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AP Photo/Craig Fritz, File 

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks Aug. 19 in Pojoaque, N.M. There have been just two executions since May 1. And the total for 2016 probably will hit a 25-year low. The reduction in executions and in the number of states that are enforcing death sentences led Ginsburg to conclude recently, "I think the death penalty is fading away." 

Entomologists fighting spud enemy

KIMBERLY — Marissa Steiner and Tyler Mangum have been looking through microscopes for hours, scanning hand-sized, yellow sticky cards studded with dead insects.

They’re looking for a particular pest as they work their way through these fly-paper covered cards, an insect that can damage potato crops. Steiner and Mangum are hunting for a needle in a haystack: the tell-tale, white abdomen stripe of a potato psyllid.

“You hate the color yellow after a while,” Mangum said.

They find fewer than one of the cicada-like insects per card. The potato psyllids are like pinhead-sized Waldos hidden among hundreds of flies, lady beetles and thrips. The work is made harder because most of the insects have been squished into the card in transit.


Wenninger's team sorts through hundreds of sticky trap cards every week during the growing season, on the hunt for potato psyllids. Identifying a squished potato psyllid among hundreds of other insects takes patience and a practiced eye. 

These insects are an annual pest for farmers because they can carry liberibacter, the bacterium that causes zebra chip disease in spuds. Infected potatoes can’t be sold, and spraying for potato psyllids increases growing costs.

University of Idaho Associate Professor of Entomology Erik Wenninger and his lab are monitoring the pests in fields throughout southern Idaho and studying them at U of I’s Research and Extension Center in Kimberly in order to improve potato psyllid defense strategies. In July, the lab found liberibacter-positive psyllids in two fields in Twin Falls County.

For much of the growing season every summer, the team pores over more than 320 sticky traps a week, collected from 83 potato fields, and sends every psyllid it finds to Moscow for liberibacter testing.

Wenninger said that, while he’s learned a lot about psyllids, they’re a tricky pest to combat.

“So far we haven’t found any sort of smoking gun in terms of what is the source of potato psyllids,” he said.

To stop a pest

Wenninger and his team have been studying potato psyllids since 2012, just a year after liberibacter-infected potato psyllids showed up in Idaho and began spreading zebra chip in Gem State fields.

There are a few prongs to Wenninger’s lab’s research. In addition to monitoring fields for potato psyllid abundance and liberibacter presence through the growing season, Wenninger and his team are striving to figure out the best way to spray for the pests.

The team raises potato psyllids on greenhouse spuds, then exposes healthy plants to the infected insects. From there, Wenninger and his team try different methods and strategies for potato psyllid-cide.

In some ways, studying potato psyllids is more difficult than working with better-known pests such as potato beetles, wireworms and aphids. Wenninger said he has struggled to find the sweet spot when infecting potatoes. It’s hard to pinpoint the ideal number of infected psyllids to put on a plant for research purposes.

It has also been a challenge for Wenninger to figure out the best time of year to spray for the pests.

“That’s what growers really want,” Wenninger said. “To know what works to kill this, and when do I spray it?”

Spraying smart

Potato psyllids and the zebra chip bacterium are roughly analogous to mosquitoes and malaria. Potato psyllids suck the juices flowing through plant stems. When they chow on a plant that has the zebra chip bacterium, they become a carrier of the disease and spread it to the next spuds they eat.

The insects look like mini cicadas. Their large, translucent wings are each the size of their whole torso and extend backward beyond their abdomens. They’re only pests on potatoes, crop-wise, but live on other host plants, too. Wenninger is also studying host plant usage in order to better understand how to manage the species.

During the summer, potato psyllids live about three weeks, but adults survive through the winter.

“If you’re an adult really late in the season you could live six months, and just be chilling out on a host plant, waiting for it to warm up,” Wenninger said.

Zebra chip, which was discovered in the mid-1990s in Mexico, is bad for farmers because it makes potatoes taste funny, although diseased potatoes aren’t dangerous to eat. Wenninger has tried fries and chips made from zebra chip diseased spuds.

