"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.


Seniors, by virtue of having lived many years, often fall into mental “traps.” One such is thinking you’ve “seen it all.” Another is “there’s nothing new under the sun.” And, of course, “because I’m older, I’m wiser.” Fact is, if you stay connected to the world while learning to let your thinking “go with the flow,” there are lots of new things to see, plenty of new things to experience and you’ve found age and wisdom are entirely unrelated.

All of this has come home in the recent days as I’ve experienced the most disgusting, racist, obscene, hate-filled and embarrassingly ignorant rhetoric of too many fellow citizens and, especially, the trash talk coming from many of the Republican candidates for president. It’s the subject of likely Syrian immigration. With the possible exception of John Kasich, that bunch has earned our contempt and outrage by engaging in behavior unfit for anyone in public life. Or, aspiring to be.

As a registered Independent in Oregon, my voting pencil swings from side to side on our election ballots. Neither major party earns blind allegiance nor acceptance of the entirety of all candidates offered. So, when I condemn the major affront to our national dignity by Trump, Huckabee, Bush, Paul, Forina et al, it’s without picking one party over the other. All are deserving of our collective contempt as individuals and by the despicable trash coming from their own campaigns. Party aside.

Maybe more than any other recent issue, this one of how to deal with accepting Syrians fleeing war and all its madness has exposed the absolute fractures and canyon-like separations found in our national consciousness. It appears all who’ve voiced their opinions from the neighborhood bar to the national Capitol are entrenched and unmoveable in support or opposition to accepting these human beings in our house.

I came across a new word in all this rhetoric as I’ve tried to see this issue from more than one viewpoint. It’s “asylee.” Not something found in everyday conversation. It means an alien at our doorway “found to be unable or unwilling to return to his/her country of nationality or to seek the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.” That “persecution or fear thereof must be based on the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asylees are eligible to adjust to lawful, permanent resident status after one year of continuous presence in the United States. The number of immigrants defined by this description is limited to 10,000 per fiscal year. The same number the President has set for 2016.

This seems to be the nub of the whole immigration legal status. Oh, there are presidential executive orders, various laws and even the U.S. Constitution. But the asylee status is regarded by most immigration experts as the best definition under which the current crop of Syrian and other refugees from war and persecution fall.

My point of going into this one brief, non-political and non-emotional example is to show there really are some legal and humanitarian parameters for a realistic discussion without all the B.S. emanating from presidential campaigns and cowardly, uninformed residents of statehouses coast-to-coast. Of course, there are other legally descriptive and fitting approaches to the immigration debate. But reasoned debate has been entirely overcome by huge numbers of people with no idea what they’re talking about. Voices playing to other sick minds with unfounded fears with large helpings of racism and unfounded nationalistic hate.

As usual in subjects of national political import, the governors of Oregon, Washington and California seem to be leading voices of what the situation is, what the facts are and what actions need to be taken. Or avoided. All three have said Syrian refugees will be admitted and welcomed. The plain fact is, any citizen, governor or ignorant politician who takes the opposite stance does so with no recognition of what the laws are in such instances and what powers they have – or don’t have – to deal with immigration.

When the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia, exhibited massive ignorance for all to see in a letter to the White House, bringing up the shameful subject of internment camps for Syrians, he established the bottom of the barrel on the issue of immigration. What we did to Japanese-Americans in 1942 was the most unconscionable act of widespread degradation this nation has ever taken into the depths of racist hatred against an entire segment of our society. If hizzoner is truly serious – and that stupid – I propose his personal Virginia living room be designated “Camp One.”

This Syrian issue represents a lot more than just a new home for people trying to keep their families safe and together. It goes to our national conscience – it questions if we really mean all the words in our Pledge of Allegiance – it challenges all those high-flown images of a truly just America we all were brought up to believe in. It questions that massive statue in the waters off New York City – the one inscribed “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free … send these, the homeless, tempest tost (sic) to me.”

We have an empty house next door. A Syrian family would be as welcome to move in as any other – much more welcome than the bellicose, racist, trash-talking, mindless political hacks that fill our evening airwaves. Their kind should not be welcomed anywhere. Especially at the ballot box.

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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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First Take


Events in Canada this week show why elections matter. Yes there will be better policies put in place: Perhaps a return to government-to-government relations with First Nations; more federal investment in Indigenous education; and, a serious, nationwide probe of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. All those things show a government moving in the right direction.

But there is something else: tone. The music of elections.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered the message that Aboriginal Canadians are significant intellectual contributors to Canada’s political discourse. Trudeau’s appointments, his first day of images, really set a high bar for what hope elections can stir in communities, including those representing First Nations, Inuit and Metis.

Most of us are surrounded by a narrative that says real shared power takes a long time. We have to move slow, methodically, bringing people along.

