"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.
Christmas snow

Christmas snow

Not a great shock to see Christmas snow in the more elevated parts of the Northwest, but in the more populated lowlands, as around our base, snow on Christmas is unexpected.

It was unexpected today – saw no weather reports in our region predicting anything other than same-ole rain (same as almost every day for the last three weeks or so) but here it is. It isn’t much – just a skiff, and it likely won’t stick. But we can say Merry Christmas on a day that not only feels like the holiday, but looks the part too.

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Aquick note here on why a graduation slogan for Basic Patrol Academy Class #156 is chilling. It’s not organizational; rather, it raises questions about the officers being sent out to patrol. (Good catch here, by the way, to Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review.)

The slogan was “Don’t suffer from PTSD, go out and cause it,” PTSD being Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. It appeared on a list of patrol academy graduates for this year.

The problem – and the issue here should be obvious enough – doesn’t seem to lie with the academy, which didn’t develop or choose the slogan. The slogan was chosen, by vote, by the class itself: This was the graduating class’ slogan for itself.

Does that say something disconcerting about the outgoing class? Whatever happened to, “Remember – let’s be careful out there”?

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Nicole LeFavour

Nicole LeFavour

Let’s take two pieces of political information and see if there’s a way to mesh them. Warning: This will not be easy.

One is poll results released late last week by Idaho state Representative Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, partly on the subject of attitudes toward gay people and gay-related issues. (We should note here that LeFavour is Idaho’s one openly gay state legislator.) Her conclusion (this was in e-mail and not posted so far on her web site): “I think people have long assumed that a vast majority of Idahoans are anti-gay. Clearly that’s not the case. Most people know someone who is gay, as part of their family, as a friend, or from work or school. That was not true of a majority of Idahoans a decade ago. I think this has helped change attitudes and create greater understanding and respect for gay people all over the state.”

A reasonable interpretation of the numbers. Asked if “Homosexuality should be discouraged by society” the strongly agrees were 29% and somewhat agrees were 15% – 44%, less than half. Of the sample group, 20% (probably less than the percentage in the state overall) were listed as Mormon; of the self-identified Republicans 47% were in the strongly or somewhat categories. (Polling was done by Myers Research; 600 respondents statewide; no margin of error noted.)

So what do we make of the recent request by six Republican legislators for an attorney general’s opinion about a city’s health benefit policy?

That policy is the city of Moscow’s, noted here last week. The policy doesn’t refer directly to gay people but it does extend health insurance coverage (in a form fairly standard for its private insurer, Regence Blue Shield of Idaho) to “domestic partners,” which presumably would include gay couples.

That was enough to set off alarm bells for the six – Senators Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, Michael Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, and Representatives Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, Curtis Bowers, R-Caldwell, and Phil Hart, R-Athol. They pointed out that voters in 2006 passed a constitutional amendment that not only banned gay marriage (the subject of most of the attention) but also “to provide that a marriage between a man and a woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state”.

Resolution of the legal issue here (which comes to whether insurance coverage can only be extended to state-recognized domestic unions – are private corporations subject to this?) isn’t immediately obvious. What clear enough is the impetus behind the legislators’ action: A determination to swiftly quash anything remotely resembling a public acceptance of homosexuality. There was no pause, no hesitation, between the arrival of the issue in the news, and the legislators’ response.

So where do the people of the state come down on this? Did they lie to the pollster, and so quietly approve of six of their legislators doing this? Or not?

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Russell Investment

Russell Investment

While cities generally would rather keep than lose businesses, especially large highly profitable businesses that generate pretty much no civic negatives and hardly any costs, the top of today’s lead Tacoma News Tribune story sounded a bit excessive: “The City of Destiny has reached a tipping point. Whether it tips forward into greater prosperity or back into disappointment hangs on a fateful decision by Russell Investment Group.”

It’s an investment company, one that sounds not terribly different from lots of other investment firms around the country. What’s so special that Russell ought to generate that kind of lead (and equally strong-worded quotes from community people)?

