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Posts published in August 2018

Chris Carlson


John McCain, the senator and former presidential contender who died last week, said this in the last paragraph of his new and final book:

“What an ingrate I would be to curse the fate that concludes the blessed life I’ve led. I prefer to give thanks for those blessings, and my love to the people who blessed me with theirs.”

My fellow columnist and long-time Idaho politics writer Chris Carlson, who died just about a day after McCain, likely would have been glad to second that sentiment. In fact, with only slightly different words, he often did.

For Carlson, as for the senator, the view toward the end of the road was a long time coming.

I knew of him long before I met him. When I went to work at the Idaho State Journal in the mid-seventies, I often read his writings for that paper about Idaho politics from a half-decade or so before. He worked for Cecil Andrus during the governor (first run) and interior secretary years, and became so close to him as to be almost a member of the family. He was a founder of the consulting Gallatin Group along with Andrus, whose prominence and connections gave it a powerful initial push.

I got to know Carlson as he moved toward retirement, easing out of Gallatin after he was diagnosed with Parkinsons disease in 1999 and an aggressive cancer in 2005. For many people that might have been a setting into quiet retirement, the end of an active role in regional (Washington state as well as Idaho) public affairs, involvement in political campaigns, issues battles and much more. Fighting back and holding at bay his medical issues might for most people have been more than enough to occupy what time was left.

But for Carlson, in the dozen and more years that remained to him, that seemed to be only the beginning.

As he battled for health, he took a lead role in the “no” campaign on Initiative 1000 in Washington state, on physician-assisted suicide. He wrote a biography of Andrus that, while highly laudatory, filled in many of the gaps remaining in Andrus’ own memoir. He started writing a political column which ran in many Idaho newspapers (and on my web site, up until a few weeks ago. He also wrote three more books (two of which, Medimont Reflections and Eye on the Caribou, I published), the most recent published only month ago.

And that was hardly all he did.

In 2013, Carlson and I took a long road trip around Idaho, talking about books we both had recently put out. Carlson was the lead organizer of the trip, and we stopped in on people all over the state - people he had worked and organized with, sometimes argued with. We talked and listened about Idaho and its politics, and about how things could be made better. And for Carlson at least, the talk was always just step one. He’d get on the phone and make things happen.

Once, he ran across a little-known novel written years ago by a now-deceased but highly influential University of Idaho professor. From that he launched and kept rolling a chain of events that led to the re-publication (I was drafted into this as well) of three of the professor’s books, and their distribution and visibility around the state.

He did a lot of that sort of thing.

In his last column, Carlson wrote, understating his impact in his later years, “I was able to see two beautiful grandchildren born who have extraordinary talents, as well as all our children mature and happy with fulfilling employment. I also decided to get back on the stage of Idaho politics by writing a weekly public affairs column carried by five of Idaho’s newspapers. In addition, I wrote four books …”

Sounds a bit like a reflection McCain might have had.

Take care, Chris.

Treating the cause


We note Mike Wetherell’s Statesman OPINION regarding planning for mass transit failed to get to the core cause of our “transportation woes”–GROWTH.

Rather than create more cancer treatments and simply concede “cancer will always be around,” let’s eliminate some of the causes.

Wetherell’s admonitions to clear freeway medians and expand rights-of-way along State Street sound reasonable at first blush, but those “mass transit” systems depend upon MASSES. Wetherell is an attorney, former judge, and former city councilor. He is a problem solver.

We are reminded of the kid who showed up at the scene of a traffic incident where an over-height truck was wedged beneath an overpass. Massive winch trucks were unable to extract the trailer, police feared the bridge would be pulled off the abutment. The kid asked, “Why not let the air out of the tires?”

The same is true for the crowded roads. Why not stop encouraging people to come to Boise and Treasure Valley? Stop paying businesses INCENTIVES to relocate their facilities here and “create jobs” which increase the population and jam not only the streets, but the schools, the sewers, etc. Stop encouraging “increased density” to justify the need for mass transit. Eliminate “economic development” schemes.

