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Posts published in May 2023

IRS accountability

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have given at least 80 billion more reasons to hate the Internal Revenue Service, which has never been in danger of winning popularity contests.

That’s how many more dollars the IRS is spending to crack down on tax cheaters and otherwise make life miserable for those who don’t cheat and get caught up in the tangled web of tax audits.

Chris Edwards, a tax and budget specialist with the Cato Institute, has written about the end result for most of us. “More aggressive enforcement would mean more paperwork, more lawyer fees, more time consumed on tax matters and more anguish and uncertainty for taxpayers. It could also result in less privacy and personal financial security.”

This isn’t about the IRS going after rich people. The IRS’ target could include those making less than $400,000 a year. Don’t underestimate the agency’s ability to show those Washington politicians that they are getting their $80 billion worth. Crapo, the ranking member of the Finance Committee, is asking for transparency and accountability.

“Unease about super-sized IRS enforcement hiring has nothing to do with supporting evasion by ‘wealthy tax cheats,’ but comes from fear that the IRS will waste untold taxpayer dollars chasing speculative or marginal revenue recoveries, while hardworking Americans and small businesses end up in a dragnet,” Crapo wrote in a recent op-ed. “The majority of the $80 billion funding boost for the IRS was earmarked for aggressive enforcement, while just a sliver was set aside to improve customer service.”

Says Risch: “It (the IRS) did not use these additional staffers to expedite your returns or ease your filing experience. I’m concerned how the IRS is treating Americans. In the last few years, President Biden empowered the IRS to bully hardworking Americans into settlements under the threat of financial penalties.”

Some of that $80 billion could go to other purposes if Congress approves the budget deal worked out between President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. But the IRS still has plenty of extra funds to work with.

The Idaho Republicans won’t have to look far for a presidential candidate to sign on with their cause. Earlier this year, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina – who recently announced his bid for the GOP presidential nomination --joined Crapo and Risch on on their legislative efforts to prohibit the IRS from financial surveillance.

Of course, there’s no chance of getting Republican-sponsored bills of that nature through the Democratic-controlled Senate. It’s also curtains for the IRS Accountability and Taxpayer Protection Act, pushed by Crapo and Risch. But for Scott, one of a growing list of Republicans trying to spare us from Donald Trump, taking aim at the IRS isn’t a bad platform for a presidential run.

Edwards, in his piece for Cato, makes some good points about the pitfalls that go with more aggressive enforcement by the IRS.

“Supporters think that greater enforcement would be good policy because the expected higher tax revenues would outweigh the cost of higher IRS spending,” he wrote. “But that ignores the higher costs that would be imposed on the private sector, including tax compliance burdens and the loss of civil liberties.”

Believe it or not, the IRS makes mistakes – perhaps as much as 90 percent of the time on tax audits, according to one expert. “Which the agency gets away with because many taxpayers won’t challenge them,” says Edwards.

Good luck in getting the IRS, and its army of lawyers, to admit to making a mistake, says Edwards. “More IRS enforcement means more targeting of people who end up being innocent. Individuals and businesses will have to invest more time and more money in lawyer fees to defend against false IRS claims.”

Crapo points out that the IRS code requires the agency to “act in accord” with codified taxpayer rights, including the right to be informed; the right to quality service; the right to challenge the position of the IRS and be heard; the right to privacy; and the right to confidentiality.

“Idahoans have time-and-again seen the IRS fail to meet these obligations and rightly concerned about the vitality of their taxpayer rights,” Crapo wrote.

The senior senator has justifiable reservations about the IRS and its bulging budget. But with Democrats in control of the Senate and White House, there’s little that he can do aside from writing convincing op-eds.

