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Posts published in September 2021



I remember how I felt the wool growing on my back when they first taught me to scrub in medical school. I knew in my heart they were making me into a sheep. Why has it taken me so long to admit it?

They first had us change clothes in the dressing room. We had to put on “scrub suits” that the hospital provided. The blue cotton made us all look the same. What a sheepy way to start the indoctrination.

Next, they had us put on masks. We had to do this BEFORE we washed our hands because theoretically, the hands would be clean after we washed them, and the masking process required that we use our hands. I can remember forgetting to put on the mask FIRST a time or two, then halfway through the hand scrubbing process I remembered. Had to go get the mask, tie it on over the cap or hood over the hair, then return to the hand washing, but had to start the whole process over. I was just like a sheep going through the pens. I had to go one direction, first gate first, no freedom.

The hand washing was expected to take a certain amount of time. The water over the sinks could be turned on with a bump of the knee and it ran on a timer. I was expected to scrub each finger, backs, fronts, forearms for the time the water ran. When it shut off you could proceed to the next step. Just like sheep in the sheep dip.

My freedom loving nature rebelled a bit against this oppression. I had learned about bacteria, viruses, the transmission of contagion in my undergraduate classes in microbiology.

Indeed, I’d heard the heart-breaking story of Ignaz Semmelweis advocating for handwashing in the early 1800’s. He was a young doctor who watched women who had babies in hospitals die of “child bed fever”. At the time he didn’t know, nobody knew about bacteria. But it struck him as odd that women who delivered in the midwife ward had much lower fatality rates than those delivered in a hospital. At the time, it was expected medical procedure for the physician to perform an autopsy on the patient who died the day before. Midwives didn’t do autopsies on their dead patients. If he (the physicians were all men back then) had to run from the necropsy room to the delivery room, no hand washing was required. If the woman delivered that day died of the same fever as the cadaver had the day before, the connection was lost on 19th century doctors. Antisepsis had not been invented.

Semmelweis instituted the practice of hand washing in one ward and reduced the incidence of “child bed fever” deaths by 90%. He had no explanation for why such a practice worked, only evidence that it did.

But his recommendation that doctors wash their hands was not met with approval. Doctors back then knew, Ignaz just wanted us to be sheep. Their reaction to his affront was strong. Can you imagine a doctor being accused of spreading a disease? Semmelweis was shamed and demeaned. Eventually he was committed to an asylum and beaten, dying from the infected wounds.

It took another thirty years for other doctors to advance the “Germ Theory”. Remember, it’s just a theory.

Doctors have a long and proud history of defending our freedom to do what we think is best. And when someone presents evidence that flies in the face of our practices, we assail the messenger.

It’s looking like this pandemic might hang around for another thirty years. Maybe by then we won’t feel like sheep, and we’ll know the right thing to do. In the meantime, my colleagues will do their best to care for the unimmunized as they clog our wards and ICUs.

Muting Biden


When the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee gets an opportunity to question the secretary of the state, you normally can prepare for a deep and mind-numbing conversation about global politics.

Or, in the case of Idaho Sen. Jim Risch’s recent grilling of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, there are many hot-button issues to spice up the proceedings. They could have talked about the mess at the border, the disastrous developments in Afghanistan, or Risch’s claim that President Biden’s foreign policy is mismanaged.
Instead, Risch used his time for a not-so-compelling discussion about mute buttons, and the effort by White House staffers to selectively silence the president.

“Someone has the authority to cut off the president. Who is that person?” Risch asked, saying it happened during the president’s recent visit to Idaho. Blinken, not surprisingly, said that he was not aware of anyone using a mute button. Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press, who was among the pool reporters in the room, wrote in her commentary that no one pulled the plug on the president. Critics labeled the senator’s line of questioning as a waste of time.

Risch, of course, would never ask such questions during the Trump presidency – where the senator was a committee chairman and valuable part of the inner circle. But the politics are different with a Democrat in the White House, and Risch being on the outside.

