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Inside Politics: Laughing elk and the GOP's new word for smart

Upside down on a steep hillside, I had one foot hooked around a 2-inch thorn bush to keep me from falling further. I had a $1,500 camera and lens in one hand while my other hand flailed, failing to find anything to grab onto. Across the ravine, 13 head of rangy, mangy, winter-starved elk laughed at me.

I was thankful for the peaceful moment to think about my next move.

This happened last weekend on my family’s annual spring hike near Riggins. Here in Idaho we call these moments “learning opportunities.”

As a long-time observer of Idaho politics, this perilous position on a Salmon River slope didn’t feel all that unfamiliar. Despite smart, ambitious efforts of fellow Idaho Democrats in 2016, Idaho and America elected Republicans. From our perspective, our nation put itself in a predicament similar to my hiking mishap. Since then, Idaho Democrats have asked how we got so upside down.

Causes are many. There’s a mess of misconnections between issues, candidates, elected officials and voters. But one factor consistently contributes to bad outcomes: Republican leaders have diminished the power of facts.

Last week, I was a panelist, along with an Idaho GOP leader, for the Boise State University Political Science Club. With about 20 students, we discussed Donald Trump’s presidency.

From my view, Trump’s report card reads as favorably as a lawsuit against Trump University. The GOP leader contended that Trump’s failures are, in fact, masterful tactics of a consummate strategist skilled in the awesome art of unpredictability.

Yes! For GOP politicians, “unpredictable” is the new “smart.” For Idaho Democrats — and the rest of Earth — “unpredictable” is the old “unstable” and the new “hell-bent on nuclear oblivion.”

Regardless, any objective analysis shows that President Trump is the same blustering bully who blundered through our 2016 election like Russians through a Ukrainian border. The GOP panelist brushed off bad news about Trump as the result of biased traditional media.

That moment sparked an idea: The traditional media IS biased — the bias is toward facts.

I shared this revelation of fact-based bias with the students, most of whom skewed Republican. Many stared as if I’d picked something disgusting off the ground, held it up, and said, “Smell this.”

Yep. That’s the stench of dishonesty.

You see! I said. Republicans can’t win based on facts.

So, if you want to kill a fact, you have to go to the source. They tar universities, scientists, reporters and speakers of truth. It’s their only option. Facts contradict Republican policy — think of how they tell us regular folks that we win when our taxes rise while rich folks get tax cuts. Facts contradict Republican righteousness — think of the edifying debate over Trump’s “locker room talk.” Facts contradict Republican views on science — think of … science.

Back to that hillside. I guess it’s relevant to say how I got upside-down in the first place.

After hiking three miles up to the middle of a cow-face, I spotted the elk and wanted a photo. I had to move quick to get it. A steep muddy trail led through a babbling, brambly stream. I made a quick plan to slide about three feet down the trail and then grab a bush with my freehand to slow my descent. Good plan. Sadly, while sliding, I grabbed the bush and discovered that it was covered with half-inch thorns. On the fly, I improvised, deciding to grab the next bush instead. But, before that bush showed up I was suddenly speeding at whatever 10-feet times 32 feet-per-second-squared is: Fast!

My boot stubbed a rock. I launched off the trail, twisted onto my back to save my camera while arresting my fall with my free hand until I hooked my foot around that thorn bush.


I contemplated my situation. I spent a moment feeling bad about it. Those elk — ears perked, staring, giggling — didn’t help. But my camera was intact! And, after a few moments, I kicked and spun around, landing feet-first on a small trail.

I call that a success and, frankly, the 2016 election can be a success too. It’s all about how you take advantage of learning opportunities that you are gifted. Now, I know that elk can laugh. And, I have an effective way of countering GOP political nonsense about media bias.

And, so long as we all watch out for thorn bushes along the way, we can walk a good path, whether that’s in hiking or in politics.

Readers Comment: Don't forget history at Canyon Park

Regarding the North Side Snake River Canyon Park in Jerome County, I agree with others about preserving this area and having it available for visitors. I agree it should not be commercialized with businesses and “Disneyland” types of amusements. I did notice in the April 14 Times-News that many of those interviewed mentioned four-wheeling and shooting as appropriate activities for the area. I also noticed several of the persons interviewed are from Twin Falls County, perhaps paying no taxes in Jerome County.

