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Posts published in June 2007

A ruse too far

We didn't specially disagree with the Washington Supreme Court decision a month ago in State v. Athan (May 10), when the court upheld a conviction developed from police work that involved a ruse. In that case, police tricked a man into licking an envelope shut and sending it to them, thereby providing the DNA sample they needed to nail him in a child abuse case.

The decision felt right on balance, but it carried some seeds of uneasiness within. One reason had to do with the allowed looseness in obtaining DNA; this is likely to be a troubling area of the law for some time. The other was the fact of the ruse the police used in obtaining it. Police use deception of one sort or another from time to time in crime investigation; journalists sometimes do too, and so do others. On occasion it's warranted, and the Washington court seemed to want to make clear that the use of deception in and of itself isn't necessarily improper.

And we can go along with that. But what would the court say about a recent case from just south of the Columbia River - this (as reported in the Wired blog Threat Level)?

On December 18, 2004, Ascension Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend were stopped at a traffic light near La Pine Oregon, and when the light turned green, the car in front of them stalled. Alverez-Tejeda stopped in time but a pickup truck behind him rear-ended him. When he got out to look at his bumper, the police showed up and arrested the truck driver for drinking and driving. The cops then convinced Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend to go to a nearby parking lot, ordered them out of their car and into in the back of the cop car for 'processing.' While they were in the cruiser, a person jumped in their car and took off. The cops ordered the pair out and set off in full pursuit up the road. A few minutes later, the stolen car comes flying back down the road with the police cruiser in pursuit. The pursuing officer returns alone with the woman's purse, telling the duo that the carjacker thrown it out the car window and escaped. The woman is so upset she hurls and the police put the distraught couple up in a motel.

But it was all a set up worthy of David Mamet. DEA agents were tracking a drug gang and had bought drugs out of the car months earlier, though not when Alverez-Tejeda was there. Using wiretaps and surveillance, the DEA learned that Alverez-Tejeda was using the leader's car to transport illicit drugs. The agents then decided to stage something, perhaps even a carjacking, in order to seize the drugs without tipping off the conspirators. They never consulted a judge, but every person in the story, other than Alverez-Tejeda and his girlfriend, was a cop of some sort.

Let's sum up. Here's what Daily Kos drew out: "They not only damaged the car, they quite literally stole it and the couple's personal effects - all without a warrant. When they did go to get a warrant, they lied to the judge about the circumstances. In the meantime, they held the couple essentially hostage without even letting them know they were under investigation."

Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said all this was legal.

And your civil rights just shrank, again . . .

Incumbent trouble?

We'd kind of taken notice about the sometimes unconventional direction local elections in Seattle seem to be taking, but it didn't hit home under we saw this by Joel Connelly in the Seattle P-I political blog:

"The political arm of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce has stiff-armed incumbents, and embraced insurgents, in this year's races for Seattle port commissioner and the Seattle School Board. In endorsements made final Friday morning, the Alki Foundation spurned both a critic and a defender of the controversial, just-concluded tenure of port CEO Mic Dinsmore."

More exploration is needed on this.

Falling apart

Last Sunday we posted on the suggestions of scandal, originating in several reports in the Portland Oregonian, swirling around Senator Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose. We suggested that while she did err (as she acknowledged) in failing to report to the state a personal real estate transaction, that allegations beyond that - mainly indicating she was finagling self-dealing legislation - seemed unfounded.

We didn't pursue it much beyond that original post, but others have, and have found a series of holes in the allegations from the Oregonian and other sources.

Especially we'd note the spadework done out at Loaded Orygun, following up on our indications and going beyond. (LO had a kind reference back here: ". . . start by referencing Randy Stapilus at Ridenbaugh Press, who wrote the article that got us thinking there may be more than met the eye at first.") After checking out the context of the story, LO wrote, "Let's say that a couple of legs propping up the 'Johnson as corrupt greedhead' meme have developed some termites." LO tracked down records showing that a key part of Johnson's story - that legislation wasn't needed to provide a key benefit to a land purchase - held up.

The next day LO followed up again ("The O piece on Betsy Johnson continues to unravel") saying that one implication easily drawn from an early Oregonian story on the case, that Johnson only acknowledged her land transaction after the paper called her on it, was not true. And today, still in more, in "More holes in reporting on Betsy Johnson."

The Oregonian hasn't followed up for a number of days. Will there be a response?

Two-buck tolls

Highway 520 bridge

Highway 520 bridge/Wikipedia

Nobody is going to like new tolls on a bridge they've driven for years without cost (except in time from the so-common traffic slowdowns). On the other hand, the toll system on the Narrows Bridge at Tacoma-Gig Harbor seems, from early indications, to be working.

So the key to a Highway 520 (that is, the floating bridge) toll may simply be keeping the rate low enough to be acceptable. At $2 a trip, an option now under discussion, the toll may be low enough that regular riders may not bother to circumvent it, especially if it leads to a better ride. And 520 can be a nasty parking lot (we've been there).

