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Posts published in July 2019

An extraordinary session


The 2019 Oregon Legislative Assembly did something hardly any, if any at all, of its predecessors did: It become famous for not meeting.

That’s too bad, in some ways, because this year’s session was one of Oregon’s most remarkable for what it actually did. The great interregnum at the end, the period when the Senate could not meet for lack of quorum because of the walkout of its Republican members, was only the holiday-season fireworks wrapping up a lot of other noteworthy activity that probably got far less attention across most of the state.

That legislative Republicans would have such an impact - especially since walkouts of this kind are not unprecedented, and have been used by both parties - would not have seemed especially likely as the session began. This was the first session in a long time, after all, when Democrats held supermajorities in both chambers, giving them the ability to pass almost anything, provided they could assemble a quorum - enough members on the floor to hold a valid vote. Since there were just enough Republicans in the Senate to keep a quorum from materializing, if they all departed, that counts as the last desperate maneuver they could take to stop something they really, really opposed.

That something turned out to be the “cap and trade” climate change measure, though Democratic Senate leaders said they didn’t have enough votes to pass it anyway. My speculation in this space at the session’s beginning was that the measure, which has been proposed and failed in several sessions, “will be back. A planned ‘cap and invest’ bill has been in development for weeks, and may be one of the hottest debate topics early in the session.” I was half-right; it became a bitter controversy at the session’s end, when Republicans sought to block it with their flight. That event in turn became so bitter that Senator Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, made a series of statements intemperate enough that disciplinary action was being considered against him as the session ended.

The Republicans returned barely in time to allow for important votes on budget and other matters; it made for a rushed close the session, as the Senate voted on 105 bills in the last full day. But don’t be surprised if there’s not a move sometime soon for Oregon to join other state legislatures that require only a simple majority of the members to be present to cast votes; that would require a constitutional amendment. (It might help clarify for some people an Oregon legislative oddity: a “quorum” requires two thirds of a chamber, but “supermajority” only two thirds; most people in most places might reverse those numbers.) In this case, barely a third of one half of the legislature held the state and its budget hostage, a situation many people may not want to see repeated.

For all the attention on that, quite a bit else substantive did happen, a lot of it in the first half of the session. Back in January I also speculated that Democrats who now had solid control of the legislature would use it to pass a wish list of measures, and with a few exceptions - cap and trade being a big one, gun safety measures being another - that happened. Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick said the assembly passed a string of Democratic “holy grail items,” a reasonable description.

A massive increase in the budget for public schools was passed, less than some advocates wanted but more than many had expected. A bill providing for more expansive paid family leave was approved. So was a series of restrictions on many landlords in the area of rent increases and evictions; changes in rules to allow for denser - meaning in many cases, more affordable - housing cleared as well. Regulation of oil and diesel usage, and motor vehicle disassembly, roared through near session’s end, only a few in a long string of environmental measures that did pass. Democrats pushed through pre-paid postage for mail-in ballots, and drivers licenes for undocumented immigrants.

The legislature, including leading Democrats, had been reluctant for years to pass substantial limitations on campaign contributions, and a state constitutional amendment would be needed to make it stick. Such an amendment, allowing for the first time in many years some limits on that spending, will go to the voters next November. Portland attorney Jason Kafoury, a long-time activist in the area, said the proposal had seemed dead at one point but then pushed through quickly, “an amazing accomplishment. It’s the first time the Legislature has done anything on campaign finance reform in my lifetime.”

Legislators also sent to the voters a proposal to increase cigarette taxes to roughly match the higher levels in Washington and California.

The session was notable for odds and ends, too, including a couple that would trigger into action depending on what happens elsewhere around the country. One would set Oregon on permanent daylight savings time, if the federal government approves (though how people near the border areas around Oregon might feel about that is less clear). Another would direct Oregon’s electoral college votes to whatever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote (though that would take effect only if enough states to create an electoral majority also signed on).

Some legislative sessions come and go with few ripples in the pond, little recollection in emotion or substance that they had been there.

This was not one of those.

(This article first appreared in the News Register, McMinnville, Oregon.)

Interfering in family care


Dee Childers and her two sisters love their Dad and want to make sure he has the best care possible. As he descended into dementia, needing more intensive care, they became his legal guardians and found a good quality residential facility where he could live out his final years in safety and dignity.