Several things, as it turns out; this was a piece of the Northwest whose significance had passed us by. Russell, it seems, is not just any investment company. Founded in Tacoma 71 years ago as essentially a one-man operation (remember that this was an investment startup in the teeth of the Great Depression), it has grown. Quite a bit. It employs 2,100 people (in offices linked to Tacoma from Amsterdam, Auckland, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney, Tokyo and Toronto) and manages more than $230 billion. It is a big international player, but more than half of its people (employees have increased almost 10-fold in the last 30 years or so) and the largest chunk of its operations remain in unlikely Tacoma.

Now those central offices, spread around town inconveniently, are giving cause for Russell to reconsider its physical situation. Simply finding new quarters in Tacoma might be a simple enough answer if the company were still locally owned, but it isn’t: The most recent Russell sold it in 1998 to the Milwaukee insurance company Northwestern Mutual. And, the News Tribune reports, the company’s major leases on space in Tacoma expire in 2013.

Tacoma clearly would like to keep Russell. And maybe it will. But the immediate question to ask and issue to watch is, what will it do, how far will it go, to try to make that happen?

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Let’s pause a moment to review the sequence of events, as they have emerged, following the legal repositioning of cold medicine from last year.

Components of many cold medicines are often used in creating methamphetamine, so Oregon lawmakers decided to slap controls on them, taking them off shelves and keeping track of who buys them. To that was soon added a similar, but somewhat less sweeping, federal law. We were skeptical about how much good this would do.

On the plus side, there have been consistent reports that the number of local small-scale meth producers – the kind of places operating in houses and other small buildings – have declined considerably. Those places have been hazards, so this much is good news.

The rest of the story: Meth use has remained roughly constant, evidently not declining at all. And where they are getting the stuff? From the Oregonian (a major crusader on meth) today: “Those small-time dealers largely have been replaced, law enforcement officials say, by gangs who buy the drugs in large quantities and sell them in bulk to lower-level dealers.”

In other words, more larger-scale trafficking, more concentrated money involved, even more guns and even more violence. The state’s solution (understandable under the immediate narrow circumstances) – at least that of initiative developer Kevin Mannix and a growing number of state legislators – is to increase the allowable prison sentences for drug dealers. Hello more prisons and ever-ballooning ex-cons to come. And very little more done to actually reduce the number of meth users (although a number of efforts, from drug courts to other kinds of rehab, do show signs of promise).

Meth is a very real problem; there’s no making light of that. But we just keep doing such a wonderful job of dealing with it, you have to wonder when some new approaches will take root.

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Jim Goller

Jim Goller

The 2007 biography of former Idaho Senator Jim McClure contained a lot of references to a man probably few Idahoans – speaking generally, as opposed to the politically involved – knew much about: Jim Goller, operator of a small business until he hooked up with McClure and worked for him through his years in Congress. Such a quick description comes nowhere close to doing justice, though, or explaining why Goller was (rightly) so prominent in the story of McClure and in Idaho politics.

Goller, who died on Thursday at 81, was the political craft supporting McClure, one of the most successful Idaho politicians ever (three terms in the U.S. Senate, three in the U.S. House, three in the Idaho Senate, spanning 30 years). McClure was a skilled officeholder and a good candidate, but the political work underlying all that, getting McClure elected and keeping him in office, stemmed from Goller. The book (McClure of Idaho by William Smallwood, reviewed here in August) spelled this out pretty thoroughly, but the point works in reverse too: Writing a biography of McClure without Goller as a major player would be either dishonest or impossible, as McClure would be quick to say.