The implication from Risch’s questions was that, our 78-year-old president isn’t all there mentally – something that Blinken would never acknowledge even if it were true. So if the president is a few bricks shy of a load on the mental end, and Risch knows something about it, then there’s reason to bring up the matter in a public setting. As any good teacher will say, the only “dumb questions” are the ones not asked.

Risch had some foundation to his questions. Politico published a story recently (citing White House officials as sources) saying that when Biden gives public remarks, “staffers will either mute him or turn off his remarks.” The same story said that advisers encourage their boss to essentially stay with the script and not answer spontaneous questions from the media.

The New York Post offered its account of what happened when Biden was in Boise, saying that an official White House livestream of the president was abruptly cut off in mid-sentence – without warning -- as Biden was asking a question of a forest official.

The Post described the matter in Boise as only “the latest example” of the White House cutting off its online coverage of the president.

Biden has admitted to being a “gaffe machine,” which must drive his entourage nuts. As the Politico story indicates, White House staffers have made an effort to minimize those blunders. But when a president is knocking on the door of 80, there will be questions about whether he’s just too old to be president. We heard those whispers during the second half of President Reagan’s term, and to a lesser extent, during the Trump years.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m 71 – and 78 doesn’t look so old. Risch is just a year younger than Biden and shows no signs of slowing down. But there’s a difference between being a U.S. senator from Idaho and the leader of the free world. As for myself, an unpaid political columnist, I’m not in either league -- unless you think the weight of the world hinges on bad golf.

The good thing about Biden is that he acts and sounds presidential for the most part. The bad thing is that he looks and sounds like an old man, which makes him an inviting target for Republicans over the next three years – or until Trump rides to the rescue in 2024.

Of course, Trump will be 78 years old by then, so be careful what you wish for.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at

Under attack


Like it or not, for the foreseeable future, Donald Trump is going to be a force to reckon with in nearly all things political. His lies and childlike attempts to keep his name in our faces has - and is - taking its toll on our way of life.

A new CNN poll of more than 2,000 citizens nationwide showed 56% believe our democracy is under attack. Further, 51% believe it’s “likely elected officials will successfully overturn the results of future elections if their party doesn’t win.”

Nearly all queried - 93% - believe our democracy “is being tested. Republicans expressing the worst fears were Trump voters. In that group, 79% say Trump should be the leader of the Republican Party.

Most in that GOP crowd believe there is “solid evidence” that Joe Biden lost the 2020 election - 78% so say. (Nobody was asked for evidence)

A narrow majority - 52% - lack confidence “future elections will accurately express the will of the people.” Maybe that’s because 58% say voting rule changes in GOP controlled states “were made to keep the Party in power.” Democrat responders - 53% - believe the same.

One other statistical note: 83% of polled Republicans believe election laws “aren’t strict enough” and 66% of Democrats say it’s already too hard to vote.

By way of evidence to support the opening comments about Trump, having an affect on our politics, again, the CNN poll shows 79% want Trump to be the leader of the GOP. Fact is, he is! Name one other Republican who could contest his occupying that spot right now. Or, in the next few years. I can’t think of one.

The polling also shows a majority of us feel under some sort of attack on our system of elections. Elections are the backbone of the country. If the words “free” and “fair” can’t be used to describe future elections, how will we electors have a voice in how the country is run?

Truly, the shadow of Trump hovers over just about everything political. It appears many GOP politicians believe they have to support Trump’s baseless claim he “won” in 2020 and “kiss the ring” in a display of obedience.

Look no further than the failed attempt to recall California’s governor. The loser started complaining the day BEFORE the polls opened that he was the victim of “a stolen election.” Pure Trump. Pure B.S..

Nearly all of us were raised in a time of political fairness, especially in national elections. Both Parties. In all who ran for one office or another. Belief in our election system was just taken for granted.

We know now, things aren’t “free and fair.” In my middle-of-the-road Republican family, the downfall of Richard Nixon killed my Father’s faith in politics and our traditional system of governance. His patriotism and lifelong belief in the honesty of the Presidency were crushed. It literally brought him to his knees. I was in the media at that time. Much of my reporting was about things political. But, Dad would never talk to me about politics again.

