The whales were supposed to be running. We had ocean-front rooms reserved for the New Year’s weekend, and while the main idea of a weekend on the coast was peace and relaxation, we were thinking we’d be seeing some whales.

Less than sure a week out; but by the weekend, when Saturday and Sunday turned into only partly cloudy and occasionally even sunny days – a flukish rarity on the Oregon coast any time in the winter – we figured some whales would be out there.

And maybe they were, but we didn’t spot them. We saw boats, a couple of which we first mistook fr the big animals as the little spots of white bobbed in the distance. (Plenty of crabbing boats out, to take advantage of the fine weather.) We weren’t the only ones not to spot them. Driving by one of the lighthouses at Newport, we chatted with a couple who were among the official whale watchers, and they said they’d been skunked – nothing all day. The only consolation was that these whales of New Year’s swim far out from the coast, and fast, on the north-south whale freeway. There are often fewer of them but easier to see in August, when they slow down, sniff the plankton and feed.

So we saw no whales. But we saw sea lions.

sea lions

At Newport, you often hear sea lions, and you often see them from a distance. Up close is less common, and on one of the docks at the old Newport bay area, about a block from Mo’s Annex, about a dozen of the fat creatures had beached themselves on sine planks floating in the water, directly below, only about six feet below, one of the piers where people checked the scenery. And there were a couple dozen more a hundred yards or so away, on a pile of rocks.

They made noise. Their barks were fiercer than a canine kennel, and they seemed to have an agenda. One of the lions was swimming around the pier area, in a near circle, periodically barking at the lounging lions and demanding a place with them on the boards. When he tried to jump up, the others would reach over, snap at him and bark fiercely. And then waddle back, stretch bckwards and look up to the sun. They seemed to be sunning themselves. And with the swimming exception, they seemed to be having a fine time,

So did the people. Who may not have got their whale fix, but certainly saw plenty of sea lion.

A thought for the new year, then. It will bring many things, not necessarily everything we expect or want. But if we look, we should find something of value.

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We’re living in a different region and country now than we were a year ago – more different than was true of the year prior, a year ago at this time. Some trends of significance spun around in whole new directions; some others picked up fresh speed.

We can’t know for a while, of course, which will be sustained or overhauled in the next year or two. But let’s take a moment and relfect on some of what made 2006 consequential for the Northwest . . .

bullet Initiative-by-rich-ideologue turned back. It’s worth remembering that when the batch of initiatives funded by wealthy out of state interests reached ballot status in Washington, Oregon and Idaho (and elsewhere) in mid-year, the common assumption was that most of them at least would pass easily. Instead, they got slammed, decisively: Property measures in Washington and Idaho, budget measures in Oregon, and more.

Part of it may come to this: At the beginning of the year, few people knew the name “Howard Rich,” and by late fall, it was a household word. That astounding development was in effect a lifting of a curtain to show the guys operating the machinery – and once voters understood how they were being manipulated, they reacted. This is a development new in recent years, and it could fundamentally change politics in the region and beyond for years to come.

bullet Unified government in Oregon. Oregon has not had a governor and unified legislature of the same party in 16 years. Or consider this: 2007 will mark the first time in half a century that all three Northwest states have had unified governments – governor and both legislative houses controlled by the same party. Is that of interest to anyone but a political scientist? That depends on what those unified parties do with their pwer, what affirmative uses they put it (and poor ideas they refrain from).

bullet Republicans in Oregon: No obvious direction. To restate a point often made in the afterwash of the November 7 election, Oregon Republicans have come to a crisis point. For years, they have operated under the theory that if they could only nominate a candidate for governor who wasn’t tagged as “far right” and weighed down with social conservative baggage, they could – no, would – win. In 2006 they did what Democrats did in the 2004 presidential race, nominated a candidate (Ron Saxton) who didn’t thrill but was thought to be the guy who could win. When he didn’t, and in fact lost decisively to a Democrat who had no unworldly charisma or massive popularity going for him, the longstanding theory smash to earth. So the question: What should Republicans do now? If a Saxton couldn’t win, then who will?