He was a nice guy and a fine conversationalist, but the point here is the effect he had on Idaho politics. Goller became an important figure in Idaho with McClure’s first campaign for Congress in 1966, and hindsight shows that to be an important campaign. With it, Goller and McClure set a pattern for Idaho Republican conservatism, a winning formula, that had not been nailed down before that, but that has come to dominate Idaho politics in the four decades since, and is overwhelmingly in political control at present. Goller, who never held elective office and just one substantial appointive one (a seat on the Northwest Power Planning Council, appointed there by Democrat Cecil Andrus), has been one of the most consequential Idaho people of the last couple of generations.

He was something else, too, something fading a bit in the political world around and without him: A tough partisan who never (and that is the right word) demonized the opposition. Which is why an Andrus would describe (in the Idaho Statesman) Goller this way: “a consummate political professional who was widely respected on both sides of the political aisle. He was tough, competent, smart and a worthy adversary and also a very dear friend of mine.”

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We regularly pick up on fundraising letters, often these days by email, and so many of them are depressingly similar: Contribute now or the world as you know it will end. Yeah, this kind of scare stuff must work, but too much of it still represents an insult to most people’s intelligence.

However. This morning we got one in a mail from the Jeff Merkley campaign (U.S. Senate, Oregon, Democratic) that reads a little differently. It was structured as a “holiday wish list,” and included a list of potential “gifts” donors could give the campaign.

Roll of stamps ($41.00) Mailings are a key way for Team Merkley to notify Oregonians about upcoming events, recruit new volunteers and inform voters about Jeff’s message for progressive change. Your gift of $41 buys us a roll of stamps so we can tell others about our campaign. . . .

Computer for new Team Merkley staff ($800) Computers are a critical component for our campaign. Our new staff will need computers to email organizers in Roseburg or develop lists for canvassers in Lincoln City. Donate $800 today to get our new staff equipped with a computer.

New Team Merkley staffer ($2300)
We’re building a movement across the state and we’re continuing to build a highly talented staff. With your $2300 contribution we can hire an organizer in Bend or a researcher in our Portland HQ.

How about that . . . making the donations practical, showing the specific results of contributing a specific amount. Presumably this approach to fundraising will continue or not depending on whether it works. But you’d think enough partisans will be happy to see this approach, and react accordingly, so that it will.

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Richard Stallings

Richard Stallings

The Idaho Democratic Party has its challenges, bigger than any one person; one wag on an Idaho Statesman comment board wrote today, “It’s not actually a party. Its kind of a get-together. If it turns into a real party, the Republicronies will have the police break it up.”

Former Representative Richard Stallings, who has been party chair for about the last three years, said today that he will resign almost immediately. (That comes only a few days after his resignation from the Pocatello city council, which he said then he was doing so he could devote more time to the party.)

As is the norm with these transitions, there’s call for people in the party to consider what to do next, to try to move toward serious competition with the Republicans in what is, at the moment, a blood-red state with a few scattered blue dots. As an provider of candidates for election, it is down: No congressional seats (out of four), no statewide offices (out of seven), nearly all its legislators confined to Boise, Pocatello and the Sun Valley area. And the party itself has not for ages been anything resembling a well-oiled machine; too many of its pieces keep flying apart.

On the other hand, dominance of square mileage isn’t especially important in politics – just ask the Republicans in Washington and Oregon who often win most of the counties and the bulk of the geography in their states, only to lose the actual elections. If Democrats in Idaho can figure out how to make inroads into suburbia the way their western counterparts have (Idaho Democrats showed some ability here in within Boise in 2006), they could become more competitive even if they never capture the hearts of Bear Lake, Fremont or Adams counties.

Do they head that way, or get a chance to? The next chair will have a central role in working out a direction.

The new chair will be elected on January 4, when the party’s central committee meets.

Early word of prospect brings up three names, all quite familiar to party people: former gubernatorial candidate (2002, 2006) Jerry Brady of Idaho Falls, former congressional candidate (1996, 1998) and Boise attorney Dan Williams, and former attorney general candidate (2002) and Hailey attorney Keith Roark. All active as candidates, none of them have been especially active within the party organization; any could plausibly be elected.