“It just tastes like a burnt chip,” he said.

There are a lot of reasons to devise new strategies for preventing zebra chip. For one, spraying for pests is expensive, so refining insecticide application tactics can save farmers money.

It’s not all about helping farmers’ bottom lines though. Spraying for pests negatively impacts beneficial insects, species that actually help farmers. And because insects like potato psyllids reproduce every three weeks, spraying too often can help the species gain new resistance to insecticides.

The fewer farmers spraying “in case,” the better, Wenninger said.

Potato psyllid numbers in Idaho fluctuate from year to year. This year has brought relatively high potato psyllid abundance, but so far the number of liberibacter-infected insects isn’t a cause for worry.

“If we end up getting more bacterium than we’ve seen so far, it could be concerning,” he said.

Potato pest research

CEO: St. Luke's builds on the future by learning from the past

TWIN FALLS — Quality, technology and a more efficient emergency room are part of the CEO’s plans for St. Luke’s Health System over the next five years.

David Pate, St. Luke’s president and chief executive officer, gave his annual “State of the System” presentation to a gathering of community members and elected officials at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center on Friday.

Pate, who has been CEO for 10 years, began by recapping the accomplishments of the past decade, which included the addition of numerous hospitals including the one in Jerome, the construction of the Magic Valley facility, and the opening of many clinics.

Over that period, the number of clinics operated by St. Luke’s has increased from 70 to more than 200. As the largest employer in Idaho, the number of employees has gone from 8,500 in 2009 to 14,500 now, Pate said.

The system offers 1,005 beds and sees more than 100,000 children at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital each year.

Pate said his initial goal was to improve the quality of care throughout the system, to teach the rest of the country.

For the past six years, St. Luke’s Health System has been listed as one of the Top 15 Health Systems in the U.S, Pate said.

He offered an anecdote about receiving numerous bills after a hospital stay, and challenging St. Luke’s chief financial officer to find a way to make billing simpler. “We do patient-centered care. Why can’t we do patient-centered billing?”

By implementing a bill pay system, collections improved and patient satisfaction quadrupled, Pate said.

He also cited a University of Idaho impact study completed in 2013 that indicated St. Luke’s Health System contributed $2.5 billion to the Idaho economy.

“The next five years are going to be interesting,” Pate said, noting a new strategic plan will address ongoing concerns.

“We have to improve access,” he said.

With the continuing physician shortage, ensuring patients can receive the treatment they need will remain a challenge.

“We need to look at the hours we’re available,” Pate said. “People don’t get sick Monday through Friday, nine to five.”

The system needs to use technology for virtual visits, such as telemedicine systems, and make the emergency room better and more efficient.

Another concern for Pate: “We know we have to make care more affordable.”

Behavior health remains an overwhelming need throughout the state, Pate said. To solve the problem, it would be necessary to recruit hundreds of psychiatrists, which isn’t going to happen, though options such as telepsychiatry might be implemented to aid in treatment.

The projected 40% increase in Alzheimer’s cases in coming years is something St. Luke’s and other health systems will need to figure out, Pate said. “We’re not prepared for that.”

Among the unknowns facing St. Luke’s future is possible changes, or the elimination of, the Affordable Care Act. “In the next five years, there are two presidential elections,” Pate said.

He acknowledged there will be big implications for the health system, no matter who is elected or what options the government pursues regarding health care.

“St. Luke’s is extremely well positioned for almost any option,” Pate concluded.

From the editor: Friday's papers were late because of press electrical issues

Just about a month ago, I wrote about how the hum and rumble of the press is one of the constants we work with at the Times-News. Thursday afternoon, that hum came to a stop. As electricians and pressmen scrambled, newsroom staff worked to get stories in as quickly as possible in anticipation of earlier deadlines.

In my last column about the press, I spoke with Operations Manager Jerry Johns, who told me the paper had been printed offsite only once in his 34-year newspaper career. There was a power outage that lasted into the night, forcing the paper to be printed in Idaho Falls and trucked back to the Magic Valley, he said.