All of this is of issue in Washington too, where Senate candidate Mike McGavick was high on the list of the wise folks at the state GOP organization who figured he was positioned just about right – enough local background and social liberalism for the West Side, enough economic and other conservatism for the East Side – to pull off a win. His loss was the biggest for a Senate seat in the state in a generation. So now what?

bullet Shifting the urban suburbs. The Eastside of King County is now Democratic. Not Republican, as it was six years ago, or mostly Republican as it was four years ago, or marginal, as it was two years ago. The city of Boise has made almost a precisely comparable transition in these years – this is a city now (as it was not in the last mayoral election) where a candidate with Democratic background finds it of more benefit than handicap. In more subtle ways, pieces of Washington and Clackamas counties (in the Portland Tri-Met) did the same. How long-standing will these holds be? A question to ponder till the next election.

bullet Albertsons going away. The corporate grinder in 2006 took away one of Boise’s, and Idaho’s, landmarks with the sale of Albertson’s, one of the largest supermarket chains in the country. Sure, there are still “Albertsons” stores around. For how long is another matter; by year’s end the renaming was already underway in some parts of the country.

bullet Emergence of illegal immigration as a big but not sucessful political issue. Up to 2006 this seemed to be a perennial underground issue, one that touched a lot of nerves but that politicians seemed reluctant to grapple with. But beginning early in the year and continuing through most of it, the issue gained visibility. It failed, however, to elect: Its big proponent in Idaho, Robert Vasquez, lost his primary race (though he came in second out of six candidates), and in Oregon Ron Saxton seemed on balance to lose more than gain out of it.

bullet Housing market hits the brakes. This seemed to come as a shock to some; to us, the slowdown arrived about on schedule. And we’ll predict further the trend will accelerate in 2007.

bullet A building revolt against Measure 37 in Oregon (and its counterparts). Voters in Washington and Idaho smacked down rough counterparts to Oregon’s Measure 37 in 2006. That may be somewhat reflective of Oregonians’ attitudes toward the measure. As reports later in the year about massive timber company claims and the like began to proliferate, and as polling began to suggest Oregonians would reject the measure if they had it to do over again, you get the sense that there’s some maneuver room available for the 2007 Democratic Oregon Legislature.

bullet Sempra out, and it’s not alone. The energy company Sempa had been looking at building a coal-fired plant in southern Idaho, which drew larger and larger opposition. At some point a critical mass hit and the usual cry of “jobs! jobs!” appeared to lose its potency, and in March Sempra backed out. Later in the year, new Governor Jim Risch took a series of tough environmental stands (maybe his old forestry school training at the University of Idaho was kicking in) that appears to block the path for similar developments any time soon. Or will this be a point of reversal for new Governor Butch Otter?

bullet Timber lands selloff. A mostly under-the-radar story through 2006 concerned the gradual but massive selloff of northwest lands by timber companies, often in favor of equity or management companies. The Oregonian in March published one of the few pieces to substantially address this: “Historically, giant timber companies managed vast empires that included both mills and forestland. At their peak, International Paper Co., Louisiana-Pacific Corp., Georgia-Pacific Corp. and Boise Cascade Corp. owned more than 25 million acres. But tax and business changes over the past decade encouraged specialization, and companies increasingly split ownership of the trees from production in the mills.”

bullet The 10 commandaments failure. 2006 was not a good year on the social-conservative front. Advocates lost an abortion-related ballot issue in Oregon that most observers originally thought would pass. And in Boise, voters slammed a ballot initiative to require the placement of a 10 commandments monument in one of the city’s greenbelt parks. (Common speculation: Many voters were simply disgusted with a phony issue.)

bullet The one change in the NW congressional delegation: Republican Bill Sali. In a year when Congress changed greatly in many places, the Northwest wound up seeing almost no change at all, and this one seat which changed occupants did not change party control. It did, however, generate the Northwest political quote of the year (surely repeated far more than any other). It came from the usually amiable House Speaker Bruce Newcomb near the end of the 2006 Idaho legislative session; furious at Sali, he said, “That idiot is just an absolute idiot…He doesn’t have one ounce of empathy in his whole frickin’ body, and you can put that in the paper.”

bullet The Building Industry Association of Washington goes splat. The BIAW remains a powerful force in Washington, but it took big hits in 2006, most notably in the Supreme Court races it underwrote, and lost spectacularly. (Watch for an itchy trigger finger in Democratic Olympia in 2007.)