Two bucks just sounds inexpensive. (For some reason, "two buck Chuck" wine pops to mind . . . )

You can’t say there’s no interest

True, the numbers of appointive applicants for elective-type jobs are almost always higher than the number of candidates for election. But this still sounds like a good indicator of useful interest:

There are 102 applicants for the give positions on the new College of Western Idaho governing board (to be appointed first, later elected). Of those, 82 come from Ada County, 20 from Canyon (which is about right, since Ada passed the ballot issue and Canyon didn't.)

Some of the names that jumped out at us (not necessarily as the most likely appointees or the best ones, but just from past high visibility) include Milt Erhart, who has run for Senate and governor; Guy Hurlbutt prominent attorney; Charles McDevitt, former Idaho Supreme Court justice; Dean Sorensen, former legislator and candidate for lieutenant governor; Karl Tueller, deputy director at the state Department of Commerce and Labor; James Barnes, Nampa, former Idaho Press-Tribune publisher; Scott McDonald, Nampa, Nampa-Middleton Family Literacy Event Start project president.

The state Board of Education will have plenty of options, a number of them useful.

Water down

This really isn't a shock or surprise. It seems the logical end conclusion: The shutdown of water used by junior water users when senior users weren't getting their flow. That's the way the western appropriation system of water rights works.

You can pick up the undercurrent of dread, from the attorneys (even those seeking the shutdowns) and from the 5th District judge, John Melanson, who issued the order. Nobody wanted the result. But the water isn't there, and the law is the law. A temporary restraining order blocking the shutdowns - lasting only until the judge was able to review the case - was removed on Wednesday. Next step is a meeting with Dave Tuthill, the director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, who ordered the curtailment. (There too, he had scant choice.)

The Twin Falls Times News has posted video of the arguments in court yesterday on the water curtailment case, alongside an unusually blunt story about the impacts: "even if a hearing is scheduled, it could take between two and seven weeks to complete. That's a long time for farmers, most of whom have already planted their fields. Those irrigators will now have to wait even longer to find out if their crops will be harvested come fall or die without water in the Idaho sun. . . . In their arguments, pumpers said they'll lose tens of millions of dollars if the state shuts down their wells. But trout farmers say they're losing money every day without access to water owed to them by pumpers."

No easy answers. Looks like a long summer.

Spotted Owl revision

Northern Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl/U.S. Fish & Wildlife

There's been only a little attention paid - in scattered articles here and there - so we thought we'd throw in another mention of the new U.S. Fish & Wildlife proposal on that ever-contentious bird, the Northern Spotted Owl.

The 2007 Draft Recovery Plan has potential to become as contentious as the bird, and certainly has attracted heat form the owl's defenders. And there's some pressure on. While a number of species have increased in numbers since designation as endangered, the spotted owl isn't one of them - it's numbers have gone down since its 1990 designation.

Under the latest review, the Roseburg News-Review reports, "U.S. Fish and Wildlife identifies barred owls as the spotted owl's greatest threat to habitat. Falling in line on the list of threats are timber harvests -- more markedly of the past -- and wildfire. But some aren't convinced the spotted owls' avian cousin is the real culprit."

And the American Bird Conservancy (in a widely distributed email) argues that "The new alternative, imposed by administration political appointees with no expertise in Spotted Owl management including Julie MacDonald requires no fixed habitat protection. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would have discretion to determine if any habitat protection is necessary. This alternative would likely lead to the elimination of the old growth reserves created under the Northwest Forest Plan because they would no longer be deemed necessary for owl recovery."

May be time for another round of discussion; the comment period ends June 25. The report is available online.

A McCain lunch, sans McCain

An invitation

An invitation

Early word about the emerging Fred Thompson presidential campaign includes mentions that the candidate hopes to limit his personal appearances around the country, not spent a lot of overnight time away from home, and do a lot of the work on line or otherwise remotely. Flesh pressing, evidently, would be de minimus.

Veteran politics watchers such as Charlie Cook figure this approach won't work - "What a truly ridiculous notion," in Cook's phrase - because that personal contact still is critical. And we tend to agree.

So we'll be curious to see what happens on June 15, when another presidential aspirant, Arizona Senator John McCain, holds a $250 a plate fundraiser at Boise, at the newly renamed Hotel 43 (till recently the Statehouse Inn); the host committee has committed to a $10,000 donation.

The lunch will have a notable guest, in Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (he must be one of the few notable Republicans in his state not supporting Mitt Romney). And the candidate's wife, Cindy McCain, will be there.

Missing from the invitation list? Any prominent Republicans from, you know, Idaho. (You have to figure they tried; so far, we haven't heard of an Idaho McCain organization.) And, uh, the candidate himself.

So how well does the fundraiser do under these circumstances? Might e worth watching. Might be worth the Thompson campaign's watch, too.

(Hat tip to the correspondent who forwarded the invitation.)

WA wifi

As ubiquitous as wi-fi access is becoming - we're almost getting to the point of expecting it everywhere - we were still jut a bit awed by the extent of its reach as noted in today's Seattle Times.

We've thought for some time that wi-fi could be one of the best marketing devices around for mass transit systems, and the article noted, "Even Metro Transit offers free Wi-Fi on 48 buses and has plans to expand it to some van pools."

And, "One of the most ambitious projects is just beginning in Pierce County, where 14 cities have teamed up with CenturyTel to build and operate a countywide network."