Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in February 2020

Chronic pain

schmidt

Most of us live with chronic pain. For some, it can be crippling.

As a young doctor, I quickly came to realize it was a difficult condition to manage. Whether it was headaches, back pain, fibromyalgia, pelvic pain or joints, the suffering could disrupt people’s lives, lay them low. It could be depressing, isolating, ruining.

When the pharmaceutical industry started claiming to doctors in the 1990’s such pain could be “cured” with their new formulation of timed-release narcotics, I understood the temptation to treat these conditions with such. But our past twenty years of opioid over-prescribing and subsequent sky rocketing accidental overdose deaths should have taught us that easy cures, though tempting, can be fatal. That didn’t satisfy my oath to do no harm.

I did my best to study the research. I attended conferences and listened to experts. But more, I listened to the patients.

I went into medicine thinking my job was to fix what ails the patient, when possible. I remember in residency; our patient interactions would be viewed by a behavioral health specialist who would give us feedback. Toni, the specialist watched me once and commented, “You need to be careful. You want to fix patients.”

I was struck dumb. “That’s my job!” I countered.

“No, it isn’t.” She replied firmly. I pondered that one for a long time.

It was a hard lesson for me to learn that many ailments aren’t fixed, but managed. When a cure isn’t available, the focus has to move to maximizing function. That adjustment can be hard to accept. It often was for me.

But I worked at learning. I thought that was my job, as a primary care physician, to care for the patient. So, I am troubled now when I see so many patients with chronic pain sent away from their primary care providers to pain specialists. I think some of this is a reaction by my colleagues to our years of excessive prescribing. Doctors got on the opioid bandwagon too easily. So now some won’t even take a short ride. I see signs up at the receptionist: “We do not treat chronic pain”. This too, is I believe, a mistake.

Patients need our care.

Don’t get me wrong, pain management specialists are valuable. I have made such referrals. They have much greater depth of experience than I do in their fields. But most primary care providers can manage most chronic pain patients.

In rural Idaho, chronic pain is common and specialists are far apart. We need to help our primary care providers serve their communities. And we are.

I get a quarterly report from the Board of Pharmacy on my patterns of prescribing controlled substances. It lists the number of prescriptions, the daily dose and comparisons to my colleagues. This is helpful.

If I have concerns that a patient might be “doctor shopping” for controlled substances I can access a data base that lists all prescriptions, sorted by prescriber and patient. It even links to most surrounding states. This is a great resource.

But one of the best tools has been developed by the Idaho WWAMI program, the medical school affiliated with the University of Washington School of Medicine. It is Project ECHO. Twice a month any provider can log in to an hour-long conference with specialists.

Colleagues from around the state will be on the screen. After a short presentation there is time for questions, case presentations and discussion. Management of these challenging conditions is supported.

Currently, the Idaho legislature is considering whether it should support this program with taxpayer dollars. It would be a worthwhile investment. I wish it had been available when I was starting out.
 

Geofencing

politicalwords

Not so long ago, communicating with large numbers of people meant broadcasting - sending one message out to lots of people. That still happens, but alongside it we see micro-casting: Using technology to send different messages out to specific people, or groups of people.

The technology has been adopted in the 2010s to remarkable degrees as mega-databases have accumulated immense amounts of information about, well, each of us. And the the resulting capability in microtargeting has become increasingly important in American politics.

It also has led to a whole new language of its own.

A January 29, 2020 column by Thomas Edsall remarked on some of this, noting the degree to which the Trump presidential campaign has been bearing down on this (more than the Democrats have).

He noted that "The explosion of digital technology has created the opportunity for political operatives to run what amount to dark campaigns, conducted below the radar of both voter awareness and government oversight. In some cases, the technology is very simple: the anonymous transmission of negative images of candidates by individuals to Facebook groups. This activity is neither reported to the Federal Election Commission nor linked to official campaigns."

