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Posts published in July 2023

Their hearts belong in the sky

When Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in August 2021, Afghan aviators were ordered to fly their aircraft out of the country to keep them from falling into enemy hands. Over 300 pilots flew to surrounding countries, most of them having to leave their families behind. Many of those pilots have been resettled in the US, including 14 who now live in Idaho. They have been working multiple jobs in order to support themselves and their families back home. They would do much better if they could put their aviation skills to work.

Even though the Afghans received rigorous flight training from US and NATO forces and have flown thousands of hours, they must complete extensive ground and flight courses in order to qualify for aviation jobs in the United States. That’s where Russ Stromberg, a retired Marine aviator, and Global Talent, a Boise non-profit that helps refugees meet stateside licensing requirements for their occupational specialty, came together to provide a solution. The two have pioneered a project to help the Afghan pilots obtain the credentials to fly commercially in the US. A dramatic upgrade in pay will help the pilots get their families to America that much sooner. Bringing the pilots on line will help alleviate the nation’s unprecedented pilot shortage.

The first group of 5 pilots has been selected for the training program, which is contingent on Global Talent achieving its fundraising goal of $40,000. The pilots are enthusiastic about their prospects. One of them stated it this way: “Your heart belongs to the sky. You have to go back to the sky and serve.” Idahoans can help these pilots soar by supporting the program.

It should be mentioned that Afghan pilots were some of our most committed allies in the Afghan conflict. In addition to the dangers they faced in the air, they became Taliban assassination targets in their homes. The United States is honor bound to provide safe haven to them and to the thousands of other Afghans who put themselves and their families at risk by partnering with and protecting US troops.

Idahoans can help in that regard by urging our Congressional delegation to support the bi-partisan Afghan Adjustment Act (HR 4627 in the House and S. 2327 in the Senate). The legislation would provide a pathway to permanent residency for Afghans who only have temporary residence now and create pathways for continued relocation of those, like the pilots’ families, who were left behind. The legislation is strongly supported by a broad coalition of veteran, religious, business and legal organizations. Idaho’s entire delegation needs to add its support.

Idaho has an outstanding resettlement program that has taken in an increasing number of Afghan refugees since the national refugee program was restored to health 2 years ago. Of the 1,270 refugees who arrived in FY 2022 (ending on September 30), there were 512 Afghans. So far in FY 2023, there are 120 Afghans among the 933 arrivals. The Idaho Office for Refugees oversees refugee resettlement in Idaho. Three resettlement agencies perform the hands-on work–the Agency for New Americans and the International Rescue Committee, both of which are in Boise, and the CSI Refugee Center in Twin Falls.

Each agency relies heavily on citizen involvement and can put community members to work welcoming and settling refugees, sponsoring events, helping find housing, providing cultural adjustment, supporting language programs and generally making newcomers feel at home in their new foreign setting.

Idaho’s refugee program is a demonstration that even in these contentious times we can come together to do important work, like helping beleaguered folks from other countries. The time, commitment and resources that Russ Stromberg has devoted toward training our Afghan pilot allies for new employment opportunities in America is a feel-good story for the times. And a gracious welcome for our Afghan friends who yearn to get back in the sky.


Tight contests ahead in the OR 5

Oregon’s 5th Congressional District is looking to be a closely-fought contest next year – both in the general election and its primary.

And the Democratic primary election looks to be the least predictable of the two.

Voter registration in this district, anchored by Clackamas and Deschutes counties (home to about two-thirds of its voters) with slices of four others, leans Democratic by 5 percentage points. That’s enough to create a challenging environment for a Republican candidate.

Incumbent Lori Chavez-DeRemer, is a Republican, a narrow winner in 2022, and she appears to have borne in mind since her swearing-in the problems emerging in the next campaign. She is preparing thoroughly for her 2024 campaign for re-election, so far raising a solid $636,051. National Republicans, too, see this as an important battleground seat.

Independent national prognosticators have noted the race as a partisan toss-up, provided Democrats can come up with a candidate who can mount a competitive campaign – and the party so far has produced three.

That in turn means the primary election next spring also will be competitive.

Lesser-known candidates have and may continue to enter the contest; the filing period doesn’t open until Sept. 14. But the main contours of the Democratic field seem to be settling into place, with a potentially tight battle between three leading contenders. No massive philosophical differences seem to separate them; the differences involve geography, backing and types of support.

