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Posts published in “Day: August 17, 2007”

Middle ground

We haven't much gotten into the Gordon Smith/Dick Cheney/Klamath fish killoff story since it first broke, in part because the details have been covered thoroughly elsewhere. But a story this morning in the Bend Bulletin does suggest a thought about the way Oregon Senator Smith is handling the matter, a pattern to look for in the year-plus to come.

To oversimplify, the issue concerns the low water flows in the Klamath River in southwestern Oregon and northern California, not enough water for both the farmers in the area and the fish in the river. Federal action - directed, we now know, by Vice President Cheney, partly on behalf of Smith (and with his approval) while Smith was up for re-election in 2002 - led to water delivery to the farmers. Some months later, an estimated 77,000 salmon in the Klamath died - the largest single die-off of fish ever recorded in the western United States. Cheney's role in this has become the subject of a U.S. House committee inquiry.

Smith has defended the federal action, which was generally popular around the Klamath area but less so in urban areas - many found the fish die-off troubling at least. The Eugene Register Guard reported that "Smith, who pushed the Bush administration to help get water for farmers' potato crops and alfalfa fields, said he recalled that the salmon 'died of some gill disease, which is not uncommon and happens periodically.'" That (and his statement that the fish died a year and a half after the water shutdown, as opposed to the correct six months) has led to at least a limited firestorm. Blogs on the left have taken after Smith on these points, but so did the Register Guard, which editorialized: "The problem with Sen. Gordon Smith's defense of the Bush administration's 2002 decision to divert Klamath Lake water for irrigation isn't that the Oregon Republican is wobbly on the facts. It's that he's willing to bend and selectively omit the facts to justify ideologically driven political positions."

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Money, public or private

dark cell On matters financial, basics are basics, and we get into trouble - as in our current housing market - when we talk ourselves into the idea that fiscal wizardry can solve our problems. Consider this a cautionary note as state leaders in Idaho, one of the nation's top lock-em-up prison states, confronts the question of cost.

Prison costs are rising in Idaho (as they are most everywhere, to some extent) and the fiscal conservatives in Idaho government aren't pleased at the idea of spending the money. A Spokane Spokesman-Review article on the subject, noting that hundreds of Idaho prisoners already are locked up out of state and possibly 5,500 more beds will be needed in the next decade, outlines the strategy being developed by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter: Outsource it. It quotes Corrections Director Bent Reinke as saying, "There’s a desire by both the board of correction and the governor’s office to have Idaho’s next prison be privatized.” (The idea would be that, as in Texas, it would hold out of state as well as in-state prisoners.)

Otter: “It’s really a question of capital . . . We just simply, without absolutely busting the budget, we can’t make that kind of capital available as we need it.” Private enterprise, he said, “can go out in the marketplace and kind of work their magic.”

The red flag should be the phrase "work their magic," because in the end there's no magic to be worked.

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