The sisters wanted to be able to check in on Dad when they could not be present in person to make sure that all was going well. And, although they trusted the people at the facility, they thought it wise to ensure that his care was up to standards. So, they decided to install a Dad Cam in his room, which they could access with their tablets whenever they wished--much like the cameras that are popular with parents to monitor their kids.

They, of course, notified the facility and were given the green light to install the monitor. It had to be a touchy decision for the facility because it might be opening itself up to liability in the event an employee failed to act appropriately and was recorded doing so on camera. To its credit, the facility agreed to the arrangement, despite this potential downside.

The sisters thought it would be a good idea for the facility to have access to the Dad Cam, because Dad liked to have his door closed, making it more difficult for staff to peek in frequently to make sure that all was well. They gave the facility a tablet and asked that it be used to keep an eye on Dad. The sisters certainly had a legal right to make that decision on Dad’s behalf as his legal guardians.

Things were going well for Dad, the sisters and the facility until a facility visit by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) inspectors in early July. Upon learning of the Dad Cam, the inspectors issued a serious violation of IDHW regulations for the facility’s purported invasion of Dad’s privacy.

IDHW noted in its exit report that Dad “had a video camera in their bedroom and staff were able to view the activities of the resident via a tablet in the nursing station.” Actually, that was the precise purpose of the Dad Cam. That purpose was specifically authorized by the sisters who were appointed by a court of law as the persons to make such decisions on the part of this mentally disabled resident.

IDHW privacy regulations do not appear to specifically prohibit the use of authorized video monitors and it is not clear why that would be good public policy. With the growing incidence of elder abuse, why would it not be a good idea to have more eyes upon the manner in which dementia patients are treated in residential care facilities, especially when the facilities are specifically authorized to do so by residents or their legally appointed guardian(s)?

IDHW responds that the facility has a policy saying it does not use security cameras in residents’ rooms and that Dad’s privacy is jeopardized because the tablet at the nursing station can be seen by other residents and visitors. Yet, the sisters gave the facility a tablet and specifically requested that it be used to keep an eye on Dad. They have the legal authority to make that call on Dad’s behalf. They dispute that the Dad Cam compromises Dad’s privacy.

If this facility is punished for the use of the Dad Cam, the sisters will also be punished by losing a monitoring tool that gave them additional comfort their Dad was receiving the best care possible. It is not clear who wins in this situation. Perhaps this is one of those rules that the Governor’s office should scrutinize for governmental overreach.

Enforcement by choice


There’s a little town in Southern Arizona. Arivaca. About 700 locals live there, 11 miles from the border with Mexico. Pretty barren place. Most folks are seniors who moved there to spend their later years in peace and quiet.

Such conditions have ended with the appearance of dozens of adult “failures-in fatigues” carrying their “adulthood” around in AR-15s and mock machine guns mounted on ever-present pickups. They’ve split the locals and run the newspaper publisher out-of-town with threats. And now, they’re “arresting” immigrants.

One of their unwelcome number arrived a few years back and has become the “scheduler” for the many faux “patriots” who regularly come and go. He sends them out along the border in small groups, armed to the teeth, looking for the Mexican “invaders.”

“Shoot ‘em” is a mostly unspoken “order.” But, they talk about it. So far, no one knows if someone really has been killed or if the occasional burst of weapon fire is just a screwball getting his jollies by peppering a few cacti. Which, incidentally, is a crime in Arizona. But, so far, the sheriff has looked the other way on all this for at least seven years.

Law enforcement “looking the other way” has become a national phenomenon, especially in the West. Sheriff’s, elected to enforce laws, are letting it be known they’ll be quite selective when enforcing.

One is Oregon’s Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin in Roseburg, Some time ago, he announced he would not recognize any new gun laws passed by any body, state or national. Further, he would arrest anyone from any agency - state or national - that tried to do their rightful duties in “his” county. Hanlin has been soundly re-elected in the meantime and those other agents have apparently steered clear of Douglas County.

Brother-in arms Sheriff Curtis Landers in Oregon’s far Southwest Curry County, said his troops would not work with ICE units. Coastal fishermen are known to use aliens as deck hands and in processing plants. Lots of ‘em.

For several years, near the little town of Merlin, Oregon, there’s been an illegal mining operation on BLM land. The owner was officially notified to shut it down. Finally, the feds went out to the site to personally hand him yet another cease-and-desist order.