The most recent entrant is the candidate who lost to Chavez-DeRemer by just 2 percentage points, the 2022 Democratic nominee Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a Terrebonne attorney; that loss came months after she won a tough primary campaign, dispatching Democratic incumbent Kurt Schrader. Through that cycle she built a strong campaign organization and was a strong fundraiser as well, outpacing DeRemer’s $2.6 million by a million more. (DeRemer did receive heavy outside support from Republican groups, however, which likely contributed to her win.) Worth noting: This is not McLeod-Skinner’s first loss: She came in third in the Democratic primary for secretary of state in 2020. Will Democrats want to give her another try when they have as options two other contenders who have repeatedly won offices in the area?

The Democrat with the longest political reach, is Lynn Peterson, now a major office-holder as chair of the Metro Council, elected by voters through the Multnomah-Washington-Clackamas county area. Her most recent races, in 2022 and 2018, both of which she won, were nonpartisan. Previously, she was an elected commission chair in Clackamas County, the 5th District’s largest, and she was elected to the Lake Oswego City Council. She entered politics through working with conservation groups, and retains strong ties there – as well as strong Democratic establishment ties. She likely will have strong fundraising abilities for the new campaign.

A question, however: Will the candidate most identified with the Portland metro area find acceptance in farther reaches of the district, notably Deschutes County, which has become a key element of Democratic base for the district?

The third candidate brings to the table strengths that collectively closely match those of her contenders. Janelle Bynum is a third-term state representative with a statewide profile – she was for a time a prospect for House speaker – and strong connections in Oregon politics, and to an extent beyond.

She also brings an unusually pertinent credential: In two of her three races for the House, her Republican opposition was Chavez-DeRemer, and Bynum defeated her both times. Those races were competitive in a competitive district, and that history will be one of Bynum’s top talking points. Bynum seems well established in her home legislative district, but so far less known than the other two contenders outside of it.

Like the other two contenders, she’s well connected in Democratic circles, and also like them is unlikely to fall short of needed campaign funding.

Taken as a whole, the three candidates have strengths and weaknesses that almost perfectly balance each other.

MacLeod-Skinner won both of the big counties, Clackams and Deschutes, in 2022, though not by large margins. Chevez-DeRemer prevailed by keeping her losses there small enough and by winning very strongly in the district’s slices of Marion and Linn counties. A Democratic nominee will have to contend with that math.

Prognosticators for the Oregon 5th will need some new emerging facts or conditions to budge the races here from toss-up for months to come. For now, this looks like the least predictable Democratic major office primary contest in years.


Condoning what you won’t condemn

It was entirely predictable that Ammon Bundy, the native alt right radical of the American West, would, after terrorizing and threatening health care workers and judges in Idaho, and after being assessed millions for his behavior, would cloak himself in martyr clothes and play the victim.

An Idaho jury recently awarded the state’s largest hospital – St. Luke’s – and several harassed members of its leadership $52.5 million in actual and punitive damages owing to the domestic terrorism tactics of Bundy and his followers in 2022.

As NPR’s Kirk Siegler summarized the case: “The drama goes back to March of 2022 when Bundy led a series of tense protests against the hospitalization of one of his associate’s infant grandkids who state social workers said was malnourished. According to court documents, protesters, some armed, tried to force their way into the hospital’s locked exits. Some held ‘wanted’ signs naming individual doctors and nurses and even blocked an ambulance entrance as car horns blared.”

The antics of Bundy and his followers caused St. Luke’s to effectively shut down for a period of time and the hospital spent a bucket load on increased security. As Kyle Pfannenstiel reported in the Idaho Capital Sun, St. Luke’s hospitals in Boise and Meridian, Idaho “saw 667 more appointments canceled than usual during the week around the protests” and the health system spent “$4.6 million hiring about 74 full time security staff."

Bundy, of course, thumbed his nose at the legal process that finally held him to account by refusing to offer a defense or even show up in court. And after posting a photo online of the female judge who presided over his case Bundy, not man enough to show up in the judge’s court, threatened the jurist.

“Please do not sanction a war that may end in innocent blood and require others to bring justice upon those who are responsible for shedding it,” Bundy wrote.

Bundy is a symptom and not a cause of a much bigger problem, namely the studied willingness of many rightwing politicians to enable our Bundys at the same time they ignore them.

