Writings and observations

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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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.

Democrat Inslee voted for “net neutrality” and against COPE, while Republicans Walden and Otter voted the other way. Should be noted here, though, that the issue is not party-line; the leading advocates for the measure include a number of Democrats.

Whoever they are, the advocates of COPE – backers of a law that would allow one industry to censor communications for all the rest of us, one of the worst abominations of a Congress guilty of more than its share of foulness – should be ashamed of themselves. There is, simply, no defense of this legislation as being in the public interest; it is solely and purely a greedy reach by one industry to enrich and empower itself. It is indefensible. It is a dagger at the heart of our freedoms: Our ability freely to communicate with each other.

In the most recent election cycle, Otter’s federal campaign reports say he has taken in so far $12,500 from the communications industry, the second largest business sector in his roster. In his campaign for governor, he more than doubled that amount in 2005 alone; we don’t yet know what the telecom industry has paid this year. Those amounts are not extraordinary; presumably, he was lobbied hard.

Walden, running for re-election this year, has reported $53,900 in receipts from the communications/electronics sector so far this cycle. Those include one of his biggest contributions overall, $10,000 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association – but there’s much more. But one presumes the lobbying of Walden was intense as well.

Otter and Walden, who are known for peppering their speeches with references to freedom and liberty, have opened themselves up for serious questions about whose freedom and liberty they’re really interested in supporting.

Unless, of course, they reverse their tack when the COPE bill comes up for a vote on the House floor.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

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?

The name most associated with the initiative is Laird Maxwell, for some years an anti-tax and anti-regulatory activist at Boise, visible through Idahoans for Tax Reform, although the underwriters of him and it are less public. In 2003 Maxwell was the unseen “John Doe” who ordered and financed a mass of phone calls attacking Boise mayoral candidate Chuck Winder, a Republican, from the right, as being insufficiently “conservative.” But who Maxwell was working for and collecting money from, in that case (he has said he was a lone wolf, but that seems unlikely) as in this, remains unknown.

The first part of this year’s intiative, as billed, seeks to limit eminent domain (much as the legislature already has). But the second part, less publicized, would try to graft on to Idaho law a rough equivalent to Oregon’s recently-passed Measure 37, which tries to exempt from application any land use ordinances passed after a given piece of property was purchased.

That Oregon measure, drafted to deal with a land use regulatory situation light years away from Idaho’s, is still poorly understood, and few Oregonians yet know how it will play out. (Probably no one does.) What reason the Idaho measure’s backers have for attaching it to an eminent domain initiative is left mostly unstated, other than that it all falls under the rubric of “property rights.”

But therein lies the other problem. A court is hardly likely to conclude that this initiative is just one legal subject, however they might be united in rhetoric: Eminent domain and land use planning are different legal topics. If this initiative gets on the ballot (uncertain), and if it passes (likely if it reaches the ballot), it will almost certainly be thrown out by the courts, because it clearly violates the multiple-topic restriction.

Thereby encouraging, right on schedule, the latest whine about activist courts. Activist initiative backers tend to draw fewer howls.

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