They were met by more of those phony military wannabees with the obligatory automatic rifles. Dug in around the perimeter facing the road. The feds pulled back - waited several days - then retreated. Couple of weeks later, the local BLM office was shuttered.

These aren’t isolated instances. Nevada, Colorado, the Dakotas, Wyoming, Montana and others are operating on this “law-enforcement-by-choice” phenomena. They may arrest you for doing 50mph in a school zone but ignore other black letter law keeping other enforcement officials from doing their jobs.

When you have feds like the BLM surrendering and closing field offices when faced with armed idiots - and when no one is arrested for illegal acts related thereto - we’ve got a dangerous situation.

Adherence to law - regardless of Donald J. Trump - is the spine that keeps this nation upright. We, who are not engaged in enforcing laws, must rely on the honesty and integrity of those who do. What we’re seeing is that we can’t. In some cases - like Hanlin - there appears to even be insufficient public will to kick ‘em out of office. Or, maybe it’s majority voter approval for his “I’ll-decide-what’s-illegal” policy.

Southern Oregon and Northern California timberlands are teeming with these fatigue-wearers. All armed with various heavy weapons. Some in encampments - others living in solitary but well-armed outposts.

And, they seem to be getting at least some political support. Three California counties have petitioned the legislature to secede and create a new state called “Jefferson.” Oregon’s Josephine and Jackson counties (Roseburg, Medford, Cave Junction) haven’t made it that official but many folks there talk of becoming part of Jefferson. Bumper stickers, radio talk shows, (un)social media, bar talk and billboards are plentiful.

Duly elected officials - county commissioners and sheriffs - have the obligations of their oaths-of-office. But, you can’t count on that anymore in some cases.

The question is, which cases?

Crediting Mueller’s testimony


Most of us have experienced it – the painful moment when we realize that someone we love or deeply respect has aged and, in aging, declined – sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly. Perhaps we’ve seen this in an elderly relative, or maybe a cherished teacher or coach. Initially, we may deny there has been any change; but there comes a point when we accept the reality, painful though that may be.

In the early minutes of the first Mueller hearing, it became evident that the Special Counsel, this highly respected, almost iconic public servant, was no longer the crisp, focused, in command presence we had come to expect from his many previous congressional hearings. There were moments when Mueller seemed unsure of the contents of his own report. There were other times when he hesitated in answering questions that would seem to elicit an easy and quick response.

Across the nation, lawyers and pundits who had followed Mueller’s storied career observed that he seemed less steady, less certain. Much of the media coverage following the hearings featured people who knew Robert Mueller well, many of whom had worked with him, admired him, and who, in sadness, conceded that this great American was no longer at the top of his game. Mueller had aged, they said, and it showed.

No doubt there will be those who attempt to diminish the findings of the Mueller Report because Mueller himself revealed some decline at the hearings. That would be a mistake. The Mueller Report, though bearing Robert Mueller’s name, was not the product of one man.

Rather it was the careful result of two years of industrious effort by a team of exceptionally bright, extremely hard-working and highly principled prosecutors and investigators. Its findings are documented to a fare-thee-well.

As to the key conclusions of that report, Mr. Mueller’s testimony was crystal clear: Russia wanted Trump to win the election and offered help to that end; Trump and his campaign welcomed that help, used it, and lied about it; Russia’s attacks on our republic were widespread and systematic, and -- most troubling -- they are ongoing. And despite Trump’s incessant bleating to the contrary, the report did not exonerate the president as to the crime of obstruction of justice.

Mr. Mueller may not have as keen a memory or as quick a recall as he once did. But he has always been an unabashed patriot and is almost universally regarded as a man of sterling character. He has a reputation for cutting square corners and consistently upholding the rule of law. Nothing about his testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees suggests a diminution of his integrity or honesty.

Do I wish Mueller had testified with the vigor and clarity with which he testified before Congress in prior years? Yes, certainly.

But I have no doubt whatsoever that, even in his frequent reticence, Robert Mueller spoke the truth. And the truth, no matter how haltingly delivered, was devastating to Donald J. Trump.

Our grandkids are going to hate us


House and Senate leaders and the president apparently reached a two-year budget agreement this week that increases federal spending by $320 billion, and conveniently for everyone running for re-election next year extends the debt limit until after the 2020 election. The deal also does away with budget caps placed in law in 2010, but regularly ignored since.