A new language has developed out of it, too. He cited some of the terms associated with it: "geofencing, mass personalization, dark patterns, identity resolution technologies, dynamic prospecting, geotargeting strategies, location analytics, geo-behavioural segment, political data cloud, automatic content recognition, dynamic creative optimization."

The growth term, and the one with maybe the largest application - commercial and otherwise as well as political - is geofencing.

A marketing application for it is described this way: "Geofencing is the practice of using global positioning (GPS) or radio frequency identification (RFID) to define a geographic boundary. Then, once this 'virtual barrier' is established, the administrator can set up triggers that send a text message, email alert, or app notification when a mobile device enters (or exits) the specified area. So, businesses can section off a geographic area and communicate with devices within that space." The information often comes via smartphones through all those apps that you allow to share location and other information.

Businesses can use it as a device for communicating with people who have interacted with or visited their businesses.

Politically, it can be used in other ways. A National Public Radio report said that "CatholicVote has already identified some 200,000 Catholics in Wisconsin, which of course is a key state heading into 2020. They're able to discover that half of those Mass-goers are not registered to vote." That would be valuable political information.

Of course, there is the potential for blowback, as a reporter for the National Catholic Reporter noted: "it's not illegal, but the idea of mining data of people while they're at worship in a church was causing outrage to some of our readers. And the fact then that that data is going to be used for political purposes added to their problems with this."

Watch for more of these deep data terms to stick their heads up as the campaign year progresses.
 

The president as role model

joneslogo1

As we observe Presidents Day this year, it is well to consider the critical role our presidents play in shaping the attitudes and ambitions of America’s young people. Being the most conspicuous public figures of their time, presidents can have a tremendous influence on the future lives of contemporaneous youngsters. It can be for better or for worse.

Presidents should be positive role models, inspiring our children to be good people who make this country a better place for all of us. When I was growing up, my parents held George Washington up as an example - a truthful man who brought Americans together to build a nation. Outside of the deep south, Abraham Lincoln was praised for abolishing slavery and extending basic human rights to everyone in this blessed land.

I personally experienced the power of presidential inspiration - it transformed my life. In my first year of college at Idaho State, I was studying to be a civil engineer. That is, until John Kennedy gave his inaugural address in January 1961. When he said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country,” those words shot through me like a bolt of lightning.

Although Kennedy was of a different political party, I embraced his challenge and made plans to be a war veteran, a lawyer and a U.S. Senator, all of which he had been. That brought me to the University of Oregon where I got a political science degree and a commission in the Army. Several of my friends there also responded to Kennedy’s call--one couple chose the Foreign Service, a girlfriend opted for the Peace Corps.

After law school, I volunteered for service in Vietnam as an artillery officer. During R&R in Bangkok, I met up with Larry Crumrine who had been a year ahead of me at Valley High School (Eden-Hazelton). Larry had heeded Kennedy’s call and served in the Peace Corps in Africa, then joined the Air Force. He was flying bombing missions over North Vietnam and Laos. Here were two Jerome County guys fighting international Communism halfway around the world from home. We saw it as our duty to the country.

In the six decades since Kennedy made his speech, I have met many more people of both political parties who were inspired by Kennedy’s words. Other Presidents have used their high office to inspire and bring out the best in all of us. Ronald Reagan memorably described America as “the shining city upon a hill...teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace.” What better way to inspire our children to be good and do good?

Unfortunately, presidential misconduct can have a powerful negative influence on our children. If a president has little regard for the truth, it sends a signal to our youngsters that they need not be truthful.

When a president glorifies those who commit war crimes, while vilifying service personnel who honorably serve, it hurts the effort to attract our best and brightest to serve in the military.

A president who relies on a staff member with white nationalist sympathies to fashion the country’s immigration policy gives a wink and a nod to both young and old that it may be okay to say and do hurtful things to others.

When our president questions and demeans the faith of a Senator who obviously cherishes his religion, it sets a poor example for people of all faiths and ages.

If a president bullies a 15-year-old climate activist who is concerned about the world in which she and her generation will live, it shows our youngsters that bullying must be acceptable conduct.