Well, Thursday night, your paper was printed by our friends at the Idaho Press in Nampa, and Johns himself drove there to get the papers back to our Twin Falls loading docks as soon as possible.

The Times-News got back here about 5 a.m., and delivery began.

Friday morning, Circulation Director Russ Davis told me that many carriers have day jobs that start after they finish their delivery route. That meant they had to get to work and papers would be delivered as soon as possible by the carriers. Some Friday papers will be delivered with Saturday's paper. 

The press is running again, but the experience is a reminder that Times-News members can always access the full digital replica of the paper at by clicking on the E-edition link in the menu of every page of the website. Plus you'll get digital exclusives, the latest breaking news and a lot more online to enjoy between copies of the print newspaper.

Fingers crossed, our old rumbly press will keep on humming through the weekend and beyond.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.

Trump raises tariffs on Chinese goods as trade war escalates

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump angrily escalated his trade fight with China on Friday, raising retaliatory tariffs and ordering American companies to consider alternatives to doing business there.

He also blamed Jerome Powell, the man he appointed as chairman of the Federal Reserve, for the state of the domestic economy, wondering who was a "bigger enemy" of the U.S. — Powell or Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Even by the turbulent standards of the Trump presidency, his actions, all done via Twitter, were notable, sending markets sharply lower and adding to a sense of uncertainty on the eve of his trip to France for a meeting of global economic powers.

Trump's move came after Beijing announced Friday morning that it had raised taxes on U.S. products. He huddled with advisers, firing off tweets that attacked China and the Fed. And he mockingly attributed a Wall Street drop of 573 points to the withdrawal of a marginal candidate from the Democratic presidential race. The Dow Jones average eventually closed down 623 points.

The president attacked the Fed for not lowering rates at an informal gathering in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where no such action was under consideration. Powell, speaking to central bankers, gave vague assurances that the Fed would act to sustain the nation's economic expansion, but noted that the central bank had limited tools to deal with damage from the trade dispute.

Trump said he would be raising planned tariffs on $300 billion in Chinese goods from 10% to 15%. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative also said existing tariffs on another $250 billion in Chinese imports would go from 25% to 30% on Oct. 1 after receiving feedback from the public.

The impact could be sweeping for consumers.

"With each percentage point added to the tariff hikes, it becomes more and more difficult for importers not to pass the costs on to the U.S. consumer," said Wendy Cutler, a former U.S. trade negotiator now at the Asia Society Policy Institute. "And this is not to mention the uncertainty that these increases contribute to the overall business environment."

Trump acted hours after Beijing said it would hike tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. imports, a move some economists fear could tip a fragile global economy into recession.

The president appeared caught off-guard by China's tariff increase, and was angry when he gathered with his trade team in the Oval Office before departing for France, according to two people familiar with the meeting who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose closed-door conversations.

Administration officials, including U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and adviser Peter Navarro, discussed potential retaliatory options. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, returning from vacation, joined by phone.

Earlier Friday, the president said he "hereby ordered" U.S. companies to seek alternatives to doing business in China. The White House did not cite what authority the president could use to force private businesses to change their practices.

Trump's latest escalation will impose a burden on many American households. Even before he announced an increase Friday, J.P. Morgan had estimated that Trump's tariffs would cost the average household roughly $1,000 a year if he proceeded with his threats.

Businesses large and small joined in a chorus of opposition to the intensifying hostilities.

"It's impossible for businesses to plan for the future in this type of environment," said David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation. "The administration's approach clearly isn't working, and the answer isn't more taxes on American businesses and consumers. Where does this end?"

If Trump goes ahead with all the tariffs he's announced, they would cover just about everything China ships to the United States.

China, for its part, slapped new tariffs of 5% and 10% on $75 billion of U.S. products in retaliation. Like Trump's, the Chinese tariffs will be imposed in two batches — first on Sept. 1 and then on Dec. 15.