Let the air out of the tires and give us a little breathing room. Enjoy what we have and stop trying to grow.

Those who say

political wordsThis is the first in an ongoing series of posts about political language, its use and abuse in American politics of the new century - and the way so many of us misunderstand each other and talk at cross purposes. It will continue here, periodically, in the months to come.

When it comes to a particular statement, saying, formulation - who says so?

I try, mostly, in this collection to attribute statements, not with the idea of taking aim at anyone in particular but as verification that, yes, people are saying these things.

Take the often-used cluster of phrases concerning speakers “who say,” with variations including “people who say” or “those who say.”

It’s a common usage, because it allows the speaker to elide any specific person and either to invent a phony boogeyman or, often, to recast an argument into a form more easily knocked down. The usage isn’t necessarily dishonest, but it easily and often slides there.

In his 1992 State of the Union address, President George H.W. Bush remarked, “There are those who say that now we can turn away from the world, that we have no special role, no special place. But we are the United States of America, the leader of the West that has become the leader of the world.” But exactly who said we “we can turn away from the world,” that “we have no special role, no special place”? Did anyone?

In a country of hundreds of millions of people, someone may have. But that sentiment surely was not widespread, or at least would not be put in the way he put it.

A logician would call this a straw man argument - an argument made of straw so as to be easy (and safe) to demolish. As Wikipedia put it, “is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be ‘attacking a straw man’. The typical straw man argument creates the illusion of having completely refuted or defeated an opponent's proposition through the covert replacement of it with a different proposition (i.e., "stand up a straw man") and the subsequent refutation of that false argument ("knock down a straw man") instead of the opponent's proposition.”

There are a lot of straw men in our political arguments. In these discussions of words, quotes from particular people are included not as attacks on the person but as verification that what we’re reacting to here is something real - an actual use of the words, not a straw man.

There is another aspect to the “some people who” formulation: “Some people that.”

In his New York Times column, Frank Bruni [] noted that during the Republican presidential debates of 2016, the hazy formulation of who “was being exiled from its rightful habitat. It was a linguistic bonobo: endangered, possibly en route to extinction. Instead of saying ‘people who,’ Donald Trump said ‘people that.’ Marco Rubio followed suit. Even Jeb Bush, putatively the brainy one, was ‘that’-ing when he should have been ‘who’-ing.” Bush, he noted, referred to “people that come with a legal visa and overstay,” and Rudio spoke of “people that call my office.”

Is this a problem? Actually, it is, because this is a matter of referring to people not as people, but as things. Things can be throw in the garbage, dismissed, tossed overboard. People - one would think - should not.

One web site breaks it down this way:

Here’s the thing: “who” (and its forms) refers to peo­ple. “That” usu­ally refers to things, but it can refer to peo­ple in a gen­eral sense (like a class or type of per­son: see “run­ner.”). Purdue Online Writing Lab says, “When refer­ring to peo­ple, both that and who can be used in infor­mal lan­guage. ‘That’ may be used to refer to the char­ac­ter­is­tics or abil­i­ties of an indi­vid­ual or a group of peo­ple.… However, when speak­ing about a par­tic­u­lar per­son in for­mal lan­guage, who is preferred.”

That said, many peo­ple and some respected ref­er­ences pre­fer “peo­ple that,” and it’s not wrong. Think Chaucer. Shakespeare. Dickens.

How is "people that" meant - in archaic fashion, sloppy fashion, or anti-human fashion? This may be more an argument for avoiding its use, than for sharply adjudging those who use it.

Words matter.

Paula Duncan gets it; why not the president?


Paula Duncan, who says she served on the Paul Manafort jury, told Fox News that all but one juror wanted to convict Manafort on all of the 18 counts against him.

She indicated she was a Trump supporter, but did not believe “politics had any place in that courtroom.”

More importantly, she said, “I did not want Paul Manafort to be guilty, but he was, and no one’s above the law.”

No judge or lawyer could have stated America’s dedication to the rule of law more succinctly than Ms. Duncan. The justice system and courts should always remain non-political and should not bend to the wishes of the powerful.