Candidates running for the high office of president should set a positive example for the nation’s young people. We should judge candidates, first and foremost, on whether the behavior they display is the way we want our children to behave.

Jim Jones has written of his 25 years of public service in his book, “Vietnam…Can’t get you out of my mind.”
 

What we’ve lost

rainey

Being a member of the “senior population,” we’re faced with changes every day. New ways of doing things, new genius electronic devices, changing social morals and a host of others. Constant change.

As older folks, we’re often reluctant to accept the new because of a lifetime of doing things the “old way.” Fact is, in some cases, many of us continue the “old way” because it’s more comfortable, more sensible, familiar and - in many cases - more reliable.

Remembering clear back to elementary school, high school, even college, we were taught to believe in the flag, in our country, in government and, especially, in our President. It wasn’t an issue of right versus wrong. Those institutions - those people - were what made us great, we were told. We matriculated into adulthood with a sense of permanence, of truth, of believing we lived in a nation with worldwide credibility and acceptance.

Now - this day - I sit in my home, looking at the institutions of government and our President, not feeling confidence or comfort or even security as events of recent days play out. I clearly remember all those years of training - of believing - of fully accepting what I’d learned. And now, trust has been replaced with mistrust. Confidence has been replaced with skepticism. Comfort and security have been replaced with a sense of fear and anxiety.

The “representative” government we were taught to respect is no longer “representative.” It’s become an angry, divided place filled with men and women more concerned about continued employment than truly representing folks at home. We put them in office with the expectation they would respond to our civic needs and honestly conduct the affairs of national government.

Both houses of Congress have become so angrily divided there seems to be no way of bridging the gap or to expect members to return to their original responsibilities in the foreseeable future.

In the House, one party, with an advantage of 20 or so out of a total membership of 435, managed to find the President guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” and narrowly passed a bill of impeachment.

But, in the Senate, in the “trial” prescribed in the Constitution, 53 of the 100 members voted to have no witnesses or documents upon which to fairly render an honest verdict. That was followed by 54 members voting to acquit without witnesses or documentation. Fifty-four out of 100. Case closed. Justice denied. They acted despite taking an oath “before God” as they were sworn into office and a second oath “before God” to conduct a fair trial and to render an honest verdict.

Now, we have a President unrestrained. A President who has, on many occasions, talked of being “President for life” and who’s conducting the affairs of state as though he were a dictator.

He is defying laws and the Constitution. He’s abandoning or demolishing laws and regulations enacted to protect the environment, assure even-handed immigration policies, opening sacred and protected lands to developers and fossil fuel companies. And much, much more.

He has admitted to repeatedly lying to Americans about affairs of state - most notably conduct of his “personal representative” and issues regarding Ukraine. He’s lied under oath. He’s lied in countless interviews. He’s violated laws dealing with national security. He’s caged at least 55,000 children taken from parents who crossed our southern border seeking protection from violence in their homelands. Now, we are told at least 7,500 of those children have been adopted and will likely never again see their birth parents.

We seniors grew up in the security that government “of the people, by the people and for the people” was ours. Many of us fought in wars believing those words and thousands have perished believing the same.
We were taught government was created to serve the people. That government would protect us, provide security, care for our needs and assure liberty and freedom for all.

Now, it seems, government has become, not the servant, but the master. In many instances, government has become a threat to our freedoms. Its power and reach are now in the hands of people determined to act in their own self-interest to, as the late Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus put it, “Rape, ruin and run.”

We’ve got members of Congress who lie, cover their own backsides, travel worldwide on our dime, conduct affairs of state in secrecy and some who won’t even meet with constituents. Voters.

I remember well the John Birchers and other conspiracy crazies of the 50's and 60's who railed against “big government” and found conspiracies behind every tree and bush. “Nut cases” we called them then. A lot of ‘em are gone now. But, I can’t help but wonder what the few remaining “nut cases” think of current federal affairs

I’ve lived through 13 presidencies, disagreed with several while developing a life-long interest in politics. Disagreed, yes. But, feared none. Until now.