Now, we have Trump, whose lies and treachery have irreparably soiled much of our politics. Republicans running for nearly any office seem to have some sort of fealty to him. He sticks his nose into races up and down the ballot. Sometimes, he actively recruits candidates to run against some Republican he believes was disloyal to him.

Like it or not, his brand of politics is being emulated in many contests.
As in his California involvement, we’re seeing outright lies being effective at the polls. That’s how we got Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz, and Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis and others of their ilk. Despoilers of truth and disdain for “free” and “fair.” They, and others, in Congress and state affairs have brazenly taken on Trump’s banners and are conducting themselves in his likeness.

Voters polled by CNN overwhelmingly believe our system of governance - our way of life - is under attack. The majority fear future elections may be invalidated by elected officials - especially Republican officials.

That polling shows many of us are unsettled, apprehensive about the future and are fearful our voices will be stilled by unscrupulous politicians. And, in many of the responses, the specter of Trump was revealed in their answers.

While I don’t question the veracity of the pollsters, I’d like to think most of us still believe in fairness and honesty - that we who cast ballots in elections will have our voices heard.

Yes, at the moment, Trump is an unwelcome player. But, I’d also like to think enough solid losses at the polls - like the California whipping - will eventually erase the stigma of his influence.

It’s up to us.

The sixth district


The Oregon Legislature, after fits and starts - you can take that in several ways - has approved redistricting maps for the next decade, and the most consequential of these is the reapportionment of the U.S. House districts. (Signature by Governor Kate Brown still awaits, but that seems not to be in doubt.) Just ahead of an election where partisan control of the House will be closely and tightly fought, as it appears now, control of every seat is critical.

Oregon is one of those states getting a new, additional, U.S House seat. Its current delegation includes, as it has for many years, four Democrats and one Republican. So which party will control the District 6?

Backing up a little: Of the six districts, three will not change really drastically, at least not in partisan lean. District 1 (in northwest Oregon) will shrink in geographic size in its Portland to the coast reach, but it will remain heavily Democratic. District 2, in eastern Oregon, will lose Bend and Hood River but pick up territory around Grants Pass and west of Medford; it will stay about as Republican as it is now (heavily). District 3, which long has had the largest chunk of Portland, retains most of that and eases east to Hood River, and will remain a deep shade of blue. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D), Cliff Bentz (R) and Earl Blumenauer (D) remain in sterling shape for re-election if they run again.

There was a little more action in District 4, which in weighing partisan support has been one of the closest in the country - in 2016, in fact, it was the closest congressional district in the country in the contest between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Democrat Peter DeFazio has won there for decades in part on his own strength. He must be delighted with the new map, which loses some of very Republican Josephine County and picks up Democratic Lincoln County; his position abruptly got stronger.

The more interesting action came in the remaining two districts, the old District 5, which has been represented by Democrat Kurt Schrader, and the brand new 6th.

The revised District 5 takes in a bit more of the Portland metro area but also shifts east, over the Cascades to swallow the city of Bend. There's plenty of territory here favorable to each party, and like the old District 4, the two parties are fairly closely matched; in the case of the 5th, there's a slim Democratic advantage. The new 5th overall, while shaped differently, actually is highly similar in partisan leans. It casts off some Democratic territory to the west (like Lincoln County) but picks up Bend, which now is more Democratic than Republican and has been getting bluer with each cycle. Schrader lives in Canby, which is inside the new as well as old 5th district.

The new 6th district, then, lies to the west of the new 5th, on the west side of the northern part of the Willamette Valley. It includes southern and southwestern suburbs of Portland (which may provide about a third of the district's population), the city of McMinnville, the capital city of Salem, and lots of rural area around these places. As a whole, it is estimated to lean Democratic by about 7%. That means a win for a Republican here is not unrealistic, but the climb will be steeper than for a Democrat. (Disclosure note: I live in Yamhill County, which will be in the center - in some ways at the heart - of the new district.)

