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Posts published in April 2022

The rot within


The stories of Utah Senator Mike Lee and California Congressman Kevin McCarthy, both Republican grandees, represent the perfect end to Act Two of the play entitled “The Rot Within,” a fable in three parts that will shape the future of our country.

This gripping drama – utterly compelling for anyone who believes a disgraced, debased former president should never again be anywhere close to the Oval Office – is now playing in several new books, many newspapers, on National Public Radio and on a few cable outlets. Don’t miss this show it if you enjoy watching the crumbling foundation of American democracy.

Just to catch you up on the plot: Lee, once thought to be a serious and sober Constitutional conservative and a forthright member of the Mormon Church, was caught red handed conspiring with Donald Trump’s White House to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

Lee’s text messages to then-Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, first breathlessly desperate and finally, reluctantly resigned, indicate, as the Salt Lake Tribune reported, that the senator was a player in a “plot to help former President Donald Trump overturn his 2020 election loss.”

The text messages show Lee repeatedly urging the White House to pursue the Constitution shredding strategy of convincing several state legislatures to reverse correct and legal decisions to certify Joe Biden’s election.

“Even if they (state legislatures) can’t convene,” Lee wrote in one message, “it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote. And I’ve been working on doing that all day today.” In another message Lee literally begged Meadows to tell him what he should be saying publicly about the plot.

Consistent with the central focus of our play – “The Rot Within” – Lee first went mum about the messages he clearly thought would never become public. Then he justified that this bit of light treason was merely a suggestion that Trump and his collection of legal charlatans exhaust all available avenues to contest the election outcome. There were, of course, no legal avenues to contest as court after court after court ruled.

Near the end of Act Two, Lee could be heard mumbling the by now hackneyed words of the GOP playwright: “I knew what a disaster Joe Biden would be.” There you have it friends of political drama, the ultimate conservative rationale for a coup in the night.

Meanwhile, entering stage right is the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy is rather like another disgraced Kevin – Spacey. At one time earnest, seemingly sincere, yet with a menacing side. Beneath the veneer of respectability lurks something fundamentally fraudulent and, well, sleazy. With McCarthy – as with Spacey – you know he’s not what he seems to be. He’s always worse.

In our Act Two of the drama our Man from Bakersfield, who would, Macbeth-like kill to be speaker, acts out a vast jumble of deflections, numerous bald-faced lies and, of course, ultimately just sleazy rot. Ah, but the lies are the thing.

Two New York Times reporters, Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin, wrote a book – part of our play is based on their story – where McCarthy, in the immediate aftermath of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, said he was so done, so over with Donald Trump that he was washing him right out of his hair.

As Burns and Martin wrote: “Mr. McCarthy went so far as to say he would push Mr. Trump to resign immediately: ‘I’ve had it with this guy,’ he told a group of Republican leaders.” When that story got out, McCarthy issued a categorical denial. Never happened. Made up. Fiction.

It wasn’t.

Burns and Martin had it all on tape, and richest of all – our playwrights are flirting with farce here – McCarthy said he was done with Trump in a conversation that included Wyoming congresswoman Liz Cheney, one of the few Republicans immediately after the Capitol attack vowing to hold Trump to account. McCarthy, of course, never followed through on Trump, but instead drummed Cheney out of Republican leadership, attacked her patriotism and is hoping to prevent her re-election.

At first McCarthy’s obvious world-class lying seemed to put his leadership position in question, but that’s not how this conservative drama rolls. Our Kevin dismissed his prevarications as just typical old efforts to divide Republicans ahead of the November election. In other words, McCarthy lied about lying, then lied about why he had lied.

I know it’s difficult to follow the plot, but just know that lying is what it’s all about in this play. To explain just how contemporary this drama is you must understand that such fable-making was once, in a democracy far, far away, a disqualifying action by such senior and seasoned actors. Now, getting caught on tape saying one thing while doing another in public or denying the content of text messages you wrote is just the conservative brand.

We need to stay tuned for Act Three to see how this production ends, but here is a spoiler. Politicians like Lee and McCarthy are nothing more or less than what they appear to be, and they never change. The craven, opportunist given to manipulation and lying to keep status, or power or to save face is a standard character on stage. Shakespeare had many such louts – Iago, Cassius and Richard III – and the modern conservative movement does, as well.

But in our drama, it’s the bit players who bear watching in Act Three, the silent, striving senators like Risch and Crapo in Idaho and Daines in Montana and the get along-go-along members of Congress like McMorris Rodgers in eastern Washington, Rosendale in Montana and Simpson and Fulcher in Idaho. These minor, but still important characters knew back at the beginning of Act One, back when the lying conman at the center of our drama rode down his escalator, that this could all be a horror show. Many of them said so at the time, but then the plot shifted, and craven became cozy. Looking away became commonplace.

By the end of the first act – January 6 – they had so enabled the lying, the conspiracy theorizing and the demonization of all opposition that they found themselves paralyzed by fear. Fear of their own supporters. Fear of losing. Fear of the truth. These characters know the old rule: the weapon that appears in Act One must always be used. And so, it was in the attack on the Capitol.

Act Two, as King Kevin and Mike the Malicious have show us, was about old-fashioned degradation. Humiliation in public in service of advancing the plot.

Act Three will open soon with a great reveal, the documented knowledge that there was a genuine conspiracy afoot to steal an election and degrade democracy, and the conspiracy and degradation continues. The bit players might yet assert themselves, but the playwrights say this show is destined to be a tragedy, so that isn’t at all likely.

But do stay tuned.

Almost parallel slates


This year’s Republican primary election has a great parallel to the last couple of Republican primaries for state offices, to some extent in 2018 and especially 2014: A decision before voters, on office after office down the ballot, between what amounts to two slates, groups of candidates both within the party but as starkly divided as Republicans from Democrats.

In those two prior elections, as in this one, for many of the major offices, you’ll see on one side Republicans who might be called mainstream conservative or establishment, and on the other those you might call insurgent or extreme or Trumpist. Or you could apply other labels, depending on where you sit, but the reality of the split should be clear to all.