But that’s not what happened in Canada. Trudeau’s appointments were like a lightening bolt. In one instant the cabinet of Canada is representative of gender, of region, and, of Aboriginal people. When he was asked, “why?” about gender, the prime minister replied, “because it’s 2015.”

Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde told the CBC that Trudeau’s appointments begin a “new era of reconciliation.”

“I was very impressed with the opening ceremony, but even more impressed that out of eight aboriginal members of Parliament that were elected, two have made it into cabinet,” said Bellegarde. “It sends a powerful statement about inclusion and it sends a powerful statement about the reconciliation that is going to be required in rebuilding a new relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples.”

The new minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould shows how a government can match diversity with extraordinary talent and experience. Much has been said about the attorney general’s role as a regional tribal chief and as an advocate for reconciliation with Aboriginal people. But she’s also been British Columbia crown prosecutor. The fact is she’s extraordinarily well qualified for this post. Wilson-Raybould is a member of the We Wai Kai Nation and a descendant of the Musgamagw Tsawataineuk and Laich-Kwil-Tach peoples, which are part of the Kwakwaa’wakw and also known as the Kwak’wala speaking peoples. When she was a child, her father said it was her goal to be Prime Minister.

That same richness of experience is true for the new minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Hunter Tootoo. Yes, he is Inuit and has a track record on issues such as economic development or housing. But he also was Speaker of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly.

The Tyee in Vancouver quoted Aaron Hill of the Watershed Watch Salmon Society saying Tootoo’s appointment could mean a “seismic shift” in Canada’s approach to First Nations fisheries.

Imagine what these kinds of appointments would be like in the United States: A leader of a fishing tribe named to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Or a tribal judge or attorney as the next United States Attorney General. Lightening bolt.

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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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First Take


A friend sent a note recently recounting a discussion he had with an employee of Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game. My friend is more of a fly fisherman than a hunter. Nonetheless, they talked hunting. He said the Fish & Game employee stated the department is developing data which could show two out of three elk killed in Idaho annually are poached.

That number seemed high so I called my neigbhor, Brad Corkill, who lives a few miles down the road near Rose Lake, and is the north Idaho representative on the Fish & Game Commission.

Corkill said he too thought the number was high, but to a Fish & Game commissioner any number above that of tags sold is too high. He added the figure of two out of three would be hard to prove. It presumes a degree of hard, factual data the department does not yet possess.

If one includes in the “illegal take” the number for “party hunting” (The number shot by one member of a hunting party but someone other than the shooter puts their tag on the game) Corkill conceded the two of three number might be getting close to the real answer.

It should also be pointed out that the number for “road kill” is not utilized though it is an “untagged” taking. As long as one calls the department to report their taking the kill with them, it is legal to do so.

Nonetheless there is ample evidence Idaho has a serious poaching problem. Corkill referred me to Chip Corsi in the regional office. He was informative and helpful in digging into this issue.

Corsi said the number of illegally taken elk was thought to be high by many in the agency, but no one really knew how high. He thought their agency was getting increasingly better at drilling down on the real number and was doing more “focused research” to get at the actual total take. Still there was not enough evidence to warrant significant changes in the length of elk hunting season.

Both Corsi and Corkill praised the work of Citizens Against Poaching, an independent group made up largely of hunters who keep their eyes and ears open for people who brag about illegal takes or, as is often the case in poaching, multiple takes. They report sightings, rumors and suspicions to the agency for follow up.

Both were asked if they thought poaching was ingrained in north Idaho’s “culture?” The argument is the poaching that does occur is often necessity driven—-a hunter has little income, has to feed his family and keep the larder full, so he spotlights and shoots game from the road at night even though against the law. The second aspect of this argument is many north Idahoans living up the various creeks, draws and canyons feel any game on their property is fair game and their game. It is viewed as an extension of their right to the benefits of their land ownership.

It would appear also that many hunters do not view “party hunting” as illegal conduct and still view themselves as law-abiding citizens.

Both Corsi and Corkill firmly reject the “in the culture”view. Corsi said there may be some families who hold these views but indicated that at many of the poaching sites Fish & Game discover there are multiple kills perpetrated by hardened criminals—individuals who have committed or are commiting other crimes.

They acknowledge that when one hears a series of rifle shots after dark and a few days before a season opens, it is a poacher at work. Corkill pointed to the obvious: a person doesn’t sight –in his rifle after dark.

Both, though, believe the vast majority of north Idaho hunters are law-abiding citizens who recognize the Fish & Game department is a trustee who manages for the long-term, and whose goal is to create ample opportunities for Idahoans to enjoy hunting for years to come.

