Civil war is more than exciting time of heroism 

Last week a video of  “Elizabeth from Knoxville” received a lot of play on social media. On Jan. 6, eyes bleary and tearing, she told White House Correspondent Hunter Walker that she’d been pushed out of the Capitol and maced. 

She explained, ”We’re storming the Capitol, it’s a revolution.”

Elizabeth was apparently totally unaware she was confessing to a federal crime.

There are important legal differences between a demonstration and a revolution. 

Both are open protests against the government, but the first says, “We must be heard.” The second says, “We’re taking over.” For example, Black Lives Matter called for the system to punish policemen who murder when it’s not necessary. That’s far different than attacking the Capitol in an attempt to overturn an election approved by local and state officials and upheld by the courts.

Martin Luther King and his followers demonstrated that it is possible to be heard without violence. Americans by and large have a conscience and want to do the right thing. We are proud of the liberties our country guarantees. Violence, however, calls for counter-action, not support.  

Unfortunately, some Americans prefer the teachings of Rambo to those of MLK. 

Wikipedia lists 497 incidents of civil unrest in the United States, but only 30 instances of rebellion.  The five involving attacks on the national government include the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the taking of the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Leaders of right-wing extremists are finding their day in D.C.  a great recruiting tool. Some have published new online brochures and started new social media channels. The channel of the “Proud Boys, a violent far-right group,…more than doubled its followers to over 34,000 from 16,000” (New York Times, Jan. 16). 

The right wing militias–the U.S. has about 70–seem to regard civil war as an exciting time of heroism followed by utopian bliss. 

But a jaunt to the Capitol to beat up police and sit in the seats of the powerful is not how civil wars go.  

Our Civil War lasted four years and resulted in 600,000 to 850,000 deaths. The North won, not by brilliant military tactics, but by destroying the roads, railroads, and, finally, the crops of the South. Poverty and starvation haunted the region for the next century. 

Those who started the war because they couldn’t get their way through peaceful means, lost their influence, property, and income.   

Most revolutions do a lot more damage than ours did. It lasted less than 8 years, killed about 25,000 troops, and left our economy growing.  Its success didn’t depend entirely on our militias having learned tactics from the Indians. English merchants pressured the crown because they wanted their markets in America open again.  

   The French Revolution had a much worse outcome. After 11 years and 220,000 deaths, France didn’t get the democratic government the original rebels had yearned for. They got a dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte, whose attempt to conquer Europe  lasted another 12 years and killed over a million of the French and their allies.

And there were no missiles in those days that could pinpoint a target from hundreds of miles away.    

Foreign nations helped our forefathers because they wanted to end the English monopoly of our markets. They didn’t help the French because they wanted to end competition from them. I can’t know how our allies today would react. Probably most would only get involved after Russia or China did.  

History has many lessons. We rely on elections for a reason.  

Just what did people expect?

I’ve got one question about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

  Just what did people expect would happen? 

A Reuters’ poll indicates that 70% of those polled disapprove of Trump’s calls to  action during the rally and even 70% of Republicans disapprove of the actions of those who broke into the Capitol building.

So, finally, some of Trump’s supporters aren’t happy about an action of his. Separating toddlers from their parents wasn’t enough; it took a riot forcing members of Congress to hide and to flee.         

Vigilantes set out to hang Vice President Pence because he’d refused Trump’s demand to throw out Americans’ votes. Fifty-six D.C. policemen were injured, including one “dragged into the mob and repeatedly beaten and tazed.” And five people, including one policeman hit with a fire extinguisher, are dead.       

People were surprised? Just where did they think President Trump’s refusal to accept his defeat would lead?  Some of his supporters have been talking of civil war since September.      

Trump repeatedly claimed he’d won the election by an overwhelming margin and that he would not be forced from office. He continued to allege there’d been voting fraud even after judges from all over the country ruled that 61 of his 62 claims were groundless. The Supreme Court itself refused to stop the certification of presidential electors. 

Everyone knew he’d been bullying state legislators and election officials to do illegal acts. Some Republicans, notably Senator Mitch McConnell and Vice President Mike Pence, felt the President should have accepted the court decisions. Still, many politicians, media hosts, and donors continued to support him. (Even after the riots, nearly 150 Republican Congresspersons supported challenges to Biden electors.)   

In mid-December the President called for his supporters to rally in D.C. on Jan. 6. And, yes, his request was noted by that nice couple from across the street. But I doubt Trump’s claim that it  “will be wild” was meant as an appeal to them.  It attracted members of groups such as the Proud Boys, “Murder the Media,” neo-Nazis calling themselves the National Socialist Club, Three Percenters, QAnon and others.  

Social media was abuzz with their plans–including promises of rides for those who couldn’t fly because they were taking their weapons. QAnon members alone made 1480 social media posts, including calls for violence, in the six days prior to the rally.  (There are at least four social media sites that don’t censor such posts.)

President Trump wanted the crowd to intimidate either Vice President Pence or an additional 150  Congresspersons enough that they would vote against enough electors to give him a second term.   

