Archive for April, 2006

Apr 30 2006

Where it hits hard

Published by under Oregon

This is where people get really upset about regulation, and you can understand why . . .

Baker City is out there by its own self, quite a distance from other communities. I-84 runs through it, but the 10,000 people of Baker are a distinct community – about 40 minutes from La Grande, the nearest community of similar size, and well over an hour from Ontario. You drive over substantial mountains to get to anywhere else, and those roads – this includes the freeway – get tricky at various points in the winter.

Baker City, and Baker County for that matter, has one movie theatre, the Eltrym Theatre, and you just know that’s an important fixture in town. A lot of small-town theatres like it have closed over the years, but the Eltrym has stayed afloat. And now the big movie season, summer, is just about to begin . . .

Maybe. The theatre apparently hasn’t met fire safety water sprinkler codes, hasn’t for some years, and now the Baker City Council has given its owner until June 30 to at least come up with a plan to meet the requirements. (We’re not belittling that; yes, we know about the fires that have taken lives in firetrap buildings.) If the requirements are strictly adhered to, there’s a good chance that the owner might just walk away, and the theatre may close.

You get the feeling that a lot of people in Baker are going to be very unhappy if there’s not a serious attempt to find some ground everyone can live with . . .

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Apr 30 2006

Where it hits hard

Published by under Oregon

This is where people get really upset about regulation, and you can understand why . . .

Baker City is out there by its own self, quite a distance from other communities. I-84 runs through it, but the 10,000 people of Baker are a distinct community – about 40 minutes from La Grande, the nearest community of similar size, and well over an hour from Ontario. You drive over substantial mountains to get to anywhere else, and those roads – this includes the freeway – get tricky at various points in the winter.

Baker City, and Baker County for that matter, has one movie theatre, the Eltrym Theatre, and you just know that’s an important fixture in town. A lot of small-town theatres like it have closed over the years, but the Eltrym has stayed afloat. And now the big movie season, summer, is just about to begin . . .

Maybe. The theatre apparently hasn’t met fire safety water sprinkler codes, hasn’t for some years, and now the Baker City Council has given its owner until June 30 to at least come up with a plan to meet the requirements. (We’re not belittling that; yes, we know about the fires that have taken lives in firetrap buildings.) If the requirements are strictly adhered to, there’s a good chance that the owner might just walk away, and the theatre may close.

You get the feeling that a lot of people in Baker are going to be very unhappy if there’s not a serious attempt to find some ground everyone can live with . . .

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Apr 30 2006

Cantwell, McGavick and oil

Published by under Washington

Maria Cantwell at an Exxon stationWhat seems undisputed in the contentious world of oil and gas is that we’re running out. The exact moment of peak and decline seems yet to be the subject of some dispute, but evidently by the time we hit two decades or so hence, the United States, and the world, we will have a whole lot less oil to burn.

This leads to an obvious conclusion: Unless we want to de-evolve our society (as most of us do not), we should be getting about the business of developing new technology, so that our cars can run and houses be heated from sources other than petroleum. This is neither a stretch nor unrealistic, and any number of specialists have said that the economic pressure for it happen will occur once gas reaches a certain price point; $5 a gallon is often banied about. That, of course, suggests we have no free will or insight or initaitive to act before then, and simply develop the tech because we can see what’s coming in the future of oil.

That, we’d suggest, is the logical backdrop to the rising political dispute over our spiking gas prices, those being the immediate sympton of a bigger problem. Watch for the rare politician who looks further ahead than this month’s crisis: You may need to go on an expedition to find one.

That doesn’t necessarily invalidate the short-range stuff; it instead puts it in its place. While to one extent or another, the rise in gas prices over the last generation was going to happen and is going to continue, the immediate details are not necessarily irrelevant.

Oil and gas spiked unexpectedly and interestingly in an Oregon Republican gubernatorial debate, and that may be worth revisiting. But nowhere in the Northwest has oil and gas become so central to politics as in the still-emerging Senate race in Washington. Continue Reading »

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Apr 29 2006

Simple and stark

Published by under Idaho

Strange that the wonders of the Internet have been so lightly tapped, so far, for sending political messages. Anyone with some imagination, some desktop video production skill (granted, it helps to be under voting age in this category) and a net connection can, with a little effort, produce an on-line message that can be circulated far and wide. All those joke and video spots you get in email from friends? Why aren’t politicians using the same approach for their campaigns? It would cost them next to nothing.