Some very respected voices have warned our Republic, as we know it, is in danger. And, should Trump be re-elected, several have predicted it will take generations - if ever - to recover the national government and institutions we’ve all lived under.

Our institutions are failing us and some have actually become something to be feared.

And, I do.
 

What a mess

mckee

Our government is in dire straits, with an impossibly arrogant president so deep in corruption, incompetence, and ignorance that the foundations of our democracy have been laid bare and are actually beginning to wither. He has managed to circumvent or stymie the intricate network of checks and balances put into place to prevent just this circumstance. The national press has been rendered essentially impotent and fully half the country is either caught up in the machinations spewing forth from the Whitehouse or is just plain oblivious to the happenings.

We are so far adrift in our foreign affairs, and so completely cut off from our allies and trading partners, that we are on the verge of being considered irrelevant by the rest of the world. We have become a selfish bully internationally, tolerated and placated by our friends and manipulated into atrocious mistakes by our more devious enemies. We are no longer respected for the examples we set, admired for the skill of our diplomacy, or trusted in the use of our military power. We are no longer considered a leader in the industrialized world.

Our Congress is in shambles. The Republican members have led the Senate to abandon its principled independence under the Constitution and to become hostage to an autocratic bully who demands personal loyalty and absolute obedience no matter what the cause. The result is a dysfunctional body that has failed to uphold its responsibility of oversight over the executive branch, a necessary element of the checks and balances created by the founders.

The most disturbing development is the complete abrogation of any respect for the truth. From a not-distant time when the worst thing a high-level political leader could be called out for was a deliberate lie, we now accept, acknowledge and report on “alternative facts,” as though truth were merely an option to be decided relatively by the desirability of the position taken. The president’s penchant for distorting the facts is to the point where the press has given up trying to keep up with the truth; instead, they report his words verbatim and then offer non-committal scores on how many lies he has told – with a number that now reaches into the thousands.

The necessity of replacing Trump this November could not be more apparent. The impeachment is behind us, and history will eventually tell whether the Senate trial was just a mistake or an outright debacle. Things are bound to get worse, and if Trump is re-elected, they will get much worse. He is already testing the concepts of “president for life” with his base at rallies and in casual conversations, and the cognoscenti foresee obvious signs of his intentions to seek a way around the 22d Amendment if he is elected to a second term. We are literally facing the possibility of a dictatorship being forced upon us.

Against this background, the Democratic Party gives every appearance of doing its best to screw things up. The party is made up of so many factions that working towards a consensus is proving to be a Sisyphean task – and one that appears out of the grasp of current party leadership. The run-up to the formal campaign has been an unorganized cluster-bleep, with no guidance from the DNC. The Iowa curtain-raiser was a disaster, and the DNC and its chairman are getting soundly roasted for it. Party management continues to maintain that the open and unfettered competition will produce the strongest candidate – which sounds fine in theory. In practice, the number of candidates running against each other present a substantial risk of the predictable infighting chewing up the winner of the primaries so badly that he or she will not recover in time to win the general.

From jaundiced view outside the party, by the undecided, independents, and disenchanted Republicans, being the potential voters who have to be corralled in the general election if Trump is to be beaten, the candidates currently leading in the race to face Trump in the fall look like (1) an over-the-hill avowed socialist, (2) an ultra-liberal technocrat so deep in the weeds that she keeps getting in her own way; (3) a nimble former Navy lieutenant, too soon out of college, who managed to become mayor of Podunk before coming out; (4) a good natured has-been who is telephoning in his third try for the job, and (5) an unknown and untested senator from Wisconsin. Wisconsin!

