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Posts published in December 2008

Decline at KVI

Jeff Kropf

KVI in Seattle

There's a good argument that for an extended stretch in the 90s and maybe into this decade, the single most influential radio station in the Northwest was KVI-AM, a place that not only had some of Washington's best-known talkers (along with nationals like Rush, of course) but also turned into an activist organization, backing such things as a string of conservative ballot issues. It had political impact.

That seems less so now, and there's an insightful post on why at the Seattle blog BlatherWatch.

Talker Kirby Wilbur is about the last local voice left, and BW suggests that may be over when Wilbur's contract is up next year. Toss all this in the mix when you evaluation the political dynamic in Puget Sound.

Umpqua’s money trail

At least one of the Northwest 10 banks what have gotten federal bailout money has explained what was done with it. And as far as it goes, the explanation sounds reasonable - or at least, in line with what we were all told about the situation originally.

Umpqua Bank at Portland took in $214 million in federal money, second-most among the Northwest banks. The Oregonian reports today that Umpqua "is a healthy, profitable bank. When Umpqua cut the deal with the feds in October, it didn't need money to survive, Umpqua CEO Ray Davis said at the time."

Okay: So what was the point of our giving the money to Umpqua? "Ron Farnsworth, Umpqua executive vice president, said Monday that the Treasury money has enabled the bank to continue making loans. Umpqua originated about $400 million in new loans in the current quarter, about the same as it did in its second and third quarters."

Presumably, the amount would have been less without the infusion, another tap on the economic brake.

The jury still seems out on whether this is doing much good, and at least one economist the Oregonian quotes is highly doubtful. (Members of Congress, having already opened the treasury to these guys, finally, belatedly, seem to be asking some of these questions too.) But at least one bank is providing some explanation for where all those taxpayer bucks are going, and at some some justification for them.

The melt is on

One of the best Christmas presents some of us west of the Cascades could get is a Christmas that's a little less white. Looks now like we're getting it.
We woke up this morning to more - yet more - snowfall. After the last 10 days or so, that was a depressing prospect. But somewhere during a walk around town, the light precip turned to rain, and stayed there.

Day long, the melt has escalated. Out here - west of Portland - a lot of roads, yards and roofs still are white-covered, but the depth is diminished, and the number of non-white surfaces is growing.

Looking forward to a Christmas with passable roads . . .

Books for reading, 08 edition

Some of the reads enjoyed here over the last year, and recommended to you, from Ridenbaugh Press. Let us know what you think - and what else we should be reading . . .


Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee (Bloomsbury, 2007). The counter-intuitive title pretty much says it. Yes, the lack of health insurance is an enormous problem; the lack of affordable health care generally is even bigger. But a key part of the problem has to do with some of the reasons that hideously expensive system is so expensive, and it includes a lot of treatment that shouldn't be. This is a subject this space will return to in the months ahead, and health care reform is highly likely to be a major theme of the months ahead; and this investigative book is excellent reading meantime about what should be an important part of all that. A whole lot of what is done in the name of our health isn't making us healthier, and we nationally need to come to grips with that. Soon.


The Appeal by John Grisham (Delta, 2008). It's one of his legal potboilers (which tend to be not quite as well written as his off-track books), but few books this year hit harder politically. Few overt polemics made the case so well; this is a classic case of using fictional characters to lay out a story that has the full ring of truth, the kind of function that has a long (even honored) history. It may be a thriller, but it's also one of the best political books of the year, and you need look nowhere further than the recent history of the contests for the Washington Supreme Court to see why. Grisham here is angry - he lets no one off the hook, most especially voters who too often don't know enough about what they're doing.


Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Vintage, 1995). Yes, this novel has been around for years, and yes, it's already gotten lots of kudos. But we just got around to it this year, and glad for it. The story is well told, the characters thoughtfully deepened and rounded, but what sticks most are the atmosphere and the feelings. Set in the Northwest (mostly in the San Juan islands), it has a lot to say about this region, without explicitly going there - it has a well-drawn background, but that's not its core subject. Its take on community relations, and how even the islands among our communities are globally linked, are both timeless and timely. This can be one of those books that changes the way you look at the world, and (maybe more than that) your neighbors.


