"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Rebuffed for a decade or so by residents determinedly opposed, Wal-Mart has finally made its way into Twin Falls, winning a key city council vote on Monday. It will be Idaho store 22.

About a couple of dozen residents, mainly from the North Pointe Ranch and Los Lagos subdivisions, still were there in opposition. Said one: “You have about worn me down. We hope your conscience will let you vote for what Wal-Mart wants because after all you need to respect the integrity of neighbors and the lovely homes that are there.”

Share on Facebook


The Northwest’s newsrooms, taken wholly, are fitfully represented in the blogosphere, but the editorial pages do seem to be moving a bit ahead.

The latest to run this route is Spokane Spokesman Review, which this month started the Matter of Opinion blog fed by members of the editorial page staff (which can include the paper’s editor and publisher). Two of them additionally have blogs of their own (D.F. Oliveria’s Huckleberries Online being a very regular stop for us).

Neither the Seattle Times nor Post Intelligencer, both of which run a number of blogs (including a good political blog by each), seems to have an editorial page blog, although the Tacoma News Tribune has one. And there’s an editor’s blog at the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The Portland Oregonian has had one too for some time now. The Salem Statesman Journal has an editor’s blog, as does the Medford Mail Tribune, but the Eugene Register Guard doesn’t.

We found interesting that the first blog (that we know of) emanating from the Boise Idaho Statesman was by the paper’s editorial page editor, Kevin Richert. (It too is a frequent stop.) Not many others so far in Idaho, though. Opinion pieces often do show up on the Idaho State Journal politics blog. There are some preliminary blogging efforts at the revamped Lewiston Tribune web site. The only public blog at the Idaho Falls Post Register has to do with its new press.

Our guess is that a couple of years from now, there will be more.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Oregon Washington

Oregon 150This has been going on for some time, but we’d not seen the web site before today: Oregon 150, the planning group for the 150’s anniversary (the sesquicentennial) of statehood. The group is already highly active; its board next meets on May 9 in Portland.

That anniversary is not for a couple of years yet, in 2009. But these large year-long activities take a while to plan, as the centennial planners in Idaho (1990) or Washington (1989) could tell you. And this one looks as if it has a broad range of activities in store.

It’s in early stages, as yet. (A blog, for example, is promised but not yet developed.) But the early postings are promising.

Share on Facebook


Washington statehouseThose critics of the legislature in Idaho, which adjourned late last month, who blasted it as do-nothing, missed a point: A legislature is there to make decisions, not necessarily to pass scads of bills. Its decisions on passing or rejecting proposals may be variously right or wrong, but turndowns aren’t necessarily bad. It depends on what they are, and where you sit.

A legislature can be judged by its overall approach, and in the cases of Idaho and Washington, that was not hard to read. The Idaho Legislature was what you might reasonably expect when dominated by Republicans; the Washington Legislature this year, similarly, was generally what you’d expect of chambers dominated by Democrats.

Among the major outcomes of the Washington Legislature this year, which sine die’d Sunday evening, were at least two major rejections, of financing for sports facilities, the NASCAR raceway in Kitsap County and a proposed new arena (sought by the Seattle Sonics basketball management) at Renton. And there were scale-backs or hold-offs (notably some of the WASL testing, which has become so contentious). Stronger regulation of payday lenders, and stronger legal protection for homeowners, both failed.

But if this was a less spectacular session than 2005, there were important items passed.

A state rainy day find was set up. Key Puget Sound cleanup measures, in development for some time, were passed. (It was a big session for environmental interests.) Tens of thousands of children are slated for health insurance they don’t now have, and a paid family leave program created. Mental health was given parity for insurance purposes. Domestic partnership and anti-discrimination laws for gays were passed. Several identity-theft bills (increasingly important these days) passed.

They’ll be back again next year, of course, before the next round of elections. But as in Idaho, the operating majority in Washington probably did not endanger its majority status by what it passed and turned down this time.