bullet Swapping newspapers like trading cards. Not a regional matter only, of course. But the Northwest saw local fallout from the big Gannett/Knight-Ridder/McClatchy deal. It saw announcement (coming to fruition in January) of the King County Journal closure, the loss of a mid-sized daily newspaper. It saw what finally begins to look like end-of-tunnel light in the Seattle newspaper legal war. It saw the end of home delivery of the Oregonian across much of the state. It saw a big selloff by Lee Enterprises (including a large weekly at Newport, Oregon). And it saw general circulation declines, especially at the big dailies. Not good trends for the medium which does the most serious job overall of keeping people informed.

bullet Without overstating – we’re really not trying to overstate this year – political blogging really is beginning to “arrive.” We don’t want to get involved in the latest smashup between NW Republican and the Oregonian‘s Steve Duin about this. But we would note that a number of blogs have had some discrete (albeit small-scale) impact on races; candidates over the course of this year told us about specific effects that Ridenbaugh Press posts had on their campaigns. We’re not talking about massive blogger impact here, but whatever it is, it was a lot more than in 2004.

Best piece of evidence of blogging’s arrival? The ban imposed on Dave Oliveria’s Huckleberries community block at the Kootenai County courthouse last May. You don’t do something that stupid unless they’ve got your attention.

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King County JournalIt didn’t come as a shock, that the King County Journal is shutting down, as of January 21. The signals had been out there for a while.

Sad news, nonetheless. The end of a bright new project started with a lot of hope back in the 80s. The end of another editorial voice, and the only daily specifically aimed at a population numbering somewhere close to a million. (Yes, the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer are local, but they’re based and focused on the west side of the county, in The City.)

All the worse with the real prospect that what was three may slip down to one . . .

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Call this one the gambling issue of the year – next year. And not just in Washington, where it is situated, but in the whole of the Northwest.

The development today was an agreement between the state of Washington and the Spokane Tribe for construction of a big new casino – 4,700 gambling machines – at Airway Heights, near Spokane. In contrast to other tribal casinos in Washington (and the Northwest generally), the machines would use cash rather than paper slips, adding to the emotional pull. It easily could become the largest casino of any kind in the Northwest.

It would immediately overshadow the tribal casinos in Idaho closest to Spokane, the Coeur d’Alenes’ at Worley and the Kutenais’ at Bonners Ferry. It could impact casinos much further away – these kind of things sometimes become super-trendy gambler draws.

There’s another thing. This casino would be located not on reservation land but on tribal trust land, and that raises a big issue in connection with other casino operations and proposals.

Not to get ahead of this: We noted this was an agreement, but that’s only the earliest step in the process. The state gambling commission is not going to be predisposed in favor – one member has already been quoted as saying she didn’t see how it could approve this proposal – and Governor Chris Gregoire seems unlikely to support it either. The Department of Interior would have to weigh in, and new Secretary Dirk Kempthorne seems unlikely to support such a plan, on various grounds (though he does have a history of working out tribal gaming agreements in the area – could this suggest a compromise idea down the line?).

But the debate is about to begin. And for various reasons, Washington, Idaho and Oregon all had best pay attention.

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Yesterday the Idaho Statesman single out as the most visionary Idahoan of the year, a shopping center developer. Today, it names the Idaho person who has most deeply inspired its editors and, presumably, Idaho.

A Boise State University football player.

Not, we should add, because of a wildly dramatic life story or some astounding incident in his personal life. Rather, the editorial board declared, “[Ian] Johnson and his Broncos have captured the hearts of the people in this community, who are giddy over playing in a major bowl game. That’s why we selected Johnson the most inspirational person of the year.”

To recap. Visionary: Shopping center developer. Inspirational: Popular college football player.

We await with the highest of anticipation the paper’s selections – coming in the next few days – for the most courageous, devoted and influential.

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Most television station web sites carry rundowns of regional (as well as national) news, which regular include political and governmental news, as well as occasional reports the station itself has developed. But you won’t see many of those political or governmental stories actually make the airwaves.

Turn on the evening news and you’ll get a predictable blend of cop stories, traffic stories, fire stories, and occasional consumer scare stories. (Is it really news if it’s all this predictable?) Scarce are stories that help viewers act as more informed citizens in their community, or that tell viewers something important about their city and state they didn’t already know. It does happen, but not often on local television stations, in the Northwest or elsewhere. What you see in Portland, Seattle, Boise or Spokane is about the same in Albuquerque, Memphis or Minneapolis: Just change the locator names on the weather board.