The sound you hear is the nation’s fiscal can tumbling down the road, while in the background you can detect the not-so-faint odor of political hypocrisy. A review of the numbers provides some stunning figures that our grandkids are going to hate us for.

Discretionary federal spending is growing at a substantially faster rate than it did under Barack Obama and by the Trump Administration’s own estimates the deficit for the current year will top $1 trillion. It was $799 billion last year and $587 billion in Obama’s last full year in office. The total national debt was about $19 trillion when Obama left office and it went past $22 trillion this month. Our grandkids are going to hate us.

Yet, cynicism in defense of partisan advantage is no vice apparently. White House officials confirmed to the Washington Post recently that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, told the president of the United States in the run-up to the budget and debt deal: “no politician had ever lost office for spending more money.”

It’s not for lack of good reason that McConnell has been called “the gravedigger of American democracy.” According to polls in his home state he seen as the most despised member of the Senate, which if you think about it is quite a distinction. In a statement touting the new budget deal McConnell made no mention of the deficit or debt, but he did applaud spending increases for military establishments in his state.

The U.S. defense budget, meanwhile, seems to be the only place where no increase is too large to warrant bipartisan support. Long gone are the days when members of Congress actually debated whether the Air Force needed a new plane or the Navy a new aircraft carrier. The U.S. now spends more on defense than the next six countries combined. When did you last hear a deficit hawk squawk about that?

Both parties, of course, share blame for the national fiscal mess, but for sheer hypocrisy it’s tough to beat the GOP and guys like McConnell and Idaho’s Mike Crapo. Eight months ago McConnell called the ballooning deficit “very disturbing” and said too much spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security were to blame. Not to blame, according to McConnell, the massive GOP tax cuts that every honest person knows has made the mess worse.

Erick Erickson, the flame throwing conservative pundit, actually said something important about all this. “No leaders in Washington want to restore any fiscal sanity,” Erickson wrote, “Why is it always only a [Democrat] in the White House and [Republicans] in Congress that get us fiscal sanity, i.e. [Bill] Clinton balanced budget & sequestration under Obama?” Or, put another way, for Republicans deficits only matter when a Democrat is in the White House.

Crapo has literally built his political brand on being a deficit hawk. He still has a national debt counter on his official website. That counter has clicked often enough to add several hundred thousand dollars in new debt in the time it takes you to read this column. The clever visual is meant to display Crapo’s deep concern about the nation’s fiscal trajectory, but you have to ask yourself what has Mike Crapo really done to address his signature issue?

He still touts his involvement with the Simpson-Bowles Commission back in the Obama era, but that once promising effort collapsed when Obama realized congressional Republicans would automatically reject anything, even spending cuts married to tax increases, that he endorsed. Crapo did endorse the Simpson-Bowles framework, but when it all fell apart he meekly acquiesced to McConnell’s determination to never give Obama a victory – on anything. The Idaho senator might have used his seniority – he’s 15th in Senate years of service having been there for 20 years – and worked to fashion his own bipartisan solution. That’s what legislators used to do. He didn’t.

Meanwhile, Crapo has never met a deficit increasing tax cut that he didn’t like. When Alan Simpson, the former Republican senator from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, the former Clinton White House chief of staff – the co-chairs of the fiscal commission – predicted that the 2017 tax cut legislation was “reckless” and would worsen the fiscal picture, adding $1.4 trillion in new debt, Crapo dismissed their concern.

The tax cuts we now know went overwhelmingly to the wealthiest Americans and to corporations that have largely used the windfall to buy back stock thereby enriching shareholders and CEO’s. Nevertheless, Crapo predicted the tax cuts “will ignite our economy with levels of growth not seen in generations.” Nope, but they did help grow the deficit.

Crapo recently said the solution to the deficit and debt problems required us “to address the drivers of spending, and frankly those drivers are the mandatory spending programs in the federal government. That’s where we need reform.” OK, where’s the plan? No Republican, including Crapo, has offered a serious plan.

Fast forward to this week where Crapo hasn’t commented on the latest deal, but for those who have been paying attention for any length of time it’s pretty easy to see where he is going.

When the deal comes to the Senate floor Crapo will take the one vote on which he’s willing to buck Donald Trump. He’ll vote against the deal, as will Idaho’s other Senator James Risch. In doing so they will literally have their spending cake and eat it, too.

