"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

A couple of experts on the Kurds – the 40 million or so people stretched across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria – make a good argument on The Daily Beast today that the time has come for an independent Kurdistan.

As a practical matter that simply seems not to have been in the cards up to now. To get the independent state they have been seeking would mean getting several independent countries to give up a significant chunk of their population and territory, some of it oil-producing. And the leadership of some of those countries, present or past – Iraq and Turkey maybe most visibly – have been violently against the idea.

And trying to offer up independent countries to every ethnic group around the globe is, Woodrow Wilson to the contrary, not a real good idea.

However. Something like the protagonist in the Kipling poem “If,” the Kurds – who long have had a sort of shadow government in place and a military to go with it – have been a solid bulwark against their neighbors Daesh, holding their ground better than either the Syrian or Iraqi states. They are proving themselves a coherent force, and nation status could make them more effective. On top of that, they generally have been aligned with the West; the United States has worked with them informally for years.

Writers Aliza Marcus and Andrew Apostolou argue, though, that a single Kurdistan may yet be impractical, just because conditions in the four countries are so different. Iraqi Kurds have been all but independent for close to a quarter-century, while those in in Turkey are still struggling with the federal government there. Those in Iran remain repressed, while those in Syria are moving toward the Iraqi model.

But they do argue that giving the group international help is not beyond reach. Maybe, with the recent shootdown of a Russian plane by Turks kept in mind, the right leverage may be here to do that. – rs

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In January I ran out a list of 100 influential Idahoans, among them (at number 43) a brand-new state official, appointed to the office just a couple of months earlier: Kevin Kempf, director of the Department of Correction.

A year after his appointment, I’m glad I included him. The indicators about his background I was advised of, that might make for significant changes at the state lockup, seem in fact to be leading to something new.

Kempf arrived as director on the shores of a troubled period in Idaho prisons, not least because of the private prison (aka “gladiator school”), then returning to state control. The typical response to hiring a new director, tasked with making major improvements after a bad patch, is to look outside the state, or at least the department. In this case, the Board of Correction promoted from within, and that may have been a key to significant reform.

Here’s some of what I wrote about him at the time: “Kempf is a career corrections officer, with work all along the line. He started in 1995 and spent his first years as a corrections officer, a parole officer and an investigator. He moved up through executive ranks, becoming a district (southwest area) manager, prison warden (at the Idaho Correctional Institution in Orofino) and then a central office administrator, finally deputy director in 2012 (before which that particular job didn’t exist). His understanding of the
department has to be thorough.

“But it’s the combination with the next factor that really seals his spot in this list: He has done a lot of outside work, and made a lot of outside connections, suggesting an interest in trying new directions and new possible solutions. He spent years quietly working on court-corrections relations and planning, and discussions about how results could be improved. He has been highly active in national corrections organizations, starting his Linked In page by saying, ‘I love networking and getting to know fellow Correctional Professionals from across the country.’ By various accounts, that’s accurate.”

In other words, he knew the Idaho system from top to bottom, but also stayed involved enough with outside interests to pull ideas for improvement from a wide range of sources.

In his first year, Kempf has pushed for a variety of changes. One has been a significant pay raise for corrections officers. Another – which may help with the first – is an “open door” policy, especially for legislators who want to check out the insides of a prison, but also for others as well. Kempf has become quite visible in the news media.

He is also changing some significant aspects of prisoner treatment, including – at least this is his plan, as outlined to the Board of Correction on November 12 – eliminating solitary confinement. The department has started a community mentor program for prisoners, to help them transition back to the outside world, which ought to be good news to anyone who realizes that almost all prisoners one day will be back out on the street.

He has responded quickly to outside criticisms as well. In July a federal judge described as “barbaric” the dry cells – cells without running water, without a toilet – used in one of the units. Within a month, Kempf had ordered their use abolished.

Last week he reported progress to legislators on a range of areas, even reporting a welcome decline in prison population, while noting improvement in others that will take some time. “We are trending in the right way.”

In a Boise Weekly article, Kempf was quoted, “We’re behind the times and that’s not a position I want to be in.” If he holds to the trajectory of his first year, Idaho corrections won’t be.

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Maybe the criticisms last year of a growing trend toward Thanksgiving shopping actually had an effect. The likelihood now is that fewer retailers will be open a week from today, and more employees will get a day off.

The San Francisco Business Times is reporting an extended list of retailers that plan to stay dark on Thanksgiving and reopen the day after, the (more) traditional Black Friday. It cited Staples specifically as an example of a retailer open last year and closed this, but indicated more would be doing the same.

The report said that “Many large retailers are closing down shop for Thanksgiving this year, and while they may also have employees’ best interests in mind, it has become more clear that having brick-and-mortar stores open during a holiday isn’t very helpful for the retailers’ bottom line anyway, especially with the rise of online shopping. Staying open on a major American holiday may be more trouble — and bad marketing — than it’s worth.”

Surely the Friday after Thanksgiving is early enough. – rs (photo)

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Probably this is what most people (us included) suspected last night as word about the violence in Paris broke: That ISIS was responsible. This morning, ISIS claimed responsibility. Goes further to show how sick that organization is, that it would take responsibility for something like this.

The violence in Paris obviously calls for blowback – you can hardly leave it unanswered – but it also calls for intelligent blowback, a considered response. ISIS presumably wanted to get something, a specific response, out of what it did: It wants the west to respond, and in a particular way. We might want to consider carefully what that response would be, and if we’d be wise to give it to them.

Panic is not a good response on our part. Neither is flailing. ISIS should be targeted; but we ought to think about how, and how to do it in such a way that it cannot benefit from what we do. – rs

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