The Portland Mercury snarkily suggests, “My own unofficial study of local news shows that the remaining 30 percent of the stories are drug scares, 30 percent are about meth users WHO COULD BE BREAKING INTO YOUR HOME RIGHT NOW!, 20 percent are about wayward mountain climbers, and 15 percent are about childcare workers WHO COULD BE MOLESTING YOUR CHILDREN RIGHT NOW!). By contrast, local stations raked in nearly $27 million in political advertising during 2004 . . .”

The Money In Politics Research Action Project has taken this beyond simple observation into statistical analysis, and beyond that into a challenge of renewing the broadcasting licenses of Portland’s commercial television stations. Some other Oregon parties, including Portland City Commissioner Erik Sten, have filed in support. That effort likely will die on arrival at the Federal Communications Commission, but that’s secondary. The main point they want to spread is the grounds for the challenge: That local TV stations haven’t been providing citizen-useful news coverage.

In a release, Janice Thompson of MiPRAP said, “Voters are not served by broadcast TV news programs that provide little or no coverage of political campaigns. This trend is in stark contrast to the dollars earned by TV stations on political advertising and is why we have filed a license renewal challenge with the FCC.”

Sten: “Voters rely on television to get a lot of their information and what they are getting is not adequate. Our community can do better.”

Political coverage was what they studied specifically (by taping all or nearly all news broadcasts), and the numbers jump out if you consider them closely.

The report tracked 2004 political coverage on regular news programs in each station in Portland, Chicago and Milwaukee. The amount of coverage was similar in all three, though lowest in Oregon: Just 4.9% of news air time concerned politics during the year covered – which was 2004, an exceptionally hot presidential election year.

Station Total hrs taped Politics time Politics % Stories
KATU 149.9 6h, 56m 4.6% 380
KOIN 110.4 5h, 24m 4.9 % 323
KPTV 119.7 7h, 10m 5.9% 400
KGW 140.8 5m, 59m 4.2% 347
Total 520.8 25h, 29m 4.9% 1,450
.
That still may not look so bad until you consider that of those 1,450 stories, 77.7% were not about local or regional politics at all – they were short recaps of the presidential race. And there were about 14 minutes of coverage of politics in other states. That means the four Portland stations all together aired about six hours and 15 minutes – all year long – about Oregon politics. The races for the Oregon legislature, in a year when control of the state Senate would change, were covered in a grand total of less than eight minutes market-wide – less than two minutes, all year, per station.

And what were those statistics again about the number of people who get most of their public affairs information – including about politics – from local television? What exactly are they learning?

The report does note that the stations did air some special programs on politics, mainly debates; KGW, it said, devoted more time to these than the other stations.

To reiterate: These Portland numbers should not be considered unusual for the industry. They were, for example, slightly worse but similar to numbers in the larger Chicago and Milwaukee markets. And a report released in February 2005 by the Lear Center/University of Wisconisin covering 11 markets – Seattle was one of these – had similar things to say. Its analysis of station news coverage of local politics by the four commercial Seattle stations suggested that such coverage accounted for between 1% and 9% (KIRO was the highest) of local news time.

Politics – by which we mean here, citizens actively governing themselves instead of degenerating into hapless consumers of the world around them – apparently just doesn’t cut it as sexy TV, at least according to the wizards who control those operations. (Modern corporations, including media corporations, “market to” consumers – providing information and encouraging citizens to think isn’t part of many corporate marketing plans.)

Will be interesting to see in the current Portland challenge who, outside of people and groups with a financial or other interest in one of the stations, stands up in their defense. And on what grounds.

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Oregon

As we head toward the year 2007 a few days hence, political thought starts to turn toward the doings of the next decade, such as reapportionment. There’s little thought, yet, toward 2020 – after all, while we can make some reasonable stab at population and other predictions three years out, predictions 13 years away are a little tough.

Still, the Rogue Pundit has a post worth notice for those taking the long view – suggesting that, in matters of congressional redistricting, Oregon will retain its current five seats after the 2010 census but should gain a sixth in 2020.

(For the moment, the only reapportionment change we expect in the Northwest in 2010, as matters sit, is a tenth House district for Washington state, which seems to be growing just fast enough to justify it.)

