"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.


Last week’s column on Muslim refugees coming to Idaho drew enough response that a follow seems warranted.

One respondent opined (in an attachment), “the bottom line is that the [College of Southern Idaho] refugee program must be terminated to prevent potential Islamic jihad terrorism and immigration jihad with increasing numbers of muslims.”

Another more measured reader: “You’ll notice most of the fear is fear of people from countries that are Islamic states. If Europe and America are going to bring in hundreds of thousands of people – many young men – from countries like Syria that are being overrun by ISIS (a Muslim terrorist group), don’t you think there’s a chance some of those ISIS fighters could enter our country along with the thousands of Syrians who don’t pose a threat? As we saw on 9-11, it only takes a few to cause a lot of chaos.”

Okay. A few thoughts then for your consideration.

First, because it’s so oft-forgotten and not irrelevant: The United States is militarily impregnable. Our military is nearly as powerful as the rest of the world’s put together. Ain’t nobody from any other country, or from the United Nations, imposing their will on us. America is going to continue to be run by Americans. If anyone suggests otherwise to you, they’re conning you.

The best way America can avoid attracting the attention of the violence-prone of the Middle East would be to lighten our footprint there.

Coming in with a group of refugees would be the dumbest way for a terrorist to enter. Every real refugee in the group would have extremely strong incentive to turn in a would-be bomber to the authorities.

Obviously, there are Muslim extremists. But obsessing on them gives them a lot more power and credibility than they warrant. They aren’t that numerous – and before you point out the more than billion adherents to Islam around the globe, bear in mind that they consist of many segments, people who have many ways of interpreting Islam and the Quran, just as the vast number of Christians do. Mostly, they have found ways to peacefully coexist with each other and the rest of the world; if that were not the case, the world would be one vast war-pit. (Which, the lunacies of cable TV news notwithstanding, it is not.) If you still doubt the many variations within Islam, look at the various segments of Christianity (say, Unitarians, Church of Christ and the LDS Church, and dare I add the old Aryan Nations church from northern Idaho) and try saying with a straight face that they’re all the same, that they all see their theology alike and that they interpret and focus on the Bible identically.

With one obvious exception, there have been few actual instances of Muslin-based terrorism in the United States. On those few occasions, the perpetrators have been either U.S. citizens or in the country on visas. They’ve had no trouble getting in through conventional means. Not only that, the borders of the United States are vast and, as we know from long experience, porous. If someone really wants to enter the United States bad enough, he or she can find a place and a way to do it.

I write this while monitoring a terrorism-related incident that has become personal and close to home. My sister, a professor at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, was teaching class Thursday afternoon in a building next to where a crazed gunman was opening fire on students and a teacher, killing 10 people and injuring seven more. The shooter has described himself as “conservative”, a supporter of the Irish Republican Army and “not religious but spiritual”. That incident was the 294th person killed in a mass shooting in the United States in the 274 days to that point this year. As in almost all of those other incidents, the perp in this case was not Muslim.

Would I be okay with Syrian refugees living in a house on my block? Yep.

Share on Facebook

Idaho column Stapilus


You may have noticed about a week ago reports about two polls of presidential preferences among Idaho Republicans, in separate stories. If you put them together in one story, you can see the results of the two appear to conflict.

But there’s a straight line through them that says something about who supports who.

First, Dan Brown & Associates, from Utah, released a poll of 508 Idaho adults. Among Republicans, businessman Donald Trump took 28% of the vote for the lead. Physician Ben Carson came in second with 15%. Former front-runner Jeb Bush was down in single digits at eight percent; others were in single digits. This was fairly reflective of most of the recent national polls of Republicans (or what you could see in their placement in last week’s presidential debate).

A few days later Republican organizations in Bannock and Jefferson counties tried their own local straw polls, and the results there were a little different. Both counties placed Carson in a strong first place, with about 30% of the vote in each county. In Bannock, Trump was second at 22%, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio came in third at 20%. In Jefferson, Trump was far down the list, as second place went to Senator Ted Cruz (15%), and Senator Rand Paul followed him.

These are distinctly different results, even accounting for the more local polling from the counties. What should we make of these differences?

Here’s some speculation (and if someone from Bannock or Jefferson counties has an alternative explanation, send me a note).

The Brown poll, which was scientifically conducted, probably covered a broad range of Idahoans (other parts of the poll included results among Democratic contenders), and in such a poll party leaders, foot soldiers and activists would account for only a minute portion of the total. It was a “general population” poll.