Inside the party, the youth are behind Sanders, but the older voters are put way off by his avowed socialism. Further, too many women blame him for Hillary’s calamity last time out. The far left are enamored with Warren but the moderates consider her a screwball. The blacks and browns won’t touch Mayor Pete yet, and Biden, who started out as the top dog, is really the second choice of even his closest supporters – he’s OK but they still keep looking around. His campaign is currently taking on water, and unless he’s got a rabbit in a hat somewhere, even a landslide in South Carolina may not be enough. Klobuchar did well in Iowa and got a huge bump in New Hampshire, but it is not known yet whether she can maintain and continue to grow on her recent successes.

In the second tier, Yang and Bennett finally tossed in theirs towels, but there are still the two billionaires, both late arrivals, who have been pouring their own money into the melee. If it were not for the money, they would be considered jokes. As it is, no one really knows yet what to make of them. The rest appear too far behind to have any chance.

Most Democrats will say that they can support any of the candidates up there, top tier or not, but that alone will not win the general. It has to be assumed that the Democrats will turn their own voters out in numbers to beat, or at least match, the turnout from the declared Republicans. The winner, then, is going to be determined by the key votes in the battleground states from the independents and disenchanted Republicans. That is going to take something more that party resolve.

This means the ideal candidate probably has to come from the middle. Best would be a moderate, acceptable to the progressives who will not drive off the youth, or a progressive, satisfactory to the moderates who will not drive off the elders. He or she will keep the non-white vote energized and the women fired up, will satisfy the unions without driving small business away, be able to sustain the withering attack that will come from big business and the hard right, and manage throughout to keep Trump safely tethered or in his cage. Sanders and Warren are too far left, Buttigieg cannot get the black and tan votes, Bloomberg is too old and is going to have trouble with the non-white vote on account of baggage from his time as mayor of NYC.

This probably means Biden, Klobuchar, Buttigieg if he solves his problem with the non-whites and can hold on to the evangelicals in the South once they realize he is gay, or Steyer, if he can solve the problem of name identification and the stigma of being a billionaire – and for all of them, that they can enchant or scare the youth vote into staying engaged and getting out to vote. If Bernie is tossed under the bus, this is going to be a tall order under the best of circumstances.

One can foresee a Democratic convention with three to five candidates going in, each with a share of the delegates but no clear front runner – a sight not seen since the 1950’s. If such should happen, it might be possible to run the convention in a constructive fashion, and come out with the entire party enthusiastically united behind the selection, but the risk is that the convention will divide itself into warring factions with the winner winding up not being the consensus leader but rather a compromise, mutually unsatisfactory to most, but with a good sized number walking away unsatisfied and planning on staying home. Which could be a disaster.

Fasten your seatbelts, everybody, it is going to be one hell of a ride.
 

Corrupted justice

johnson

During the administration of President Warren G. Harding – until recently generally regarded as the most corrupt presidential administration in modern times – the attorney general was a thoroughly amoral political hack. His name was Harry Daugherty.

Daugherty was a small-time Ohio politician, never particularly successful in his own political life, but skilled at picking his friends and doubly skilled at using his position to advance his own interests. Daugherty became a bosom pal and personal lawyer of then-Senator Harding, helped engineer Harding’s surprising nomination as the Republican presidential candidate in 1920 and then managed a successful national campaign. As a reward, and because Harding was a singularly bad judge of character, Daugherty became attorney general.

There was some grumbling, even from Republicans, when Daugherty populated the U.S. Justice Department with a collection of cronies and grifters from Ohio. The press dubbed them “the Ohio gang,” and for a few years these shysters ran a series of scams to enrich themselves. (Meanwhile over at the Interior Department a corrupt cabinet member was selling government oil leases in order to enrich himself. Some remember that as “the Teapot Dome scandal.”)

Daugherty’s Ohio gang sold permits allowing exemptions from prohibition laws. They violated a law that governed the screening of prize fight films. They ran a racket to profit from property that had been confiscated from enemy aliens during World War I. And they went after their political enemies.

In 1924 – Harding died in 1923 and Calvin Coolidge became president – Daugherty’s corruption was openly flouted in Washington and a handful of senators, including Idaho’s William E. Borah, demanded an investigation. Imagine that: A Republican senator demanding an investigation of a Republican administration.