After complaining bitterly about an earlier iteration by Democrats of a congressional districting map, Republicans took a look at the new one - the one that passed on Monday - and some of them concluded that, while the numbers are a little softer and more competitive, Democrats still are highly likely to get what they want - five of the six House seats in the new Congress, rather than four of six.

That's not settled yet. District 5 and 6 are close enough that the partisan balances don't represent a complete lock; if in either district Republicans field a strong candidate and campaign against a lesser Democratic counterpart, they have a realistic shot. And right now we don't know who those candidates will be or what their campaigns will look like.

That said, for now, if you want to put down money on which party gets the newly-minted congressional seat out of Oregon, the smarter money would be on the Democrats.

Legislative nonsense


A covey of far-right legislators gathered in Boise on September 15 for the purpose of trying to go into session to stop President Biden’s vaccine mandate. They fell way short of a quorum, but it would not have made any difference if the whole kit and caboodle of both houses had shown up. The Legislature has no authority to call itself into session under the Idaho Constitution. Only the Governor can convene a special legislative session.

Legislators clearly know that they can’t go back into session once they have finished business and gone home in the spring. One of the first things the body did when it got to town in January was to try to figure out how it could call itself into special session. They correctly concluded it would take an amendment to the Idaho Constitution. They then approved Senate Joint Resolution 102, which will be on the November ballot next year.

If the voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, the Legislature will be able to convene a special session upon the request of at least 60% of the membership of both houses. Voters should think twice before supporting this proposal in light of the grotesque, irresponsible performance of the Legislature this year, including its failure to reform the property tax, chasing its tail on non-existent critical race theory and trying its best to sabotage efforts to control the coronavirus.

Later in the session, someone came up with the bright, but thoroughly mistaken, idea that the House could close up business but then reconvene later in the year simply by saying it was taking a recess, rather than saying it was adjourned sine die. There is no magic in those Latin words as neither they nor “recess” appear in the pertinent provisions of our Constitution. No previous Legislature in state history has tried to pull this trick.

Despite the failure to get anything constructive done on September 15, some legislators plan to meet on September 28 to consider bills to challenge the federal vaccine mandate, with the hope of convening a legislative session to act on them in late October or early November. Such a session would not be any more lawful then than it is now under the Idaho Constitution.

To his great credit, one lawyer-legislator branded the special session maneuver as “something that has no lawful basis.” Representative Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, who has established himself as a truth-talking lawyer, said the gambit was “merely to score political points.”

Even if the Legislature were to have the lawful power to call itself back into session, it would be pointless because President Biden’s vaccine mandate has a sound legal basis under federal law. It is also good public policy in light of the alarming medical emergency brought on by the recent coronavirus spike in Idaho.

Those like gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin, who spoke at the September 15 rally in opposition to the mandate, are apparently unfazed by the fact that Idaho hospitals are filled with unvaccinated Covid-19 patients and medical personnel are working their fingers to the bone caring for them. She staunchly assumed a pro-choice stance proclaiming, “It is not the place of any business, any governor or any president to dictate to us what we do with our bodies.” That was a head-snapping statement to come from her mouth.

The long and short of it is that the Legislature does not have the constitutional authority to convene itself back into session. Should it attempt to do so, without a call by the Governor, any action taken would be subject to challenge in court and there are certainly lawyers in Idaho who would step forward to support the Idaho Constitution.

Too many questions


I have a lot of questions. I’m told I was an annoying child who asked too many questions. But I’m inquisitive by nature — I want to know stuff.

I’m about to be an annoying adult with more questions, so many questions.

Catching up on this morning’s news and social media posts, one report struck me.

The report related a failed sobriety test resulting in an arrest for driving under the influence of intoxicants (DUII). Readers immediately began weighing in with all manner of opinions and suggestions. The nature of some comments caused me to look up the social media profiles of the people making them. What I found raised a lot of questions.