Idaho’s Governor Brad Little, as he cruised to re-election in 2022, winning an election where Bundy won 101,000 votes running as a Republican turned independent, might have made Bundy a central issue for Idaho voters. But Little never mentioned the man with the big hat and even bigger threats. The same can said for every member of Idaho’s congressional delegation and most members of the overwhelmingly right leaning state legislature.

Even worse, some Idaho lawmakers have supported Bundy and his rhetoric, part of a long tendency of too many on the far right to delegitimize government, intimidate the courts and trash the Constitution while proclaiming to defend it.

Truth be told the elected leaders of what was once the party of Lincoln are caught in the right’s doom loop of anti-government rhetoric that stretches at least back to Ronald Reagan’s 1981 declaration that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Rightwing voters, fed a decades-long diet of nonsense and fables about a “deep state” with IRS agents ready to ambush you in the driveway or armies of pedophiles grooming the nation’s children, have washed down this warped political ideology with the refreshing Kool-Aid of blind and ignorant hatred.

About the only things the far right stands for today are the conspiracy theories Bundy invoked in his attack on the Idaho hospital and a profound hatred for our government that, thanks to an Idaho jury, can still hold these radicals accountable.

For Americans who tend to forget – or ignore – their history, it bares mentioning that the radicalization of the American right, the radicalization epitomized by characters like Bundy, has been a long time in coming.

As historian Sean Wilentz wrote recently in the New York Review of Books rightwing talk radio poured accelerant on the politics of hatred after the disastrous siege of the armed Branch Davidian sect in Waco, Texas in 1993. “Go for a head shot,” Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy shouted to a radio audience, “instructing listeners on how to kill federal firearms officials.”

“The second violent American revolution,” Rush Limbaugh declared around the same time, “is just about – I got my fingers about a quarter of an inch apart – is just about that far away.”

Jeffrey Toobin documents in a new book – Homegrown: Timothy McVeigh and the Rise of Right-Wing Extremismthe long arc of this radicalization.

McVeigh, the Oklahoma City mass murderer, was a Limbaugh fan who used a copy of The Turner Diaries, a dystopian 1978 novel that features an attack on the U.S. Capitol and became a how-to guide for a generation of domestic terrorists, to implement his fantasy of a white supremacist revolution.

The bomb McVeigh ignited inside a rented Ryder truck destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and killed 168 people, including 19 children. McVeigh, it should be noted, obtained his copy of The Turner Diaries thanks to an ad in The American Hunter, the magazine of the National Rifle Association.

McVeigh went to his just rewards never expressing remorse for the slaughter he manufactured, sorry apparently only that his actions didn’t spark the revolution he sought. It takes little imagination to connect the dots to January 6, the Proud Boys and the conspiracies theories of Q-Anon.

And now we must wonder what else an Ammon Bundy and his crowd are capable of. Start the wonder by heeding his words about “a war that may end in innocent blood.”

Bundy, even more importantly, is the current case study of the tendency on the right to condone what they refuse to condemn. Bundy’s been huffing and threatening for years, somehow evading the law by the ignoring the law, leading an armed takeover of an Oregon bird refuge and causing a near riot in the Idaho capitol building. Threatening a hospital and its staff is for him all in a day’s work.

Taking on Bundy would, of course, require courage, a quality hard to find among a political class who can’t find the guts to reject as their likely presidential candidate a guy who incited an insurrection after failing to steal an election. An effective response to Bundy would also require a willingness to call out the shocking number of people who support him, clearly too much to ask of politicians who think no farther than their next primary.

Thank goodness a hospital CEO – St. Luke’s Chris Roth in the Bundy case – has more backbone than any Republican officeholder. “Standing up to the threats, bullying, intimidation, disruption, and self-serving actions of the defendants was necessary,” Roth said of the lawsuit against Bundy. “Inaction would have signaled that their menacing behavior was acceptable. Clearly, it is not, and the jury’s decision validates that fact.”

Yet as heartening as Roth’s courage is a sad fact remains. The abject failure by elected Republicans in Idaho and across the West to challenge and unambiguously condemn these homegrown terrorists puts them – and all of us – on a rendezvous with catastrophe.



An unlikely dissenter

You can get a specific read on just how crazed the power struggle within the Idaho Republican Party has gotten by mentioning just one name: Damond Watkins.

The idea that he would be on the losing end of a bitter power struggle in the party’s upper reaches - for that matter, that he would have been involved in a party squabble at all - shows how much things have changed in the last few years.