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



Fewer folks at the altar

Since our return to the upper Willamette Valley a year ago, we've been searching for a new church "home."
We've attended all the mainline denominations in a 15 mile radius.  And, what we've found in each is the same story: reduced attendance to the point that several seemed about to close.
We've been to a nearby United Methodist church.  The sanctuary built to accommodate about 300 people, but at our visit, had attendance of less than 50.  The church was built on a whole block for future growth.  The main building had a wing for classrooms and offices plus a full basement.  Obviously planned for what appeared to be a future increase in membership.  Growth that hasn't materialized.  Presbyterian, Lutheran or similar faiths.  All.
Some other mainline houses of worship we visited weren't even meeting in their sanctuaries, opting for classrooms or cafeterias.  Smaller meeting areas for smaller attendance, cheaper upkeep and lower utility bills.
It's no secret many mainline churches have been seeing reduced membership for several years.  Some have closed.  
There are several basic factors here.  One is the next several generations doesn't seem attracted to either religion as a whole or the strictures associated with traditional worship.  Another is the rise of what could be called "modern thinking" churches with sanctuaries built more like concert arenas.  They often have small bands.  They encourage informality of dress and demeanor.  Some would say there's a more "entertainment-like" factor involved with less reliance on traditional religious services.
Whatever the case, church attendance is way down from the '50's and '60's.  So, too, are the necessary financial underpinnings.  Some churches even rent space during the week for outside events just to keep support the budget.  And keep the lights on.
Look around mainline church congregations today and you'll find lots of gray hair.  We haven't been to one recently where the average age was less than the late '60's or early '70's.  In a few years, we'll be gone.  What then?  
Seminaries that turn out ministers for these traditional churches are obviously feeling the cutback.  
These same churches with declining congregations got hit a couple years ago with a real hammer: COVID.  Many scrambled to serve their home-bound congregants needs in a new way: television.  Some were limited with a one-set camera shot.  Some turned to TV techs for more professional setups with several cameras and more than one voice pickup.  
Now, some of those same churches are faced with fewer folks in the pews and more at home, wearing pajamas and sitting in their favorite recliners.  They like it.  Such folks are hard to measure for attendance purposes.  Or, continued giving in some cases.  But, it seems, a goodly number of those at home won't be returning to the sanctuary.  At least for awhile.
Some of the new, more "freestyle" movements have also drawn folks from traditional churches.  Some even advertise "We've got answers to all your questions."  Editors note: Not hardly.
Our society is experiencing momentous changes in nearly everything.  It's been going on for sometime but COVID served to speed things up a bit.  Everything from the way we buy cars to how we shop to the way we bank and pay our bills.  And how we worship.
All of this I-Net stuff, Amazon and similar outfits, have lured millions of shoppers "online."  "Buy today.  Delivered tomorrow."
Sorry, but none of that works for me.  I have to drive the car.  Gotta feel the shirt material.  Gotta touch the sheets.  Want to go face-to-face with a salesman.  Got to try on the pants.  Have to attend to worship with others.  Feel their closeness.  Join their voices to sing the hymns.
Us older folks are still shopping at the mall or downtown.  We're still buying cars and other goods from local retailers we know.  Our health care is face-to-face local.  We still sit in the same pews to worship.
I'm not "down" for all that new stuff.  We'll still be doing things the way we've always done.  Our choice.

More to remember on Memorial Day

Beginning with the Revolutionary War, almost 1.4 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars, including about 667,000 killed in combat. We remember, honor and mourn those gallant souls every year on Memorial Day–May 29 this year. Those Americans who have served in or near war zones carry their memories throughout the year. It should not be just a once-a-year observance for everyone else.

The country’s more recent conflicts, starting with Vietnam, have seen a blurring of the battle lines, where American service personnel have teamed up with local forces to fight a common enemy. For those who have worked hand-in-hand with local forces–South Vietnamese, Iraqis or Afghans–it is hard to forget those local troops who died in the common cause. Although our Memorial Day is for commemoration of our war dead, I think it would also be appropriate to honor those foreign partners on this special day.