If Crapo and Risch stay true to form they’ll issue sober statements lamenting the growing debt and deficit and then come back to Idaho and tout some new spending at the Idaho National Laboratory or Mountain Home Air Force Base. As long as you can say you voted against the spending, while also being confident the spending will occur you’re ready for the next election.

Growth factors


Here’s a place where long-range thinking and interests bump up against short-term.

The long range in the Idaho Magic Valley looks partly like this: Two centuries ago animal life in the south-central Idaho desert was sparse; big animals were few, and humans, not large in number, passed through rather than stay for long. About a century and a quarter ago, humans figured out how to effectively redirect water, mainly from the Snake River, and use it to grow crops at scale, changing much of the region from desert to cropland - the “magic” of the regional name.

As the water was limited, so was the ability to keep on expanding. Other less thirsty uses of water were expanded to enhance use of the territory, and one of those was cattle production. To a point, the cattle activity like the crops largely could go across the region without diminishing the area’s ability to replenish itself. But there are limits.

Cattle were grazed in the valley a century and more ago, but in small numbers. They grew gradually, and by the mid-1980s the population of the cattle - about 75,000 then - began to approach the number of people in the area.

Concerns began to be raised, as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) ballooned.

A dozen years ago, when the valley’s cattle population was estimated at 341,000, the Twin Falls Times News wrote about it: “Last week at a Jerome County commissioners’ meeting concerning an application for an 18,555-cow feedlot, small-dairy owner Blaine Miller asked commissioners to consider a moratorium on new dairies in the county. In Cassia County earlier this year, a group of small-operation farmers joined forces to fight a permit application for a large dairy.”

But the growth continued.

Today the Magic Valley is home to about 417,000 head of cattle, more than twice the number of people in the area, each of which not only consume water but also leave their waste product on, and seeping into, the ground. Those cattle produce much more manure than is produced by the vastly larger human population of New York City.

This came back to attention last week with release of a report by the Idaho Conservation League (you can read it at warning that the groundwater in the area - mainly meaning the Snake River Plain Aquifer, a source of drinking water for 300,000 people in Idaho - is becoming contaminated with nitrate and phosphorus pollution. The problem is not extreme yet, but the trend lines aren’t favorable.

The report notes, “The available groundwater quality data, while limited, clearly indicates that nitrate and phosphorus concentrations are well above natural background levels in certain portions of the ESPA.

“These elevated concentrations are directly linked to human activities on the Snake River Plain – specifically, waste generated by large concentrated animal feeding operations and overapplication of fertilizer on agricultural fields. These concentrations are projected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future with likely worsening human health risks.”

The ICL added, “These water quality issues will increasingly have more severe implications for Idaho’s ability to meet water quality standards, manage population growth and protect the health of Idahoans.”

The difficulty is in large part economic, because those cattle and the industries they’re linked to increasingly have become the economic engine of south-central Idaho, even more than all those magic plant crops. Two generations ago dairy was a big industry in that part of Idaho, but now it’s enormous. Cheese producers are increasingly important in the area. A yogurt producer has become Twin Falls’ flagship business. A major diminishment of cattle operations in the Magic Valley now would be a huge economic blow to the region.

Dealing with this would create serious short-term economic problems. Deferring the situation, or letting it continue on the trajectory of the last few decades, would create bigger issues down the road. This is one of those situations where the people of a region decide what they’re about, and what they plan to leave behind.

Marijuana is not “medical”


I understand what the proponents for “medical marijuana” are doing as they file their proposed initiative for medical marijuana in Idaho. They want to bring legitimacy to the demon herb. They want to normalize, medicalize, and eventually legalize a current banned substance. I support their goals.

I just can’t support doing it on the back of the medical profession.
We medical prescribers have demonstrated time and again we are not capable of appropriately prescribing even formulated narcotics for which we receive training. We were taught the neurophysiology of narcotic receptors. We were taught the natural response to long term use of narcotics: how the body changes the number of receptors to allow tolerance to the drugs, and how the sensitivity of those receptors can change. Despite all this education we physicians were complicit in the greatly expanded use of narcotics and the tragic increase in deaths from accidental overdose from these legally prescribed substances. My profession carries much blame for this and it burdens me.