He didn’t give a blueprint. Some thought that preventing Congress from voting that afternoon meant they won and spent their time sightseeing. Some were content to be ‘wild’–destroying tables, smoking pot, and smearing walls.

A few wore t-shirts saying, “MAGA Civil War, Jan. 6, 2021.” 

And some attacked the police.

It’s hard to believe those extremists will sit back now and allow Biden to be peacefully inaugurated. Last weekend CNN, the Washington Post, NPR and USA Today all featured articles discussing possible inauguration violence.  

A social media post by “Colleen Marie & Charlie Freek” reveals some of the extremist thinking. 

“Congress is a Domestic Terror organization and will be treated that way.” 

“This is GOD’S PLAN..and the Violence today was largely STAGED, no one was killed, no one shot.” 

“For ‘Ten’ Days this Glorious Battle will rage until such time,,,VICTORY will be announced and the Healing will finally begin…” 

The President–and every person who has accepted his baseless claims–has helped feed this insanity.  


Idaho kids deserve better

Is anyone else disappointed at Sen. Jim Rice’s latest display of hypocrisy?  

“‘(Schools are) not gonna actually be able to collect impact fees,’ Rice said, ‘because it’s not a statutory change because of the way the Constitution is written.”’ We don’t want to be “embroiled in legal battles” (Idaho Press, Jan. 1, 2021). 

Bit last spring Sen. Rice voted to defy a Federal court order requiring Idaho to allow transgender individuals to change their birth certifications. The resulting lawsuits were expected to exceed $2 million, but Rice was cool with that. “‘Sometimes in the course of exercising legislative authority, the time comes to take an issue and put it through the process’” (IP, Mar 17, 2020).

Sen. Rice isn’t alone in seeing testing Federal laws as more important than funding Idaho education. It’s a time-honored Republican tradition. 

Why else would Idaho spend less per student than any other U.S. state? Taxpayers provided $6,747 per student in 2018-19, just $77 less than the $6,824 provided in 2010-11. 

That’s not even half the national average per student ($14,046). 

Why else would none of the sales tax collected from online sales go to schools–or roads or health and welfare services, for that matter? The legislature restricted its use to an important goal–cutting taxes.   

And now we have legislators claiming that schools can’t receive impact fees from new construction because educating future citizens isn’t a direct benefit to businesses and homeowners like roads or police stations. That kind of thinking explains why Idaho schools are the worst funded in the nation.     

Give property owners some tax relief and let newcomers pay impact fees toward costs for building new schools.   

The legislature has the funds to make a major difference this year. Sen. Wintrow recently pointed out Idaho has $630 million in excess revenue, $600 million in rainy day/reserve funds, $100 million in the internet sales tax fund, and $150 million in federal reimbursements for funds used fighting the pandemic (IP, Dec 28, 2021). 

Now I understand fiscal conservatives hold that this surplus is a one-time phenomenon and shouldn’t be spent for ongoing expenses like employee raises. But tax cuts are also ongoing, and Idaho’s tax rates are middling while its school expenditures are lowest in the nation.

 At some point our representatives have to give up on spending countless hours looking for gimmicks to make good education cheap and accept the fact that you generally get just what you pay for.  

Idaho is paying as little as it can and settling for overcrowded classrooms, burned-out teachers, and kids who know people don’t think they’re worth our support.

After 35 years in the classroom, I believe a student’s motivation is the major factor in how successful he or she is in schools. Students must believe that a good life is possible–many don’t–and school is part of the route there. 

Parents make a major difference, but teachers are also important. 

If teachers are perceived as puppets just going through the required motions, they aren’t taken seriously. It makes a real difference if they believe in helping kids grow, give students as much room for creativity and individuality as possible, and understand that self-discipline and self-confidence are major goals. 

And the larger the class, the harder it is to do this. At some point–for me it was about 28 kids–one has to give up on kids working together on projects they had some input in choosing and resort to ‘face forward and take notes.’

Our kids deserve more.

2021 to follow in 2020’s footsteps

No one seems sad to see 2020 over.

This year COVID-19 has dominated both national news and our daily lives. It’s changed who we see, how close we get, whether we work, where we eat, and who watches the children. Weddings, sports events, school attendance, even church services, have undergone radical changes. And people are dying alone as hospitals and care centers ban visitors.

And, really, even without the pandemic, 2020 had serious problems. The National Interagency Fire Center reported over 52,000 wildfires burned twice the acreage that was destroyed in 2019.  Atlantic hurricanes started early and continued into November, doing $37 billion of damage in the U.S. and devastating much of Central America. 

Thousands of Black Lives Matter supporters took to the streets after an internet video showed a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck until the man died.  BLM and other organizations held over 10,000 protest demonstrations in the next three months. When violence occurred at some, Americans grew both anxious and angry. 

  And then President Trump lost both the November election and 49 out of his 50 lawsuits claiming fraud. (The one victory involved few votes.) Angry that Republican officials didn’t support his attempts to override state voting rules, Trump attacked via Twitter.  His supporters bombarded Republican officials in Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Arizona with death threats. 