The highlight, as usual, is in the race for governor. In 2014 C.L. “Butch” Otter was running for (and won) a third term, and was opposed in the primary chiefly by Russ Fulcher, now the first district U.S. representative - running respectively as the establishment and insurgent candidates. Otter won, but not by a great margin for an incumbent in a primary: 51.4 percent to Fulcher’s 46.3 percent.

Down the ballot, for offices like lieutenant governor and attorney general, and in many legislative races (and in the second congressional district, where incumbent Mike Simpson defeated Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith), the pattern repeated: Clear but not overwhelming wins by establishment candidates.

Four years later, the situation became both more and less competitive. Otter’s ally Brad Little, then lieutenant governor, won his primary for governor - but with just 37 percent of the vote, as the insurgent vote was split between then-Representative Raul Labrador and businessman Tommy Ahlquist. (Many Republicans maintain, for good reason, that Labrador alone might have won the primary.) Primary voters in the lieutenant governor’s race went for insurgent contender Janice McGeachin (28.9 percent of the vote) over four other options, at least a couple somewhat more mainstream, but that was hardly a mandate-worthy number. Most of the other state offices, however, didn’t see primary battles: The slates were shortened, and the insurgents didn’t press their case so much for secretary of state, controller, treasurer and others.

This year, we’re seeing full-bore slates, high and low.

One of those comes in U.S. House district two, where Smith is rematching against Simpson in what’s looking like a serious contest.

Little is opposed by McGeachin (his most serious challenger) and six other lower-profile candidates. In the battle for lieutenant governor, the seat being vacated by McGeachin, Little and House Speaker Scott Bedke have struck an alliance, while state Representative Priscilla Giddings seems to be generally aligned with McGeachin. (There’s also a little-known third candidate, Daniel Gasiorawski.)

For three of the statewide offices, there are three-way battles. In two of them, one establishment-backed candidate (incumbent Lawrence Wasden for attorney general and Phil McGrane for secretary of state) faces two insurgents (Raul Labrador and Art Macomber for AG, Dorothy Moon and Mary Souza for secretary of state). For superintendent of public instruction, there’s one insurgent (Branden Durst) and two candidates with various types of establishment support (incumbent Sherri Ybarra and challenger Debby Critchfield).

And you can find a number of variations on these themes at the legislative level as well.

In the last couple of statewide elections, the establishment candidates prevailed nearly across the board. But it’s worth noting that the insurgent side seemed to do relatively better in 2018, and would have done better had its vote for governor not been split, and had it fielded more candidates for other offices.

Bringing us back to 2022. A general sense, across many of the people who watch these races closely, seems to be that the establishment candidates will wind up doing well again. Maybe so, and maybe the split of outsider votes in races like those for AG and secretary of state will matter.

As for me, as usual, I’m making no predictions. Feels safest that way.



I got a new cap to an old tooth last week. As the dentist was grinding down my old weak molar the assistant produced the new gold cap and offered it to the dentist. “Wow, that’s heavy!” he commented before cementing it into my mouth.
Wealth in my mouth.

I imagined an invading soldier shooting me in my wife’s garden as I held my hands up. Then he flipped me on my back and pulled out his Leatherman and opened my dead jaws, looking to pry out my dental wealth.

Twenty first century justice, despite the accoutrements of shoulder-fired missiles and remote-controlled drones is not too distant from the Vikings or the Huns. We take what we can. Might makes right. The school yard bully cowers us.
Russia is taking what it wants from Ukraine. She will want more. We wring our hands, dreading the nuclear arsenal we know they harbor.

What if the bullied playground colleagues thought to play differently? Bullies need to be confronted, and the nuclear end game is what they use to hold us hostage. There is a corollary to their gambit.

What would Russia do if Norway and Finland sent a column of tanks to Murmansk right now? It’s only a hundred miles or so and there’s a good road. I’m sure most of Russia’s military is looking toward Ukraine. That’s less than the distance from Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine to Mariupol, close to the Black Sea. It’s the same as a drive from Moscow, Idaho to Grangeville. It’s very doable.

The Scandinavians could easily argue the residents want their governance. Maybe their news media could dun up support.

And Turkey and Iran, with the support of Armenia and Azerbaijan might move into Georgia, in south central Russia to “free” the oppressed Georgians.

Then, over on Russia’s east Pacific coast, let’s say Japan and China decided the residents of Vladivostok wanted their assistance to dissolve the oppression of Moscow.

We should not be sheep. If the playground rules are to just take what you want, then let’s encourage our allies to go get it.

The possibilities are endless.

I’m sure Finland and Estonia see value in St. Petersburg. It’s only a hundred miles from their borders. Fifty tanks could make it in a day easily. Think of all the cruise ship passengers who want to dock and tour The Hermitage. It’s a cash cow.

Comrade Putin has opened up the game. We just have to play it like he does.
It’s too bad here on our continent we are just looking at Toronto, Ottawa, and Monterrey. If Biden sees some value there, let’s get our tanks rolling. I’m sure he could convince Fox News and Facebook to sell it to us. Would we buy it?

But the game is in Europe right now. It might come to the Western Hemisphere in another generation.

This limited warfare game of taking what you want and keeping the big stick of nuclear weapons in your back pocket begets bullies. Do we want such a system for ourselves? Did we invade Iran on such a pretext? Did we and the world look the other way because of our arsenal, our economic position?

Any meaningful global response to nuclear powered bullies is crippled. Any significant worldwide sanctions through the UN or the World Court requires the consent of the nuclear empowered bullies.

The Romans had their legions, and that worked against the Gauls and the Huns. Ballistic megaton missiles up the ante.

It is hard to consider global justice from north central Idaho. But seeing the painful pictures of dead civilians in Ukraine makes my jaw ache.

Besieging the institutions


This is a guest opinion from Rod Gramer, president and CEO of Idaho Business for Education.

We have all witnessed the dysfunction, vitriol, and attacks on education in the Legislature, at local school board meetings, and even at one of our community colleges which has landed it on probation and left it without a functioning board of trustees. We have even seen three attempts in the last four years to privatize education by providing taxpayer money to private and religious schools.