But just because we physicians didn’t prescribe opioids in a healthy manner doesn’t mean we couldn’t do better with marijuana. There is no doubt marijuana is much less lethal than narcotics. Maybe this old dog will have to learn some new tricks.

There is research supporting the use of marijuana for some medical conditions. It seems to help some folks with chronic pain, nausea, weight loss, seizures and a host of others. Many states where medical marijuana is legal specify diagnoses that qualify for prescribing. Some states limit the strength of the herb. I guess I shouldn’t whine about the state regulating medical practice when they give me a near monopoly through statute.

But really, isn’t this just an attempt to get a population comfortable with legalization? Many states have moved from medical marijuana on to recreational, which is, I believe what we should be talking about.

I guess there’s precedent. During prohibition doctors were authorized to write prescriptions for alcohol for their patients by the US Treasury. It’s widely agreed the practice was bogus, since there is little evidence to support any “medicinal spirits” use. But us doctors don’t always need evidence, do we?

Idaho is surrounded by states that have legalized either recreational or medical use. Indeed, Idaho is one of only three states in which marijuana is prohibited. The production, regulation, sale and taxation of the substance has proved manageable for our neighbors, even if the Federal government still deems the substance illegal. Our neighbor states are committing an act of “nullification”, something Idaho lawmakers embraced when health insurance was mandated. But Idaho lawmakers don’t feel the need to rebel on this issue. Isn’t it ironic that Idaho’s conservatives would be willing to “nullify” the US Constitution over access to healthcare, but condemn our neighbor states for their “nullification” of Federal marijuana laws?

I’m not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. What is most depressing about the situation here in Idaho is that time and again our lawmakers can’t have substantive discussions of public policy issues staring them in the face.

I guess that’s what the initiative process is for. Medicaid expansion got the support of the people, though many legislators still gag on the issue. While some saw this last legislative session’s attempt to make initiatives in Idaho impossible was “payback” for getting Medicaid Expansion approved, more likely it was to thwart this medical marijuana initiative.

The real issue to be discussed is whether we should legalize the use of marijuana. The “baby step” of medical marijuana instead proposes to regulate the medical profession because we can’t honestly discuss the real issue; legalization of marijuana for individual use at their own discretion. Such weak courage and poor leadership we get from those we elect may just reflect our own cowardice. Don’t let it. Let’s light up the discussion.

(photo by Susie Plascencia)

Idaho summer reading


Summer is always a great time for reading. It’s the prime season for taking vacations, going to Idaho’s mountains and lakes, or perhaps even to the Oregon Coast. Regardless, it’s always a great time to relax with a good book.

If you pick your books, as many do, from the New York Times best seller’s list, then you have a great opportunity to read books by two Idaho authors. Remarkably, both the number one fiction and non-fictions books on the list are currently by Idaho authors.

Delia Owns’ novel, “Where the Crawdads Sing,” is the current number one work of fiction and has been on the list for 42 weeks. She lives near Bonner Ferry in Boundary County.

Tara Westover’s memoir, “Educated,” is currently at the top of the non-fiction list. It has been on the list for 72 weeks. She was born and raised in Clifton, in Franklin County.

Although one is fiction and the other non-fiction, both books focus on similar themes. They are about young women from dysfunctional families who succeed in making their way in the world on their own terms.
Idaho has a wealth of terrific authors and summer is the time to become more familiar with them.

In 2015, Boise author Anthony Doer won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his book “Al the Light We Cannot See.” If you’ve read that, consider one of his earlier collections of short stories, “The Shell Collector” or Memory Wall.”

Denis Johnson, another Boundary County resident, won the National Book Award in 2007 for his novel “Tree Smoke.” But my favorite of his books is “Train Dreams,” a novel about a common laborer in northern Idaho who helped build the rail lines over a hundred years ago that served the timber and mining industries. Johnson passed away in 2017.

Another Pulitzer Prize winner with northern Idaho roots is Marilyn Robinson. She grew up in Sandpoint and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005 for her novel “Gilead.” My favorite Robinson novel is “Housekeeping” which is about two girls growing up in a town modeled after Sandpoint. The book won the PEN/Hemingway Award. In 2012, President Obama presented Robinson with the National Humanities Medal.