Now, we can all agree drunk driving is reprehensible. But numerous readers indignantly demanded that automobiles be equipped with alcohol-detection devices that would disable the vehicle if the driver had the slightest trace of alcohol on his or her breath. They clearly specified all vehicles, one person going so far as to claim this mandate will be in the upcoming infrastructure bill. They also very clearly stated “any trace of alcohol,” regardless of the legal limit. Here’s where I started having questions.

Isn’t a government mandate requiring all cars to have disabling devices if the driver has a trace of alcohol on his or her breath a massive overreach? Isn’t it kind of a guilty-until-proven-innocent thing? I mean, you’d have to prove your innocence before driving anywhere. That sounds anti-freedom to me, even if it could save lives.

I might be forgiven for assuming the people making these suggestions were progressives. After all, progressives love rules and like to regulate everything they touch. Heck, if you let them, the Democrats would probably try to regulate bowel movements — I mean other than their own. There’s no way these commentators could be freedom-loving conservatives, right?

Except they were. Almost to a person, they were proud Second-Amendment-supporting, liberty-loving conservatives. Their social media profiles were emblazoned with memes decrying the tyranny of vaccination and government mask mandates. Boy, I was really confused now. The questions were piling up in my head.

The DUII thread was immediately joined by conversation demanding vehicles also be equipped with cell phone disablers, preventing drivers from using mobile phones while driving. A chorus of enthusiastic agreement accompanied this suggestion. Almost all were people who proudly proclaim their advocacy for personal choice regarding masking. On their social media profiles, they professed outrage that the state would require them to wear a mask yet here they were demanding the government physically restrict their right to use a cellular phone!

Seriously? Even to my slightly-left-of-center Republican ears that sounds like a frightening level of government control. But not only were they unbothered by such concerns, they were demanding it!

Okay, so it’s illegal to drive while using a cell phone. But they want to give a third party like General Motors access to disable their cell phones in the name of saving lives? Can’t wear a mask because that’s tyranny but they’re cool with giving a foreign entity like Daimler Benz or Toyota control over their communications devices? And they’re all good with the government mandating that? Am I the only one who sees — wait for the bad pun — a giant disconnect here?

Let’s take this a little further.

So you want the government to mandate cell phone disabling in cars. What about your passengers? Does the government get to control their cell phone usage in a car, too? Because a cell phone disabler would probably disable all the devices in the car and maybe even those nearby, if my Bluetooth is any indication. Oh wait, it’s just the driver, right? So that means the government and Ford have access to a driver’s private number or SIM card and the power to disable it?

Isn’t that a worrisome yielding of power? It worries me and I wear a mask.

Just so we’re clear, I’ll ask again: you don’t mind giving up your freedom to drive without first proving your innocence? And the government telling you to wear a mask is overreach and tyranny but the government having access to and control over your cell phone is just fine? And the government mandating a private third party having access and control over your cell phone is cool, too? Boy, you people are sure brave to trust the government and private corporations with such personal information and power.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised: it takes a certain amount of bravery to flaunt advice from thousands of research scientists and physicians regarding a public health crisis. I wouldn’t call it courage exactly but it is definitely a certain kind of bravery.

The preceding 15 questions are largely rhetorical. But I’ll close with one question that isn’t.

Do people put any thought at all into what they post on social media or do they just blurt out the first stupid things that come to mind?

The next refugee issue


Ever opportunistic to find issues with which to bash Gov. Brad Little and traditional, conservative Republicans, far-rightists in Idaho are already trying to link him personally to the potential resettling of Afghan refugees in Boise and Twin Falls.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who is running against Little in the May primary, showed this card in a recent newsletter. She accuses Little of not being “hell no” enough and blaming him for joining more than 30 other states in indicating Idaho would consider accepting some refugees from this war-torn semi-nation.

As is usual, the rightists try to frame the issue in the most negative terms. They failed to force a special session of the Legislature (IdahoPress, 9/16) and are now actively looking about for other clubs with which to beat up on so-called RINOs, despite falling way short of the reconvene attempt.