So, although we have seen what is going on, we don’t fully understand why it’s going on. What is behind this sudden and unprecedented attack on the public schools which are the heart, soul, and fabric that holds most Idaho communities together and has created productive citizens for the past 132 years? And, why the sudden and vicious attacks on our great public colleges and universities which have served the state and its citizens since before Idaho became a state?

To fully comprehend this attack on education in Idaho one must first realize this is not a home-grown war, but one that has been imported into our state by wealthy and influential out-of-state interest groups whose goal is to first destroy the credibility of public education and ultimately weaken and privatize our local schools and higher education institutions.

These out-of-state interests have picked up steam nationally and, in our state, partly because of the turmoil created by the pandemic. These conflict entrepreneurs have adopted the adage, “Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.” And they have discovered that they can use the pandemic and culture wars, especially racial justice, as a wedge issue to advance their goal of abolishing what they call “government schools.”

Furthermore, to better understand how these conflict entrepreneurs have successfully seized on race to achieve their goal, you must meet a 37-year-old man named Christopher Rufo, who until two years ago was a relatively obscure freelance documentary producer, living in the small town of Gig Harbor on Washington State’s Puget Sound.

In the summer of 2020, Rufo was homebound like the rest of us during the initial stages of the pandemic, when an employee of the City of Seattle sent Rufo a video of an anti-bias training program sponsored by the city. With time on his hands, he started doing on-line research and found out about an obtuse legal theory that was even more obscure than Rufo – something called critical race theory or CRT for short.

Before continuing it’s important to understand what critical race theory is and what it is not. CRT is not an outgrowth of Black Lives Matter, or the murder of George Floyd and it isn’t even related to diversity and inclusion programs. CRT is a theory that was developed in the 1970s, mainly in law schools, which looked at race through the lens of “systems,” or laws and policies that impeded the equal rights of minorities. Those rights, of course, are not a “socialist” plot, as Rufo and others would have you believe. They are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution thanks to Abraham Lincoln, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), and reinforced in the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voters Rights Act.

Being the astute communicator that he is, Rufo saw CRT as an opportunity to create a political weapon. He twisted the whole meaning of CRT and tied it like an albatross to a variety of what he called far-left, “Marxist” ideas from the 1960s to create a negative narrative around the words critical race theory. He claimed that these “Marxist” ideas have been imbedded in public schools and public universities across America. He even made the outlandish argument that these “Marxist” ideas had infiltrated many of America’s private companies.

Rufo published an article City Journal, a publication of the influential libertarian Manhattan Institute, regarding CRT which caught the eye of Fox News’ Tucker Carlson who also saw an opportunity to create a political weapon.

Carlson invited Rufo to appear on his program to talk about how CRT had infiltrated the federal government. Following that, Rufo got a telephone call from President Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows who invited him to the White House to discuss CRT and to help the administration write an executive order banning bias-training in the federal government.

Suddenly, Rufo wasn’t an obscure freelancer living in a small Washington town any longer. He went on the speaking circuit, he was invited to do more national TV interviews and became a “fellow” at some of the country’s best-known libertarian think tanks.

Thanks to Tucker Carlson’s megaphone, CRT became a rallying cry to attack public education at all levels, with the goal of privatizing education in America. Earlier this month Rufo proudly told an audience at Hillsdale College in Michigan that CRT had gone from “zero” name identification to “75 percent” in just 18 months.

By the winter of 2021 CRT had become a major issue in legislatures across America, including in the Idaho Legislature where there were calls to ban the teaching of CRT in our public schools and universities. Using Rufo’s talking points, this effort was led by the Idaho Freedom Foundation which receives its funding from dark money funds which, in turn, are funded by out-of-state billionaires who want to privatize education.

When the CRT controversy erupted in the Idaho Legislature, few people, especially those who were accused of teaching it, had never heard of it, had no idea what it was, and had to rush to the web to learn more about it. Educators made it clear that CRT was not being taught in their schools, which are governed by locally elected trustees.

But that didn’t stop the Idaho Legislature from passing a bill that banned the teaching of CRT and cutting $2.5 million from the budgets of Boise State University, the University of Idaho, and Idaho State University to punish them for having diversity and inclusion programs in their schools.

It also didn’t stop the Idaho Freedom Foundation and out-of-state groups like Yes. Every Kid, which is also funded by out-of-state billionaires, and others from trying to pass a bill that would start Idaho down the road of privatizing its schools.

It also didn’t stop Lt. Governor Janice McGeachin from forming a so-called “task force” to investigate the teaching of CRT in Idaho. After weeks of investigating, all the task force achieved was helping McGeachin overspend her budget. The controversy also caused the State Board of Education to spend precious time and money to hire an independent firm to see if CRT was being taught. Not surprisingly, the study found that it was not being taught.

But the facts came too late to help the educators. Rufo and the Idaho Freedom Foundation had succeeded in costing our universities money, seeding doubts about our public schools and higher education institutions, and aiding those wealthy out-of-state interest groups that want to privatize our schools.

During the 2022 Legislature it was the librarians’ turn to get caught in the bullseye of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. They went after librarians because, supposedly, they were making pornographic books available to kids all over Idaho. This must have come as a huge shock to librarians whose idea of a wild night on the town is snuggling up with a good book at home.

The House passed a bill that would put librarians in jail for a year and face a big fine if a child somehow left the library with one of these alleged “harmful” books. Luckily, the bill died in the Senate, but not before the Legislature killed the budget for the Idaho Library Commission because the librarians had the temerity to oppose their bill. Then the lawmakers cut the commissions funding by $3.5 million, including money that would have provided tele-health services to rural Idahoans.

But Rufo and the minions like the Idaho Freedom Foundation that do the dirty work of those out-of-state interests that want to privatize our schools are not done.

After the Legislature adjourned, IFF’s President Wayne Hoffman crowed to his supporters: “Perhaps our biggest victory this session was persuading lawmakers to strip $3.5 million in federal funds from the budget for Idaho Commission for Libraries. By exposing the obscene material the ICFL was distributing, we persuaded lawmakers to pull that funding.”

Hoffman also made it plain he isn’t done. Writing to his supporters, he promised: “The legislative session is now at a close, but we’re still hard at work. This summer, the IFF will be conducting intensive research on K-12 education, obscenities in public libraries, and the college and university accreditation process, which demands “social justice.”