He comes from one of the best-known and most solidly-established of eastern Idaho Republican families. His father, Dane, was a state senator and a Republican nominee for Congress who I covered for years, and one of the most even-tempered politicians I ever saw. (His father was a key Idaho Falls establishment figure for years before.) Damond’s brother, Dane Jr., was an elected (Republican) Bonneville County prosecutor for years, and now a judge

Damond worked for years (he has since moved on) at Melaleuca, a top executive close to its leader, Frank Vander Sloot; both Melaleuca and Vander Sloot have been well known regionally for many years as a top institutional private-sector centerpoint for the region’s Republican Party. Damond Watkins also put in many years of work for the regional and state Republican Party, chaired the county organization, and for the last decade he has been the Idaho state committee man - one of two state representatives - to the national committee, and has often paid for the travel out of his own pocket.

When last month Watkins abruptly announced his resignation from the position, the party released a statement that he “played a pivotal role in shaping our party’s vision and driving positive change … [and deserved] gratitude for his service and contributions over the years.”

What the party didn’t say then was that the same leadership making that statement had pressured Watkins to quit.

A remarkable story in the Idaho Falls Post Register put together the pieces.

The party’s state leadership - its top officials and its governing bodies - have been changing over the last decade or so, moving away from more establishment leaders like Trent Clark and Rom Luna (both former chairs) to people more aligned with the extremist groups centered in party organizations like Kootenai County. It’s become a much more hard-core group.

The immediate excuse was that he wasn’t spending enough time in Idaho (he also has a house in North Carolina), but that was a pretext only: He’d been attending meetings and doing the work. Behind the scenes several months ago someone tried a challenge to his voting qualifications in Idaho, but the county clerk said he was a properly registered voter. After that, the party brought in an “investigative committee,” which the newspaper indicated collected whatever it could find as evidence against him, including a recording of him speaking in church.

At the June party meeting in Challis, Party Chair Dorothy Moon confronted him with the report, saying (he recalled), that “Everybody, when they see the truth, what’s in this report, they’re going to drop you like flies.” That included, she said, his friend Vander Sloot.

Not so. Vander Sloot rebutted: “I have the highest regard for him. I think what Dorothy Moon and her team did to Damond was abhorrently wrong, immoral, and dishonest. It’s extremely sad to me to see any leader stoop to these levels. It’s especially sad to me to see this happening in the Idaho Republican Party. We are better than this.”

He wasn’t alone in support for Watkins. Clark and Luna (who had been ousted as chair by Moon) also released a statement (including one sent to the national party) saying much the same.

Moon was quoted by the Post Register about all this: “Some of this isn’t anybody’s business. It’s a private club.” This tells you what the leaders of the party running Idaho thinks of its relationship to the people of the state.

All of this was about one person and one party structural position. Here’s your sign of how far the current leadership of the party is willing to go to eliminate opposition.




We took a family vacation up toward the Cabinet Mountains in western Montana. This meant we got to go through the beautiful town of Libby on the Kootenai River.

Libby is famous for asbestos. And asbestos gives you more than 15 minutes of fame.

There was a vermiculite mine there, operated at a wonderful profit for the mine owners for some 70 years. The vermiculite contained asbestos. They declared bankruptcy when the cancer claims started rolling in. See, profit isn’t forever, but dead is.

The US government did what they could, I guess. In 2009 EPA declared a public health emergency. Haven’t such declarations always fixed things?

Max Baucus, a Democratic Senator from Montana thought he had a solution. He was in a pivotal position as ObamaCare got debated back in 2011. He had anyone testifying before his Senate committee who brought up the suggestion of “Medicare for All”, universal coverage, arrested. Though he found voicing such a solution to our health care problems criminal in testimony, he was not above slipping such a solution into some of those thousands of pages of the Affordable Care Act for Libby and Franklin County, Montana citizens.

His amendment offered free, never had to pay a dime into FICA, don’t have to be over 65, Medicare coverage to anybody living in Franklin County Montana exposed to asbestos. This might explain why Medicare has a payment code for “vaginal delivery”. Not everybody on Medicare is over 65.

This coverage follows qualifiers after they leave Franklin County. I’ll admit, I delivered a baby of a resident who moved to Moscow, Idaho from Libby. So, I am guilty of dipping my finger into this cookie jar.

I guess for Max Baucus an environmental/ public health emergency warrants universal health coverage, but public discussion of such a solution is criminal? Welcome to the American Healthcare Follies.