For most of my tour in Vietnam, I lived and worked beside South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs), mostly Roman Catholics or members of the Cao Dai Church. As human beings, they had the same hopes and aspirations as most Americans. I trusted them with my life and I believe most of them felt the same. I can’t think of America’s fallen without thinking of them. Almost 300,000 ARVNs died in the war and we left many more of them to a horrible fate. They deserve remembrance and respect. I know that many Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan feel the same about their foreign partners. When you form trusting bonds in wartime, it is hard to break them.

Although our bonds with the people of Ukraine are at a different level, where we are mostly non-combat partners providing moral support and weaponry from the sidelines, I have that same feeling about those valiant humans. The Ukrainians are fighting and dying in a war that serves the vital national interests of the United States and NATO, as well as our allies on the other side of the planet. Ukraine is the proverbial point of the spear that protects freedom and democracy from the despotic regimes in Russia, China and Iran.

If we allow Russia to prevail, it will give great encouragement to the autocrats, quite possibly leading to a spread of hostilities to Taiwan and any number of Asian, African and South American nations currently in the sights of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Although I rarely find issues upon which I totally agree with Senator Jim Risch, Ukraine is one such issue–an exceedingly important one. The Senator realizes that it is essential to America’s strategic interests that Ukraine prevail in Putin’s genocidal war. I agree with his view that the U.S. needs to increase and expedite the supply of war materiel to Ukraine. Senator Risch has observed that “the Ukrainians are fighting today for what our founding fathers fought for in 1776.”

Incidentally, that observation was made when the Senator recently recalled his meeting in Ukraine with a former Green Beret from Boise, Nick Maimer, who had been volunteering to train Ukrainian civilians in how to defend their country. Maimer was reported to have been killed by Russian artillery fire earlier this month. God rest his soul. He joins thousands of Ukrainians who have died in the fight.

Ukraine has reportedly suffered 124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 killed in action and 109,000-113,500 wounded. Because their fight is largely our fight, it would be most appropriate to remember and mourn them, along with our war dead and our foreign partners who died in supporting American troops. On Memorial Day, I’ll be remembering my 58,220 brothers and sisters who died serving their country in Vietnam. I’ll also be thinking of Lieutenants Dinh and Tanh, Captain Thanh and interpreter Tom, who were with us all the way until we abandoned them to their ugly fate in 1975.



Book banners hit Oregon too

If you read about school or public library book banning in some places – Idaho or Texas, for example – it might come as a jolt but not a surprise. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in Oregon, right?

Except that it does, even in a state not usually identified as central to the conservative culture wars. But Oregon’s overall prevailing open attitudes toward books on shelves may be part of what is fueling the book-banning effort.

Last September, I happened to be in Bend when the Deschutes Public Library celebrated – if that’s the right word – Banned Book Week, which district officials saw as an attempt to raise awareness of censorship. One library official remarked, “It’s our ability to think what you want to think, learn what you want to learn, read what you want to read, and really develop your own thought processes.”

The tenor around the discussion seemed to be that the idea of open public access to widely read books in our libraries was a mostly settled issue in places like Oregon.

Except that it is not. A state library report on local library materials challenges from last summer shows the number of challenges around Oregon – more than 50 of them in the preceding year – had spiked well above the previous couple of years, and was running about twice as high as most earlier years. The largest share of those challenges relates to sexual or gender-related issues; a third of all the complaints were tagged as “sexually explicit.”

Lake Oswego school librarian Miranda Doyle commented that, “Right now, the books that are under attack tend to be by people of color. They tend to be about racism and LGBTQ people, and especially trans people are under attack right now, and this is happening all over the country and in Oregon.”

The 2,572 book titles – a record number – targeted for removal in libraries nationally are by or about people of color or LBGTQ issues, according to the American Library Association.

More book-banning cases emerged in Oregon this year. In March the West Linn-Wilsonville School District wrestled with a case from last fall, when the Oregon Moms Union called for removal from school library stacks of a collection of books typically described as by or about people of color or LGBTQ+ people. The question went to a book review committee, which mostly kept the books where they were but restricted a couple for high school use.

What happened in the Canby School District in April, however, was more extreme: That district decided to yank 36 books from school libraries. Another review of them is underway.