Rufo isn’t done either. In January, reported that Rufo tweeted that his new goal is to "bait the Left into opposing [curriculum] 'transparency,'" to trigger suspicions that public schools have something to hide.

Earlier this month Rufo renewed his declaration of war on America’s public education system at Hillsdale College. He called his speech: “Laying Siege to the Institutions.” Once again, he argued that “Marxist” ideology had infiltrated the entire K-12 U.S. education system, higher education, and even iconic American companies like American Express and the Walt Disney Company.

So, what does Rufo mean by “laying siege” to our institutions? He explained to the Hillsdale College audience that there was a three-step strategy to his attack.

The first step was to create a “narrative and symbolic war” against these educational institutions and businesses through the use of language. “You have to be very aggressive. You have to fight on terms you define. You have to create your own frame, your own language, and you have to be ruthless and brutal in pursuit of something good.”

“The second (step) is to attack the credibility of the institutions,” Rufo said. He added, “I think you want to create the conditions for fundamental, structural change, to appropriate some language. For example, school choice. To get universal school choice, you really need to operate from a premise of universal public school distrust. Because in order for people to take significant action, they have to feel like they have something at stake.”

By doing this, he said, people will get mobilized to demand change. He bragged about how the people assaulted their local school boards over CRT in the past 18 months. He even suggested that his followers take over local school boards, as they did with some success in Idaho and other states last year.

“If you put your name on the ballot in the median school district in the United States and you say, ‘I’m the anti-critical race theory candidate, I’m going to get our education system back to the basics of reading, writing, math, et cetera, prioritizing excellence over ideology, you’re going to win in many places, at that 70-30 (percent) level, I think reflecting overwhelming public support.”

The third step, he said, is to create “alternatives” to public K-12 education. For Rufo that alternative is school choice. He wants to take money away from the public schools and give it to parents so they can send their children to private schools and private religious schools. This, he said, would break what he called the “monopoly” public schools have on education.

In essence, Rufo is laying out the playbook we see advocates of privatizing education using across America and in Idaho. Create a controversy by using scary and outlandish language such as critical race theory or “Marxist” ideology infiltrating the 14,000 school districts in America, including the 160 in Idaho. Get the public and lawmakers so worked up over the issue that they confront and attack the local educators and higher education institutions. Then come in with the “solution,” which is to privatize education under the euphonism of “school choice.”

The problem with conflict entrepreneurs like Rufo and the Idaho Freedom Foundation and their fellow travelers is they aren’t just hurting public servants like teachers and librarians – they are hurting our democracy.

The other danger is that these conflict entrepreneurs have convinced too many of our citizens – just as Rufo bragged - that these issues are real. This is dangerous because when citizens lose confidence in their public institutions it undermines democracy and leads to chaos, which we have already seen at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene and school boards across our state.

Here’s the bottom line:

If you believe what Rufo and the Idaho Freedom Foundation say is true about CRT or any of these other scary “isms” they freely toss about, then you have to believe that “Marxist” and “Socialist” ideas are actively being taught in schools across Idaho – from Bonners Ferry, to St. Maries, to Grangeville, to Idaho City, to Payette, to Fairfield, to Oakley, to Challis, to St. Anthony and to Soda Springs, and all points in between.

And if Idahoans believe their locally elected school trustees, the superintendent who belongs to their Rotary Club and their 3rd Grade teacher who attends their church are “Marxist” and “Socialist” leftovers from the 1960s and are spreading this thinking in their schools, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn they can buy.

But I think Idahoans are smarter than that once they stop and use their legendary common sense. They know that their public schools are the heart, soul and fabric that holds their communities together. They know that privatizing education won’t serve their communities worth a darn. They know that educators are their friends, neighbors and oftentimes the relative sharing a Thanksgiving meal with them. They know that Idaho’s educators are more connected to their community than an obscure freelancer from Gig Harbor who couldn’t find their town on a map if he tried.

Ybarra’s case


State Superintendent Sherri Ybarra often reminds people that “I’m a teacher, not a politician.”

But make no mistake about it – she’s a pretty good politician, at least when it comes to winning elections. She’ll never get the nickname of “Landslide Sherri.” To win election and re-election, she defeated two Democrats in races that were “too close to call” hours after the polls closed. Those were the only statewide races in which a Democrat was close to beating a Republican.

In politics, winning is all that matters – and Ybarra does that. And she does the political stuff quite well, such as making speeches, working crowds and holding her own in debates. Critics will say that she misses meetings at the statehouse when the Legislature is in session and her record for attending State Board of Education meetings is spotty. Over the years, there are those who have kept track of days that her car was missing from her assigned space – with the suggestion that she isn’t doing her job.

Ybarra dismisses all that as “rubbish, garbage and gossip.” Its not deserving of her attention.

Politicians are not lining up to support her. Sen. Jim Patrick of Twin Falls is the only active legislator on her steering committee. Former Sens. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint and Jeff Siddoway of Rexburg also are listed as supporters.

Political support is much higher for Ybarra’s opponents – former State Board president Debbie Critchfield of Oakley and former Rep. Branden Durst of Boise. Twenty-seven Republican legislators are backing Critchfield, making her the favorite of the political establishment, and Durst has carved his niche with the GOP’s right wing.

As Ybarra sees it, it’s clear what separates her from her opponents.

“I am the only educator in the field – the only certified teacher, the only certified principal and the only certified superintendent … and a track record to prove it. I think people understand that you want a lawyer as your attorney general, and you should want a teacher for your superintendent of public instruction.”

The track record is open for debate. Idaho is at, or near, the bottom in several funding categories, including per-pupil spending. Idaho Education News, which provides aggressive coverage of education in the state, points out that while ISAT scores have inched upward in recent years, K-3 reading proficiency has been sliding – even before the pandemic.

Ybarra points to different numbers that reflect progress.

“In my first two terms, Idaho has risen from 31st in the nation for student achievement to 17th. We are now fifth in the nation for college and career readiness. Idaho student scores on the ACT and SAT continue to increase while scores for the rest of the nation decline. Idaho ranks first in the nation for the number of students taking dual credit courses.”