We like piecemeal, not universal solutions in this cowboy country.

Another such bite at the apple occurred back when the invention of kidney dialysis put the “God Committee” in charge of who lives or who dies. Swedish Hospital in Seattle had 17 machines, and there were thousands dying from kidney failure, so a committee chose the folks who got the treatment. In response to the uproar when Life Magazine did a cover story, our government offered universal Medicare coverage to anybody with the diagnosis of “end stage renal disease”. Not only would someone with this diagnosis get their dialysis covered by Medicare, but their erectile dysfunction is paid for too.

So, we offer universal government coverage based on county of residence, your exposure to a bad chemical, or if you have a qualifying diagnosis. We sure love piecemeal solutions, don’t we?

Some argue we should expand this piecemeal approach to medications. Say you need insulin. Then it should only cost you $XX a month. The Big Pharma CEOs and stockholders will expect their whittled down returns to be made up on the cost of blood pressure medications.

It’s a lot like me fixing the dripping faucet on a rundown house with a falling in roof and a settling foundation. Sometimes it’s just best to scrape the failing structure and start over.

Have we come to that point with American Healthcare? Max Baucus, no longer in the Senate, now says maybe we should be considering universal coverage and single payer.

Just how should healthcare be paid for and apportioned? Oops, will I get arrested for bringing this up? I’m not in front of a Senate Committee, so I’m probably OK. But I sure won’t get elected to public office anytime soon. No, to please the public you have to propose piecemeal solutions for poor, innocent victims.

If we keep this up, we’re all guilty.


Do I have it?

As we seniors age into the 80's, most of us have an almost unanswerable question.

"Is memory loss just normal at four-score plus?" "Is it dementia?" "Where is the line between the two?" "How can I know?"

Having reached that age, I've been dealing with the issue for sometime now. And, I don't have an answer. Probably never will.

I endured a lengthy formal testing two years ago. The result was "early onset dementia." At the time, I was told by medical professionals there was no reason for concern. Yeah. Sure.

Now, here it is, two years later and the question still haunts. As more things are forgotten, is it simply age? Or, something else?

The Alzheimer's Association recently published updated research showing Seniors living in the East and Southeast regions of the country are most likely to have Alzheimer's. Especially in rural areas.

But, another part of that same study showed metro areas Miami-Dade County, Baltimore and the Bronx borough of New York City in which the disease affected one-in-six Seniors. Maryland has the highest prevalence at the state level with New York and Mississippi
second and third.

Use of demographic risk factors to estimate the presence of Alzheimer's can help show the full burden of the disease better than medical records. That data shows more than half of people living with Alzheimer's and related dementia are undiagnosed.

That's often the case because loved ones don't recognize the presence of Alzheimer's, thinking forgetfulness is just part of the ageing process. Doctors don't always ask about it, being reluctant to make and share the diagnosis without testing.

Of course, the risk of dementia increases with age. According to the Alzheimer's Association study, "People ages 75 to 79 were about three times more likely to have the disease than those 65 to 69. And, rates were about 15 times higher among ages 85 and up."

Also, rates for Senior women were 13-percent higher than among Senior men. Rates for Black Seniors were about 2.5 times higher than among White Seniors.

Alzheimer's is tough to diagnose. Last week, talking to my doctor, I mentioned this subject to her. She gave me a quick verbal test and, when it was over, she just smiled and continued our session. Optimist that I am, I'm taking that as negative on her test.

Still, that question of "Is it dementia or something else" hangs in the air. I know I'm more forgetful. But, is it because of a disease or just the four-score and seven years and lots of gray hair? And, that's why it's hard to get a straight answer from health care professionals.

Oh well. As my wife says, "He's not yet put his car keys in the refrigerator." Guess that's as good a test as any.


The GOP purge

Despite the fact that Idaho is a Republican stronghold and will likely remain such for the foreseeable future, the group that calls the shots for the Party, that wields power over who gets elected, is a small bunch of extremists. GOP chair Dorothy Moon and a group of like-minded culture warriors are working diligently to tighten their control over the entire Republican Party apparatus. Their avowed goal is to eliminate the independent-minded, pragmatic Republicans who believe the role of government is to deal with real problems like property tax relief, improving public education and improving civil discourse.