The key ingredient is the water-cooler quality of the thing, the spiciness that makes you want to share with friends. Most political spots are too boring and predictable for that. But every so often, someone rediscovers the potential.

One of the best such of this cycle is a new video spot by Idaho 1st House District candidate Keith Johnson, posted on his web site, and probably to be redistributed broadly. In common with most good net video features, it is simple and targeted. Against a black background, and over a bed of light bluegrass music, you see this message:

“I am Keith Johnson and I am running for Congress. I have never . . . relied on out of state donors to bankroll my campaign . . . shut down the legislature for a publicity stunt . . . attended a liberal Democratic fundraiser in New York City. My opponents have. Enough said.”

Bang. It will get Johnson talked about, which is what his campaign needs at the moment.

Meanwhile, the targets of his jabs have an opportunity to consider their replies . . .

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Apr 28 2006

No gay rights initiative in Washington?

Published by under Washington

Some indications that Tim Eyman, Washington’s king of the initiative, may be falling short in his effort to put a measure on the ballot to reverse this year’s legislative passage of a gay rights bill.

If so, that would be a remarkable failure – up there with the voter rejection of the transportation package initiative last year. But if the numbers released so far are accurate, the proposal seems headed for the reject pile rather than the ballot. A rundown of the stats can be found at the Horse’s Ass blog.

Eyman, it should be noted as well, seems more focused on his I-917 measure on the state car tabs rate.

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Apr 28 2006

Finkbeiner implications

Published by under Washington

Qualifies as a political stunner, the announcement Friday by Washington state Senator Bill Finkbeiner that he will not run for re-election this year.

Bill FinkbeinerThe implications are large, but of a piece with developments already underway.

The surprise comes in part from the way Finkbeiner, a Republican who has voted conservative enough to become his party’s floor leader, seemed this year to tailor his legislative record to his district, on gay rights and other matters. His district, he seemed to suggest, was moving, was less and less conservative, and he had to respond. Usually you don’t do that if you’re planning to retire anyway.

Republican Representative Toby Nixon, plans to run for Finkbeiner’s seat, and Finkbeiner quickly endorsed him.

But the announcement was treated as a big deal – former state Republican Chair Chris Vance called it “That’s terrible, terrible news for the Republicans” – and there’s something to that view. You get a hint of it in Finkbeiner’s quote: “It’s always better to go out at the top of your game, and that’s where I am now.” Continue Reading »

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Apr 27 2006

Of all the crimes

Published by under Oregon

How does something like this happen? Just consider the lead sentence from this Associated Press story: “The administrator of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission resigned Thursday, five days after being arrested and charged with drunken and reckless driving.”

Police said that when the administrator, Teresa Kaiser, was stopped at Portland, she showed a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit.

And she not only worked for but headed the state liquor commission?

Someone, somewhere, ought to be doing some hard thinking about this one . . .

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Apr 27 2006

The public investment

Published by under Washington

There’s a remarkable subtext to the Thursday decision by Seattle Judge Greg Canova in the case of the warring Seattle dailies: That not only the owners of those newspapers have a legitimate stake in the outcome.

This is not the norm in business litigation, when one business sues another and a court has to decide. The usual theory is that, unless a public (governmental) organization is involved in the case, the matter is fundamentally simply between the two parties. The workings of the court and the documents submitted to it ordinarily are public, but that’s mainly because a public entity – the court – is involved as decision-maker. If amazon.com were to sue Microsoft, where would be the public’s seat at the table? Probably nowhere.

But would that be right? Millions of people have a major stake in both corporations’ activities. Maybe the public, or some version of it, should be at the table too.

Judge Canova might or might not streatch the point that far. But something similar seemed to underlie his decision.

The situation is that Seattle’s two daily newspapers, the Times and the Post-Intelligencer, are locked in a joint operating agreement; the owners of the Times want to end the agreement, while the owners of the P-I say that if it is ended, their newspaper might die. The battle, stretching over years already, has been intense. A month ago they announced they had agreed to submit the case to an arbitrator who would make a decision in a year or so, and that they would abide by it. (The proceedings leading up to the decision would be closed, though the decision itself and its rationale would be released.) They asked Canova to put the legal case on ice until the arbitrator acts.

Canova refused. He pointed out that the litigation also had a third party, the Committee for a Two-Newspaper Town (a group of newspaper employees), and that it had an interest in the case too. It too had a right to litigate, he suggested. His reasoning suggested that interests beyond those of the business owners are at stake.