Have a Nice Doomsday by Nicholas Guyatt (Harper Perennial, 2007). The back cover notes: "50 million Americans have come to believe that the apocalypse will take place in their lifetime." The background of that, and the myriad implications how this country is run, unspool in this book, written with a light touch - it isn't the slash job you might expect. There's humor scattered throughout, and Guyatt's tone is a little bemused (he's no true believer, just a student of those who are), but he plays fair. This book is about a whole large part of the country the traditional mass media rarely treat, and rarely know how. They (and the blogosphere, for that matter) could take a few lessons from Guyatt's approach.


Lincoln, President-Elect by Harold Holzer (Simon & Schuster, 2008). The subtitle is, "Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-61," and that's what it covers - and argues about. There's been a strain of historical thought, starting contemporaneous with Lincoln, that he mishandled, dealt too loosely, with the secession crisis during the months between his election and inauguration. This book, by a writer of numerous Civil War era histories and researched to intricate detail, makes an excellent case that Lincoln played the few cards available to him far better than most people thought, or still do think. This book, surprisingly timely, might be therapeutic for the currently hyperventilating among us.


The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman (WW Norton, 2008). This came out some months before Krugman won the Nobel, and his subject is mostly politics, not economics, though Krugman expertly weaves the two of them, and makes the (academic, without getting abstruse or pedantic) case for how economic and politics have had a direct effect on each other. You needn't agree with everything he says to find the book useful. More than any other of the year (that we've read), this one outlines the world view and the case for the governing just now coming into power, his early 2008 squabbles with Barack Obama notwithstanding. You'll pick up some useful history, some useful economics, a statistics lesson or two, and more along the way.


Obama: From Promise to Power by David Mendell (Amistad, 2007). The two self-penned Obama books are worth the read (for different reasons), but if you want an informed outsider's take on the man, this is a good option. Mendell was a Chicago Tribune reporter from 1998 to 2004, and covered Obama closely during most of that time; he's familiar with the background, and he knew the man pre-fame. The book dishes little real dirt, although it amply covered almost everything that came out this year about Jeremiah Wright and other Chicago hot spots - none of those came as a surprise to anyone who read this early in the year. But it feels well grounded. There's a little too much self-referential press material in it, and the book ends just before the '08 presidential really kicked in. But this one may stand for a while as a solid backgrounder on the next president.


1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies by David Pietrusza (Union Square Press, 2008). This doesn't seem quite like the definitive take on the subject that it might have been, that Theodore White's once seemed to be. But it covers such a mass of detail, full of so many neatly-observed pieces, that it belongs in the upper ranks of campaign books. Reading it this fall, as the presidential campaign hit its mid stages, it seemed especially appropos - the linkages kept popping up. Good history almost always repays reading; you never know where the lessons will reapply.

A CEO’s view

Walt Minnick

Walt Minnick

One of the three new members of Congress from the Northwest has a credential pertinent at a moment when the big issue in Congress is bailing out the three big Detroit auto makers: He is a CEO, a guy who actually has run (and successfully) large businesses. Maybe there should be no surprise he's against the bailout.

So are a number of other members of the Northwest delegation. But the commentary just out from soon-to-be Idaho Representative Walt Minnick makes the anti-bailout case, and a proposal for what should be done instead, about as well and clearly as it's been made.

The bottom line: These guys need to do better business, and get just enough help - which shouldn't be direct assistance - to do that. it sounds like a better idea than the one we've seen from Washington, which (as he points out) is aimed only at helping the companies "limp along" for another month or two. (more…)

Soot spots

The Environmental Protection Agency has come out with its list of the soot places in America - those counties or parts of counties where the population of airborne particles is too high. This means "fine particles, which are unhealthy to breathe and have been associated with premature mortality and other serious health effects. Fine particles are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller and are also referred to as PM2.5." Often, albeit not always, soot.