Share on Facebook


John L. O'Brien
John L. O’Brien

The Washington Legislature is adjourning today, on schedule. That will be a subject of discussion, but for many in Washington politics, it will be secondary: John L. O’Brien, who entered that body in 1939 and left it in 1993, died today in Seattle.

We never met O’Brien, but sometimes felt as if we had. We’ve spent a fair amount of time in the O’Brien Building, across the way from the Statehouse, where House legislative offices and meeting rooms are located. And one of the first books we read on Washington government was the useful Speaker of the House: The Political Career and Times of John L. O’Brien, by Daniel Jack Chasan.

O’Brien’s fingerprints are all over Washington government and policy. Inevitably: He was House speaker for four terms, and served in the legislature longer than anyone else in Washington history (and, for a time, held that record nationally, too).

More commentary available at the David Postman blog.

Share on Facebook


cigarettesThe excellent recent book Illicit by Moises Naim offers a startling overview of a big piece of the global economy little noticed (because it deliberately keeps its head down) – the trade in illegal, contraband or counterfeit goods and services. The longtime editor of Foreign Policy magazine at one point offers this description:

“Since the early 1990s, global illicit trade has embarked on a great mutation. It is the same mutation as that of international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad – or for that matter, of activists for the global good like the environmental movement or the World Social Forum. All have moved away from fixed hierarchies and toward decentralized networks; away from controlling leaders and toward multiple, losely-linked, dispersed agents and cells; away from rigid lines of control and toward constantly shifting transactions as opportunities dictate.”

A point to bear in mind, reviewing the announcement last week of a settlement in the great Northwest cigarette smuggling case, now, evidently, mostly settled in advance of trial.

It was a large case, brought in 2003 and worked steadily since in the old-fashioned way, getting participants to roll over on others. If you think cigarettes are a minor deal as crime goes, ask yourself how many crimes would cost taxpayers (in this case in Washington state) as much as $56 million in tax revenue, which federal officials estimate was the case here.

We’d have been highly interested to see all the details a trial might have unearthed, but we’ll settle for the moment for the reports in the plea agreement papers. (The Spokesman-Review has posted three of them on its web site.)

The conspiracy was pegged on two points of cigarette tax law: Buyers of cigarettes sold on Indian reservations aren’t assessed state taxes; and, Washington has some of the the highest cigarette taxes in the country. If you’re sitting on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation at Plummer, Idaho, a few miles from the border, opportunity could seem to be yodeling at you.

The plea deal said that “the enterprise engaged in, and its activities affected, interstate commerce. The defendant Louie Mahoney was a central conduit of virtually every aspect of the enterprise’s unlawful activities. Louie Mahoney ran a multi-million dollar a year contraband cigarette trafficking organization headquartered in Plummer, Idaho.” The arrangement was that his partners would load trucks with cartons of cigarettes and haul them to Indian reservations around Washington state, not reporting them (of course) to Washington state officials, and bypassing the tax.

It seems to have been a criminal organization on the old model – fixed places of business, a specific hierarchy and leadership, an established pattern of operations. That probably is part of what allow federal Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives agents to effectively nail it.

The temptation to make illegal profit off the variances in tax rates, however, isn’t going away. If Oregon increases its cigarette taxes to roughly match Washington’s, as it may, the incentives for the regional illicit trade may grow. Which means the federal agents are likely to be busy again, in due course, tracking down Mahoney’s successors. The catch is that, if Naim’s analysis of the global illicit trade is right and if the patterns descend to localities, the next cigarette enterprise may be more diffuse, more ad hoc, less structured.

Tougher to catch.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Washington

courtroomWe know that the constitution says we all have a right to not be required to incriminate ourselves: “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” In some cases, the meaning of that right, and the line-in-sand it draws, are evident enough. In other cases, not so much.