The jury obviously listened to both sides in the trial and found Manafort to be a fraud and tax cheat. It does not appear they found the proceeding to be “a terrible situation” or the case to be a “Rigged Witch Hunt,” as proclaimed by the President. They likely did not see Manafort as the good and “brave” man Trump claims him to be. Thank God that ordinary citizens understand what it means for Americans to live under the rule of law.

The President has repeatedly blasted Special Counsel Robert Mueller as a “disgraced and discredited” person and called Mueller’s team a “National Disgrace.” In keeping with his unimpeachable ethics and professionalism, Mueller has declined to fire back. Rather, this honorable Republican has forged on with his work in keeping with the best traditions of the American legal profession.

As another life-long Republican, William Ruckelshaus, recently put it, “Mueller is living up to his superior reputation as a model public servant. His is a search for the truth; we should not complicate his job.” In 1973, Ruckelshaus resigned his position as Deputy Attorney General after refusing President Nixon’s order to fire the special Watergate prosecutor. Referring to the famed Saturday Night Massacre, he stated, “President Trump is acting with a desperation I’ve seen only once before in Washington.”

William Webster, another life-long Republican, was appointed as head of the FBI in 1978 to clean up after the Watergate scandal and later appointed as Director of the CIA to clean up after the Iran-Contra scandal. He has wisely counseled that “We should not run down our own institutions, trivialize the impartial actions of our own grand juries, degrade our own justice system, or bully a free press for doing its job.” Amen!

The rule of law is a fragile thing. It depends on the trust and confidence of the people. When those in positions of authority in the executive and legislative branches of government make unfounded charges against prosecutors and courts, it corrodes the very foundation of our legal system.

Those in positions of power and influence, like our Senators and Congressmen, have a responsibility to step forward and loudly defend our legal system against false claims and charges. Three members of our Congressional delegation are lawyers and should understand that they must not stand idly by when our legal system is under attack.

As William Webster noted, the “Constitution demands” those who take the federal oath of office to defend “values like truth, justice and civility, because the idea of an America united by the rule of law is too important to lose.”

Redirecting the anger


The time has come to stop wasting more frustrations and deep anger hating Trump in my later years. I still do. And I’d like to see his crooked, lying, arrogant ass in jail for the rest of his scheming, adulterous life.

No, that’s over. Time - probably long past time - to redirect the contempt and extreme disappointment elsewhere. To congressional Republicans. Every damned one!

Even without waiting for whatever damning report comes out of the Mueller investigation, there’s more than enough evidence already on the public record for impeachment of Trump on a half dozen charges. Bill Clinton’s hallway peccadillos pale when compared to the lying, cheating, illegal payoffs, double-dealing, money laundering, perversions, repeated sexual philandering on a grand scale and outright contemptible actions already proven regarding Trump. Even without Mueller’s documentation.

Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and their cohorts have demonstrated a willing, deliberate, absolute failure to carry out their constitutional duties required by the oaths of office they swore to uphold. Took not once but several times.

Forget the unwarranted GOP murder of the Obama nomination of Merritt Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ignore their current, outrageous plans to shove Kavanaugh through the backdoor of that same court. Forget they’re sitting on their collective butts while ignoring the guaranteed right of immigration and the wreaking of unnecessary pain and suffering on thousands of innocent people. Just ignore all the lying, perversion and continued contempt of Senate and House rules and the denial of even common courtesy to Democrats. Forget it all.

Simply focus on Congressional Republicans and the total disregard for their absolute responsibility to provide checks and balances on the other two branches of our federal government. Aside from a few ignorant “space cadets” who’ve no idea what their duties are, most members of Congress are at least professionally familiar with their job descriptions and most have heard of the U.S. Constitution.

You also know understand the problems caused by their inactions. You know because the ones quitting, or who were knocked off in primaries, are admitting as much in their comments while headed for the exits. They’ve cited inaction. They’ve openly criticized Trump and even their own Party and their “leaders.” If departing members of both houses can make such admissions on the way out, it’s obvious a good number remaining have similar feelings.