Approximately 120,000 Afghan refugees were spirited out of Kabul in late August. Many are likely to be given permanent United States residency. It’s fair question as to how these new arrivals would be vetted, but to the rightists, they’re already tarred as Middle Easterners and thus are presumptively would-be terrorists. Plus, they’re of different ethnicity, faith and language and are thus immediately suspect to conspiratorial minds of the ignorant and the bigoted.

Idaho is slated to receive about 400 refugees, some of which would likely come to the Twin Falls area. Gov. Little recently made it clear that that Idaho won’t loosen vetting standards, despite the urgency of resettlement. (IdahoPress, 9/15). But that’s apparently not enough for the hotheads.

They got an endorsement of sorts with the flames of nativism and outright prejudice from former Pres. Donald Trump last week, who said he was “absolutely” certain that there were loopholes in the vetting process through which terrorists could enter the country. He didn’t offer any proof that this was happening; it was just speculation, as “The Donald” is wont to do. (Fox, 9/14).

But the rightists heard Trump’s dog whistle loud and clear. McGeachin thinks Little should say “No, Idaho will not participate in the fallout from Biden's disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan.” (McGeachin Newsletter, 9/14) Why wait for facts when you’ve got your own biases?

To Trump’s credit, while president, he got immigration officials to listen to the concerns of local communities, and to put in place protocols for state and local community acceptance of new arrivals. Those protocols have since been abbreviated by the Biden administration which is now actively seeking locations for refugees. The two sites in Idaho – Boise and Twin Falls -- are among 139 sites nationally being considered.

In 2015, under Pres. Barack Obama, Idaho took refugees from another Mid-East country, Syria. There were loud local protests in Twin Falls but few Syrians actually came here. Idaho was nonetheless divided sharply between “hell no” opponents and the “take ‘em all” faction of Democrats and some church congregations. After the Trump election, clearer protocols gave local communities real input into the process.

Afghanistan’s people may well be different than the common impression of Middle Eastern nations. The country has a substantial number of educated and hard-working citizens, many of whom supported the United States in our 20-year-war in that country. It is this group of translators, interpreters, scientists, health care workers and engineers which forms the core of the refugee group.

As a group, they seem more likely to succeed here than the hordes streaming across the Biden non-border, which had more than 209,000 illegal entrants in August alone, one-third more than in August of last year. (CBSNews, 9/16.)

Sure, we need good vetting but that hasn’t happened under the Biden administration with respect to the southern border with Mexico and Central America. The fact is people are desperate to get out of the hellholes of their former countries and they see the United States as a true city on the hill that would mostly welcome them. (WSJ, 9/22).

Idaho, like many other states, was settled by immigrants, in some cases barely a century ago. The difference is at those early immigrants were predominantly of European origin and usually of Christian faith. Today’s immigrants don’t reflect that same profile and are thus “fair game” to the hysterical claims of nativists and bigots. Recent hothead postings on social media single out this refugee issue.

It would be premature for Idaho or any other state to say “let them all in” but it’s not premature to consider resettling some of the Afghan refugees here.

Everyone knows Idaho needs hard-working and talented individuals in our workforce. These are not the refugees from a teeming shore, but people who would add to our workforce and our state’s growth in mostly positive ways. In that regard they’re no different than the German and Scandinavian settlers of earlier generations.

Recognizing the potential value of these refugees, a number of large employers such as Chobani, Amazon and UPS recently announced they would do what they could to facilitate such new arrivals.

“The moment a refugee gets a job, it’s the moment they stop being a refugee,” said Hamdi Ulukaya, CEO of Chobani, himself a Mid-East immigrant. “It’s the moment they can stand on their own two feet; it’s the moment they can make new friends; it’s the moment they can start a new life,” (TN, 9/21).

As with other issues, Gov. Little is showing a measured, principled response to this emerging challenge. That alone will draw him further enmity of the prejudiced rightists. They’re just looking for another group to disparage.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at

They’ve given up


Often in American politics, politicians are defined, retained or defeated on the basis of how well they handle a crisis.