As for funding, she said, “we’ve received $100 million or more in new money for education in each year since I took office. That speaks for itself.”

Ybarra supports the demise of Common Core in Idaho, a favorite whipping post for Republicans, in favor of new standards that will go into effect in July – created by teachers. She says she’ll do everything to keep out Critical Race Theory in Idaho schools, but don’t look for her to demagogue the issue.

It’s not running rampant in Idaho schools. In fact, from what she’s seen, it doesn’t exist in the Gem State. She also has put together a game plan for administrators to follow when there are allegations about CRT.

“I have investigated every allegation that has come to my attention,” she said. “Usually, it amounts to a word or two, or maybe a line, in a textbook. I have not had a person coming to me saying a particular teacher is teaching Critical Race Theory in a classroom. I’ve heard anecdotal stories, people saying ‘I heard’ … but no clear examples.”

Her immediate focus is more on the big picture.

“When I first took office, people told me they wanted me to look into student achievement,” she said. “They told me, ‘I’m tired of being last in achievement, last in funding and last in everything.’”

Ybarra says that, with her leadership, Idaho is going in the right direction with its public education. She thinks even more can be accomplished with another term in office.

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

Aging out


I’m an old Rotarian.

I should say “former” Rotarian because, with all the moves we’ve made in the last few years, I’ve let my membership lapse and have become a “former.” Something I’ll soon fix now that we’re done moving. Again.

Rotarians have a procedure called “The Rule of 80.” When your years of being a member and your age add up to 80, you can stop paying annual dues. In other words, your annual financial obligations end at 80 years.

Me thinks something similar should be adopted by all political bodies. When your years of service and your age adds up to 80 or 70 or 90 or some such combination, you relinquish your seat.

California Senator Diane Feinstein is currently being urged to retire from the U.S. Senate because of her age. She’s currently 89 and has filed the paperwork to run again in 2024 when she’ll be 91.

The suggestion she leave comes from a California newspaper. In a lengthy story, the paper said Feinstein is having memory issues and is not able to fully do her job for the state’s constituents.

My guess is the person who wrote that piece is around 50. I’d also guess that person has had no recent face-to-face dealings with the Senator and was using second-hand information from others who had.

For those who think I have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m about to enter my 86th year on this earth and have had a 50-year media career covering a lot of political entities. Including the U.S. Senate. When it comes to subjects like aging, I believe I can address the issue with some experience.

Yes, I think there should be some sort of age ceiling in politics as there is in other careers. Commercial pilots, for example, “age out” at about 60. Some hospitals have an age ceiling for some medical practitioners within their facilities. By personal choice or rule, such end-of-career status tied to age is not something new. Idaho teachers have a “Rule of 90.” Firefighters and police, in most places, have similar retirement options.

Back to politicians. Old politicians. Nancy Pelosi is 82. Her second seat is occupied by Steny Hoyer who’s 82. Mitch McConnell is 80. Chuck Schumer is 71.

Yes, with age comes experience and - in some folks - wisdom. There’s also an accumulation of history, people skils and events that come with aging.

But, there also can be a reluctance to change, a desire to continue living and thinking as we used to. “Set in our ways” as some say. Our reflexes - both physical and mental - slow down a bit. Or, a lot for some.

Consider: Should the President, Vice President and House Speaker all become incapacitated or otherwise unable to do their duties at once, Sen. Feinstein would be President. Suppose that California news rag is right about Feinstein’s acumen. Would she be a capable President?

Again, speaking as someone who’s nearly four-score-and-six, and who’s personally felt most of the effects of the aging process, I know the loss of prowess, both physical and mental. Damn, do I know.

Personally, I’d like to see Pelosi, at 82, finish her current term - God willing - then retire or take a back row seat in another term should she run again. On her way out, she could even designate her choice of a new Speaker candidate for the next term should Democrats retain their majority.

Same for McConnell and Schumer and others in leadership. Set an age ceiling in both houses, say at 70 or 75. You could make it age-plus-service-years or just plain age.

An aging leadership, combined with an aging membership in both houses, has combined to “clog up the arteries” so to speak. A Congress, hidebound by making seniority the ruling process - with an average age of slightly under 74 - is not in keeping with the times.

Yes, there is as need for institutional memory and an awareness of the past in nearly every undertaking. Both very important. But, you don’t have to reach the age of 85 or so to have those two factors.

Being older doesn’t mean you’re not valued anymore; that what you know by virtue of a long life is not important to the legislative process. Not by a long shot. The idea of taking on an “emeritus” title in life should not be looked upon as something less than a valued participant.

Given our world today - the challenges we face as a nation - means we need our “best and brightest.” Longevity - in both life and service - is to be honored. But, depending on the individual, there comes a time when self-awareness of one’s limitations is necessary. For both the individual and the calling.

Given the U.S. Congress has operated in basically the same way for 250 years or so, it’s not likely to change the way it does business. Or, the ages of whose doing the business.

But, a guy can dream, can’t he? Even an old guy?

The AG debate


The Idaho Public Television debate among the three Republican candidates for Attorney General produced some unsettling takeaways. For one, it appeared that Art Macomber and Raul Labrador were more intent on running against Governor Little than challenging incumbent Lawrence Wasden.

Macomber said he would have sued Little over COVID restrictions. Labrador claimed Wasden had allowed the Governor to abuse his authority during the pandemic, that he’d been a “yes man” for Little, and that he gave legal justification to “whatever the Governor wants to do.” Labrador said he would “stand up” to the Governor. Wasden correctly pointed out that when the Governor or Legislature ask for advice, the Attorney General is legally obligated to give them accurate, unbiased legal advice, but he can’t force either to follow the advice–much like the old saying that you can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink.

Wasden mentioned the elephant in the debate room–that Labrador is running for Attorney General as a “stepping stone to become Governor.” After all, Labrador gave up a safe Congressional seat four years ago to run against Little for Governor. With all of Labrador’s out-of-place criticism of Little in the debate, Wasden’s observation is probably correct.