But, as a body, they’re failing their required responsibilities. They’ve let the bluster and B.S. of Trump cow them into inaction. Many, in their desire for continued employment, have become willing accomplices in his highly outrageous conduct, his dubious actions and his outright lying. He’s perverting the Presidency, making a mockery of decorum, destabilizing foreign policy and making every attempt to have agencies of his “administration” go after his “enemies.”

The question, then, becomes, what the Hell will it take for Congress to do it’s required job? How much outrage - how much shame - how many lies - how many outright illegal activities - how much prostitution of the Oval Office will be too much? What - if anything - will be “a bridge too far?”

It’s easy - and inaccurate - to say Trump bears full responsibility for his “wrecking ball” presidency. Yes, it’s his “ball.” But, Republicans in Congress have let him swing it and, at times, have given him tacit permission to do so by their inaction.

Whether there’ll be a “blue wave” in November is open to question. That’s for Democrats and their supporters to work out. But, voting Republicans - freedom-loving, constitution-caring, fiscally-responsible Republicans - need to step up when voting. They need to turn out and clean their own house - and Senate, too. Even - shudder - vote for a few Democrats. They need to put the Party on a better, more stable footing - purge it where needed - return it to the Party it used to be. Rebuild the respectability necessary if those who’ve left the GOP are ever to return “home.”

Trump’s just a symptom of the illness. The law will, take him down eventually. What’s really ailing the GOP body politic is decay, cowardice and a sickness in the current majorities in Congress. Time for Republican voters to call the doctor.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – August 27

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for August 27. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

Air quality deteriorated considerably over much of Idaho last week, as state officials warned it was becoming clearly unhealthy in a number of locations. Meantime, wildfires continued to grow in number, though most were not especially large in size.

The State Board of Land Commissioners voted on August 21 to adopt a new recreation policy that allows continued recreational access on state endowment lands.

Senator Mike Crapo, chair of the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, on August 21 delivered remarks during a hearing entitled: “Russia Sanctions: Current Effectiveness and Potential for Ne​xt Steps."

Since 1980, Idaho has been the third-largest milk producer in the United States. While the number of farms has declined, the size of farms has increased and individual cows have become more productive. Idaho’s dairies are concentrated in southern Idaho’s Magic Valley around Twin Falls and Jerome. One challenge has been dealing with the waste. Its odors have diminished the quality of life for valley residents and its runoff increases the potential for nitrates contaminating the water table.

The Bureau of Land Management would like to invite the public to provide input on a proposal for new trail and trailhead development in the Boise Foothills Ridge to Rivers planning area.

A multi-faceted, large-scale Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation has resulted in the federal indictment of sixteen defendants on drug trafficking, fraud, money laundering and counterfeit goods trafficking charges, U.S. Attorney Bart M. Davis announced. The indictments were issued last week by a federal grand jury sitting in Boise.

Idaho Power is one of several western utilities planning to join the California Independent System Operator for reliability coordinator services by 2020.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is seeking public comment on an air quality state implementation plan (SIP) update to certify that the state meets the requirements of the Clean Air Act regarding the ozone national ambient air quality standard.

An audit released August 21 examines oil and gas royalties paid to the State of Idaho on three wells under State of Idaho leases.

IMAGE Air quality in the Boise area, as in much of the rest of Idaho, was often poor last eek due to regional wildfire smoke drift. (photo/Idaho Department of Health & Welfare)

Another look at school safety


This is an opinion piece written by Cindy Wilson, a candidate for Idaho superintendent of public instruction.

About 10 years ago, I started beginning my school year watching safety videos before the first day of class. It’s part of a teacher’s preparation for the year, along with lesson planning and syllabus preparation.

I’ll never forget the first time I watched a video that included a new role for teachers. Prepared by the police department, it showed a teacher doing everything she could to protect her students from an attacker – she quickly led them outside and they all ran to safety. I felt sick to my stomach. I knew the responsibility I had to protect “my kids,” the students in my classroom, should the unthinkable ever happen at my school.