The straw polls would have been informal, with no specific attempt, as in scientific polls, to account for various percentage portions of the population: The votes they get usually come from whoever happens by. That doesn’t mean these polls are garbage. Years ago as a reporter at the Idaho State Journal I worked with straw polls the newspaper ran at local grocery stores, and when it came to local voting a few days before elections they tended to be surprisingly accurate.

But local people active in the county Republican parties easily could have been over-represented in these two new straw polls.

And that leads to this suggestion:

Among the less-organized, out-in-the-fields Republicans (or Republican-inclined voters) around the state, Trump is highly popular.

Among the more organized Republicans, he may be much less so, with candidates like Carson, Cruz and Rubio finding more appeal. Based on the polls, Bush seems for now to be losing steam in Idaho as he has been nationally.

At least, that looks like a reasonable view from September 2015. Now we can wait a few months and see what it looks like around the holidays.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


While I was reviewing old columns for inclusion in a book collection a few of them from years ago jumped out at me as especially relevant right now, and worth pondering even more now than then. This one (edited a little for length from a longer web-only original) dates from almost exactly nine years ago (about a year before the headlines that eventually ended Larry Craig’s Senate career), but it has resonance considering the issues in front of the presidential campaign now underway . . .

Senator Larry Craig and his staff – and they wouldn’t be alone – must still be wondering about just what the hell happened at their town hall meeting Tuesday night in Coeur d’Alene. They’d have good reason to, because a significant issue rides on it: To what extent did it reflect a substantial strain, or just fluke fissure, in the community?

Craig has taken heat for a few years now from parts of the conservative community – which for most of his years in Congress has given him unqualified support – for his stand on immigration and illegal aliens, a stance bearing some resemblance to that of President George W. Bush. Yes, there are a lot of people in this country who aren’t supposed to be here, and that fact – and border security – needs to be dealt with more effectively, Craig has suggested. But he also suggests that there’s no reason for a panic reaction, either.

As he was quoted by the Coeur d’Alene Press: “You can’t go door to door and force between 8 million and 10 million people to leave at gunpoint. For 20 years, immigration laws have failed. We know there’s a problem and we’re working on it. The first step is securing the border and we’re doing that.”

That seems hard to argue, reflecting a general reality we’ve managed to live with for a long time, and yet the reaction has suggested it’s an edgy statement. The reaction at – and yes, this is where it was – the Human Rights Education Institute at Coeur d’Alene, was something else again.

The Press said that “of nearly 60 people in attendance, many wanted action, including immediate deportation. They said it was a crisis that was going to bankrupt the country and cited numerous examples of problems in Southern California, including drugs, rape, and gangs. Some went so far as to say he wasn’t doing his job to uphold and protect the Constitution and has failed the citizens of Idaho.” Robert Vasquez, a Canyon County commissioner and recent congressional candidate, has for some years been saying the same thing; this year his message has expanded across more territory.

The spearhead of the protest or at least the loudest protester apparently was Stan Hess, a candidate for office, opposing Denny Hague for a seat on the North Idaho College Board of Trustees. The Press said he “erupted with anger over the immigration issue. He screamed at Craig and the citizens, who tried to boo him down. Then Hess confronted a woman and yelled at her only a few inches away from her face. Several people stood up to diffuse the confrontation. Craig’s handlers said they were moments away from calling the police. Hess, who also blasted NIC professor and longtime Human Rights advocate Tony Stewart, stormed out of the meeting.”

It may be, as Spokesman Review writer David Oliveria suggests, that Hess’ performance at the Craig town hall provided ample information about who not to vote for in the NIC trustee election. Additionally, though, it – and the not-so-divergent views of others in the audience – shows that razing an Aryan Nations encampment has not yet erased some ugly strains in northern Idaho.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


The InciWeb site (inciweb.nwcg.gov) lists wildfires around the country, and as of late this week it showed 27 of them – or, to be more precise, 27 groups, in Idaho. Depending on how you count the number of Idaho fires probably could be listed well into three digits.

A number of them are listed as being fires in a “complex”, the Lawyer, Clearwater, Motorway, Middle Fork and others being among those. Several national forests, maybe lacking time for listing all the bits and pieces for Inciweb, just list “miscellaneous fires,” of formally zero but almost certainly undetermined acreage.