No one mentioned there are many historical sites in that area, including one gravesite that was enclosed by the Jerome County Historical Society with the aid of the local Boy Scouts. There’s a strong possibility of more Oregon Trail travelers’ and Native Americans’ graves in this area. The North Side Alternate of the Oregon Trail runs directly through this area. About 20 years ago, Idaho-Oregon-California Trails Association and Jerome County Historical Society members mapped the trail and placed Oregon Trail markers along the still visible ruts. There is a very large Highway Road Sign on Highway 93 stating the North Side Trail crossed this area.

Over the years the people shooting in the area have destroyed some of the Oregon Trail markers by shooting at them; hikers have pulled up some markers— to take home as “prizes” I assume. Some four-wheelers have run over the ruts and markers. I have seen this happen the few times that I have ridden horse-back or hiked in the area. Many people think this is “just a desert” and deposit their trash on our public lands, and think they can do whatever they want while destroying the land. People need to be more considerate of our public lands and respect the historical portions of this land.

I am third-generation Jerome County resident; my grandparents and their siblings came to Greenwood area in 1909, and most of my relatives have stayed in the Magic Valley. Over the 25 years of membership in the JCHS I have learned even more about the history of our area and wish very much to preserve it for future generations, and have a nice area available for visitors.

Other View: 'Be brave': Bill O'Reilly's downfall teaches a wonderful lesson to working women

Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Roger Ailes last summer—and started an avalanche.

Less than 10 months later, two of the most powerful men in media, Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly, have been knocked off lofty perches at Fox News.

And the world is suddenly a different place for women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in their workplaces.

“The lesson, and it’s a wonderful one, is to be brave,” business journalist and educator Micheline Maynard told me.

“As women, we are taught not to speak out, not to ruffle feathers, to just be good and work harder,” she said. “I wish we weren’t as hesitant, and now maybe we won’t be.”

Carlson, whose nondisclosure agreement prevented her from commenting for this column, said in an interview last summer that her decision to go up against Roger Ailes was frightening, and that she had no idea how it would turn out.

“I thought I would be fighting this all by myself,” she told me.

Her claim was that Ailes had repeatedly propositioned her. (“You’d be good and better, and I’d be good and better,” were his immortal words.) And when she turned him down, she said, he retaliated by demoting and disparaging her. Ailes vehemently denied the charges, but Carlson, who reportedly had tape-recorded evidence on her side, eventually got a $20 million settlement and a public apology.

As it turned out, she was far from alone.

A critical mass of Fox women—so many that they could not be ignored—soon joined her. Articles in New York magazine, The Washington Post, and the New York Times told their riveting, often disgusting, stories.

And within Fox, the network’s superstar, Megyn Kelly, was joining the battle, though she did so quietly.

“Gretchen started the public avalanche, and Megyn continued it internally,” Maynard said.

Last weekend, the New York Times reported that Kelly’s January departure from Fox was prompted, in part, by O’Reilly’s repeated on-air jabs at her on this very subject. At that point, I knew it was all over except for the shouting—and the size of the golden parachute. (O’Reilly has denied that he sexually harassed anyone.)

After all, it was Kelly’s statements to internal investigators last year that Ailes had harassed her, too, that may have been the final straw in unseating him from the top Fox News job.

“We found out, in all of this, that if you speak up, there will be action, and that there’s strength in numbers,” longtime media executive Vivian Schiller said Wednesday. “And companies are feeling pressure from their own employees.”

That’s especially true, of course, when one of those employees is a major star. As Schiller said about Kelly, “She felt, ultimately, that this culture is not something I want to be a part of.”

Of course, plenty of women have complained in the past, in companies and organizations, to no avail. Some have been retaliated against. Others ignored, mocked or silenced.

This chain of events helps change that, especially because of the financial toll—an advertiser revolt—resulting from the bad behavior and a culture that supported it.

The culture at Fox, and in the wider world, will never be the same, Schiller told me.

“Companies are feeling pressure from their own employees, and they are realizing that they have to listen,” Schiller said.

The fight is far from over, said Nancy Erika Smith, attorney for Carlson and other Fox women.

Next step, she said: Women should demand that Congress pass the Fairness in Arbitration Act to stop silencing victims of discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

“Only in the light of day will women be able to stand together and force sexual predators out of all workplaces,” Smith said.

As Carlson told Variety recently: “It’s so unbelievable that in 2017, almost every single woman has a story about sexual harassment.”

But now, at least, they may find it easier to tell their stories. Easier to be brave.