An opinion to review, and consider.

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Apr 26 2006

Ongoing Discoveries

Published by under Washington

Noteworthy followup story in the Seattle Times on intelligent design, and more specifically on Seattle’s Discovery Institute, which has been its leading national proponent.

The article’s basic point is that the campaign for ID was dealt a serious blow in last year’s federal court decision in Dover, Pennsylvania, holding that the teaching was essentially religion, not science – as the Institute has proclaimed.

Most striking quote in the story, from no less than Rush Limbaugh: “The people pushing intelligent design believe in the biblical version of creation. Intelligent design is a way, I think, to sneak it into the curriculum and make it less offensive to the liberals.” Which, as he seems to suggest, didn’t work.

Regionally, what does that suggest for the Discovery Institute itself? Spokesmen note that the Institute didn’t suggest the Dover officials teach intelligent design, only “the controversy” surrounding it – but that seems a thin distinction.

This might suggest the large institute, which has a wide range of research territory far afield from creation, might reorient itself. And yet that might be difficult too. The Times again: “Discovery Institute funders, including the Maclellan Foundation in Chattanooga, Tenn., have open religious agendas. Another donor, the Stewardship Foundation of Tacoma, says it ‘provides resources to Christ-centered organizations whose mission is to share their faith in Jesus Christ.’ Its founder, the late David Weyerhaeuser, was also interested in science, Meyer said.”

Its researchers seem to know what they want to find.

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Apr 26 2006

Northwest net neutrality

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

Imagine a few years hence an Internet that looks a whole lot like cable TV. That your main local provider – who has gotten from federal law the muscle to shove aside the little guys – is able to limit your choices in where you can go on the web, blocking sites at will (including those it simply doesn’t like, or that conflicts with corporate imperatives), or charges web providers fees (which it can set at will) for access . . . or maybe for access at anything other than verrry slow speed. Imagine an Internet no longer wide open, “net neutral,” the way we’ve come to know it.

Sound improbable? That’s exactly what the “Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006″ (opportunity, promotion and enhancement of the telcos, that is – not for the rest of us) would do. A description (accurate in our opinion, of the measure’s end goals) from the anti-COPE group Save the Internet:

The nation’s largest telephone and cable companies — including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner — want to be Internet gatekeepers, deciding which Web sites go fast or slow and which won’t load at all.

They want to tax content providers to guarantee speedy delivery of their data. They want to discriminate in favor of their own search engines, Internet phone services, and streaming video — while slowing down or blocking their competitors.

These companies have a new vision for the Internet. Instead of an even playing field, they want to reserve express lanes for their own content and services — or those from big corporations that can afford the steep tolls — and leave the rest of us on a winding dirt road.

This site is about the Northwest, and our point here is to note that three Northwest House members who voted Wednesday on COPE in the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which passed it 34-22 to the House floor: Jay Inslee of Washington, Greg Walden of Oregon and C.L. “Butch” Otter of Idaho. Two of them have some explaining to do. Continue Reading »

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Apr 26 2006

Overreach

Published by under Idaho

Probably no decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years has energized people across so wide a spectrum as its decision in Kelo v. City of New London (No. 04-108), holding that local governments could condemn property solely for the purpose of upgrading its economic value. Most Americans have understood that property can be condemned (provided fair payment is given) for an important public purpose. Last year’s Kelo decision put property ownership at the mercy of private developers as well. In sum, this time, everyone’s property is at imminent risk. (Our view is that this was one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in recent years.)

Around the country and in congress, lawmakers have been at work to keep local governments which haven’t been doing this sort of thing (in a number of areas it’s been common practice for some time) from starting. The Idaho Legislature was not inactive in this area: Eminent domain was a big topic of discussion last session. Lawmakers produced and passed, without a single dissenting vote, House Bill 555, which blocked Idaho local governments from doing much of what the Supreme Court had suggested they otherwise could. It set out, effectively, “to provide limitations on eminent domain for private parties, urban renewal or economic development purposes.”

That seems not to have stopped, however, the backers of the Private Property Rights Protection Initiative, which is still (the days grow short: People now are being paid to circulate the petitions) gathering petition signatures to stave off the effects of the Supreme Court decision. Which would seem to have been effectively staved off already by the legislature. Or is that it’s real intent? Continue Reading »

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Apr 25 2006

The big stink?

Published by under Washington

Nope, somehow we just didn’t think there’d be any press releases on the Hanford site about this one. And there aren’t.