Your summer reading can be both enjoyable and teach you things about our great state. “Educated” takes you inside the culture of a rural area in southeastern Idaho. “Train Dreams” gives you a close-up look at the struggles of working people who helped develop Idaho. “Housekeeping” gives you a look at the culture in northern Idaho, but 650 miles – and a world --away from the location of “Educated.”

When you are out enjoying all that nature has to offer in Idaho, you might consider taking along “Idaho Wilderness Considered,” published by the Idaho Humanities Council. The book is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. It features essays and interviews by 25 contributors looking at the politics, history and esthetics of wilderness.

There are a number of fine Idaho guidebooks to take on your travels. One of the best is Cort Conley’s “Idaho for the Curious.” It’s a 700-page travel guide that will taker you to nearly every corner of the state and into places that you may or may not have ever heard of, regardless of how long you’ve lived in Idaho.

If you enjoy drinking wine and visiting wineries, pick up a copy of “Idaho Wine Country” by Alan Minskoff and Paul Hosefros. It takes you from the Magic Valley to the Panhandle and provides a fascinating history of Idaho’s wine industry that began in the 1870s in Lewiston. Hopefully, someone is currently working on a similar guide to Idaho’s substantial beer industry.

There is lots to see and experience in Idaho. I had a friend who used to maintain that the residents of Moscow know more about the moon than they do about Idaho Falls. So pick up some books by Idaho authors to both entertain you and help you to know your state better. Here’s a toast with a glass of Idaho wine to good summer reading?

What Trump has delivered


Although President Trump has been criticized for his job performance, he’s done some of what he promised to do. However, that is not necessarily a good thing.

On the positive side, Trump promised time and again that he was going to drain the swamp in Washington. He has certainly delivered, although his method has been somewhat unorthodox. Rather than taking direct aim at the swamp dwellers, he has lured many of them into his government, let them demonstrate their unsavory character and then banished them from the swamp when they turned radioactive.

A few of the swamp creatures he was able to thusly flush down the drain are General Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, all of whom were more loyal to their pocketbooks than to this country; Ryan Zinke, Tom Price and Scott Pruitt, all of whom enjoyed using public funds for personal benefit; Bill Shine and Rob Porter, both of whom mistreated women; Steve Bannon, a white nationalism fancier; potty-mouth Antony Scaramucci; immigrant bullies Jeff Sessions and John Kelly; and sexual predator coddler Alexander Acosta.

So, there has been good progress on the swamp-cleansing promise. On the other hand, delivering on the promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act has been more problematic. Despite trying every strategy available to weaken the ACA and drive up its cost, there has been only limited success on this front.

The President fell one vote short of killing the ACA, which would have taken health care coverage away from millions of Americans and done away with the protection it provides to people with pre-existing medical conditions. The President correctly blames that heroic figure, John McCain, for frustrating his plans to create chaos in the health care system.

The courts have also been an obstacle to elimination of the ACA. The Supreme Court saved it twice and a federal appeals court has just blocked a Trump rule that would have allowed employers to deny birth control coverage to their workers. Nevertheless, Trump is still working in court to destroy the ACA. We don’t know what might happen if he succeeds because he has yet to unveil the “beautiful” replacement plan he has been promising for the last three years.

Trump has worked hard to keep America white and has become the hero of white nationalists at home and abroad. He gave a nice shout-out to those “very fine people” in Charlottesville who were carrying tiki torches and yelling, “Jews will not replace us.” Those groups have found a favorable atmosphere under his watch.

More recently, Trump has tweeted that Congresswomen of color should go back to the “crime infested places from which they came.” His Tweet went a bit awry because three of his four targets were born in the U.S.

Some people saw this outburst as evidence of racism. Senator Lindsey Graham called the President a “race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot,” but I’m not sure that counts because it was before Graham underwent bigot conversion therapy. The husband of White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway flat stated in a July 15 op-ed that “Trump is a racist president.”

The President sent a defensive tweet, claiming he did not “have a Racist bone” in his body. It is hard to judge his bone structure, though, because we still don’t know what happened to those bone spurs that kept him home from Vietnam.

On the negative side, Trump recently suffered a defeat by failing to get a citizenship question on the census. Had his entire administration not lied about why it really wanted the question, he might have won that fight. Honesty is the best policy.

Even when he loses on an issue, Trump rarely backs down. If his dogged effort to kill the ACA succeeds, I expect he will be appropriately rewarded at the polls in November of 2020.