Moon and her extremist clique were able to defeat a number of responsible Republicans in the closed GOP primary in 2022, including former Senators Jim Woodward, Carl Crabtree, Greg Chaney, Jeff Agenbroad and Jim Patrick and former Representatives Scott Syme, Jim Addis and Paul Amidor. They will be training their fire on other Republican stand-outs like Rep. Julie Yamamoto and Sen. Dave Lent in 2024.

Knowing that whoever wins the Republican primary is almost assured of winning office in the general election, Moon and her clique are doing their level best to deny the Republican label to all but the candidates most committed to their narrow, far-right view of governing. That will further limit the ability of all other voters– traditional Republicans, independents and Democrats–to have any say in choosing state leaders.

On July 13, Bryan Smith, a member of Moon’s clique, regaled Bonneville County Republicans with what he called “tectonic” rule changes adopted at the GOP State Central Committee meeting in June. Party functionaries, most of whom are ardent extremists, would be able to call out, discipline and censure Republican elected officials who are believed to have departed from the borderline-crazy GOP Platform (including repealing the income tax, depriving people of the right to vote for U.S. Senators, abolishing the Federal Reserve Bank and making all abortions subject to murder charges from the moment of fertilization).

The Party also adopted a proposal to make it harder for voters to change their party affiliation so as to vote in the taxpayer-financed Republican primary. In keeping with the Party’s purge of suspect categories from positions of power, the Party zealots decided to deprive women and young folks of a vote on the Central Committee. Then the Committee adopted a vote of no confidence in Governor Little and 14 GOP legislators for their failure to support legislation allowing junk lawsuits against Idaho libraries.

The extremist branch of Idaho’s Republican Party has been engaged in a purge of all those who are considered suspect by the Moon Crowd and their dogmatic predecessors ever since the GOP closed its primary in 2012. As white nationalist Vincent James Foxx declared last year, a “real right-wing takeover is happening in Idaho and there’s nothing they can do to stop it.” Or, is there actually something Idahoans can do to stop the extremist takeover?

Actually, there is a sure-fire way for Idahoans to take their state back from the extremists who have degraded and embarrassed the Gem State on the national stage, turned us against one another and devoted their attention to gaining votes by creating outrage and fear over non-existent problems while ignoring the actual problems confronting our people.

The solution to almost all of these problems is the Open Primaries Initiative, which will be circulating around the state for signature as soon as the Idaho Supreme Court decides upon proper titles for the measure. Stay tuned to the information about how elections will be conducted under the initiative and how it will empower the people of Idaho to better govern themselves.


Never so cool again?

For almost forever, one of Idaho’s biggest selling points has been its great outdoors, and the reality has matched the hype. It’s a beautiful state, with lots of open territory to explore, even in a time of growing population.

But how well will it hold up in a time of roaring high temperatures?

And it’s getting hot. The heat has made international news in the Middle East, in southern Europe and the southern United States, among other places. Idaho has not been immune.

On Tuesday, the Weather Service projected that “a high of 101 degrees on Wednesday and then experience at least 13 straight days of 100-degree weather - which is as far as the current forecast goes.” The actual temps fell short of that, but not by much. It’s still hot in Boise, and around much of the rest of southern Idaho - a mere outskirts of the massive heat dome that has hit so much of the rest of the country in the last few weeks.

There’s still plenty of time this summer for Boise to break its record of nine straight days of triple digits, a level hit previously just four times - all of those since 2004.

An Idaho Statesman article from a few days ago asked, “Is choking on smoke the new norm? Could the golden days of pool parties and outdoor barbecues become few and far between because being outside is just not worth it?”

Or to put a harsher point on it, will people want to be outdoors in Idaho when temperatures run so hot, and over time ever hotter? What happens then to the centerpiece of Idaho’s appeal?

What if we never get so cool again, in our summer times, as we used to be?

That question makes sense of the University of Idaho-led research proposal called FIERCE, for Fueling an Innovative, Equitable and Resilient Climate-smart Economy. This large-scale regional effort is a semi-finalist for a National Science Foundation award (from a fund totaling $160 million) and it could have an effect on how the Northwest responds to climate change, making the best of a challenging situation.

The group said on its website that “Our vision is to capitalize on the Columbia River Basin’s rich natural resources to develop innovative products, solutions, and a skilled workforce to fuel a resilient economy that will solve climate change.”