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The Boise Idaho Statesman is in process on its editorial page of celebrating five people of local impact in 2006, today citing the “most visionary” area person of the year.

Their pick is Mark Rivers, who has been a key developer of the new BoDo retail and commercial development south of downtown.

Rivers is without doubt impactful (Ridenbaugh Press has listed him in the past among influential figures in Idaho), and BoDo is broadly regarded as a good development.

But does it say something about Boise, about Idaho and about its leading newspaper that its most visionary person in the state this year is thought to be the developer of a shopping center?

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New elective office holders as a normal matter want to bring in with them their new team, replacing some people – usually the top decision-makers and those who work most directly with the office-holder – at the start of a term.

That does not usually extend down to the people who actually turn the wheels, stoke the engines and do the work of the agency. That a new elected official and his immediate assistants have a learning curve is to be expected; extending that learning curve over much of an agency is trouble on the wing.

That is why the decision by Tom Luna, the incoming Idaho superintendent of public instruction, to fire broadly and deeply across the Department of Education was so striking. Changes in the superintendent’s office and among the division heads were to be expected, but this went much further.

Some of the impacts were laid out concretely in a letter to the editor today in the Twin Falls Times News, by Sharon Lutkehus, who is a health education instructor at the Filer Middle School. She writes:

“Mr. Luna has eliminated nearly every experienced person in the Bureau of Educational Improvement, Title 1, Special Education, Certification-Professional Standards and Adult Services. In this first wave of firing were specialists in math, language arts, international and civics education, charter schools, testing, technology, health education, and safe and drug-free schools. Others are leaving because they foresee the destruction of all they believe in. This may not seem to be a problem to Mr. Luna because of his complete lack of educational experience. However, it directly and negatively affects schools and students.

During the past six years, I have been a member of the Idaho Comprehensive Health Education Cadre, which was formed by Barbara Eisenbarth, the HIV-AIDS-Health Education coordinator for the Idaho Department of Education. . . . By teacher request, additional workshops and conferences were scheduled for January and February of 2007. These workshops have now been canceled because the people who present at and organize them are gone (fired). Grants that are due in the next few weeks will have no one knowledgeable in the complexities and requirements of writing them. Federal monies could easily be lost due to lack of leadership.”

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Abit off-topic for this Northwest site, but not by too much: Herewith, a quick review of 10 books we read over the last year (all of these published in 2006, or shortly before) which gave us useful insight in a number of areas . . . including the great Northwest.

Even though only one of these books was explicitly about the region.

To be clear, we’re not suggesting this as any kind of “10 best” list (and we’ll list them in alpabetical order by author). Some are national sellers, but most are lesser known, and one a relatively obscure regional academic books. Just two are specifically “Northwest” books. But all of them have, in their various ways, fresh and useful ideas and information useful to anyone trying to better understand politics and society. They are all highly useful. And between them, they suggest some of the many ways books can help us understand our neighbors as well as people who live somewhat further away.

The only descriptive word we can think of that all have in common is, “provocative” – they will make you think. At least, they made us think.

Links go to Powell’s Books (which is where we bought most of them).

Crashing the Gate Crashing the Gate, by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga (Chelsea Green). This is the book by the main guys at the two most popular liberal political blogs in the country (Daily Kos and MyDD), guys who spend much of their time hashing on George W. Bush, Republicans and anyone allied with them. But that’s not what this book’s about. Oh, they get in a few shots, but seemingly just as a gesture to make their loyalties clear. Their main concern is the internal problems of the Democratic Party, the structural and substantive problems – from money to consultants to ego to bad analysis – that brdevil the party long before it actually goes to war with Republicans. This is a shrewd book about how politics (of anyone’s stripe) works, and Republicans could read it just as profitably as Democrats could. (But please don’t tell the authors we said so . . .)

TuliaTulia, by Nate Blakeslee (PublicAffairs). Annals of the drug wars: In 1999 a seriously corrupt cop, known in the police community as a serial liar with serious money problems, led the arrest of 47 people in the small town (population about 5,000) of Tulia, Texas, on drug charges – with no evidence, not even drug samples, other than his own unsupported testimony. All but a few of the 47 were swiftly convicted, and most given sentences of many decades duration. The book shows shades of gray (not all of these convicts were upstanding citizens, and not all the people who got the cases overturned were saints), but you can’t read this without reconsidering the state of justice in America, in this new century.