Consider the appeal (formally, a request for writ of certiorari) of the Idaho Attorney General’s office, filed Friday, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from a decision by the Idaho Supreme Court. Here’s the executive summary:

After his conviction and sentence for rape, Krispen Estrada filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Idaho district court, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel in sentencing. The district court determined that Estrada’s counsel in the criminal case had provided deficient performance by failing to advise Estrada about his privilege against self-incrimination in regard to a court-ordered psychosexual evaluation. The court denied the claim, however, reasoning that Estrada was not prejudiced because he would have received the same sentence because the sentencing court could have properly drawn adverse inferences at sentencing, such as lack of remorse, non-amenability to treatment, and risk to the community, if Estrada had refused to participate in the evaluation. The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed the district court’s finding of lack of prejudice, implicitly rejecting the district court’s determination that the sentencing court may properly draw adverse inferences from silence at sentencing, and holding prejudice was shown because the evaluation “played a role” in sentencing. The question presented is:

Other than in finding the facts and circumstances of the offense, may a sentencing court draw adverse inferences from a defendant’s refusal to cooperate in a pre- sentencing evaluation?

Estrada’s offense is certainly heinous, “beating, choking and raping his estranged wife in front of their children,” then holding off police in a seven-hour armed confrontation. But the question of self-incrimination – in this case, allowing an effective inference of guilt from a decision not to speak – is a lot broader than one case.

In Estrada’s case, he was convicted of the crime – through a plea deal – before the issue of psychosexual testing came up. His guilt or innocence was not at issue; the testing was used to help the judge determine whether he would continue to threaten violence to society. The testing indicated that he did, and the judge sentenced accordingly. A lawyer for Estrada said that the attorney previously handling the case should have fought the testing, on grounds that the convict was effectively testifying against himself, if not for purposes of guilt then for purposes of sentencing, which also matters.

In other words: Can your insistence on your rights be held against you?

There are other cases where we do allow something of the sort. If you’re stopped while driving and suspected of driving under the influence, and refuse to take certain tests, your license can be taken away. It’s not an exact analogy, since driving is a licensed and limited activity, not a general right, but something of the point remains similar.

There’s also the position of a judge who has to decide what level of danger a convicted person may pose to society. Should we say that a judge shouldn’t consider all relevant factors in trying to make the best decision – but only some of them?

The whole area is an unclear piece of the law. As the AG’s appeal notes, “The Lower Courts Are Divided Between Those Jurisdictions That Allow No Adverse Inferences At Sentencing, Those That Allow Adverse Inferences At Sentencing Except To Show The Facts Of The Underlying Crime, And Those That Pro-
hibit Adverse Inferences That Increase A Sentence But Allow Adverse Inferences In Denying A Decrease Of The Sentence.”

There’s no perfect answer. This is one of those cases where various rights and responsibilities do seem to come into collision. It ought to be a useful piece of work for the high court to undertake.

Share on Facebook


Micron TechnologyAthink piece in the current Business Week magazine points out that corporate spending is continuing to grow, but that “just increasingly outside the U.S. A BusinessWeek analysis of financial reports from more than 1,000 large and midsize U.S.-based companies shows that global capital expenditures in the fourth quarter of 2006 were actually up 18.1% over the previous year, a number that includes nonresidential construction as well as info-tech equipment and machinery. The comparable growth for domestic business investment, which is all the government reports each quarter: only 8.9%, without adjusting for inflation.”

Which would be notable but not Northwest-oriented except that one of the handful of corporations the article highlights is Boise-based Micron Technology, on which a large chunk of the Boise-area economy is reliant. And whose CEO, Steve Appleton, is quoted as saying, “I don’t have to hire one more person in the U.S. I don’t have to invest one more dollar here – and we’ll be just fine.”

Back at Boise, where two years ago talk of the town was of a prospective new billion-dollar Micron production operation (not yet materialized), the Idaho Statesman has asked Micron for some further explanation of its growth plans. No response as yet, the paper reports.

Share on Facebook


Peter DeFazio
Peter DeFazio

We can’t say we were surprised with word this morning that Representative Peter DeFazio shut the door – for the last time, apparently – on calls for him to run next year against Republican Senator Gordon Smith.