The leadership of the Senate’s investigation fell to a junior senator from Montana, a Democrat by the name of Burton K. Wheeler. Wheeler had been a righteous U.S. attorney before winning a Senate election in 1922. He insisted that the Justice Department had been corrupted and campaigned on launching an investigation.

Upon learning that Wheeler intended to call witnesses and probe alleged improprieties, Daugherty struck. FBI agents were dispatched to Montana to dig up dirt on Wheeler, the Republican National Committee sent its own investigators for the same purpose and a compliant U.S. attorney convened a grand jury to hear “evidence” of Wheeler’s own alleged corruption. The evidence produced was misrepresented or entirely manufactured, but Wheeler was nevertheless framed, indicted and labeled a crook by the very people he was seeking to hold to account.

Wheeler was eventually exonerated by a Montana jury and a Senate investigation led by Borah concluded that he had done nothing improper. Daugherty was ultimately forced to resign as attorney general – Borah again led the charge – and he evaded conviction on corruption charges when one of twelve jurors of held out against a guilty verdict.

A senior justice department official who witnessed the entire sordid affair later said that Daugherty purposely set out, using political appointees loyal to him, to bring an indictment against a United States senator before that senator could expose Daugherty’s own corruption.

The episode – improper use of the FBI, political intimidation, trumped up charges, politicization of the Justice Department, corrupt activity by an attorney general – stands as one of the worst examples in American political history of the department of the federal government charged with upholding the law doing precisely the opposite. The stench lasted for years.

Harry Daugherty is hardly alone in paving a trail of personal and organizational corruption at the Justice Department. Richard Nixon’s one-time attorney general John Mitchell, as another example, was convicted for his role in the Watergate affair and Mitchell’s tenure at the Justice Department was marked by profound politicization of the department. There were howls of Republican protest when Barack Obama’s attorney general held a highly questionable conversation with Bill Clinton during the 2016 campaign, while his wife activities were under investigation.

Yet, not since John Mitchell, or even since Harry Daugherty have we seen the extraordinary level of Justice Department political game playing that we now see daily under Trump attorney general William Barr. And what makes Barr’s tenure so remarkable is that the political perversion of his department is happening in plain sight, driven by a vindictive president who now clearly believes there are no limits to his actions.

“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control,” Trump Tweeted this week when the Justice Department changed course dramatically and in unprecedented fashion overruled federal prosecutors in a case involving Trump pal Roger Stone, the self-proclaimed Nixon-era sleaze merchant and dirty trickster. Stone, of course, was convicted of seven felonies, including witness intimidation and lying to Congress for his role in facilitating Russian interference in the 2016 election. Essentially the president is interceding with his attorney general to help a guy who lied for him.

Four career prosecutors resigned from the case in protest, with one leaving the department entirely. Trump subsequently attacked the prosecutors and the federal judge who is scheduled to sentence Stone this month. Meanwhile, the president has encouraged discipline against the decorated officer who provided damaging testimony about Trump’s Ukrainian shakedown and the attorney general has moved out federal prosecutors who haven’t been sufficiently political subservient for his taste.

Trump has so wildy succeeded – now with Barr’s help – in destroying the norms of presidential conduct that this kind of abnormal behavior seems to many to be OK. “What normalization does,” says Jason Stanley, author of a frightening little book called How Fascism Works, “is to transform the morally extraordinary into the ordinary. It makes us able to tolerate what was once intolerable by making it seem as if this is the way things have always been.”

“What if a regime, for example, used a dismal us-versus-them divide in national politics to destroy faith in institutions capable of containing its power – elections, an independent judiciary, the public forum – thereby eliminating checks on its own self-enriching schemes?” – From The Guardian’s review of “How Fascism Works.”

But it is not the way things have always been or should be. And a toleration of the intolerable is deadly to democracy. As Harry Daugherty’s biographer wrote of another corrupt attorney general, he “belongs to that large and growing number of American leaders who, in sacrificing principle to personal gain, have failed the American people.” That is already being said of Barr.