If Little found it exasperating to have a Lt. Governor who was continually stabbing him in the back, imagine an Attorney General using powerful legal tools to do the same for the next four years in his push to become Governor. There may be some credibility to the word on the political grapevine that Little urged Wasden to seek another term as AG so as to prevent that kind of Statehouse dysfunction.

To illustrate the dysfunction he could bring to the office, Labrador repeatedly baited Wasden to reveal advice he gave the Governor on pandemic response. Ethical rules prohibit lawyers from disclosing confidential legal advice, as Labrador well knows. A lawyer who does not respect basic ethical rules has no business seeking to be the State’s top legal officer.

Labrador lambasted Wasden for failing to join other states’ lawsuits against the federal government. Wasden responded that he often works with other states when Idaho’s interests are at stake and a lawsuit is supported by the facts and law. Labrador had to be chagrined to find out that Wasden had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association the very day of the debate.

The NRA endorsed Wasden for his legal action in four NRA-backed gun rights cases. The NRA praised his “steadfast support and demonstrated leadership on Second Amendment issues.”

Both Labrador and Macomber said they would have joined an ill-fated lawsuit brought by the Texas Attorney General, challenging the 2020 election results in 4 other states. Wasden correctly pointed out that the lawsuit struck at the very heart of federalism and, if successful, would have allowed other states to challenge a wide range of Idaho laws. The U.S. Supreme Court saw the suit as a political stunt and unceremoniously tossed it out in just four days.

Any competent lawyer who reviewed the Texas papers would have recognized that it had no legal merit. It was an embarrassment to everyone who put their name on it. All three Trump-appointed Justices voted to squash it. None of the nine Justices found any merit in the suit. For Attorney General candidates to admit that they would support such a constitutionally dangerous and losing lawsuit is a disqualification from the office.

Wasden was aware that the politically advantageous thing would be to sign onto the suit, but he had too much respect for the Constitution to do the smart and easy thing. It took a great deal of courage to do the right thing–to stand up for the rule of law despite the political consequences. He has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be the trustworthy choice. It is telling that none of Idaho’s former Attorneys General or Governors are supporting either of Wasden’s opponents.

Ukraine VI: Putin the Ploughman


The Ukraine situation, sixth observation

It looks like any one of a hundred semi-rural towns scattered throughout the Pacific Northwest. Modest, single-family homes lining quiet streets, damp with rain. Unpretentious barns and outbuildings are scattered behind and adjacent to many houses, marking some plots as small farms. The skies are grey with mist and the trees are bare of leaves, awaiting spring growth.

The corpses lying in the street ruin any sense of Northwest idyll. Over these scenes of death in Bucha, the leaden skies assume an air of menace.

In one month, the earth trembled, bringing despair to the continent. Led by a despot, one of the great nations sacrificed decades of difficult and complex work — it had scrubbed much of the grime of its Soviet past, repackaging itself as a modern and productive state. It had been so successful that an inattentive Western Europe had ignored the decade it had to wean itself of cheap-and-dirty Russian energy. It almost seemed as if Russia had come of age, presenting itself with a countenance of trustworthy reliability to carry it forward. Western Europe wasn’t too worried about a little dirty oil.

Except that it was a lot of dirty oil and, in just 45 days, Russia regressed to a belligerent state the world hadn’t seen for nearly 50 years. Russia shed its bright progress as if its success was nothing more than one of those brooding, brutalist likenesses of Stalin that once littered the land. It lost its place among the civilized nations, overnight becoming a terrorist state, guilty of scores of atrocities, its leaders war criminals.

What a colossal waste.

Russia’s target, of course, was Ukraine. Russians like President Vladimir Putin believe the common roots of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples cement them as one. Ukrainians disagree vehemently with this perspective. Ukraine is no vassal of Russia — and Ukrainians will fight fiercely to preserve the separation.

The Churchillian Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of the imperiled state of Ukraine, thumbed his nose at Putin, declaring defiantly, “Russian troops failed… in the first days of the invasion. They thought Ukrainians would be frightened. They thought Ukrainians would not fight. They were wrong.”

Boy, were they wrong.

A spoiled child, Dictator Putin is accustomed to getting what he wants — a very dangerous bully child who will take what he wants by force. Like Russia’s cloak of respectability, Putin’s decades-long predictability fell by the wayside as he sought to salvage the legacy he’d envisioned for himself, rebuilding the Imperial Russian Empire.

When he failed immediately and spectacularly, Putin was angered by such humiliation. The fallen tsar tightened his grip on his long-suffering proletariat and sent his drunken soldiers on an orgy of destruction to raze the prize he’d sought. For one who came of age with the threat of the Soviet bear looming over world peace, it was almost painful to see how low the once-mighty Red Army had sunk.

Putin believed he would crush Ukraine but he was wrong.

Putin thought he’d split U.S. determination but he was wrong.

He was convinced he’d scatter NATO but he united the alliance arguably better than it has ever been.

Putin believed he would destabilize Europe and he was wrong — so far.

It’s crucial the world isn’t distracted at this moment. The Russian military may have lost its luster but it remains capable of reducing Ukraine to a wasteland and the far-ranging fallout such action would cause.

The U.N. estimates 10 million Ukrainians have fled their homes. Of those, 4.3 million have left the country. About 2.5 million evacuees remain in Poland.

These are staggering numbers. And they’re not the only shocking figures.

NATO estimates up to 40,000 Russian troops are out of commission through death, injury, capture or desertion. Up to 15,000 of them may be dead. Compare this to the 2,000-to-4,000 range of Ukrainian fighters killed. The vaunted Russian army is being humiliated by a ragtag force wearing sneakers and homemade body armor.

Two weeks ago, the Russian newspaper Pravda accidentally posted Ministry of Defense figures listing 9,861 Russian fatalities and 16,153 injured. The post was quickly removed.

Last Tuesday, the U.K. Ministry of Defence reported: “Ukrainian forces are carrying out successful counterattacks against Russian positions in towns on the outskirts of the capital, and have probably retaken Makariv and Moschun. There is a realistic possibility that Ukrainian forces are now able to encircle Russian units in Bucha and Irpin.”

As of Friday, the U.S. Department of Defense reports Russian commanders have fallen back to regroup, shifting nearly 25,000 troops east, away from Kyiv. Heavy fighting has resumed in the east.