Anti-maskers in state after state added to the ill will with verbal attacks on officials, shop keepers, and mask wearers.  

It will feel good to put this year behind us.

Except, deep down, we know that nothing fundamentally changes with the New Year. We agree upon a date so we can synchronize plans, but we will start January 1 just where we left off on December 31.

We’ll still be in the midst of a worldwide pandemic with nearly a half million new cases daily and 1.7 million persons dead, including over 330,000 in the United States.

Two remarkable accomplishments during December give us hope for this year. 

Two vaccines for COVID-19 were approved and another three are undergoing large scale trials. In spite of the extreme cold required for Pfizer’s product, nearly two million Americans received doses prior to December 27. The Center for Disease Control website assures us that vaccines will be available to most ‘later’ in 2021.

And Congress passed a second relief bill, 453-59 . It was a compromise finalized during what is normally Christmas break for Congress. Besides providing $300 a week in unemployment benefits and $600 in direct payment to individuals, the bill authorizes the $28 million necessary to buy and distribute the COVID vaccines. 

Democrats were relieved even though unemployment benefits are only extended another 11 weeks.   

The relief bill was annexed to a long overdue general appropriations bill allocating funds necessary to fund the government, including payroll for the military and other government employees. It included several programs that President Trump had specifically requested, including money for the border wall, the Kennedy Center, and aid to Egypt.

Many were dismayed when President Trump called the bill “a disgrace” and insisted that everyone should receive a $2000 payment rather than a $600 one. Many Republicans in Congress were opposed to any stipend; the $600 payments were only added after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin indicated that Trump wanted them. 

Trump did sign the bill Sunday evening.

So we can face 2021 with hope. We still face a pandemic, high unemployment and failing businesses, and the extreme weather conditions that go with global warming. But we have a chance of improving on all three fronts.     

Cooperation enhances survival in the plant world 

This past week wasn’t a great one.  We learned that hackers got into government computers last March and now know more about our nuclear program than ordinary citizens ever will; that the head of the Defense Department has decided to stop daily briefings for the Biden administration; and that coronavirus deaths in the U.S. have jumped 50% in the last month while deaths in Belgium, France, and Saudi Arabia have fallen 50%. 

But this time isn’t without bright spots. Several hundred Idaho health care workers have received their first coronavirus vaccinations. Although Congress didn’t agree on a relief bill last week, leaders didn’t give up on passing one before adjourning. The longest night of the year is behind us, and Christmas lies ahead.

And a recent article in the New York Times magazine, “The Social Life of Forests”, has given me a better understanding of our world–and more hope for its future.  

While a graduate student at the University of Oregon, Suzanne Simard set out to learn the function of white, threadlike fungi that attached to roots beneath the soil. She planted Douglas fir and paper birch trees, covered each one with a plastic bag, added air with radioactive carbon dioxide to one species and, to the other, a carbon with extra neutrons.

When she studied leaves and pulverized wood from each tree, she found that carbon had made its way from the paper birch trees to the young, shaded Douglas firs in the summer and from the young Douglas firs to the paper birch trees in the fall as they were losing their leaves.   

Now a professor at the University of British Columbia, Simard has spent over 30 years studying mycorrhizas–hundreds of species of threadlike fungi–and the transfers they carry among trees, ferns, herbs, and shrubs in our forests.  .  

She’s found that mycorrhizas carry nitrogen, water, phosphorus, hormones, and signals among forest plants and keep a small amount of sugar-carbon for themselves. Douglas fir seedlings stripped of their leaves received nutrition from nearby ponderosa pines. One large, old tree was found to be linked with 47 other trees and, through them, to at least 250 more. 

Clear cutting is now practiced in less than half of our nation’s forests. It  increases the number of landslides and floods, strips nutrients from the soil, kills fish and pollutes sources of drinking water. And, more important to logging operations, clearing land of competing species hurts, rather than helps, survival of new seedlings.  

More and more loggers are now removing trees in narrow bands, letting seedlings get established before cutting most overstory trees (shelterwood), and/or leaving some adult trees to provide future seed. 

Simard and collaborators are now studying harvested areas that have preserved varying ratios of veteran trees to seedlings–60%, 30%, and 10%–to determine which method is most productive. 

Other scientists are broadening research to various environs. “Recent research suggests that mycorrhizal networks also perfuse prairies, grasslands, chaparral and Arctic tundra — essentially everywhere there is life on land.” 

The prevalence of cooperative networks throughout the plant world reveals a new aspect of the creator–or, if you prefer, creative force. 

It was amazing to learn that microorganisms inside us are important to our bodily functions and outnumber our own cells by 10 to 1, while making up 3% or less of our weight.

To learn that this cooperation exists not only inside individual beings, but may extend to communities with multiple species, is mind stretching.

A century ago science hypothesized that competition was the key to survival; now it is finding that cooperation among individuals, species, even phyla, is a major element in survival in the plant kingdom–and perhaps beyond.