The first peculiarity that hits you is the unlikeliness of some of these places. Franklin County, Idaho? That's a lightly populated place, and no heavy industry to be found (nearby Caribou County, comparable in size, has more of that.) Klamath County? It's not much more more heavily populated, and out there on the windswept - or so it's seemed every time we've been there - countryside.

In Lane County, the core population center of Eugene-Springfield is tucked in a valley, and the area nearby is known for field burning. But Tacoma to the north? Heavy population, but what makes it more particulate-friendly than King County to the north?

The EPA's explanations are, at least, on line. (more…)

Snow, and snow, and snow

buried car

Car status in western Oregon/Stapilus

There's the news report that, in order to get to a game at Denver, the Portland Trailblazers had to head south to Eugene to fly out - as a practical matter, PDX is largely in a state of closure. As is a whole lot else.

There's a long list of closures of various sorts. North of Salem or so, everyone is best advised to go nowhere if at all possible. (Not many miles south of Salem, the temperature gets just warm enough to turn everything to rain.) Snow emergencies have been declared in Portland and a bunch of nearby locales. Amtrak has had delays and problems.

The two vehicles at Ridenbaugh Press are snowed in, and now look not a lot different than the vehicle in the picture. We're relatively fortunate: We can stay put in reasonable comfort for a while. Those who can't say that have difficulties, of one kind or another, ahead.

Dancing with who brung ’em

US capitol

The annual Congressional Quarterly ratings of members of Congress are out, meaning we have some detailed analysis of pieces of the voting record of the delegation.

The three key numbers in the analysis (delivered via the link in the form of a handy spreadsheet) are "participation" (the percentage of key votes actually cast), percentage support for their own party's position, and support for the position of the White House.

The participation score is easily disposed of, since the delegation uniformily did well there. The low number was for Oregon Democratic Representative Darlene Hooley, but that likely reflects a stretch during the year when she was under the weather, and it was a still-respectable 89%. The next lowest was Washington Democrat Norm Dicks at 93%, also pretty solid. Among House members the highest percentage (99%) belongs to two incumbents who were hard-challenged, Idaho Republican Bill Sali (who lost anyway) and Washington Republican Dave Reichert (who won). All six senators scored at least 96% participation. (more…)

Follow the bailout money


On December 2 we posted about the eight Northwest banks that had applied for and been approved to receive federal bailout funds. None of the banks gave the slightest indication they really needed the money, only that the funds would improve the looks of their books. They've been quiet (and there's been damn little regional news coverage about them) ever since. (See the excellent ongoing ProPublica reporting on the bailout.)

Those eight numbered six in Washington state, one each in Oregon and Idaho. They were (in order of size): Sterling Financial Corp in Spokane (WA), $303 million; Umpqua in Portland (OR), $214.2 million; Washington Federal in Seattle (WA), $200 million; Banner Corp in Walla Walla (WA), $124 million; Columbia Banking System in Tacoma (WA), $76.9 million; Cascade Financial Corp in Everett (WA), $39 million; Intermountain Community Bancorp in Sandpoint (ID), $27 million; Heritage Financial in Olympia (WA), $24 million.

Since then two small banks, both in Washington, have joined the list: Timberline Bancorp at Hoquiam, $16.6 million; and Washington Banking Company at Oak Harbor, $26.4 million.

Today, national Associated Press has out a fine article on the bailout recipients (more than 200 of them nationally) saying that "after receiving billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers, the nation's largest banks say they can't track exactly how they're spending the money or they simply refuse to discuss it." Read that story.

So what the Northwest banks doing with their money? There hasn't been a lot of specificity. Newcomer Timberline had this to say (and this is a typical statement from the banks) in its press release: "The additional capital will enhance our capacity to support the communities we serve through expanded lending activities and economic development. At September 30, 2008, we were well capitalized and will continue to be well capitalized following the addition of new capital through the Treasury program." Note the statement that "we were well capitalized" - that means they had plenty of money and didn't need the federal money. If they don't need it, then what are they doing with it?

We're trying to inquire of the banks: What are they doing, or will they be doing, with the money? We'll let you know what we hear - if anything.