Trump is unchained now. He’ll certainly pardon Stone and others convicted of serious crimes and who have covered for him. The extremely partisan politicians – Republicans like Idaho’s Jim Risch and Mike Crapo, for instance – who sanction this intolerable behavior may not believe it, but they are quietly and effectively serving as grave diggers for the fragile American experiment in democracy.

That the president and his enablers have assaulted a broad array of democratic norms is a feature of the last three years. It got worse – much worse – this week.

What schools do

stapiluslogo1

The debates over what American public school teaching should be about go all the way back to the beginning of American public schools in the early 1800s, and some of those arguments reverberate today.

Even, maybe unknowingly, in Idaho.

A book by veteran education writer Dana Goldstein called The Teacher Wars, published six years ago, showed how the purpose and approach of teaching in America has changed over the last couple of centuries. And it has changed even if, as the saying goes, the issues keep rhyming.

One of the earliest debates had to do with whether public schools should have mostly male or female teachers. In those days (again, we’re talking about the early 19th century), some advocates for a hard fact-based, rote-memorization approach to teaching - drawn in part from the stringent public schools in Prussia - advised that men generally take the role of teachers, arguing they could better handle that kind of instruction (along with stringent discipline).

But the prevailing side urged a mostly female teaching corps. It won out in part because local and state governments could get away with paying female teachers less (thus using fewer tax dollars) but also because female teachers were thought to be better at shaping character and building morals, with some fact-based education included on the side. The idea of schools as a key shaper of students’ moral character, and their ability to function properly in their society, is an old concept in American history, going back to the earliest public (and even informal and non-public) schools.

The issue of what American public schools are supposed to do for students is an old, old debate, the contours of which change with time and the shape of society. And now it revives in the Idaho Legislature

Last fall, Governor Brad Little’s education task force offered five core recommendations, one of which was to provide a budget for help with the “social-emotional” aspects of student development. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra signed on with that. The amount is not large; out of a $2 billion budget for public schools, the “social-emotional” effort would take $1 million - about .05 of a percent. A story in IdahoEdNews explained the funds would “go to training for teachers to help them identify at-risk students, intervene in a crisis and help address risky youth behaviors while creating a healthy classroom environment.”

The amount was small - really indicating something more like a pilot project - for doing work with students and concerns that schools already have to deal with, just in less structured ways.

But it drew response.

Representative Barbara Erhardt of Idaho Falls said, “We’re talking about more time spent, um, in an area with kids and teachers that really is a role that should be dealt with in the home. It seems like everything is flipping.”

Representative Tony Wisniewski of Post Falls harkened back to the sixties, when kids would be taken “behind the woodshed, if necessary” for some character development.

Of course, times have changed. Students still do come to school from home, and many of them do get the core of their social and emotional help from their parents. But some don’t, and problems can multiply when younger students carry their internal baggage on to older years.

And the question remains: What should schools do when students arrive and become (or already are) disruptive, or suicidal, or otherwise seriously troubled?

It’s not an easy question, and never has been. The new Idaho proposal is really only a matter of taking an initial stab at it. Provided the Idaho Legislature lets them.
 

Ebb, flow

schmidt

Separation of powers is a fundamental principle in both our state and federal Constitutions. The framers figured that by splitting up the powers that govern us, we, the governed would be less oppressed by our government (read Federalist 51). But what happens when one branch relinquishes its power or another infringes? Does the loss of separation from this disrupted balance lead to increased oppression of the governed?

We have two examples to consider.

Impeachment is the biggest test of this separation. Our federal Constitution gave Congress the power to remove the President. I’m sure you have heard about our recent civics lesson. The verdict has been given, though it was probably a foregone conclusion. Many trials are. But the failure of the US Senate to hear witnesses, review documents or even stay awake to “impartially” consider the charges doesn’t bode well for the power they are supposed to hold. The majority declared themselves submissive to the executive they were judging.