What thoughts they have for party rebuilding are less than clear at this point. But between here and the vote on the 4th, Democrats logically ought to be asking them (assuming they do in fact decide to run, or whoever else does) exactly how they plan to resurrect the Democratic brand in the Gem State. 2008 should be a favorable time for it; or about as favorable as Idaho Democrats get.

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An early indication of how the Northwest’s U.S. House seats are perceived nationally:

The national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which at the moment is well-enough funded to go after Republicans incumbents more than it has to play defense (it has $30.6 million to $2.3 million for its Republican counterpart), today released its list of 40 Republican-held target seats. Two of them are Northwestern: Washington’s 8th, held by Dave Reichert, and Idaho’s 1st, held by Bill Sali.

Money is apt to be flowing in those directions in the months ahead.

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Idaho Washington

The topic of cleanup at the Idaho National Laboratory is good for long-term burnout. While an intensive cleanup project has long been underway to the west at Hanford, a great deal of the core cleanup work remains to be done in eastern Idaho.

What’s mostly under discussion is the buried waste around the large INL grounds, much of it low-level but some of it quite hazardous. Some Superfund activity has been going on, too, but the whole process – which is becoming a little aged by now, having been launched with a high-profile state-federal agreement in 1995 – still is awaiting some general policy: What do we clean up, what do we just leave as is, and what do we do with it all?

On October 22, federal agencies (the Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency) and the state proposed options “for addressing buried waste at the DOE-Idaho Site’s Radioactive Waste Management Complex Subsurface Disposal Area. The Radioactive Waste Management Complex was established in 1952 for the buried disposal of site-generated radioactive and hazardous wastes. From 1954 through 1970, the landfill received wastes from the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado and other off-site generators.” The options ranged from no action (1) to full waste removal (5). But evidently, the weight of planning seems to be moving toward picking up just some of it. And maybe not all that much.

Here’s a longish quote from an op-ed published this week from Peter Rickards of Twin Falls, an activist for at least a couple of decades on nuclear waste, and his take of where this seems to be headed.

Do you remember the nuclear waste deal in 1995? The Lockheed nuclear businessmen teamed with the Republican politicians and ex-Gov. Cecil Andrus in the “Get the Waste Out” campaign. Colorful ads promised this nuclear deal would “say no to leaving waste over the aquifer.” They promised if we import tons of foreign spent nuclear fuel, this deal would “guarantee that the federal government must come up with the money to clean up existing Idaho National Engineering Laboratory waste for disposal outside our state.”

Well, the final buried plutonium “clean-up” plan is out for official public comment now, quietly released during the holiday season. Without a whisper from the politicians or state nuclear oversight team, the “preferred alternative” No. 4 does not come even close to removing 10 percent of the buried plutonium, which is leaking over our water supply in a flood zone.

Why is the state not demanding alternative No. 5, which removes “all” the buried plutonium? Why did the state say, “they were supporting the partial retrieval and awaiting to see the public comment”?

The final plan concludes a full clean-up is too expensive! Have you ever seen an Idaho politician refuse $8 billion in nuclear jobs? Why are the politicians refusing to demand a full clean up? There is more than one ton of dumped plutonium particles, with billions of cancer causing particles in each pound.

Do you remember the infamous Pit 9? In 1993, that was chosen as the worst plutonium pit, and the plan was to remove it all, and then get the rest. Then Lockheed’s subsidiary company that won the contract, refused to lift a shovel full. Lockheed’s subsidiary sued Lockheed to collect the money anyway. Now, this final plan cherry-picks just a very small portion of Pit 9!

The state has bragged that it won the Clinton-esque court case over the definition of “all” the buried plutonium. Removing all the plutonium waste is what we were promised in 1970. To be clear: 1) the 1995 ads promised all buried plutonium would be removed. That would be 58,000 cubic meters. 2) The court ordered that since “the state agreed to change the definition of transuranic waste” during the deal negotiations, that only 30,000 cubic meters of the buried plutonium must be removed. So, really, “all means half” according to our trusty politicians and state officials! But now, this final plan does not even come close to removing even that half, or the 30,000 cubic meters, of court-ordered buried plutonium. Not even close!