Years later, I’m now a bit more comfortable with what I’m watching, but it is still frightening. The responsibility that teachers feel to ensure their students’ safety weighs heavily on their minds.

School safety should not be taken lightly – and it hasn’t been in Idaho. It’s a serious matter that affects all educators, students, parents, and everyone in the community, which makes it especially important to manage our resources wisely. If we approach school safety like we are reinventing the wheel, then we will surely see redundancies, short-sighted spending, and miscommunication – or worse, no communication at all – with key stakeholders.

Two of those important stakeholders can offer a wealth of knowledge and expertise about school safety. First is Idaho’s Office of School Safety and Security, created in 2016 to assist school districts in ensuring student safety precautions. Second is our local public safety officials from the county sheriff’s department or the city police department, who are well-trained to confront violent threats. These groups are also well aware of the needs of each community and how they should customize their responses. Any plan that is considered for Idaho must include a partnership of these two areas, as well as those who are most closely involved with the students – teachers and administrators, which of course would include groups like the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho Education Association.

But most importantly, in addition to ensuring we have safe buildings and prepared responders, we need to focus on the reason behind the violence. Violence in schools is a symptom of what’s happening with our young people today: feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and mental illness generally. Many have had traumatic experiences in their young lives, which can affect their mental health.

No measure of school safety will be complete without addressing these student needs. And how do we do that? Schools must create a culture of community where everyone is nurtured, where individual needs are met so students can feel successful and learn how to communicate with one another in a civil way. Students should have access to highly trained counselors, and families should know that expert help is available from partners who care about their kids. Children should be taught to care for one another and feel empowered to act on these lessons. And of course, they should learn to notify adults whenever they see something out of sorts or when they have concerns for a classmates’ well-being.

Adding the civic dispositions of kindness, respect for one another’s differences, respect for the law, compassion, honesty, courage, negotiation and compromise to the culture of a classroom, school, and district can help eliminate early signs of bullying, and yes, even help protect students from violence at school.

But it takes everyone working together, everyone on the same page, and everyone having the same goal in mind: protect our children.

As this new school year begins, let’s all make a pledge to work as partners in ensuring our students’ safety and healthy development. We must focus on the root causes of school violence and not just cover it with a bandage. After all, Idaho’s public schools are not just about securing the fort during the school day; they are also about partnering with communities to coach our kids into lives of meaning, respect and dignity.

What eminent domain is for


Back in the mid-80s, when the big, nasty, ferocious political battles in Boise had to do with shopping centers, the subject of eminent domain reared its head.

The issue (one part of it anyway) was development of a regional shopping mall, which ultimately was built and now is called Boise Towne Square. The development of a regional mall preoccupied Boise politics and a lot of public debate for the better part of two decades, and now the end of the battle seemed in sight but for one final issue:

One of the biggest road bumps at the end of that long trail was a family which for decades had lived on a tract in a key segment of where the mall was intended to be built. The family didn’t want to sell. And the battle went on for a while.

Along the way, the idea of eminent domain was raised.

Eminent domain is defined as “the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation.” Normally, this is done with the idea that the land is needed for an important public purpose, like a highway or a major public utility, and traditionally only a critical and important public need can justify the taking. We are after all talking about the forcible taking of property (in Britain they call something similar “compulsory purchase”), albeit for payment.

But there’s been mission creep, in which - in some cases - governments have seized property and used it for less than critical needs, or turned it over to private developers, with the idea that the new use would be higher and better, and more profitable, than the old one. It’s not hard to see how such an idea, if allowed to go unleashed, could become nightmarish.

In the Boise Towne Square case, workarounds and compromises eventually were found. But the idea of using that kind of power in the interest of building a shopping center made more than a few people uneasy.

Some of this comes back to mind with the prospective use of eminent domain in the case of Boise State University, which wants to build a new baseball stadium. The State Board of Education has given BSU eminent domain authority to condemn and purchase land for the facility.