By the verdict of history, John Kennedy handled the crisis of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 brilliantly, preventing the very real possibility of an unwinnable nuclear exchange and insuring that the offending missiles were removed.

George W. Bush so bungled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a giant storm that claimed 1,200 lives, that the photo of Bush flying high above the devastation in Air Force One became one of the signature images of his presidency. It didn’t help that Bush praised his incompetent FEMA director – “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job” – when everyone knew that Michael Brown was doing an awful job. Brown resigned ten days after Bush praised his efforts.

Governors are no less graded on crisis response. So, imagine for a moment what any governor in any state in the nation would do when faced with a crisis, say a catastrophic wildfire situation. Assume the fire was raging out of control, threatening to engulf a city of significant size, and sure to threaten lives. What would any governor do?

The response would be something like this:

Declare an emergency. Mobilize the National Guard and all available state resources. Call on the White House for federal emergency assistance. Synchronize public communication with all levels of government, making sure citizens received regular, reliable, actionable information. A governor might establish a 24-hour command post and issue regular updates on efforts to control the crisis. The governor would be hands on, all day every day.

A governor would empower local officials to make immediate, life-saving decisions. A governor would back those local officials and praise their willingness to make tough decisions to save lives.

A governor would visit frontline first responders on a daily basis, extolling their bravery and sacrifice and highlighting their heroic efforts to contain and end the disaster. And, of course, the TV cameras would be there to document the effort, showing political leadership and showcasing the responders. Would the governor tolerate criticism of first responders? No way.

Would a governor lay down the law about why and how the entire state must respond to the crisis? Of course, including making the moral case that every individual’s actions can contribute to the greater good of the community. A governor might say, “If we don’t behave like we are all in this together our community will suffer huge and unacceptable losses. Every citizen simply must do their duty.”

Would a governor order the use of chemical retardant, or permit a stand of private timber to be bulldozed to construct a fire line to contain the crisis? Without hesitation.

Almost certainly a governor would order an mandatory evacuation of citizens from their homes in order to protect lives, and then enforce an evacuation order, if necessary, with law enforcement intervention. Assume someone in the affected area objected to being ordered out of their home, it would be an affront to their freedom after all. Would a governor concerned about saving lives broker such an argument? Not a chance.

Would a governor worry that a politician who wanted his job was using the disaster to attempt to position to challenge him in the next election? A governor responding this kind of crisis would say: “I’ve had more than enough of my opponent’s nonsense and denial of the extent of this crisis. If you are listening to her, you are simply denying what you can see with your own eyes. Ignore the deniers. Protect yourself, your family, your community.”

And a governor would repeat that message over and over again. And a governor would take the heat from those who criticized and would not try to deflect responsibility for the response to the disaster. “The buck stops here,” a governor might say. “I’m the responsible officer of the government,” a leader might say.

Political leadership at this intense level in a catastrophic wildfire situation would hardly be remarkable. Indeed, it would be standard. Expected. Failure would not be an option.

Yet, in Republican states from Mississippi to Idaho governors have given up – or in most cases never really started – fighting against a natural disaster that has now headed toward claiming 700,000 American lives. Why?

GOP governors have made a simple calculation. They can’t reason with their followers about vaccines and preventive message, so they don’t try. They early on lost – or never tried to claim – the narrative about what they and their constituents faced as we edge toward the second year of COVID. They cut and ran from pushing back on efforts that have largely been successful to delegitimize local health officials. They let the lies and crass political calculations get in the way of saving lives.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves recently couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer the question as to why school children in his state had to be vaccinated for a host of diseases in order to go to school, but he opposes requiring vaccinations against COVID for teachers. His state is in crisis, with more deaths per capita than any place in the world with the exception of Peru.