Public Power Private DamsPublic Power, Private Dams, by Karl Boyd Brooks (University of Washington Press). The only book here with a specifically Northwest topic, yet it’s broader than that. Brooks, an attorney and a former Idaho state senator, is now a professor of history at the University of Kansas, but he never lost interest in the back story of how what was once a plan to build a big federal dam at Hells Canyon came to be exchanged for three smaller dams built by Idaho Power Company. The long story of how it happened, especially pertinent with the current relicensure of the dams, throws insight into how public and private interests do battle, and how a significant piece of the Northwest got to be the way it is.

NextNext, by Michael Crichton (HarperCollins). The only novel on the listed, and not here particulary as a “thriller”; Chricton has done better on that front elsewhere. But the information and ideas he lays out about the upcoming round of genetics and biochemical research are fascinating; almost every twist of the story will give your sense of ethics a jolt. At the end you mostly conclude, as Crichton does (in his afterword), that while research should not be impeded, we’re not ready yet for some of the results we may soon get.

Team of RivalsTeam of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster). Was there anything left to write about Lincoln, the most written-about of Americans? With the book about how Lincoln was shaped by his melancholy (as he styled it, “depression” according to one new biographer), the well seemed to have run dry. But then came this, about Lincoln’s relationship with his cabinet members, especially with Seward, Chase and Bates, and Lincoln stands revealed anew. Drawing on biographical materials from all these people, and comparing them to each other – setting them in context – we get a whole different sense of who these people were. And a fresh appreciation for Lincoln himself, through the eyes of men who originally held Lincoln in deep contempt and were forced by what they experienced to revise their judgement. (Steven Spielberg apparently has movie rights; a good movie could be pulled from the scenes in this book.)

Chain of CommandChain of Command, by Seymour Hersh (Harper Perennial). The big, definitive book about the catastrophe that is Iraq probably will not be written for a few years yet; perspective and greater depth than is even possible now will be needed for that. In the meantime, several good books on the subject have emerged already, of course. Of the seven or eight we’ve read this is our top recommendation. Hersch’s reworking of his New Yorker dispatches keep their sense of immediacy, and his depth of experience in national security reporting makes him unsurpassed at this stage at least. Chain of Command focuses on Iraq and Aghanistan, but – while not sacrificing in-depth reportage – it covers a broad scope across the Middle East and central Asia, and back to D.C. A good overview for someone who’s read the headlines and wants to go beyond; a good read too for those who already have gone beyond.

Big Box SwindleBig Box Swindle, by Stacy Mitchell (Beacon). If you think the argument against the astoundingly fast spread of big box stores across America is simple or easily dismissed, try reading this. The effects of these stores – Wal-Mart being just the biggest of them – are so many and varied that a book really is needed to cover them all; in some places here, you get the sense that whole new arguments against the behemoths can be found in every paragraph. Not only a critique of these businesses, it is also a social survey; and not only that, it includes a comprehensive call for action. It is a polemic – one of the most powerful and useful of the year.

American TheocracyAmerican Theocracy, by Kevin Phillips (Viking). In which the man who first came to national notice in the 60s as the prescient author of The Emerging Republican Majority now stands appalled at that majority – and yet the core of this book isn’t about politics (in the direct sense) or politicians. In some of the best researched and sharpest social and economic analysis of recent years (and maybe the strongest in a long series of closely-reasoned analytical pieces), Phillips paints a harrowing picture of an America overextended overseas, swamped in debt, facing severe resource problems and delusionally unable to come to grips with reality. The core of his analysis in this densely packed book is hard to refute (though we’d be fascinated to hear his post-November 7 analysis of the current state of play in politics).

Breaking RankBreaking Rank, by Norm Stamper (Nation Books). Stamper, the former chief of police at Seattle, would be the first to say – does say, in this book – that many of his views about law enforcement are minority views within the law enforcement community. (We don’t necessarily concur with everything he has to say, either.) But he backs up his idiosyncrasy with specifics drawn from three decades on the street and in managing police, and you finish with a strong impression that the difference between Stamper and many in his former profession is a greater willingness to learn, think analytically, and adapt. Traits we could use more of, and not only in law enforcement.

