hand grenade was dropped into the lap of Major General Antonio Taguba in 2004 when he was assigned to investigate reports of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq. I understand the conflicting interests such an investigator faces because I had been appointed to investigate an artillery incident involving a friend in my heavy artillery unit in Vietnam in 1968. A scrupulous investigation that discloses fault or wrongdoing by the military can be a career killer for an Army lifer like General Taguba.

Nevertheless, General Taguba, a 1972 graduate of Idaho State University and only the second Filipino-American to achieve general officer rank in the Army, did an outstanding job. Tellingly, he was not authorized to pursue wrongdoing into the upper ranks, but he meticulously documented and reported the abuse that occurred in the prison setting and suggested to the top ranks of the defense establishment that fault went to its highest reaches. That warning was unwelcome by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and many of his supporters, who went into denial and cover-up mode.

Had the truth-telling Taguba’s report been publicly embraced and appropriate action been taken to bring all those responsible for the abuse to account, the lives of many U.S. service personnel could have been saved. The denial and cover-up provided the Iraqi insurgents a remarkably effective recruitment tool to increase their ranks and kill more Americans. The notorious founder of the Islamic State, which almost took over Iraq, did time at the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison.

General Taguba performed a valuable service by giving the Defense Department the unvarnished truth about a shameful situation: A situation which actually provided the U.S. with an opportunity to show that we really do live our values and will punish those who transgress them, no matter how exalted their rank. Revealing the truth and owning up to responsibility goes a long way in trying to quell an insurgency. Our leaders failed the country by declining to grasp that opportunity. Regrettably, the General also lost his opportunity to gain another star because of honorably speaking truth to power.

Now, General Taguba is trying to alert the highest power in this democracy, the American people, of a danger to our form of government. He has joined two other distinguished, retired general officers, Major General Paul Eaton and Brigadier General Steven Anderson, in warning that the military must prepare for a 2024 possible insurrection in America.

The three Generals point to the fact that ten percent of those charged with attacking the U.S. Capitol on January 6 were veterans or active-duty military, also that the Oklahoma National Guard refused an order from the Secretary of Defense to vaccinate its members. They say this demonstrates the potential for a “breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines–from the top of the chain to squad level.”

Nothing is more essential to discipline in the military than the requirement to follow lawful orders. Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice makes it a punishable offense to fail or refuse to follow orders. I defended a number of soldiers in Vietnam who were charged with failing to obey standing orders. They were not ideal soldiers. Without such a rule, soldiers could do as they wished, endangering the attainment of military objectives.

There is no question that requiring troops to get vaccinations against a wide range of illnesses is the lawful subject of military orders. I got nearly a dozen shots to protect against a wide range of exotic diseases when I went into the Army. Refusing, getting sick, infecting others, endangering the mission, were not options.

The military is now discharging many of those who have refused to get the safe and effective vaccinations against Covid-19. Learning the identity of those military personnel who are inclined to disobey orders may prove to be a blessing for the future stability of our country. If the lawbreakers will disobey one lawful order, why might they not disobey another standing order--not to rise up against our lawfully-elected government? All of those who think they are above following orders should be discharged before they are put to the test of whether or not to support our democracy.

Thanks to that honorable, truth-telling Idaho State Bengal, Antonio Taguba, for having the courage to serve his country’s true interests in the Iraq War. Thanks also for joining with his colleagues in warning against a much greater offense that might be inflicted upon our great country in 2024 by groups of military lawbreakers.

“I will … shoot you!”


They were little paper turkeys, “thankful turkeys” they were called. You know the type of kids’ craft: turkeys cut and colored from outlines of human hands. The happy little hand-made paper turkeys were a thank-you-themed youth group project from a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints congregation in Blackfoot, Idaho. Seven giggling girls piled into a car along with their female adult chaperone and set out to spread some gratitude with their little homemade gifts.

You’d think a handful of girls delivering cheerful paper thankful turkeys would be easily distinguishable from thugs, felons or other people with criminal intent. Or at least you’d think the top law enforcement officer in the county would be intelligent enough or adequately trained to discern the difference.

Not in Bingham County, Idaho.

On Nov. 9, the carload of seven exuberant LDS girls, ages 12 to 16, set off to deliver their thankful turkeys with their hand-written notes to members of their congregation. Because the turkeys were supposed to be delivered anonymously, the girls would tape the colorful turkey-shaped papers to front doors, ring the bells or knock, then run back to the car before they were seen.