The Canby conflict came to a head at the district board’s meeting on April 11. High school senior Zachery Woodruff argued, “Two angry parents, 0.01% of the Canby population. That is all it took to remove over 30 books from our library. Without following any form of due process, the books were silently removed from the shelves. We have become ‘that school.’ The school in the media headlines.”

In the meeting, one parent commented, “Some of these books, as I got into them, have really explicit sex. A lot of it. It is not about anyone’s race, it is not about anyone’s gender. It is not about being transgender. It is not about LGBTQ+ . I didn’t look at any of those things. I literally looked at the content of the book and thought – not every 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 year old can handle this content.”

I’ll make no effort here to parse the motivations of individual book activists. Still, the connection to sexual, gender and race issues in those books clearly were central to the stated reasons for objections to them – arguments that also have become, in the last few years, highly visible in the nation’s political and culture wars.

Maybe one reason some of these complaints are as active in Oregon as they are is because of the political climate. In more culturally conservative states, legislatures and other governmental bodies have explored punishing libraries for placing controversial material on their shelves. One Idaho measure imposing fines and other penalties cleared the Legislature, but Gov. Brad Little vetoed it, he said, because “allowing any parent, regardless of intention, to collect $2,500 in automatic fines (on accusing a library of shelving inappropriate material) creates a library bounty system.”

It can get worse. In Montana, books shot through with bullets were found in one library’s book receipt box.

Oregon offers less outlets for such complaints in its state government. A national culture-war environment could put it at risk for as many local book-banning efforts as any state if only because that’s one of the relatively few ways culture warriors have for impacting their environment.


An honest man

On the Sunday before Idaho’s four term United States senator Frank Church lost re-election more than 40 years ago – the date was November 2, 1980 – it was clear that Church, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, early opponent of the Vietnam War, champion of the Wilderness Act and investigator of the vast abuses of the nation’s intelligence community might well lose to a glib darling of the New Right.

The Twin Falls Times-News reported on that long ago Sunday – the reporter on the story was a guy named Marty Trillhaase, now the editorial page editor of The Lewiston Tribune – that the campaign between Democrat Church and Republican Steve Symms amounted to “Idaho’s civil war,” not a fight between north and south but “left versus right.”

The hard right won that war and Frank Church lost in one of the closest Senate elections in Idaho history. Decades on its easy to see that the lies and distortions heaped on Church in 1980, much of it coming from a network of conservative ideologues determined to bend the Republican Party in new and destructive ways, was a preview of the politics we live with today.

To the extent Church is remembered in his native state today – he died of cancer in 1984 at the young age of 59 – it is for the majestic Idaho wilderness area that appropriately carries his name. Most who know the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states call it simply “the Frank.” It’s a fitting legacy for a man who understood that not every place, including the land along the spectacular Middle Fork of the Salmon River, need be cut and dug and despoiled. Church risked his political skin to convince his constituents of that truism.

Some may be old enough to remember that Church was among the very first to oppose the country’s ultimately disastrous escalation of a jungle war in southeast Asia. Before it became acceptable to decry the deadly sacrifice of more than 50,000 Americans, Church knew the rationale for making a Vietnamese fight an American fight was fatally flawed. He told Lyndon Johnson, the president of his own party, that the president was wrong. Cranks and Birch Society crackpots tried to recall Church in the 1960s. He was re-elected anyway in 1968 and ultimately helped force an end to that tragic war. This, too, is a fitting legacy.

Back in the days when politicians answered their mail, met their constituents, and sat for interviews, Frank Church had a brilliant staff of people around him who served him and the state with great professionalism and considerable pride. He inspired loyalty and insisted on competence. Not a great retail politician, that was wife Bethine’s great forte, Church became the chairman of the most prestigious committee in the Senate, but he could still find his way to the Burley Rotary Club. He knew how to press the flesh in Grangeville and campaign in Greencreek.