Rise of American DemocracyThe Rise of American Democracy, by Sean Wilentz (Norton). Long, intense, lots of small print – not the lightest read on the list, so be warned. But you cannot do better if you’re interested in what democracy meant and how it was developed in the early decades of the United States – and Wilentz makes superbly clear that what we have more commonly considered as basic freedoms were developed over time, as part of a long-running civic dicussion. It is the perfect background for any discussion of freedoms and rights as we understand them – and watch the debates over them – today.

And so: What books would you suggest adding to the list?

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Wreaths on church

If the traffic and consumption madness of the days before Christmas has a positive side, it would be the time of rest and reflection many do take in the day or two that follows. This year, perhaps more than most, we seem to have come to a light pause, in the Northwest and beyond, and this seems a good time for reflection.

Most everyone around the Puget Sound can, at last, turn on working electric lights and ensure their houses will be heated again. The storm of the 14th whacked the region hard, the Seattle area harder than any, and to greater and lesser degrees people suffered from it. The path back was longer than most anyone expected, and the discussion of how to shorten that path in future has now to begin. But for the moment we have, most of us, recovery.

The last few weeks have been helpful to others as well.

The Oregonian‘s David Reinhard posted a fine column today on the apparent settlement of the Portland Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic church with plaintiffs suing it over sexual abuse cases. Without diminishing the seriousness of those charges, Reinhard also got on the ground about the effects the suits have had:

“St. Michael’s bears the literal and figurative marks of the archdiocese’s time in bankruptcy. It’s a beautiful brick building, with the Italianate flourishes of the immigrant community that built it. But it’s old and in need of restoration and a major seismic upgrade. It’s one good earthquake away from being a pile of rubble and a danger to all within. Restoration plans were afoot in 2002. They crashed to a halt amid the uncertainties of the bankruptcy. The upshot can be seen along the north and south interior walls, where in spots the plaster has been scraped down to reveal the exterior bricks. Yes, the restoration would benefit worshippers, but the project also includes updating the basement kitchen, which provides daily meals for downtown poor and homeless people.

“Although you may see no tangible evidence of the bankruptcy’s impact at every parish in the archdiocese, there’s been an impact nonetheless – for parishioners and nonparishioners alike: Projects not undertaken. Funds not raised. Plans put on hold.”

angel on a Christmas treeFor every sign of development positive, of course, you can find a marker of things yet undone, corrections yet to be made. We see it locally, even more dramatically nationally – war, economic distress, social and environmental troubles and conflict. But we should be reminded that in some areas and in some ways, at least, we progress. And after taking a deep breath in the spirit of the season, perhaps we will progress again in the year to come.

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In Oregon, Washington County, in Washington, to a great dergee, Pierce County – electorally a crucial pivot when things get tight, a county tilting either way, and sometimes providing enough votes to make the difference. (Ask Dave Reichert.)

Pierce CountyPierce is also one of those counties electing a county executive, a partisan position which can generate enough sway to affect the county’s tilt. The Moderate Washingtonian has a useful post on this, along with some of the early contours of the race to replace current Executive John Ladenburg (Democrat), who in 2008 will be term-limited.

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One of the ponderables – toward the beginning – of the short Idaho governorship of Jim Risch was, to what extent was he simply doing his own thing and to what extent was he coordinating with probable future governor and fellow Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter?

Jim RischRisch made a number of major appointments early on, for example; were these run past Otter, so that they would not be short-timers? Risch and his staff put considerable work into developing a governor’s budget proposal; to what extent was he doing something Otter would be willing to submit?

We now have at least partial answers, and the upshot seems to be: Risch was mostly out there on his own. Otter’s few comments about the Risch budget seemed a little dismissive – no particular optimism about his support for it. And early on, he dismissed several Risch appointees (Vaughn Killeen at Corrections, Carolyn Terteling-Payne at human resources, for two) and a large batch of Risch re-appointees he could have unseated months ago.

That’s not to suggest the Risch and Otter people did not communicate, but it does suggest Risch was very much doing what he wanted to do, irrespective of what Otter would do later on.

That seems of a piece with the Risch governorship generally, which has been in many ways the strongest governorship since Cecil Andrus left the job 12 years ago. The two governors in between, Republicans Phil Batt and Dirk Kempthorne, each had their moments; both got stronger in the job as time went on. But neither seemed to have the sense of joy in pulling what former Governor Robert Smylie liked to call “the levers of power” the way Risch (or Andrus, or Smylie) did. You got from Risch the sense (compare it too, to Teddy Roosevelt) that he was riding a tiger and loving every minute of it. He seemed to love that job – not the title, the doing of it. You get the sense that if his title reverted to lieutenant governor but he could keep the authority, he’s been perfectly happy.