The formal comment period is about to close. But as word of some of this starts to circulate, the pressure to do something more could pick up anyway.

[NOTE Corrected to state that the comment period ends tomorrow; thanks to an altert reader for pointing out the correct date.]

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port audit

The port audit

The elections last month for the Port of Seattle commission positions seemed to center on to what degree you were a “reformer” or at least a boat-rocker. Too bad the state auditor’s report on the district didn’t come out a couple of months earlier; it might have clarified the need while voters were making up their minds. As it is, the new report (undertaken as part of the auditor’s new Initiative 900 authority) is plenty devastating. The waste and losses reach deep into the tens of millions – just for certain specific projects like the Third Runway – and possibly higher overall.

The overarching conclusions include:
• The Port lacks sufficient policies and procedures to safeguard public assets from misuse, abuse and fraud. In cases in which controls are in place, they are not always followed.
• The Port Commission has largely delegated decision-making responsibilities for construction projects to Port management and employees. In some cases,
vendors control projects and make decisions that should be made by the Port.
• Port executive management has withheld information from and sometimes has misinformed the Commission about the terms and progress of construction
These conditions are caused by: The Port Commission’s adoption of Resolution 3181, delegating some of its decision-making authority to Port administration, including some oversight of construction management. The former Chief Executive Officer’s broad interpretation of the resolution effectively distanced the Commission from information and oversight authority of capital projects. The audit found no record of the Commission reassessing or questioning whether it was meeting its responsibilities to oversee construction projects. These conditions leave the Port’s construction management vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse. For example, Port management authorized a Third Runway contract that cost $32.7 million more than the Port engineer’s original estimate. The contract violated state law, and details of the arrangement were concealed from the Commission.
In addition, a consulting agreement awarded in 1998 increased without competition from $10 million to more than $120 million and is being used to augment Port staffing, unnecessarily costing taxpayers $60.5 million.

And goes on from there.

There’s been occasional talk about bad activity at the port, an undercurrent of “things ain’t right there.” Now there’s a report to put it in perspective.

Not much room for doubt any more: The suspicions are justified.

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Of course this was going to be a lawsuit – the people in Moscow should have (and maybe they did) seen this coming. This is exactly the sort of thing the Idaho Values Alliance and its allies live for.

On Monday, the Moscow City Council passed an ordinance detailing provisions for the health insurance it provides, through Regence Blue Shield of Idaho. Among other things, it allows for coverage of household members including “domestic partners” – Regence’s language. The ordinance adds that “A City employee who files the Affidavit Of Qualifying Domestic Partnership acknowledges to Regence that the information provided in such Affidavit is for the sole purpose of determining eligibility for the related Regence Blue Shield of Idaho benefits and, therefore, is not an establishment of a ‘domestic partnership’ or of a ‘domestic legal union’ prohibited in the State of Idaho.”

Not good enough for Bryan Fischer and the Idaho Values Alliance:

This action cannot go unchallenged, and cannot be allowed to stand. If Moscow gets away with granting domestic partnerships – including same-sex partnerships – equal status with one-man, one-woman marriages, the state’s marriage amendment will become meaningless.

The IVA will immediately begin to explore ways to trigger an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office into the blatantly unconstitutional conduct of what even locals call “The People’s Republic of Moscow.”

Fischer to the Spokesman-Review: “What Moscow did was to say that co-habiting and same-sex partnerships are legally and morally equivalent to the marriage of one man and one woman, and that is very bad public policy.” Actually, Moscow’s resolution said nothing of the sort (as you can tell by reading it). But that hardly matters:

And a new battle in the culture wars is underway.

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