About 8 p.m., Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland let his small dog out just as two girls ran from his door. Suspicious, the sheriff checked his patrol car then returned to his house. The girls had turned to disappear when Rowland opened his door so they were unable to leave the intended thankful turkey.

The girls left another turkey on a nearby house then returned to Rowland’s house to make a second attempt at leaving their gift. This time, Rowland said he heard his screen door creak open followed by a knock on the door. Afraid or angry or some high-strung combination, Rowland grabbed his service weapon and exited the house wearing his long underwear and t-shirt.

Digital footage from Rowland’s Ring doorbell device picks up the next bit of the story. The video was viewed as part of the ensuing investigation.

On the video, Rowland looks down at the thankful turkey and reads the words “thank you,” printed on the cheery paper. Evidently threatened or insulted by the small offering, the sheriff says aloud, “That’s frickin’ bullshit.”

Classy, huh?

Unaware they’re being pursued by an angry man with a firearm, the giggling girls have returned to the car. As the chaperone starts to drive to the next house, Rowland steps in front of the car, motioning her to stop.

According to a probable cause affidavit released by the Idaho Attorney General’s office, the chaperone stopped, opening the car door which lit the interior of the vehicle and revealed the seven girls. The group leader told Rowland they had just left something for Rowland’s wife.

“Get the fuck out of the car!” screamed the sheriff, pointing his service weapon first at the chaperone, then at the two terrified young girls in the front seat.

The chaperone attempted to shift the car into park, a delay that further enraged Rowland. Grabbing a fistful of the youth leader’s hair, Rowland wrenched her violently from the car, holding his gun just inches from her face.

“I will fucking shoot you!” screamed the sheriff, demanding to know the woman’s identity. In his blind rage, the sheriff did not recognize the chaperone, who’d grown up next door to Rowland and had considered him a family friend for more than 30 years. “That’s when I really got scared,” the chaperone stated in the affidavit. “Because the gun was still at my head and he didn‘t know who I was.”

A moment later, the top law enforcement officer in Bingham County told the carload of LDS girls and their leader to, “get the fuck out of here.” Boy, if that’s how Rowland talks to young church girls, I’d hate to see how he addresses hardened felons.

On Tuesday, the Idaho Attorney General’s Office charged Rowland with felony aggravated battery, felony aggravated assault and misdemeanor exhibition of a gun. The attorney general is prosecuting the case to avoid a conflict of interest with the Bingham County District Attorney. Because Rowland is the elected sheriff, he retains his position but he voluntarily took leave for the length of the investigation. He is back at work now.

According to the affidavit, Rowland later told Blackfoot Police Chief Scott Gay that he had “really screwed up” regarding his actions the night of Nov. 9.

Rowland has admitted to most of his deplorable behavior. He claims he drank one alcoholic beverage that night, but he was clear-headed. He told investigators about threats made against him and he said the end of Daylight Savings Time “really messed me up.” Seriously?

Then Rowland made it even worse.

“I have been doing this job for 36 years,” declared Rowland. “I have had drunk Indians drive down my cul-de-sac. I’ve had drunk Indians come to my door. I live just off the [Fort Hall] reservation, we have a lot of reservation people around us that are not good people.”

On top of his lack of observation, judgment, self-control and maturity, Sheriff Craig Rowland is an unapologetic racist. I do not use that word lightly. You’d think the guy would be embarrassed and contrite but, no, he tries to blame Native Americans. What a colossal moron.

I know law enforcement is a thankless and exhausting job. But guys like Rowland are the ones who are actively and aggressively disgracing the profession.

I believe we needed to hear the startling and controversial 2020 demands to “defund the police.” Obviously, anyone with a level head knew we could never abolish law enforcement — without it we’d have chaos and anarchy. But those words got our attention and made people start considering some critical changes.

I want to emphasize I am absolutely not anti-police — my father wears a badge. But it’s long past time to take out the trash, the officers like Rowland who spit on the honor of law enforcement with their dull-witted racism, their out-of-control rage, their utter inappropriateness to carry the power of life and death over the public.

In recent times, I have discussed police reform as a crucial need — a realistic, workable set of reforms that will take policing to a new level. One of the key components of this reform is a robust screening that will weed out the dullards and racists — people who have no business in law enforcement.

