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Posts published in “Day: June 10, 2008”

Speculation curb

In a package of stories today on rising gas prices, the Oregonian included a McClatchy piece (bylined Kevin G. Hall) listing three moves regulators could take (endorsed to date, it notes, not by Bush, McCain or Obama) that could choke off some of the price increases. One is strengthening the dollar, which could have a wide range of other effects as well. A second is dipping into the strategic oil reserve, which probably makes sense but has some issues too.

The third seems a no-brainer: "Perhaps the quickest action, the experts said, would be ordering curbs on financial speculation. Financial industry heavyweights have acknowledged before Congress that such speculation is driving oil prices higher. Pension funds, endowments and other big institutional investors are pumping big money into index funds linked to commodities, including oil, driving up demand - and prices." Such restrictions could be enacted by a simple presidential order, or congressional action.

We've been watching for a while for a candidate for federal office, anywhere, to address this - it would seem one of the easiest and most useful steps available in the short term. Today, we ran across the first we've seen (if you've seen others, let us know), from Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley.

In a release on gas price policy, he offered support for the Consumer-First Energy Act (S. 3044) which among other things, he wrote, will "Stop Wall Street speculation by preventing U.S. contracts to be traded on foreign exchanges and closing the "Enron Loophole," which allows energy commodities to be traded on markets exempt from any federal, state, or local oversight. The Farm Bill included language that was intended to close the Enron Loophole, but the CFTC has said that it will not treat crude oil contracts as covered by the amendment."

This would seem an obvious political hammer. And to useful purpose, too.

The coming of Blackwater



Idahoans are famously suspicious of government power - talk about black helicopters was big stuff a decade ago, even by way of a member of Congress. By those standards, this latest ought to set the bells and whistles on full alert. Quoth the Coeur d'Alene Press: "Blackwater Worldwide, a private security company, wants to build a regional law enforcement training center in North Idaho. The North Carolina-based company is negotiating a contract with the Idaho Peace Officer Standards & Training Academy to provide space and instruction to law enforcement personnel."

Ah, yes, just the thing to shed Idaho of its hard-right militia reputation.

If you don't know about Blackwater, you should: " self-described private military company founded in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark. It has alternatively been referred to as a security contractor or a mercenary organization by numerous reports in the international media." There's an excellent recent book on the company, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill, which covers the detail, including its immense involvement in Iraq. And many of the controversies surrounding it, there and elsewhere.

Trish Christy, a spokesman at POST, said the agreement with Blackwater is scheduled for discussion at the POST Council meeting Thursday morning, though it still is in relatively early stages. She pointed out that it would involve Blackwater building facilities that would be leased by Idaho peace officer training - it would be a north Idaho version of the training center at Meridian - and that Blackwater people would not be doing the training.

Okay. But why would Blackwater be building a facility far from its North Carolina haunts solely for someone else (there may be others in addition to POST) to lease out? And if that were cost effective as such, why wouldn't POST just build its own? The only sensible answer is that Blackwater has other plans for north Idaho. Of some sort.

(Writing about this agreement, a pro-Blackwater site offers this quote in support: "They're the Cadillac of training services," said J. Adler, national executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. "You've got the best of the best teaching." But according to POST, they won't be doing any teaching.)

We're told by an e-mail that a petition effort, opposing the Blackwater deal, is underway in the Panhandle: "When the public heard that Idaho POST was possibly entering into agreement to be a tenant in a Blackwater facility, they became alarmed. Petitions are being signed by citizens that don’t want Idaho POST to enter into agreement with Blackwater."

Keep watch on this.

OR: Frohnmayer out

John Frohnmayer

John Frohnmayer

There is this: The Oregon Senate race just got a smidge simpler, with Independent (large I, as in the party) John Frohnmayer dropping out today. But we're doubtful the overall field, led by Republican incumbent Senator Gordon Smith and Democratic nominee Jeff Merkley, has changed greatly as a result. (Note that his campaign website doesn't reflect the dropout, though it has been widely reported.) The Associated Press quotes him as saying "he has had a tough time rounding up campaign money and grass-roots support."

Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian suggests there could be some genuine fallout: "While Frohnmayer is a former Republican from a well-known GOP family, he's been running a candidacy that carries more appeal to the political left. He made a bit of a splash early in his race last year when he urged Congress to move forward with impeaching President Bush. In that sense, he looked more like a candidate who would compete with Merkley for votes than with Smith. One poll from last year even pegged Frohnmayer's support at 14 percent, which if true could have made him a real factor."

Talk to Frohnmayer and you'll find his stances do generally match more closely (at least in the hotter issues of this year) with the Democratic than the Republican side, supporting Mapes' point. At the same time, we're skeptical he would have drawn (in practice) more than a small percentage of the vote - far less than the 14% one poll indicated. And Smith has been trying to position himself as less and less conservative, aiming to pull in as many Republican-leaning centrist votes as possible. Our guess is that Frohnmayer, in or out, probably represented close to a wash.

It does, however, simplify the race - into a more focused Democratic/Republican contest. And that may not be so good for Smith in this year.