According to the Global Firepower Index (GFI), Russia’s military strength is ranked second out of 142 rated countries. Ukraine is ranked 22nd. Russia maintains a fleet of over 4,000 military aircraft to Ukraine’s 318. In tanks, Russia ranks third with nearly 12,500 compared to Ukraine’s 2,596. Russia ranks first in all modes of artillery with 17,536 pieces while Ukraine lags between sixth and twelfth positions with 3,597 pieces. Ukraine’s naval power is almost nonexistent next to Russia’s second ranking.

But figures like this are deceiving when the Goliath is an ill-prepared, badly led, poorly supplied mess of troops with inadequate training and bad morale facing a lithe, quick and very angry David.

Russia’s losses are shameful — they are not the losses of a superpower’s world-class military. For Vladimir Putin, these slovenly yields must be embarrassing. To the West, the losses are telling.

On the optimistic side, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine claims Russia has lost 722 tanks and 1,911 armored personnel carriers. It claims the Russian air forces have lost 152 fixed-wing aircraft and 137 helicopters. Further, the General Staff claims Russian losses of 342 artillery systems, 108 multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS), 55 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 1,384 military vehicles, 112 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) of operational and tactical level, 25 special equipment units and four mobile short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) systems.

On the conservative side, independent military analysts Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans posit somewhat lower totals via their Oryx organization. Oryx is respected for its painstaking documentation of materiél losses — its numbers are lower because each loss is confirmed, nothing is estimated. Oryx notes Russia has lost 446 tanks and 824 armored personnel carriers. It states the Russian air forces have lost 20 fixed-wing aircraft and 32 helicopters. Further, Oryx claims Russian losses of 158 artillery systems, 49 MLRS, 69 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 787 military vehicles, 27 UAVs of operational and tactical level and 16 special equipment units. Oryx data on SRBMs was unavailable.

Oryx requires photographic or videographic evidence for each item in its tally. Thus, the organization is careful to note actual numbers of destroyed materiél will be “significantly higher” than Oryx figures.

Whether you use estimates from the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine or verified losses from the Oryx organization, Russian losses are staggering — and far worse when compared to Oryx accounting of Ukrainian losses.

For comparison, Oryx lists Ukraine’s losses at 94 tanks and 171 armored personnel carriers. It claims the Ukrainian air forces have lost 15 fixed-wing aircraft and three helicopters. Further, Oryx claims Ukrainian losses of 45 artillery systems, 15 MLRS, 44 anti-aircraft warfare systems, 223 military vehicles, 12 UAVs of operational and tactical level and 17 special equipment units. Oryx data on Ukrainian SRBMs was unavailable.

Russia has lost several small coastal naval vessels. A week ago, Ukrainian fighters attacked three Russian warships at the quay in Berdyansk, a Ukrainian port occupied by Russian forces. A 370-foot Alligator-class landing vessel called Orsk was destroyed and at least one other damaged. A Russian state television report revealed the location of the moored vessels to Ukrainian intelligence personnel.

Ukraine has lost around 15 small coastal vessels.

With his army busy drinking, looting, raping and deserting, Comrade Putin had no choice but to weaponize a commodity he created in enormous numbers: refugees. Where he failed to destabilize Europe with decisive military action, Putin will now try to destabilize from within. The 2.5 million displaced Ukrainians currently in Poland require massive resources as the hospitable Poles treat them to benefits: housing, food, medical care, schools and transportation. Western Europe and North America need to step up with aid for Poland and generous refugee resettlement — short term and long term — for displaced Ukrainians.

When Putin fires rockets into civilians, mothers with children, entire families, it’s no random mistake. The scorched-earth destruction Putin is inflicting on certain cities and his repeated attacks on innocents are designed specifically to herd Ukrainians from one place to another. The more he can displace, the more havoc he can wreak, the more upheaval he can induce throughout Europe and beyond. He also hopes he’s a step closer to breaking the Ukrainian spirit.

Hundreds of Russian atrocities have been documented by Ukrainians and international media covering the war. At some point, whether a nation is a signatory on any accord or agreement is irrelevant. When crimes against humanity are committed on a large scale, a Nuremburg-style tribunal is in order. President Vladimir Putin along with Russian political and military leaders, field officers and conscripted personnel accused of war crimes can be tried in absentia, if necessary. Such an action transcends the limited jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown proposes a joint operation of the ICC and the U.N.’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague. Brown wants to charge Putin with aggression. A model indictment has been crafted, using the definition of aggression under international criminal law set forth in Article 8 bis of the Rome Statute of the ICC.

Brown said, “A group of American lawyers has already done impressive work documenting what they consider to be acts of aggression committed by Putin, starting with his 2014 decisions to seize Crimea and to deploy troops in Ukraine’s Donbas region.”

The ICJ was to hear arguments from both Russia and Ukraine over the 1948 treaty to prevent genocide. Russia boycotted and its French attorney, Alain Pellet, resigned, writing, “Enough is enough. It’s become impossible for me to represent a country that so cynically despises the law.”

At least 136 Ukrainian children have been slain. At least 73 Ukrainian schools have been destroyed. At least 64 hospitals have been bombed.

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boichenko said 90 percent of his city is destroyed and 40 percent of its infrastructure is unrecoverable.

Every bit of this Russian violence is coldly intentional and it all leads back to one man.

Putin has destroyed his own credibility and severely damaged his country’s standing in the world order. Putin has brought shame to his people.

“Russian troops destroy our cities. Kill civilians indiscriminately. Rape women. Abduct children. Shoot at refugees. Capture humanitarian convoys. They are… looting,” declared Zelenskyy. “They burn museums, blow up schools and hospitals. The target for them is universities, residential neighborhoods… Anything! Russian troops do not know the limits of evil.”

While some labeled it a gaffe, U.S. President Joe Biden may have said it best when he spoke in Warsaw, Poland on March 26.

“A dictator bent on rebuilding an empire will never erase a people’s love for liberty,” said Biden. Then, unscripted, he emphatically echoed the thoughts of every sane person on the planet. “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!”