Church was fundamentally a bookish, shy, brainy man, not the normal pedigree of a modern politician. He read widely and wrote eloquently. He had a sense of humor and a sense of history. In an age when such attributes count for much less than a snarky Tweet, being welll-informed, intelligent and curious is a fitting Church legacy, as well.

Without question Frank Church was – and remains – the most accomplished federal legislator Idaho has ever produced, head and big shoulders above any of the inconsequential seat warmers there today. No one else comes close to Church’s legislative record, yet the state that elected him four times over three decades has taken such a precipitous turn to the hard right that the monuments and memorials to his accomplishments are few and far between. The far right, beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the coordinated national attacks on him in 1980, systematically denigrated Frank Church to such a degree as to tarnish the image of a man who deserves much better.

Church’s important legacy and place in Idaho and American history has, thankfully, been resurrected by an important new book that places Idaho’s greatest senator at the center of the history of his own times – and ours.

Prize-winning reporter and historian James Risen arrives at this particularly fraught moment in American history with The Last Honest Man, a compelling and persuasive assessment of Church’s career that ends up focusing on what Risen argues is Church’s great legacy – his massive, and massively consequential investigation of the American intelligence community.

Many have now forgotten the substance of Church’s investigation, or perversely embrace the partisan mythology – thanks to Dick Cheney, among others – around the “Church Committee.” The reality is both relatively simple and still profoundly shocking.

The CIA engineered assassination attempts against foreign leaders, even enlisting the Mafia to try and kill Fidel Castro. Every president from Eisenhower to Nixon was culpable in these clearly un-American and illegal activities. We know this because of Frank Church.

The National Security Agency opened the mail of thousands of Americans and wiretapped countless others. We know this because of Frank Church.

The FBI spied on anti-war activists, wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and tried to blackmail him. We know this because of Frank Church.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger plotted to overthrow the sovereign foreign government of Chile, and to this day both have blood on their hands for the deaths of Chile’s president, Salvador Allende, in a military coup d’état, as well as murders of the head of Chile’s armed forces and a senior Chilean diplomat who was brazenly assassinated on the streets of Washington, DC. We know this because of Frank Church.

Church’s diligent and profoundly important work to make actions taken in our names by the American intelligence community resulted in major reforms and a continuing commitment to congressional oversight that simply did not exist before Church’s investigation.

Church, like all great men, had his flaws. At times he came off as haughty or too sure of himself.

Risen repeatedly accuses him of being overly “ambitious,” an accurate but hardly surprising trait for a politician elected to the Senate at age 32, and then re-elected three times as a liberal Democrat in a very conservative state. Church hungered for the presidency and considering most who have made it to that spot in recent times it’s easy to believe he was more than qualified and likely would have been successful.

Risen owes much to an outstanding earlier Church biography – Fighting the Odds – by Washington State University historian LeRoy Ashby and long-time Idaho journalist Rod Gramer, but he also substantially adds to the historical record with many interviews and new evidence of Church’s significance. Taken together the books reveal an incredibly important and accomplished American central to the history of the 20th Century.

As legal scholar Russell A. Miller noted of Church’s work in his study of the American intelligence community: “Of greater consequence than the resulting intelligence oversight and reform, the Church Committee stands as a historic monument to faith in constitutional governance. As a congressional body investigating the most secret realm on the presidential empire, the Church Committee represented a stubborn commitment to the Founding Fathers’ vision of limited government as secured by checks and balances, even in the face of America’s most vexing national trials.”

And that is the real legacy of Frank Church.

(image/Wikimedia Commons)

The what-ifs of an inquiry

The name of Idaho’s former Senator Frank Church has re-emerged this year and last in a connection useful mainly for comparison purposes. But it also opens some lines of thought about the presidency, what it takes to get there, and what might have been.

The new impetus for this is a just-released book, The Last Honest Man, by James Risen. It almost functions as a biography, though not quite: Its essential subject is what’s been called the Church Committee (formally the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities), which investigated wrongdoing by American intelligence agencies. The Risen book is shaped to report both what that committee did and to provide context for it and how Church came to lead it.