It is intended to build a coordinated effort by organizations across the Columbia River basin, to do three things:

“Development of climate-smart natural and technological solutions through the integration of chemistry, biology, natural resources, and engineering research. Development of partnerships with climate-smart venture capitalists and corporations to scale-up solutions and products through investment in existing and new regional businesses. Creation of a STEM workforce development program that transcends traditional disciplinary, vocational, and educational boundaries for creation, implementation, monitoring, and assessment of solutions that have an actual impact on the atmosphere.”

As it does these things, researchers may want to consider some region-specific questions.

The outdoors appeal that Idaho long has had, but could be endangered. Yes, the mountains still are relatively temperate, but even that is changing.

Commercial and income impacts, including, but also beyond agriculture, will have to be considered. Anyone who works consistently outdoors may be affected by the changes ahead.

Wildfires have been moderate so far this year - take some gratitude for that - but the season for them still is young, and the trend line in the last couple of decades has been concerning.

Change is coming, and we all need to start planning for it. The University of Idaho effort is a good start, but a lot more is called for. Might the Idaho Legislature be inclined to at least consider that question?

Okay, let’s not get carried away. But more people should step up and take the changes that are so clearly coming with greater seriousness.


The insulin key

You can imagine the anguish that people face every month – deciding whether to shell out $500 a month (or more) for insulin, or buying groceries … or making that rent payment.

Of course, members of Congress don’t face those choices with their top-grade insurance plans. And even without insurance, affordability for medications is not an issue for members of Congress. We don’t hear stories about senators or congressmen being homeless, or scrambling for medications needed to stay alive.

But the American Diabetes Association hears from a much different segment of the population – and those stories are gut-wrenching.

“One in four people with diabetes have reported rationing their insulin due to high costs,” said Stephen Habbe, vice president (state government affairs) with the ADA.

That’s scary. It doesn’t take a medical background to realize that bad things happen when diabetes patients ration insulin, or quit taking it entirely. Complications can ensue, such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, or death. Yes, these are the kinds of stories that those with the American Diabetes Association hear every day. The thing is, there is no logical reason why insulin costs should be so outrageous. Insulin has been on the market for more than 100 years, and the ingredients have not changed dramatically – especially in recent decades.

“Although insulin was developed over 100 years ago, it’s still far too expensive and out of reach for many Americans living with diabetes,” Habbe said.

He’s right about that. So, it comes down to this. Insulin affordability is not an issue if you’re rich, have a top-grade private insurance plan, or on Medicare. Everyone else is out of luck.

President Trump – the political figure that many people love to hate – broke ground on the issue in a positive way, with ADA officials at his side. He created the Medicare Part D Senior Savings Pilot, which offered insulin at $35 under participating plans. But President Biden rescinded that and a string of other Trump executive orders, and eventually got around to calling for a $35 cap for everyone who needs it. However, that provision was kicked out of Biden’s landmark legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, and Republicans – such as Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo – are not eager to bring it back.

Crapo, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has opposed capping insulin costs, saying that price fixing doesn’t work. He has proposed a GOP-based plan that, realistically, will go nowhere unless Republicans take control of the Senate and Crapo becomes the committee chairman. Crapo may be right about price fixing, but a system that allows costs for a life-saving drug to skyrocket, for no apparent reason, doesn’t work well either.

But the ADA, and states, are not waiting for the Washington politicians to act. According to Habbe, 24 states and Washington, D.C. have passed caps on state-regulated commercial health insurance plans. And the ADA is working to add more states to the list, including Idaho.

State Sen. Julie VanOrden of Pingree, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, says she’s been studying the issue and is interested in seeing a bill. Her willingness to listen and learn about the issue doesn’t guarantee passage through the Idaho Legislature, but the odds become better for a fair committee hearing on the matter.

For Idaho lawmakers, who resist relying on the federal government, there’s an opportunity that might be too good to pass up. Idaho could do what the feds or Congress can’t do (or won’t do). As Habbe sees it, the statehouses are a good place to stage this battle.

“States served as laboratories of change, encouraging federal legislators to take this issue up, which ultimately led to the inclusion of the insulin cost-savings measures – including the $35 cap on insulin in Medicare in the Inflation Reduction Act,” he said. “We’ve seen bipartisan support for this legislation in states across the country and both the U.S. Senate and House have introduced bipartisan bills capping out-of-pocket costs for insulin.”

The issue is going to be kicked around more in statehouses and the halls of Congress. Politicians should keep in mind that those who depend on insulin don’t care what party gets credit for reducing the costs.

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