Later, CNN host Pamela Brown asked Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, whether Biden’s remark should be taken literally. Cynically but totally accurately, Moulton replied that every American with the possible exception of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Geo.) wanted to see Putin ousted.

The war in Eastern Europe is real and ghastly — the war possesses an urgency that takes precedence over many of our current domestic issues. We mustn’t forget Ukraine.

Economic sanctions take time to work and too often penalize a population who had little to do with the initial beef. Sometimes, sanctions don’t work at all.

Even when sanctions do work, they’re ponderously slow. That the West only last week pursued oligarchs’ adult children and families was a blunder with predictable consequences.

We must consider that what restraint Putin has shown to this point is almost certainly a result of his fear of Western retaliation — and I don’t mean sanctions. With a 20th century-style belligerent on a rampage, it may well be time to up the ante and examine military solutions. Or consider more creative solutions usually only proposed in whispers.

Sensibly, Western restraint wants no chance of Putin deploying nuclear weapons, an option Putin mentioned right up front as both a threat and a bargaining chip.

Block after block of burnt-out apartment blocks stand like charred urban forests in cities across Ukraine. A thriving and vibrant nation is being destroyed in body, if not in spirit. Putin considers himself exempt from rules of civilization. And he has the resources to see this nightmare through to the bitter end, wherever and whenever that may be.

Unless somebody makes him stop.

Photograph © Taine Noble via Unsplash

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at

A deep-split GOP for Oregon governor


Just 5.3 percent of the vote theoretically could produce the next Republican nominee for governor, far fewer votes than a state Senate general election winner would need.

The primary winner likely will get considerably more than that, of course. But since every candidate on the ballot will pick up at least a dusting of votes, this means predicting a winner, or figuring out what the win says about the Republican electorate, approaches guesswork. A viral social media message at the right moment through the right channels could, in such a fractured field, be enough.

There is no obvious frontrunner, only a few names familiar to people who follow Oregon politics, and no statewide election winners and no incumbent officeholders above the county level.

Shall we sift among the 19 official contenders?

Seven have filed either no finance report or reported no campaign finance activity. So on the list of candidates unlikely to win big, we probably can place Raymond Baldwin, Court Boice, David A Burch (listed as “unemployed”), Reed Christensen (also “unemployed”), Tim McCloud, John G Presco and Stefan G Strek. Slight extra credit to Strek, though, for listing his prior government experience as “unmentionable.”

Those with enough backing to raise substantial funds have to be taken seriously. According to filings from last week, these are the top-raising (six-figure) Republican governor candidates in order: Bob Tiernan ($1.2 million), Christine Drazan ($1.1 million), Jessica Gomez ($556,566), Bridget Barton ($400,467), Stan Pulliam ($295,680), Bud Pierce ($235,267), Marc Thielman ($167,090), Kerry McQuisten ($116,773) and Nick Hess ($102,907).

Tiernan and Drazan have raised more money between them than all the others put together, but that may be a little misleading. Of Tiernan’s haul, for example, $500,000 came from a single source: a company in Berkeley, California, with which Tiernnan had a past relationship - and so doesn’t suggest much about in-state support. Much of Drazan’s support comes from the kind of establishment backers many Republican voters aren’t enamored with these days. Money is important but not always decisive.

What else might be?

Here’s a name absent from both previous lists: Bill Sizemore (employed as a general contractor, raised $12,421). His money is modest, but anyone who’s watched Oregon politics knows who he is: Organizer of numerous from-the-right ballot and legislative efforts (many under the banner of Oregon Taxpayers United, which he founded). He also lost a gubernatorial election in 1998, to Democrat John Kitzhaber, in a landslide, and has had legal run-ins since, but he may check all the now-popular boxes for many Republicans. He should not be written off.

Nor should we write off Tiernan or Drazan, and not just because of money: They too have significant statewide profiles and extensive statewide connections. Both are former legislators - any legislator, if they’re active at all, can develop an array of connections - and both have held leadership positions among Republicans (Tiernan as state party chair, Drazan as House minority leader). On the basis of resume, either is a plausible major-party nominee.

Salem physician Bud Pierce falls into somewhere near this category as well, since he was a Republican nominee for governor before, in 2016, losing to still-Governor Kate Brown. But Pierce’s loss may not help him now, and his campaign message (his web page leads: “A prescription for Oregon. Sane. Secure. Stable.”) seems unlikely to jack up the heart rate.

All four, on their websites and elsewhere, point to their backgrounds and a call for a new direction in Salem. But will that hit the bullseye this year? The base may be looking for something edgier, and maybe fresher than Sizemore, who cut a bigger figure in Oregon a quarter-century ago.

This brings us to the third? (second) tier which includes Independence electronics business owner Gomez, Lake Oswego publisher Barton, Sandy Mayor Pulliam and Alsea School Superintendent Thielman. They all have decently funded campaigns, but depend on striking lightning in a bottle. Maybe one of them will.

Gomez so far has mostly played to her business background (she’s hardly alone in that), but does have an appealing back story. Barton got international attention with her video ad proclaiming her the “No Horse Sh!% Outsider”; the base may like the attitude). Pulliam has declared a “war on woke” that may help with the culture-war crowd, though the fallout of reports about his past swingers explorations remains unclear. (It did make him a popular subject of discussion, which could help.) Thielman has made a name with his school district battles over pandemic masking and war on teaching about climate change; he may match where much of the Republican Party is now (“he’s got a plan to turn socialism on its head”). So to an extent McQuisten, who on her website identifies with the controversial governors of South Dakota and Florida (if you like those governors, she suggests, that’s what you’d get in Oregon); she has also spotlighted a meetup with Eric Trump.

Then there’s Hess, running the other direction, invoking names like Mark Hatfield and Vic Atiyeh and saying, “extremist political rhetoric damages our ability to work together to find common ground and reasonable solutions to our state’s many challenges.” Will the Republican primary electorate buy this - or rather, might a large enough slice do so?

There is, simply, no obvious nominee. The question lies in which appeal - tried and true, strong connections, a lighting-rod message - brings in just enough to win the largest sliver of the Republican vote. Once we know that, we’ll know something about this year’s version of Oregon Republicans.

This column has appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.