Another component is categorizing the law enforcement profession by itself. This also means elevating the profession: raising the bar for candidates, revamping and adding training, increasing pay, maintaining transparency and accountability. (You can read more about proposed reform here.)

Law enforcement is as close to a no-fail mission as a public servant gets. Unlike other professions, a mistake in law enforcement can have lethal or life-changing consequences. Life-changing mistakes in law enforcement often don’t warrant second chances. In this case, seven young girls were traumatized to witness their sheriff rip their youth leader out of the car by her hair, assault her, threaten to execute her, all the while screaming vile obscenities.

For church girls handing out paper turkeys.

This is supposed to be one of the good guys.

Aggravated battery can earn a 15-year prison term. Aggravated assault is good for five. Rowland also faces a misdemeanor charge of unlawful exhibition or use of a deadly weapon.

Idaho law limits actions against an elected sheriff accused of a crime. Rowland can only be removed if convicted of a felony or an offense violating the oath of office.

Rowland is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 22.

If at one time Rowland was an honorable cop, he clearly isn’t now. He has disgraced his badge, his department and his profession. His own racist words clearly establish a bias that, by itself, renders him unfit to serve.

It’s too late for Rowland to salvage anything like a legacy. But in a final act of dignity, he could quietly surrender his badge and leave law enforcement forever. The absolute kindest way to frame this is that Rowland is no longer competent to wear a badge or carry a gun — let alone lead a law enforcement organization.

Sorry, Sheriff Rowland. Law enforcement is a unique line of work. You don’t always get second chances as you do in other professions. Sometimes, your “mistakes” are deal-breakers.

It’s time to take out the trash.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at

Photocomposite © Bingham County Sheriff

Little’s budget


Gov. Brad Little showed more pages of his upcoming proposed budget when he met with several hundred attendees at the annual Idaho taxpayer’s conference in Boise earlier this month. The governor, who has hinted about various items previously, took the opportunity to lay out his thinking in more detail.

The state is in good shape financially. We’re sitting on a surplus of more than $1.6 billion, enough to do some special, long-needed projects that will benefit the state for decades to come.

These include transportation projects such as roads and bridges, improvements in municipal water plants and waste disposal facilities, and the beginning of the statewide network of broadband access. This last item is particularly important in smaller rural communities which do not have the populations to support private expanded service. Yet we all know that in the information age, access is a critical frontline component.

The governor also highlighted the needs in education, including school facilities and holding onto staff. We must keep our wages competitive in this critical sector. If we want a better workforce, we must train it and that means investment.
He also outlined a plan to help businesses immediately by changes in the withholding tax for unemployment reserves. This fund fluctuates with the economy, and Little’s idea is to stabilize it at about $60 million, thereby giving businesses surety and consistency year by year.

He all but demanded the Legislature find and approve a fix for soaring property taxes and he urged yet another reduction in income tax rates and perhaps a rebate from taxes paid in 2021. Just last week, one member of the House leadership team said officials were thinking of a tax cut of about $200 million, and another $200 million in rebates. (IdahoPress, 12/22).

Idaho leads the nation in reducing taxes, but has done so incrementally, which is both prudent and cautious. Nonetheless, another step-down in income tax rates seems likely. What better use of a surplus than to return some of it to those who paid it?
Hard rightists will want to reduce this immediately to zero, as they don’t want to pay for anything. It’s part of their distorted libertarian philosophy that others should pay for all things governmental. Liberals will argue that the state should maintain its current tax levels but it’s obvious from the size of the surplus, there’s room to cut taxes and accomplish other goals as well.

So on the one side, we see hard rightists argue for smaller government, for starving basic services such as public education. On the other side, we see liberals call for more social spending as well as for huge bumps in teacher salaries. Neither of these extremist positions are likely to prevail, and Little knows that a more nuanced middle ground will attract the broadest support.

There will be some disputed aspects of whatever Little sets out. Democrats and their media friends and social service advocates will all push to put more money into a long list of programs. Hard rightists will argue that Idaho should not take any federal money and should essentially squeeze state and government back to some unstated, but smaller, point of time.

These views on the right and left will get respectful listeners, but Idaho has been well served by a more moderate, centrist approach on fiscal matters. They’ll tuck some money into reserve accounts, cover the state’s basic needs, perhaps start a few new initiatives, and then head home by mid-March. That’s when filings for the May 17 primary are due and those who will run again will be itching for face time and shaking hands with local constituents.