Bottom line on the book (a note here: I talked with the author in the final stages of his research): It’s a fine read with lots of new and contextual detail. It gave me much better insight into the committee’s work, and specifically why it was so useful. (Secondary disclosure: I’m publisher of the major general-view biography of Church, Fighting the Odds, by LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer, which was referenced in Risen’s narrative.)

Church, who was ambitious and planning a run for the presidency at the time, did ponder the possible campaigning benefits of leading the committee. He earlier had chaired another subcommittee looking into corruption by multinational corporations, and in the shadow of Watergate a reformer with Church’s street cred looked to have a good shot for the presidency, especially if he were investigating something with even larger implications.

For the candidate, it didn’t work out that way.

In recent years, Church’s committee has had a positive enough reputation that even some current Republicans have used it as an example of what they’d like to do in their investigations. (The last surviving member of Church’s committee, former Senator Gary Hart, has blasted the comparison.) But that was not always so. Church’s panel was often attacked, usually but not exclusively from the right, back in the day, and it probably was a factor in his failed bid for a fifth Senate term in 1980.

Through part of the Risen book, a sub-issue about an alternate history possibility recurs.

Church almost wasn’t chosen to chair the intelligence committee; Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield instead wanted Senator Phil Hart to do it, and Hart passed on it only due to illness. Suppose Church had not chaired the committee?

He then would have been free to launch his presidential campaign almost a year before he actually did, and that could have mattered. Church promised in taking the chairmanship that he would not run for president until (at least) its work was done, and generally held to that commitment. He entered the race in March 1976, running a “late-late” campaign by which time former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was an almost prohibitive favorite.

But in, say, late summer 1975, the picture would have been different. Carter was then a near-unknown, and Church had a much higher national profile. The other major contenders in the Democratic primary then included Alabama Governor George Wallace, Representative Mo Udall and Washington Senator Henry Jackson. Church had the profile, campaign skills and available resources to match and maybe surpass any of them.

He also probably would have dominated the liberal side of the contest and with the campaigning groundwork he could have put in, likely would have scored well in the early New England primaries. When he did actually enter the campaign - late - Church fared well in most of the late primaries he entered.

We’ll never know now, of course, but the odds of Church actually winning the presidency in 1976 seem highly realistic in hindsight, had he launched in 1975. Which leads to other unknowables, such as what kind of president Church would have made.

And what kind of world we might now be living in.

(image/Wikimedia Commons)


This woke rant will probably mean as much to you as it would have to the Idaho Constitution drafters back in that hot summer of 1889. I specify Article X Section 1:

STATE TO ESTABLISH AND SUPPORT INSTITUTIONS. Educational, reformatory, and penal institutions, and those for the benefit of the insane, blind, deaf and dumb, and such other institutions as the public good may require, shall be established and supported by the state in such manner as may be prescribed by law.

Our state founders wrote constitutional sections delineating how mines could appropriate private property to dump their tailings, but the “insane, blind, deaf and dumb” got a cursory “shall be established”. And our legislature has continued this short shrift.

I must admit, the legislature has not totally ignored this edict. We have a Department of Corrections. We have a School for the Blind. Indeed, the largest state department, the most employees and the highest budget is for the Department of Health and Welfare.

So why this woke rant? It’s because we are doing this job so poorly. We can do better.

You only need to read this piece in the Idaho Capitol Sun about a mentally ill man in our prison because we have no other place to put him. He is not charged with crimes, no convictions. He’s just not safe to keep in our weak state mental facilities.

Everyone familiar with this sees the problem. But then, we’re probably just woke. Maybe you have some solution. Firing squad?

Our Governor saw this problem. Indeed, the previous director of Idaho Department of H&W told me of this need. We need a place to care for the dangerous, severely mental ill.

Brad’s budget request for this year proposed building a facility to care for these afflicted people. His budget request got ignored by the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. So, I guess our 21st century legislature has the same flippant attitude as our 19th century founders.