Idaho’s Governor Brad Little, a re-election looming, is apparently willing to go to court to oppose a federal plan to vaccinate workers at large businesses, even though many businesses support a mandate. He ought to be embracing vaccine mandates, but Little has made his political calculation: he’s given up on efforts to fight pandemic misinformation and quietly decided that the COVID-infected unvaccinated are expendable in his quest for a second term.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has muzzled local health officials, refused to impose any sensible controls and now faces a cratering hospital system. The largest hospital in Billings is at 160% of its ICU capacity and is using hallways to care for COVID patients, almost all unvaccinated. “The problem is,” said Brad Von Bergen, the Billing Clinic’s ER manager, “we are running out of hallways.”

In the face of hospital systems in collapse and bodies stacking like cord wood, GOP governors have made the morally reprehensible decision to play politics to try to ensure their own future political viability rather than do what is required to save lives. It is a response of craven indifference, unlike any other in anyone’s lifetime. “It’s like we’re seeing the de-evolution of humanity, right in front of our eyes,” said Chris Roth, the CEO of Idaho’s St. Luke’s Health System told the Idaho Capitol Sun, as he surveyed the wreckage attendant to operating under crisis care standards. Roth is right.

The question for Republican governors is as simple as their callousness is obvious: amid so much death and suffering how do they manage to live with themselves?

Home at last


The just released book Peril, written by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa about the last months of the Trump Administration, contains a fleeting reference to … Idaho. It’s worth pondering for a moment.

The mention comes in a story about Adam Smith, a Washington state Democratic House member who was flying home from D.C. two days after the January 6 riot at the capitol.

Once seated, he discovered he was on an unusually (at the time) crowded flight - crowded mostly with MAGA-hatted Trump supporters, about a hundred he estimated, most also on their way home, also fresh from the events at the capitol.

Smith adjusted his mask and kept quiet, but listened carefully.

He heard, amid some racist and anti-semitic talk, an almost profound sense of not just disappointment but of bitter despair, with lots of talk about the nation falling into collapse. One young man, dejected about the way things were going, said he was thinking about moving to South Korea. (His reason was that it’s 90 percent Christian; the actual percentage is about a third of that.)

Another passenger said that no, he shouldn’t leave the country. Instead, she said, “You should move to Idaho.”

The man replied, apparently rejecting that idea: “I just don’t think they have decent seafood in Idaho.”

Okay. Hold it right there.

I will attest as a fact that you can get decent seafood in Idaho, even much better than decent if you shop carefully and choose your restaurants well. I’ve done that on any number of occasions. So let’s put that one to rest right now.

But what about the idea that Idaho is the kind of place for that disillusioned MAGA crowd on the flight Adam Smith shared?

That particular question was not taken up in Peril, but given the state of Idaho politics today, you’d have to say the woman offering the suggestion wasn’t far off track.

Trump last year lost his race for re-election (yes he did - period) nationally, but he did win in Idaho by a landslide, with nearly 64 percent of the vote. Over the last four years, Trump gained political ground in Idaho, quite a bit. Outside of Boise and a few scattered small communities, MAGA support remains easy to find.

But what about the attitude - the sense of dejection, that all is lost?

Yes, that too sounds a lot like a lot of Idaho today.

Listen to the activist political forces, the ones generating legislative action and protests, shouting and yelling. If you listen to what they say, there’s remarkably little upbeat or optimistic there, little in favor of much of anything (except Trump, but not always even him); the prevailing attitude is that America and American society are all going to hell. There are no happy warriors here.

And for all the protests and proposed legislation, there’s really nothing on offer as a real option to try to stem the tide or actually make improvements in the state. There’s legislation relating to masking requirements and critical race theory and so on, but these are not really presented as an answer to anything, as something that will improve Idaho’s government or society. They’re presented mainly as a weapon with which they “own the libs.” They’re gestures.

This is very different from the Idaho of a generation or two ago: The mood then was highly upbeat, including across much of Idaho politics. And it is true that even now many of Idaho’s top political leaders (Governor Brad Little for one, and a significant number of others) do try to stay on the sunny side where they can.

But the activist side of Idaho politics, the social force increasingly driving the agenda?

That mopey guy on the cross country plane flight probably would have found a copacetic place if he’d taken the advice and parachuted out over Idaho.