China will also go ahead with previously postponed import duties on U.S.-made autos and auto parts, the Finance Ministry announced.

French, at the National Retail Federation, said it was "unrealistic for American retailers to move out of the world's second largest economy."

The 13-month-long feud between the U.S. and China has been rattling financial markets, disrupting international trade and weakening prospects for worldwide economic growth.

Washington accuses China of using predatory tactics — including outright theft of U.S. trade secrets — in an aggressive drive to turn itself into a world leader in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence and electric cars.

Twelve rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse, though more negotiations are expected next month. Chinese leaders have offered to alter details of their policies but are resisting any deal that would require them to give up their aspirations to become a technological powerhouse.

The two countries are also deadlocked over how to enforce any agreement.

Court: Idaho must give transgender inmate gender surgery

BOISE — Idaho must provide gender confirmation surgery to a transgender inmate living as a woman for years but who has continuously been housed in a men’s prison, a federal appeals court said Friday.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a federal judge in Idaho that the state’s denying the surgery for 31-year-old Adree Edmo amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, a violation of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Under the ruling, Edmo would become the first Idaho inmate to receive gender confirmation surgery while in Idaho Department of Correction custody.

“This is a complete win for Ms. Edmo,” said her attorney, Lori Rifkin. “Our client is immensely relieved and grateful that the court recognized her basic right to medical treatment.”

Republican Gov. Brad Little said he planned to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The court’s decision is extremely disappointing,” he said in a statement. “The hardworking taxpayers of Idaho should not be forced to pay for a convicted sex offender’s gender reassignment surgery when it is contrary to the medical opinions of the treating physician and multiple mental health professionals.”

However, the federal courts rejected Idaho’s experts and treatment decisions for Edmo.

“In contrast to Edmo’s experts, the State’s witnesses lacked relevant experience, could not explain their deviations from generally accepted guidelines, and testified illogically and inconsistently in important ways,” the appeals court said.

The appeals court also said that the record demonstrated that one of the psychiatrists treating Edmo in prison “acted with deliberate indifference to Edmo’s serious medical needs.”

Edmo is seeking monetary damages from the state and its contractors for violations of her Constitutional rights.

“Prison officials don’t get to pick how and who they treat based on their own biases and prejudices,” Rifkin said.

Federal courts for decades have ruled that society is obligated to provide medical care for those it incarcerates as they can’t provide it for themselves.

U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill in December ruled that Edmo showed she had a serious medical need and that failure to treat her medical condition could result in significant further injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.

Edmo has been housed in a men’s prison since she first began serving time on a charge of sexually abusing a child younger than 16 in 2012. She is scheduled for release in 2021.

She sued in 2017, contending that the state’s refusal to provide her with gender confirmation surgery amounts to cruel and unusual punishment and causes her severe distress because she has gender dysphoria. The condition occurs when the incongruity between a person’s assigned gender and their gender identity is so severe that it impairs their ability to function.

Rifkin said Edmo’s suffering was so great that she twice tried to cut off her own testicles in her prison cell.

There are currently 30 inmates with gender dysphoria in state custody, according to Winmill’s ruling in December. But Winmill and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the rulings and analysis involving Edmo were specific to her case.

Winmill’s December ruling gave the state six months to provide Edmo with the surgery, which will restructure her physical characteristics to match her gender identity.

That order was stayed during the state’s appeal to the 9th Circuit Court. Rifkin said the stay will be lifted in three weeks, and Winmill has already scheduled a status conference.

However, the potential for Idaho’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court makes the timeframe for surgery unclear. Also, other federal appeals courts have ruled against inmates seeking gender confirmation surgery.

The Idaho Department of Correction and Idaho Office of the Attorney General declined to comment.


The Sunday comics are printed Tuesday in Twin Falls. Different sections of the paper are printed on different days. The press prints a number of publications, ranging from high school newspapers to the largest paper in the state, The Idaho Statesman.

Idaho Department of Correction via AP