But the story in the Tri-City Herald is clear enough.

In the middle of the last century, Hanford was conducting an array of tests not only on generating nuclear power but also on the effects of radiation. Apparently, a lot of those tests were conducted on animals. The animals, which eventually did not survive, were buried out in the plains near the Hanford site. The radiation was low-level (mostly at least, one assumes), but now they’re going to have to be dug up and re-buried in more secure surroundings.

How many animals is unclear. But the amount of waste (which includes a considerable amount of dirt) is estimated at 35,000 pounds. The project appears to be getting the nickname, “the Big Stink.”

The metaphor in all this presumably needs no elaboration.

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Apr 24 2006

Gov/GOP again: Shaking out?

Published by under Oregon

Does anyone have the Big Mo in the Oregon Republican governor’s race? Doesn’t feel like it . . . Though if anyone should, Ron Saxton should be the guy. He’s been watching persistent stories about how Jason Atkinson hasn’t been gaining big-time traction and almost no endorsements from major entities, and about a string of financial problems, including persistent debt and fast and odd financial shifts, surfacing in the Oregonian (on clockwork, as noted here and elsewhere a few weeks ago). And yet.

The well-connected Republican I Am Coyote (a strong Atkinson backer, it should be noted) at the NW Republican blog, is adamant that Saxton is stalling. Key rationale:

1) Saxton is not releasing any poll numbers. Well except for the all important Dorchester straw poll and the Portland Business Journal online poll. If a candidate has a poll that says they are winning, they release it.

2) Saxton is calling in the chits with The Oregonian. It has been a full on assault on Kevin Mannix by the “O.” With two “hard” news stories, an editorial against Mannix, a nauseating endorsement and TWO hits by Uncle Dave [Reichert, conservative editorial page columnist]? If you have ever wanted to see what political mouth to mouth resuscitation looks like, well, this is it.

3) The Grand Ronde Tribe is beginning to act hysterical in their support. Hysterical in that you can almost hear them yelling “DON’T YOU PEOPLE KNOW THAT WE REALLY REALLY MEAN IT?! Really.”

The conclusion is not that Saxton necessarily is losing, just that the primary is undecided as yet. Watch the Monday night debate, and you get that sense: A feeling that this race is very much yet to be won or lost.

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Apr 24 2006

Faceoff in Portland

Published by under Oregon

No conclusive winners in the Monday forum for Republican gubernatorial candidates, the most widely-viewed event (on Portland’s KGW TV) for these three during the primary. Comparing to their appearance at Dorchester in early March, Jason Atkinson was maybe a shade less polished and Ron Saxton maybe a little more forceful and distinct as a personality, but neither they nor their competitor, Kevin Mannix, really staked out much new ground.

They took great care not to lob direct shots at each other, but the pressure on all three must be wearing: The subtle, indirect hits were all over the place. More common than that, however, were the shots at Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski, who one of the three most likely will face in the fall.

Some shots hit home, as in the heavy turnover in some parts of the Kulongoski Administration. In other places, they were less sucessful; all three, for example, called for a declaration of state emergency for salmon-fishing areas of the coast impacted by a new salmon fishing ban, while failing to note that Kulongoski had earlier the day issue just that declaration.

In other places, you have to wonder about the implications. Asked about Kulongoski’s stance on Iraq, for example, Saxton praised him for attending the funerals of Oregon National Guard troops killed in Iraq, then seemed to blast him for changing his view on the war from supportive at first to critical now. An Oregon governor, he suggested, must support not only the troops but also the policy – or was he suggesting that Oregonians generally should stifle their views on the war? His answer was a muddle, and something a skillful reporter might return to (much to Saxton’s possible discomfort in a state which seems now to be generally anti-war).

No one ran the tables or glitched himself to death. But the odds and ends of this debate could provide some useful news stories between here and ballot mailing time.

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Apr 22 2006

Climate change, from the top

Published by under Oregon

Via the British Broadcasting Corporation, a fascinating comparison: Oregon’s Mount Hood in late summer, 1985 and 2002.

Mount Hood, BBC images

Yes, different years will have somewhat different climates. But this difference is more than that. The climate of the world really is changing, and so is that of the Pacific Northwest. People who have climbed Mount Hood have been saying for some time they see change. That’s anecdotal; this is big-picture.

[The images were taken by photographer Gary Braasch. See the BBC report on "In pictures: how the world is changing.]

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Oregon State Highway film from 1966. A few changes since then.

 

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