Corkill speaks eloquently about the evolution of game management philosophy and the great difference between the European approach and the American. He points out to anyone who will listen that in Europe the landowner does own the game. In the classic tale of Robin Hood one should recall his worst offence for which he was sentenced to die is that of killing the Duke’s deer.

As a consequence hunting in Europe is largely confined to the wealthy, which Corkill sees as tragic.

He also believes the public gets the nexus between future sustainability of big game and the need to be diligent in protecting the resource so the many may enjoy.

Still, when all is said and done, Fish & Game recognizes its responsibility to come up with a valid number on illegal take and to factor that into its calculation of what it takes to protect a resource in order to manage successfully in perpetuity. And while today they may not have a hard number before long they will. The result indeed may be shortening of seasons which can be laid at the feet of the poacher. If you see someone poaching, call Fish & Game. The elk they might be about to kill just could be the one meant for you.

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Buried in the news last Friday, behind the dreadful stories streaming from Paris, was word that a drone attack in Raqqa, a desolate town in northern Syria, had probably killed Mohammed Emwazi, notoriously known as Jihadi John, the brutal Islamic States’ terrorist of the horrendous beheading videos.

An Army press officer explained that Emwazi was the target of the attack, and confirmed that the drone missiles hit the target and that personnel – that’s plural – were killed. An unofficial report says there were three vehicles blown up, another says that at least three other individuals were in the targeted vehicles.

Although the drone can zoom a video in on a selected target close enough to read a license plate, this is all that has been released thus far. But this just begs more questions. In particular, who besides Emwazi were killed? Other members of Islamic States? Innocent civilians? Maybe women or children? Not clear.

There is an elaborate command structure for authorizing drone strikes, running from the lowest field commander up through the complete chain of command to the White House. Everybody up the ladder has to approve. One veto anywhere up the line, and the proposal is scrapped. Once it makes it to the White House, the President signs off on every concept plan — who the target is, why it is thought that the target is where it is said to be, where it will take place, etc., and what the collateral damage estimate is. The approval up the chain of command to this point is of the operation in concept or a CONOP. The actual go-ahead for a given shoot must be based upon a fully approved CONOP, and is by a smaller designated committee within the military; again, it has to be unanimous, but the President is not involved in the actual operations decisions.

For the targeting window to be considered suitable, whether for the operations concept or the specific shoot, there must be current, reliable intelligence reports that indicate a “low CDE,” meaning a low estimate of “collateral damage.” This is the military term for the women, children and other incidental civilians that might be in the path of the military operations. There is an actual international law compact on the issue of collateral damage that says, in effect, it is permissible for the military to conduct an attack that knowingly includes civilians within the target operations area where the expected loss of civilian life is not “clearly excessive” to the anticipated military gain. The compact does not quantify the term – it does not say exactly how disproportionate the mix has to be before it is permissible to intentionally include women and children in the attack zone.

Although John Brennan, current CIA director, says drone strikes are only used to apply “targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us,” Leon Panetta, a previous director of the CIA, explained it this way: “If you can isolate the individual and take the shot without impacting on women or children, then do it. But if you have no alternative and it looks like he might get away, then take the shot.” In other words, notwithstanding Brennan’s doubletalk, it is okay to take out a few women and children if the bad guy is about to get away.

All of this is shrouded in secrecy, and exact numbers are difficult to find and very hard to verify. From the reports available online, some from admittedly biased groups, it appears that when we target a specific individual, we kill far more additional people, including uninvolved civilians and even children, than we do in more generic attacks. The worst example may be our attempts to kill al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri in 2006. Then, in two targeted drone strikes, we managed to kill 76 children and 29 adults, but not Zawahiri. In Pakistan several years later, we fired six separate drone attacks over a two year period in an attempt to kill one man – Qari Hussain, an al Qaeda Taliban leader – before bringing him down in October of 2010. In the effort, 128 people were killed, including 13 children. In a more recent compilation published in November of 2014, The Guardian reported that attempts to kill 41 designated targets to date resulted the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people as of November of 2014. This meant we were killing an average of 128 people in drone attacks for every targeted individual we went after. Serious questions are raised over just exactly how we define terms like “clearly excessive,” “surgical accuracy,” and “precise.”

None of this takes even one iota away from how horrible the terrorist attack on Paris was, nor justifies nor explains the atrocities it has brought to the French and the unbelievable grief suffered by the innocent victims’ loved ones there. But as we ponder the circumstances in Paris, answer this:

What do you suppose the going rate in collateral damage is today for a drone strike on a terrorist leader of the caliber of Emwazi – maybe two kids and a pregnant woman?

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The old world war – war as we’ve known it – is over. The new world war – as we’re learning in France, India, the Philippines, South Africa, England, Nigeria and elsewhere – has begun.