The biggest of them, the Soda fire in southwest Idaho, was more than 30 miles from Boise but so vast that skillfully shot pictures taken from the Boise foothills showed the fire and the city in one image, as if the city was about to burn. Much of the area burned by the Soda was lightly inhabited desert country, but it did serious damage enough to farm and ranch land and livestock. Fires to the north did cause a series of residential evacuations.

So much fire is going on out there it’s evidently become hard to manage even statistically. Looking down the numbers at a glance, you could see last week wildfires in Idaho covering as much as a half-million acres. And that’s not all that has or will go up in smoke this year.

Is this Idaho’s biggest fire year?

No. Not close.

Only three years ago, 1.75 million acres burned in the state, a level we may not reach this year.

But the biggest was more than a century ago, the great fire of 1910. It was the biggest recorded burn in American history, covering several states and more than three million acres (about three times the size of fires in the comparable region this year), killing at least 86 people, and hitting notably hard in northern Idaho. At least two entire Idaho communities, Falcon and Grand Forks, were wiped from the earth by the blaze. The New York Times writer Timothy Egan devoted an excellent book in 2009 to its causes and after-effects: The Big Burn, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.

There were big aftereffects, not least at the U.S. Forest Service, whose lands were especially hard hit. Wikipedia summarizes what Egan and others have pointed out: “The Fire of 1910 cemented and shaped the U.S. Forest Service, which at the time was a newly established department on the verge of cancellation. Before the epic event, there were many debates on how to handle forest fires; whether to let them burn because they were a part of nature and were expensive to fight, or to fight them in order to protect the forests. After the devastation of the Big Blowup, it was decided that the U.S. Forest Service was to prevent and battle against every wildfire.”

Since then, debate has risen and grown about how to deal with wildfires – and if the history of recent years is a decent measure, we’re not on the declining side of them. Should they be fought with prescribed burns, a preferred approach for many professionals? Should forests be thinned through logging? Should some fires just be allowed to burn? Are there other approaches that might forestall more years like this one, or keep a future year from turning into another 1910?

After all, it could get even worse.

And will there be more emphasis in addressing these questions in the coming winter than there usually is after snow begins to fall?

If the snow begins to fall.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


Of course, someone had to come up with “666.”

But there’s more than this to recent decisions that, at long last, Idaho will move out of its long-standing single area code and into the world of two of them.

The Public Utilities Commission, which oversees area codes, has faced the issue before and managed to kick it down the road. The need has been mentioned as far back as the 80s, but not really confronted head-on until 2001, when the national private company administering area codes figured that Idaho would run out of 208 numbers by the end of 2003. The PUC, putting off that day, cut the numbers assigned to phone companies in single blocks (from 10,000 to 1,000) for the Boise area, which bought some time. It used the same tactic a few years later, on a statewide basis, to buy more time. Now, at last, the game will be up in another three years.

After that, the state could go two ways: Either divide geographically (like it has with congressional districts), which would mean half of the state getting a new area code number. This would allow everyone to still make seven-digit local phone calls. But it would amount to a lot of hassle and changed phone numbers for a lot of people, so the likelihood is an “overlay” – starting a new area code right on top of 208, statewide. That would mean you have to dial an area code even if you’re calling two houses down. But it would also probably mean you can keep your existing phone numbers.

Much of Oregon uses an overlay system that works this way. On one hand, dialing the extra three numbers is a small annoyance. On the other hand, many numbers most of us call these days are programmed into smart phones and the like, so the practical difference is apt to be a lot smaller than in the days when people actually dialed their phone numbers. (Assuming here you’re among the shrinking group who used to use rotary phones? Never mind.) The overlay is a little complicated for callers, but keeping your accustomed number is probably a much bigger tradeoff, especially for businesses and other organizations but for many residents too. A lot of people still do, after all, have local phone tethers, even if they use wireless signals for their local numbers instead of wires (as our house does).

The PUC is taking comments on all this through October 6.

Comes next, of course, the question of what new three-number area code Idaho should get.

It can’t be one already in use elsewhere, which limits the possibilities. The “666” suggestion noted above actually would work, since for some reason no one has gotten it assigned to their local area. But it doesn’t seem very likely for Idaho.

The lively crowd at the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Huckleberries blog has come up with some additional suggestions too, based on the letters attached to the numbers. You could get GEM (436), which isn’t in use elsewhere. Someone suggested GOP (467), also not in use.