The Governor’s budget this year might be termed a MapQuest outline. He showed where he wanted to go, and gave some initial ideas about what route to take to get there. That’s what we expect our state leadership to do: take on major issues and keep us on the overall track.

Little also urged legislators to find a solution to skyrocketing property taxes. There’ve been several attempts in recent years to balance these taxes in a better way, helping those who need it and not overdoing taxes in any one sector. Last year’s efforts were only a partial solution and left important pieces out. The governor is right when he calls on legislators to fix these issues promptly and fairly.

Idaho has a long tradition of centrist/conservative government in which we fund our needs, tuck money away and look at bigger projects as we can afford them. This approach of prudence and caution has given us one of the best economic profiles in the nation, recently upgraded to AAA credit rating. We should stick with these time-proven principles.

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

The fightin’ 6th


When Stephen Colbert hosted his satiric political talk show some years back he often profiled a congressional district somewhere around the country, describing its particular characteristics and enthusiastically declaring it the “Fighting 17th!”. Or whatever it was.

Built into the gag was the idea, often valid, that a given congressional district actually has specific and unique character apart from the red-blue political. It would be a place where people have something in common, and maybe have a shared history.

That would be difficult to find anywhere a brand new congressional district is being formed, as one will be this the coming year in Oregon.

That new district, owing to population growth reflected in the 2020 census, will be the 6th. (As for the politics, in 2020 the new 6th’s precincts voted about 55.2% for Joe Biden and 42.1% for Donald Trump.)

Some of Oregon’s districts - referring here to those just created for the next decade - do have a nature that allows for an easy shorthand description. The 2nd district is easy: the vast wide open and mostly arid spaces of eastern and part of southwestern Oregon, primarily agricultural economically. (Geographically, it is one of the largest congressional districts in the country.) The 3rd is almost as easy: A central Portland urban area with some Columbia River frontage to the east. The 1st is more split between central city and suburbia (in Washington County) and more rural river and Pacific Ocean frontage. The 4th includes the smaller Eugene and Corvallis urban areas together with more thinly populated areas southwest to the ocean. The first is heavily Republican, the other three clearly Democratic.

The remaining two districts are more complicated, and they will be at least in theory the most politically competitive (which makes them unusual nationwide).

The revised 5th district, which has run from south Portland to below Salem with an arm reaching west to the Pacific, will include most of its old core area but lose Salem and the coast and swing its arm instead across the Cascades to pick up the Bend area.

The brand new 6th district will run from southwest Portland with a slice of Washington County, south through Yamhill, and include the Salem area. The new 6th, then (somewhat like the 5th), will include three distinct pieces: The Portland metro piece (on the southwest side, including Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood); Yamhill and Polk counties, which include rural areas and small and mid-sized cities, and the Salem area, a mid-sized urban area with an identity distinct from the other two.

Most of the land area will be in Yamhill and Polk counties, but more than two-thirds of the votes will come from urbanized Washington and Marion.

This is a geographically coherent area (Highway 99 runs like a string through the middle of most of it, except Salem) but most people here probably won’t think it fits together.

The northern reach near Portland, where almost half of the people live, think of themselves as Portland metro people and may be a little discomfited jostled in with those non-urbanites. This region will have a large chunk of the population, but less than half - not enough to control outcomes.

Salem and Keiser together have a little more than 200,000 people, and will make up a little less than a third of the new district - fewer than the Washington County area, but also enough to make a big difference.

And the Yamhill and Polk County areas (except for the piece of Salem within Polk) see themselves as separate from either Portland or Salem. Yamhill and Polk together have almost 200,000 people, but about 25,000 of those Polk people are in West Salem. Smaller-town Polk and Yamhill make up about a quarter of the new district.

These are three distinct constituencies, and all have enough people that a candidate will ignore any of them at their peril.

That can be a good thing. The new 6th isn’t likely to be a district encouraging or even allowing (in its representative) much extremism of any sort. The need to work with varied constituencies may lead to a respect for compromise.

If the 6th becomes a “fightin’ 6th,” that may be because it holds its low-level fights on an internal and low-key basis, and rewards representation that’s steady and stable. Maybe that’s an optimistic view, but it’s what the numbers and geography seem to say.