BSU long has been crimped by its location in the middle of Boise, which means expansion is difficult - and BSU has been a fast-growing institution for a long time. Certainly, you can make a case for a new baseball stadium for the university. The property that would be taken would mainly consist of a parking lot, but there’s also an apartment building involved.

Phil Haunschild of the Idaho Freedom Foundation was quoted as saying, “The use of eminent domain for a stadium I think is an overreach. Eminent domain was meant to serve as a tool of last resort for those critical public infrastructure needs, for the roads, for the transmissions lines, for electricity, for canals for irrigation.” (There’s also the argument that Boise badly needs more affordable housing, some of which would be bulldozed in this development.)

Greg Hahn of Boise State University countered that the stadium, "is a vital part of the university and the university's mission in creating experiences for the students and it’s a big part of how the community experiences the university as well.”

This isn’t a black and white case. The traditional view about the proper use of eminent domain, I’d say, is closer to Haunschild’s.

But don’t be surprised if, as long as the building boom continues in the booming parts of Idaho, eminent domain returns, and in new and sometimes surprising forms.

A sad day


As I write this, the jury in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial has not yet returned a verdict. But regardless of the outcome of the jury’s deliberations, we have seen conduct that should give rise to another criminal charge. The charge of jury tampering should be brought against the president.

Jury tampering is a crime at both the federal and state levels. It is the intentional effort to influence the outcome of a juror’s opinion, vote or decision by unlawfully communicating with the juror in either a direct or indirect manner, outside the scope of legally permitted courtroom procedure. Last week, the president blatantly attempted to influence members of the Manafort jury by indirectly communicating with them from the White House lawn.

Shouting at a gaggle of reporters, Trump sought to both undermine the prosecution and serve as an unsworn character witness for his former campaign chairman. He bellowed: “I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad. I think it's a very sad day for our country. . . . He happens to be a very good person, and I think it's very sad what they've done to Paul Manafort."

Trying to have it both ways, Trump vouched for Mr. Manafort’s fine character while simultaneously claiming he barely knew the man. And who better to proclaim that Manafort is a “very good person,” than a trash-talking narcissist who lies as easily as he breaths, worships the golden calf, is a serial adulterer, repeatedly bears false witness against others, and whose every public policy reflects an utter indifference to human suffering?

Still, Trump is president of the United States, commander in chief of the most powerful nation in the world. If even one juror felt the slightest bit compelled to heed Trump’s words, the result could be a hung jury. But whether or not Trump actually influenced a single juror’s vote, he made a blatant attempt to do so.

Throughout the trial, the presiding judge T.S. Ellis admonished jurors not to take note of outside information, to only consider the evidence before them. But where, as here, the jury was not sequestered – kept isolated to decrease the chances of being exposed to outside information – and Trump commands wall-to-wall coverage for his every utterance, it is absurd to think that one or more of the jurors wouldn’t hear the message.

Judge Ellis dropped the ball big time in failing to sequester the jury. After closing arguments, he reportedly expressed surprise that the trial received such extensive publicity. That comment reflects astonishing naivete. Even the most casual court observer could have predicted as much. I will have more to say about the conduct of the presiding judge in a future column, but for now let me return to Mr. Trump.

It is not a stretch to think that, in crafting his remarks, Mr. Trump worked hand in glove with the Manafort defense lawyers who, in their closing argument, were hell-bent on discrediting the prosecution’s motives in bringing the case against Manafort. The judge had explicitly forbidden the defense from doing so, but they ignored his directive. The judge told the jury to disregard this part of the defense argument, but our common experience tells us that, once heard, it’s awfully hard to “un-ring the bell.”

There is but one reasonable inference to be drawn from Trump’s self-serving remarks condemning the prosecution and touting Manafort’s virtues – he hoped to communicate with – and thereby influence – Manafort’s jury, and he did so outside the scope of legally permitted courtroom procedures. That is the very definition of jury tampering.

It was jaw-dropping to watch the president’s brazen performance, the bravado with which he committed a crime in plain sight. To use his words: “It was a very sad day for our country.”