Others suggested that apparently would qualify include LDS (537), LOL (565), or 384 (DUH).

What’s your preference?

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column


Nine years ago, the Oregon Supreme Court threw out a 1971 law aiming at limiting advertising along highways that promoted any product not available on the premises. The idea was to allow, for example, a farmer to advertise at roadside his crops for sale, but disallow advertising for a motel or store located far away. The intent of the law was to limit the number of billboards without damaging local businesses.

The court killed the law because, it said, “The state may not enact restrictions that focus on the content of the speech, and this restriction does just that.”

That’s a central thread also running through the U.S. District Court decision last week throwing out the Idaho “ag-gag” law, which seeks to ban video recording of treatment of animals; the new offense was called “interference with agricultural production.” The recorders were compared to “terrorists” and “marauding invaders.” Critics said that the law made the penalty in Idaho higher for exposing evidence of animal abuse than for actually abusing animals.

District Judge B. Lynn Winmill looked at the law more broadly. He started by saying it “seeks to limit and punish those who speak out on topics relating to the agricultural industry, striking at the heart of important First Amendment values.” The law, he suggests, might have barred Upton Sinclair from researching and writing his great novel about the meat-packing industry, The Jungle.

Winmill moved on to this: “A person, such as an employee, would not violate §18-7042 if he or she stood in an agricultural production facility and surreptitiously filmed the agricultural facility owner having a private conversation with his spouse. This same employee, however, could be prosecuted under §18-7042, and face up to a year in jail, and be liable for reputational harm to the owner, if the employee, without the owner’s consent, filmed his fellow workers repeatedly beating, kicking, and jumping on cows, or using a moving tractor to drag a cow on the floor by a chain attached to her neck. In other words, … law enforcement authorities would need to view suspect video or audiotape to determine whether a particular recording violates the statute. The recording prohibition is therefore a classic example of a content-based restriction.”

There is more: “The recording prohibition gives agricultural facility owners veto power, allowing owners to decide what can and cannot be recorded, effectively turning them into state-backed censors able to silence unfavorable speech about their facilities.”

What the “ag-gag” law seeks to do, at base, is stifle a participant’s side of an argument – to say that one side cannot be expressed, but another can. Winmill: “The central problem with § 18-7042 is that it distinguishes between different types of speech, or conduct facilitating speech, based on content. As already discussed in the context of the First Amendment claim, an employee can make an unauthorized recording of an agricultural facility owner’s children visiting the facility without running afoul of § 18-7042, but the same employee could not make an unauthorized recording of workers abusing animals. Likewise, an undercover journalist who misrepresents his identity to secure a job at an agricultural production facility so he can publish a laudatory piece about the facility would not violate the statute. But an undercover journalist who misrepresents his identity to secure a job at the same facility seeking to expose illegal, inhumane, or unsafe behavior would violate the statute. The operative distinction is the message the employee or undercover journalist wishes to convey.”

Where else in human history have we seen governments allowing legal free access for one message, while banning its counterpoint? Legislators might do well to consider that when they return to session to take up this issue again.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


Is Idaho Donald Trump’s kind of place?

We now have a pretty clear idea of who all the major contenders for president will be in 2016: At this point all or nearly all have announced. (The New York Times declared the field unofficially closed after the announcement last week of Ohio Governor John Kasich.)

So who’s the Republican now most likely to pick up support in the Gem State?

The last couple of nomination contests weren’t good normal case studies, because Mitt Romney had unusually strongly connections to the Idaho area, between his ties to Utah and his Mormon religion, which he has in common with about a third of Idahoans, the bulk of that third being Republican.

Romney aside, the hearts of many Idaho Republicans seem traditionally to go toward insurgent and anti-establishment contenders, and candidates who match up with the Idaho self-image.

The biggest share of those Idaho Republicans who didn’t back Romney in the nomination fight in 2012 went for Ron Paul, whose candidacy was an irritant to much of the establishment. In 2000, there wasn’t really an insurgent candidate. George W. Bush got much of the state’s support and was the big favorite nationally from early on, but there was a significant base for Alan Keyes as well. In 1996, Pat Buchanan was the closest thing around to an insurgent anti-establishing candidate, but he never organized substantially in Idaho, and never picked up a lot of national traction.