In fact, the previous administration exulted in and abused Congress’ impotence. When one branch abdicates, the other usurps. Executive orders have become fiat. Budgets are managed by “continuing resolution” from one threatened shutdown to the next. Our debt to GDP ratio is higher than any time except right after World War Two. Only when Congress, the House and the Senate, Republican, Democrat and Independent resolve to put aside differences and govern, can they reassert their separate constitutional power. Meanwhile, the executive sucks up the foregone power.

I believe the wisdom of the electorate desires separation and balance. The first midterm election after a new president is elected has almost always seen Congress swing the other way. Obama lost 63 House seats in the Tea Party wave of 2010; Trump lost 37 at his first midterm. Could this be the electorate pleading with Congress to assert its power?

Here in Idaho, it’s the opposite imbalance. The legislature is leaning on the executive branch. Take the recent Administrative rule dust-up example.
When the Idaho legislature passes a law, the executive branch that enacts that law writes administrative rules to fill in the details. For instance, Idaho code 33-1612 (Courses of Instruction) list in outline the general principles for classroom instruction, then delegates:

The state board shall adopt rules… to establish a thorough system of public schools with uniformity as required by the constitution.

The Idaho legislature reviews and approves or rejects all new administrative rules. They even got this power into the Idaho Constitution. But then, last session, the House and the Senate could not agree on the process for review and ended up not renewing ALL the administrative rules. Governor Little made lemonade out this and put a lot of government employees to work reviewing all 8000 pages of rules. He successfully reduced some, but, by law ALL these new rules needed to be reviewed by the legislature.

Legislative review of executive branch rules can blur the separation of powers that keeps government weak, like it should be.

Last week, the House Education Committee voted to reject the rules for teacher certification standards. They also voted to reject all K12 classroom standards for Math, English and Science.

There can be great temptation to re-legislate when the rules come before you. Imagine being in the position of opposing legislation that gets passed. Or, more often, opposing funding for the department. Now imagine those rules come before you and your job as a legislator is to make sure they conform to the intent of the statute that you opposed. You might be tempted to throw a wrench in the works. The House Ed Committee is acting like a mechanic on meth.

The Idaho legislature has slowly over the years usurped power from the executive branch through rules review. It’s gotten to the point of micromanagement, wasting our taxpayer dollars. If the Idaho legislature really has so little productive to do, I propose they take January off and shovel snow.
 

Human rights

politicalwords

What does it mean to say or claim that something is, in fact, a human right? How do we know or how do we determine whether that claim that this or that is a human right, is it true, and therefore, ought it to be honored? How can there be human rights, rights we possess not as privileges we are granted or even earn but simply by virtue of our humanity, belong to us? Is it, in fact, true, as our Declaration of Independence asserts, that as human beings, we – all of us, every member of our human family – are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?
► Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, July 8, 2019

As an article in the New Yorker suggested,1 Pompeo’s answer to the question may be found in the members appointed to a new Commission on Unalienable Rights, whose chair, Mary Ann Glendon, is best known for opposition to same-sex marriage. Among other members, “Peter Berkowitz, of the Hoover Institution, has argued that human rights are, in essence, religious rights – indeed, that the source of all human rights is Christianity. ...

Christopher Tollefsen, a professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, has written that embryos are human beings and has argued that the Pope went too far when he suggested that the use of contraceptives may be permissible to prevent transmission of the Zika virus to newborns.”

The rights in question seem to put those of religion – certain religious ideas, obviously not all – at the top of the heap. Beyond that, the article said, “In effect, the new commission will contemplate who is and isn’t human, and who, therefore, possesses inalienable rights. Most of the commissioners appear to believe that embryos are human. Many of them also appear to subscribe to the Trump Administration’s general position that trans people do not exist.”

Some of this is a response to an expanding list of human rights over the last – well, three or four hundred years. But what’s being looked at in cases like this is a regression to almost no rights at all, unless your religious beliefs comport with those of the politically powerful.