What we used to call “world war” really wasn’t. Many countries weren’t involved. Whole parts of the world remained peaceful during “world wars.” But, we called it “world war” as in WWI and WWII. Now, as the massacre of 130 or so civilians in France has joined massacres of thousands of others in dozens of countries, all of us are involved. We’re truly engaged in a first-ever, real “world war.”

War has evolved from a relative few on the battle field to the entirety of the world’s population. War has gone from the geographic isolation of army facing army to the new war – terrorist killings striking anyone, anywhere at anytime. The battlefront is now our world, our nation, our state, our street.

With the powerful exception of 9/11, America has been pretty much unscathed in this war thing. Oh, we’ve made our contributions of material, treasure and the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people over the years – all considerable contributions. Each, of course, affected many in our country. But, the nation as a whole – the entirety of our population – has never experienced the reality of being on the front lines – of being under fire – of participating in the battle. Of being the next casualty. Now, we are.

When I was eight or nine, I used to lie in front of my granddad’s old Sears Silvertone console radio and soak up news of where our various military services were fighting. I made little cardboard maps to keep track of where some of our naval fleets were involved – where the Sixth Army or the Eighth Air Force or other units were in Europe or North Africa or the Pacific- and their daily progress. Or the beatings they took. Looking back, it was probably that prolonged activity that led to my own military service and a long career in broadcast news.

But, one of the things I learned then – without really thinking about it – was that “world wars” were always fought “over there.” Somewhere else. Never within our nation’s borders. Never near me. So there was always this sense of detachment – a sense that, if I didn’t enlist or get drafted to go to battle, I wouldn’t be involved. I wouldn’t be harmed. Life would go on peacefully. I’d go to school tomorrow and never feel the horrors of war.

That sense of being a third party – of being only an observer and never a participant – that detachment and that false sense of security are over. For all of us.

Watching events unfold in France, several very personal thoughts came to mind. Like how many concerts I’d attended over the last 50 years or so – how many restaurants I’d been in for a fine meal or just pizza and a beer – how many large crowds I’d mingled with in various countries. All of those experiences uninterrupted by gunfire, hand grenades or a suicide bomber.

Then, like the settling fog blanket outside our living room windows here on Oregon’s central coast, something more realistic – more personally terrifying – filled my thoughts. The terrorists have won this new world war.

Saying something like that in a bar in one of the Northwest’s timber towns could get a guy killed. Some burly boozer would immediately be in your face to tell you “America has NEVER lost a war and NEVER will!” He’d be wrong, of course, but that happens a lot these days when it comes to people talking U.S. history with all the factual “education” of Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, Coulter or Faux Neus.

What’s made terrorism such an effective tool for thousands of years is this: terrorists almost always succeed. Some guy tried to set his socks afire on a commercial jet in Michigan about 10 years ago but failed to get a flame. Still, for those last 10 years, millions of us have had to stand in our stocking feet in airport terminals all around the world. He won. Terrorists crashed three commercial jetliners on 9/11, killed nearly 3,000 people and millions of us haven’t set foot in an aircraft since then while our government immediately spent hundreds of millions of our tax dollars to revamp airline security which will never stop the attacks. Terrorism won.

Shopping centers have been the target of terrorists. Public buildings, big box stores, office towers, parking lots, churches and public schools, too. All have been struck and all have changed how they deal with the public. Ever notice those cement posts in front of the doors at Staples or Best Buy? Ever look at the cement planters and concrete-and-steel barriers around statehouses, in front of court houses or your city hall? How about the hydraulic barriers designed to flatten tires that surround the U.S. Capitol building? Tried to walk unchallenged into a college football game lately?

All a few terrorists have to do is set off some explosions in unsuspecting public places or use automatic weapons to kill a few dozen people at laundromats, drug stores, a bank, a car dealership or in an expensive bistro. Preferably in some little burg in middle America. Maybe blow a San Francisco cable car off its tracks or bomb a cruise ship. A little murder – a little devastation – goes a long way. Terrorists – really committed folk not afraid to die – have changed our world completely.

The night of the Paris massacre, President Obama said “this country will stand with all other countries to bring terrorists to justice.” Sounds good. Sounds proper. Sounds like what you’d expect the head of a country to say. But it’s absolutely impossible. All but one of the murderers in Paris blew themselves up with suicide belts. Cops killed one.

When people wrap themselves in explosives and are fanatically dedicated to their mission, life, as we know it, means nothing to them. They want to die. They’re dedicated to their own deaths. Their sense of justice is death for a cause greater than themselves. Even if caught, death – to them – is nothing to fear. We are powerless to administer “justice.” That’s why terrorism is so effective. Historically, it always has been.

War as we’ve known it – war “over there” – has ended. The war we face now – world war – is as close as your nearest WalMart.

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