When Ronald Reagan, still probably as popular in Idaho as he ever was, got his start, he was an insurgent candidate, running from a long-shot mode in 1968 and as a serious but definitely outsider challenger to a sitting president in 1976. And Reagan won that 1976 Idaho primary hugely, with 74.3% of the vote, his best vote anywhere in the country that year. A lot of the affection for him in Idaho built from that time, from his role not as a front runner or incumbent but as a challenger to powers that be.

Also liked: Challenger to powers that be who are dismissed by them. People like Helen Chenoweth and Sarah Palin picked up a lot of traction in Idaho in no small part for that reason. Their backers might call it being unafraid to speak the truth, their critics might call it speaking foolishness, but in Idaho you’ll find enough voters in the first camp to form a significant base.

Does Donald Trump fit into that mold? Or does someone else do so better?

Reagan had been a governor, but many of the people who like Trump say that much of what they like about him is that he’s an outsider, so presumably someone who hasn’t been a governor or a senator might have some particular appeal. They also like the idea that he “can’t be bought,” that he’s independently wealthy enough that he could do as he chooses. These concepts would have some resonance in the Idaho Republican electorate. Across that very large Republican field of candidates, only three, Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, have not been either a governor or a senator. And Carson and Fiorina are not top-rank contenders, at least at present.

And this time there aren’t any Republican candidates who touch the self-identity chords in Idaho the way Reagan, George W. Bush or Mitt Romney did.

Might Idaho be Trump territory? Could be, if The Donald lasts in his campaigning hothouse long enough to get to next year’s Idaho primary.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


Being neither a medical nor a legal professional, I’m wary of stepping too far into this intersection of the two arenas. But there’s a large public policy question here worth your, as well as my, consideration.

On July 7 the Idaho Supreme Court decided Sohar Chavez v. Kevin Stokes, a worker compensation case. Chavez worked as an irrigator for Stokes on a farm near Payette; one day in September 2012 his pinky finger was caught and mangled in a piece of machinery. Stokes wasn’t insured for workers compensation but paid without dispute Chavez’ various medical expenses – except one.

After the accident happened, Chavez drove himself to the home of a Payette area law officer, where paramedics tried to treat him. Someone – apparently a paramedic – made the decision to call for the Life Flight helicopter, which flew him to the St. Alphonsus hospital in Boise. A few days later Life Flight issued a bill for $21,201. Stokes paid all the other expenses, but argued that the Life Flight, or at least its cost, was not necessary or reasonable.

The dispute over this has lasted a long time. About a year after the accident a referee was called in, and sought an independent doctor’s opinion. The doctor said the injury to the finger (which was serious enough that it was amputated at St. Alphonsus) was serious but it “was not in any way, shape or form, life critical. For that reason I do not understand why Life Flight was called or addressed in the first place, and why the case was not taken to Holy Rosary. Indeed, it is extremely reasonable that the patient would be taken physically to Holy Rosary Hospital. Had there been an incident which may in some way benefited from a vascular reconstruction, then the patient could be transferred to St. Alphonsus or St. Luke’s. Indeed, this was in no way necessary.”

The Holy Rosary Medical Center at Ontario is a substantial general-purpose hospital located about four to five miles from Payette, and could have been reached in a few minutes. St. Alphonsus in Boise was about an hour away by car, less by helicopter but still a longer trip even by air than to Holy Rosary. The referee concluded that the medical work could have been done properly at Ontario.

There are specific rules and guidelines in Idaho (as elsewhere) covering when a medical procedure is “reasonable,” and in this case the court applied some of those rules and partly reversed an earlier ruling. Overall, the unanimous court said, “We recognize that the Life Flight transport may be seen as arguably unnecessary with the benefit of hindsight, but the evidence nonetheless supports the Commission’s finding that the Life Flight transport was reasonable medical treatment at the time of Chavez’s injury.”

So, the conclusion was that the $21,201 less-than-an-hour helicopter flight was deemed a legitimate medical expense, and had to be paid by Stokes.

As the court’s language suggests, hindsight is easier than real-time emergency action.

Could the same result have been obtained for $21,201 less? It would seem so.

The answers aren’t completely settled and obvious in this area. The question of what was the right thing to do in this case was answered in different ways by various professionals. But the case of Chavez v. Stokes shines a light on why getting a handle on our medical expenses has been so hard, and on some of the discussions we’re going to have to have if we ever hope to bring them under some rational control.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column Stapilus