Go to the old penitentiary: sandstone blocks with guard towers in the desert east of Boise. Idaho has not welcomed woke.

Let me tell you why I rant. It’s because I see and care for many of these people in my practice.

I see a patient released from State Hospital North. Two weeks after discharge, they are doing okay on the meds, and they have some group housing. But they don’t want to keep taking their medications. I prescribe the pills and tell them to come back in two weeks. They stop taking them. They miss their next appointment. I check the online county jail roster. My patient is now in custody.

Do we, citizens of Idaho, want the mental health care of our severely ill fellow citizens to be managed by jails?

I can tell you, the jailers, the sheriffs deputies, don’t want this job. And I can tell you, they aren’t woke. They know, and you should too, that caring for severely mentally ill people takes a lot of work. But maybe it’s not something our legislature “shall” do, even though our State Constitution directs it.

I’m sorry if this woke rant burdens you. But I live in a town where severely mentally ill people have taken up arms and killed people.

I can’t say that Brad’s $24M facility would have prevented any of these deaths. But I can say that when Republicans respond to mass murders with calls for mental health considerations, not woke gun control appeals, then vote down a small effort, it’s a bit crazy.

But woke and crazy may actually be two sides of the same coin. Maybe we should talk about it.


The debt ceiling

It’s not often when the band of conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are in concert with their more liberal counterparts, Main Street Republicans. But the two factions are in lockstep on the debate over the debt ceiling and are united behind the GOP efforts to cut spending.

Republicans have outright rejected President Biden’s idea of raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached. And since Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, they are playing a pivotal role in deciding whether government operations continue after June 1.

Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher says the GOP’s resolve is firm.

“When the House digs in, and the House has dug in on this issue, it’s similar to the state Legislature,” said Fulcher, a former state senator. “When the House buckles down on something, we’re going to get it, or something close to it.”

It’s hard to imagine Biden and Democrats going for the Limit, Save, Grow Act – the House-backed plan that Republicans brought to the table in the debt-ceiling negotiations with the president. But as Republicans will say, it beats allowing the government to default on its financial obligations, and potentially sending the country into fiscal chaos – which no one on either side of the aisle seriously wants, aside from former President Trump.

“We did our job and came up with a plan. There has been nothing put on the table by the White House and nothing by the Senate; we’ve done it,” Fulcher said. “We have the leverage on this issue.”

Fulcher says if the end result is a temporary shutdown of some government operations, then so be it. But he agrees with fellow Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson that a default is not an attractive option.

“The government would be unable to pay its bills – including military salaries, retirement benefits, and wages earned by federal employees. Actually, defaulting would cause massive damage to our recovering economy and plunge the world into a financial crisis,” Simpson wrote in a recent op-ed.

But Simpson, while promoting the Limit, Save and Grow Act, added that it would be irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without spending reductions. “The bill saves approximately $50-$60 billion, not by cutting critical programs, but by rescinding unspent COVID-19 emergency funding. The Biden administration used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to spend $1.9 trillion through the American Rescue Plan, even though we still had $1 trillion in unspent emergency funds available at the time.”

Fulcher says there is pushback on the Republican plan, which includes adding work requirements for government-relief programs. But at least members of Congress are giving more thought about their spending practices.

“If we held to this plan, we will cut the debt level by $4.8 trillion in 10 years. It doesn’t sound like a lot, and some will say it’s not nearly enough, but it’s a paradigm shift in thinking,” Fulcher says. “We are on the fiscal highway to hell, and the president needs to realize it.”

Don’t take Fulcher’s word for it. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the national debt, which is more than $31 trillion today, will go to more than $52 trillion in 10 years, drawing pointed comments from Rep. Joey Arrington, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“President Biden’s reckless spending and failed economic policies – like excessive taxes, burdensome regulations, dependency perpetuating welfare without work, and costly assault on U.S. energy – have led to record inflation, soaring interest rates and a shrinking and weaker economy,” Arrington said in a letter to his Republican colleagues.