None of this is a bad thing; the image of the weary, reluctant Cincinnatus has been badly overused. Risch, who didn’t hide his pleasure in the office, may have sensed that people like seeing a person who enjoys the work, doing it; and he;s probably right. People who enjoy a job, really throw themselves into it, probably do it better.

All of which may have led to some of his most intriguing appointments becoming short-timers. But then, for someone like Risch, there may have been no other way but to do it his way.

bullet Not a lot of thoughts yet on the roster in the new Otter Administration.

There is this, strikingly: The number of non-appointments of office holders who date back to the Batt days – a decade or more atop a department. Pam Ahrens at administration, Karl Dreher at water resources, Pat Takasugi at agriculture – all in place for close to a dozen years now, an unusually long stretch for such a job. (As at federal agencies, a run of two terms – eight years – usually is considered longer than the norm.) Not everyone of such long tenure will be gone; Roger Madsen at labor-commerce, for example, was an early Batt appointment, and will work for the new administration. But generally, Otter seemed to want to some shake-up from previous years.

Not that this means bringing in a lot of entirely new names, so far: Bill Deal at insurance, Celia Gould at agriculture, to name two, are familiar names at the Statehouse for a couple of decades, and not many others are out-of-the-blue appointments either.

A number of changes in names – about the norm, under the circumstances – but not necessarily, so far, a big change in direction.

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Idaho

One of the things our politics badly, desperately, needs is a new way of describing our philosophical differences. The ye olde left-right formulation was creaky even when it made some relative sense a half-century ago; it has become simply moronic in the years since.

Put under intense political pressure in the last decade, the “left” seems to be making some moves toward coming up with redefinitions – which would fill what has been a vacuum that has allowed the “right” to do the job for it these many years. The need for redefinition of the “right” may be even more imperative; the leaders of that movement daily violate what are commonly described as its core values as a matter of basic principle.

The case may be made clearest when we move away from the two major political parties.

The Constitution Party of Oregon generally gets defined as – and probably they would not argue – a party of the right, “very conservative.” You could plausibly imagine that means it is a lot like the “conservative” Republican Party, only more so.

But then you would have to explain the CPO’s intense opposition – as strong as if not stronger than that of any wing of the Democratic Party – to American military action in Iraq. The party’s vice chair recnetly had a confrontation with state police over one anti-war protest, and the party will be holding an anti-war rally tomorrow. (Nor is any of this a new development.)

You’d also have to explain away something perhaps even more startling: Its picketing of the new Wal-Mart at Grants Pass.

“Their concern is that purchasing those goods is detrimental to the security and prosperity of the United States, as well as exploiting Chinese workers,” party officials said in an e-mail. “Those who participate will be holding bright yellow signs reading: ‘Boycott Wal-Mart made-in-China products’ and ‘Chinese slave so you can save’ In a play on Wal-Mart’s price roll back smiley faces, the signs feature a sad, slant-eyed face, reminding us of the misery we are causing to exploited labor in China.”

Both actions fit the party’s program, which is loosely held to be “of the right.” Perhaps Karl Rove can explain it all for us.

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Oregon

In his Bremerton Beat blog, Steven Gardner equably suggests: Look and decide for yourself.

The context: Democratic state Representative William “Ike” Eickmeyer was challenged this year by Republican Randy Neatherlin. Eickmeyer wound up winning in the Kitsap-Mason County based district with 60.9%. Near the end of the campaign, Washington State Democrats mailed a flyer with a picture of Neatherlin that looked a lot like the Republican’s official portrait photo. But not exactly alike.

Watch Gardner’s video and gauge your reaction.

Our reaction: The brows were shifted down, giving Neatherlin an almost demonic look.

The upcoming photoshopping of candidates? Don’t be surprised.

And look for something else we’ve not seen before: Analysis by way of YouTube, which Gardner did here quite effectively.

(And a hat tip here to the pointer, from David Postman’s Seattle Times blog. Which pre-empted the logical headline: “Low brow campaigning in Kitsap County?”)

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Washington