The Oregonian did quote him as saying, “This was not an easy decision. You don’t get a poll that shows you’re ahead of an incumbent senator and generous offers of support from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and just blow it off. It was a long and serious deliberation on my part.”

So – next?

Democratic activist Steve Novick, the wonkish and sharp-tongued and witty (“hard left hook” is a neat line) political activist from Portland, has already announced; but as a first-time candidate (albeit plenty of experience in political circles) a number of Democrats are still looking for their nominee.

Earl Blumenauer
Earl Blumenauer

Attention turns next to Representative Earl Blumenauer, who represents the central Portland district and may be the most liberal member of the Oregon delegation. Blumenauer has made some moves in recent years toward statewide visibility (buying TV time in places like Bend, for example), and he’s a solid and experienced campaigner – his years in electoral politics probably extend deeper than anyone now active as a candidate on the state or federal level. He would be a strong contender, and unlike DeFazio, he does not seem to have turned down the idea of a Senate (though he has apparently deferred to a DeFazio candidacy should it happen).

So, on the Senate front, watch Blumenauer closely in the next couple of weeks. He seems to be next at bat, and his self-imposed bar to deciding on the race is now removed.

Share on Facebook


Caldwell’s Curtis Bowers will be the newest Idaho legislator, replacing Representative Robert Ring, who resigned for health reasons.

In choosing Bowers, Governor Butch Otter chose the third-ranked choice of the western Canyon County legislative committee which nominated him along with former state Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi and Caldwell attorney Jim Rice. But both of the others had issues. Takasugi was ousted by Otter on his arrival in the governor’s office; whatever all his reasons were, a Representative Takasugi probably would have been an uncomfortable fit. And Rice had lost a county commission primary.

Bowers has his own back involvement, albeit tangential. In 2006 he announced he was running against Ring, often described as one of the more moderate House members, from the right. Bowers, who owned but by 2005 sold the Boise and Nampa Mona Lisa Fondue restaurants, withdrew from the Ring race early on. Still, indications are that the Ring-Bowers transition is another step n the rightward tilt of the Idaho House.

Share on Facebook


From the sports arena construction watchdog blog Field of Schemes by Joanna Cagan and Neil deMause, posted a few days ago:

According to The Oklahoman newspaper, Seattle Sonics owner and Oklahoma City native Clay Bennett declared recently that OKC’s Ford Center “is fine for the immediate future, but the city eventually will need a new building.” The Ford Center will turn five years old this June.

A few years back – while the Ford Center was still under construction, in fact – economist Rod Fort told me, “I don’t see anything wrong, from an owner’s perspective, with the idea of a new stadium every year.” At the time, I thought he was joking, but now…

Quoth a commenter: “Maybe they’re thinking in dog years?”

Share on Facebook


John Edwards
John Edwards

Everything in a presidential campaign has a strategic component, most certainly including where you do things. which gives some interest to the chocie by the John Edwards campaign of Seattle for its union hall presentation. [Hat tip: The Postman blog.]

The May 1 Edwards appearance, the King County Labor Council said, “is one of several candidate forums organized for an intensive six-month effort to engage union members and their families in the AFL-CIO’s presidential endorsement decision-making process. The AFL-CIO Executive Council voted to ask each of its 54 national unions to make no endorsement until the AFL-CIO General Board decides, following the six-month period of member consultation, whether or not to endorse a candidate prior to the primaries.”

Candidates (and we are talking Democrats here) were allowed to choose among locations. Illinois Senator Barack Obama chose Trenton, New Jersey (May 14), New York Senator Hillary Clinton chose Detroit (May 19), New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson opted for Phoenix (June 4), and so on. The choices apparently were not random.

So what might be the thinking? Is there a reason a Seattle labor venue might be more attractive to Edwards? One comes to mind. Washington so far (in contrast to Oregon) seems to have had more Clinton and Obama than Edwards activity. Might this be an attempt at lunching a catchup in the Evergreen State?

Share on Facebook