Arrington’s letter, along with the gloomy CBO report about budget deficits, was distributed to House Republicans and is fresh on their minds as the debt-ceiling debate continues. As Fulcher observes, it’s one more reason why Republicans will not go along with the president’s “no-strings-attached” approach.

On the Senate side, Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have made it clear that they will not support raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts or reforms to the budget process.

Don’t hold your breath for a solution that will make everybody happy. One thing for certain is that it will be a long summer if things don’t get worked out soon.

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

You can almost smell it

There's a whiff of something in the air.  Just a whiff.  Not fully smoke yet.  Just a whiff.
(NOTE: For purposes of this column, the term "progressive" is used to convey someone (or more than one someone's) open to change, willing to accept new ideas/concepts and is generally someone on the positive side of things.  But, not necessarily a Democrat.)
Now, back to "whiffing." Watching elections from school boards to governorships across the country, in recent weeks, there's a whiff of change in the air.  Not monumental.  Not sweeping.  Just a whiff.
Progressives appear to be slowly coming back into favor with voters.  
In our little Oregon burg, for example, last week's school board elections saw all local incumbents - progressives in nature - returned for new terms.  In a county usually described as "conservative" politically.  Similar outcomes in elections in other Oregon locales.
Higher up the political food chain, voters in Jacksonville, FL, elected a woman in the mayoralty race.  A registered Democrat.  First woman in history.  First Dem in a long, long time.  Ousted a Republican incumbent.
While hopeful, there's not enough evidence yet to indicate a trend.  But, it's - well - hopeful.  Just a whiff.
Our little school board contest, for example.  Yep.  The "good guys" won - the more "progressives."  The slate of three "bad guys" was defeated.  Challengers appeared to have some outside dollars behind them.  Professional advertising and full color campaign materials. 
Considerable spending.  But, to no avail.  Turns out voters weren't "buying" what the three were "selling."
If you've been paying attention nationally, over the last several months, progressives have been getting their noses under the right wing's tent.  Just a bit.  Here and there.
Those of us with gray hair - and long memories - harken back to the early to mid-fifties.  Conservatism was in the air.  Republicans were "in the saddle" most places and - while rejecting Barry Goldwater for President  - the GOP was pretty much in charge.
Then, something happened.  At a time when the ship-of-state was listing to the right, a guy named John Kennedy arrived on the scene.  In fact, a whole bunch of Kennedys were making news.  
And, with them, the nation began tilting to port.  (Left, for you landlubbers.)  
Things loosened considerably.  Make that, a whole lot!  The 60's were upon us.  Woodstock, "joints," "free" love and tie-died shirts.  Hippies were making news.  And, America was having a real good time.  Voters were saying, "Barry who?"
The nation we call our "homeland" has always tipped this way and that.  Over the long haul, our progress has usually been more "steady-by-jerks" than smooth sailing.  From our revolutionary beginnings to the 21st Century, we've always been shifting.
In our politics, we've slid from John-Birch-right to the Obama-left.  And, back again.  But always, over the long haul, we've rejected most national extremes, to find more comfort in the middle.
Now, elective offices in our country are under attack from the far right.  At the moment, having given up on taking control of the nation from the top down, the hard right is trying to make inroads from the bottom up.  They're attempting to get a foothold locally to begin a political climb to power.
But, it's not working in a lot of places.
Take Southwest Idaho, for example.  Meridian-Caldwell-Nampa.  From the western outskirts of Boise to the Oregon line, it's very conservative country.  Very.  
But, in those same communities, local governance is a lot more progressive than you might think.  Conservative to progressive-lite more aptly describes the local office-holders rather than Republican or Democrat.  While there are hard-right folks in some slots, there's also a progressive or two.  Maybe even three or more.
As I said, it's a "whiff" at the moment.  Not real "smoke."  But, something's afoot.  
Keep your nose in the air.  And, as Radar used to say, "Wait for it."