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Posts published in December 2008

Craig: End of the road?

READING Idaho Senator Larry Craig, who a year ago last summer said he would resign promptly but instead has stayed, at this point, nearly through his term, has lost again in court. The case, of course, concerns that arrest in the Minneapolis airport men's room in August 2007. From the local level he has appealed to the state Court of Appeals, but today that court has rejected his arguments.

Craig (in a news release): “I am extremely disappointed by the action of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. I disagree with their conclusion and remain steadfast in my belief that nothing criminal or improper occurred at the Minneapolis airport. I maintain my innocence, and currently my attorneys and I are reviewing the decision and looking into the possibility of appealing. I would like to thank all of those who have continued to support me and my family throughout this difficult time.”

He could appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. But at this point, with his Senate tenure nearly done, and the main effect of appeal being to keep the case alive in the public mind, would there be any point? Guess here is that this decision today puts an end to the case.

Going fast . . . expired!

parking meter

Spokane's ad

REPORT Combine one part local government badly in need of more revenue, with a consumer willingness to buy - it would seem - damn near anything, and the city of Spokane has come up with a natural:

Ever wanted to charge your teen-age son for parking on your sofa all day? How about that co-worker who parks in front of your desk when you’re on a deadline? Or, your spouse who continually parks his or her junk on the kitchen counter?

The City of Spokane has the answer: A parking meter.

Just in time for holiday shopping, the City is surplusing old mechanical crank-style parking meter heads. For the low price of $35 including tax, you can get your own parking meter to set up on your desk or next to the living room couch. It’s also a great gift for the person who has everything—or for your favorite college student.

“These gems are going to go quickly,” says Dave Shaw, who heads up the City’s parking meter operations. “We’ve already gotten some orders from the public, and we are anxious to hear how citizens plan to display these classic artifacts.”

The City has been replacing old parking meter heads throughout downtown over the last several years with digital ones. The City has a total of approximately 2,800 parking meters installed in downtown, around the County Courthouse, and around the hospitals.

To purchase a parking meter, citizens should go to the City’s Street Operations Building, 901 N. Nelson, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Available are meters ranging in time periods of 30 minutes to 10 hours. They are sold as-is and in the same condition they were in when removed from the street. City employees can show buyers how to mount them to a steel or plastic pipe for display purposes. The City can accept check, money order, or cash in the exact amount of $35.

And they're selling fast; the Spokesman-Review says that two-thirds or so are sold already . . .

A can of jolt at the metros

READING Last Monday, you could pick up the rumbling readership about the restructured and slightly diminished Oregonian - a local news section folded into the front world/national news section. But that was only for Monday editions; the rest of the week has remained the same. (Can we point out here that today's Oregonian was notably strong, with lots of readable stuff?)

They should get a load of what the Seattle Times is doing: Major changes paperwide, essentially throughout the week. They seem to be good choices, seemingly aimed at preserving local journalism, which ought to be top priority. But Executive Editor David Boardman said he isn't trying to make the argument, as a fictional editor in the cable show The Wire did, that "Less is more."

He launched his column about the changes with an anecdote about a thanksgiving parade in which the Times participated. At one point, he said, someone in the crowd yelled out, "Please stay in business!"

Boardman responded in the column, "We're working on it, sir. We are working on it."

Gassing up

INDICATOR An uneasy guessing game in the last couple of weeks: How long until gas prices zoom back up, by another dollar, or two, or more? No one knows exactly, of course; for now, most of us are just enjoying the lower numbers while they last.

In our runs around the Portland area in the last week, we've tended to see prices ranging from the low $1.70s to the mid-$1.80s. But there's a little more variation than that, and the gas price map and charts the Oregonian has begun to post make some of that clear.

What remains curious are some of the variations within the region. The charts along with the maps list the lowest gas prices found in certain specific areas around the metro area, and what you find in these charts are substantial differences in places just a few miles apart. In Portland itself, it makes a difference whether you gas up on the east side or the west side - the range of the "best 10" goes from $1.65-$1.69 on the east side, but $1.75 to $1.99 on the west side. Elsewhere, the differences can be greater. In the Hillsboro-Forest Grove area, the range is from $1.61 to $1.71, while in Vancouver you pay $1.77 to $1.83.

What has been wrought, at Olympia

The Tacoma News Tribune decided to editorialize in its news section with a headline (in its online edition at least) out today, about the squabble over religious-related signage at the Washington statehouse: "What hath atheism wrought? A mess".

There's a mess, all right. But (a) the editor might want to rethink who created it, and (b) whether it's a mess that really constitutes a problem.

The whole story is too long for recapitulation here; either the TNT or AP version offer straightforward rundowns of the facts. For many years a Christmas tree (now officially a "holiday tree") has been placed at the Statehouse by the Association of Washington business. One year a Jewish group, noting the presence of the essentially Christian display at the public building, sought to provide a presentation reflecting its seasonal holidays as well. Thereafter the door was essentially opened - presumably under the sound principle that if you allow one private interest, you shouldn't discriminate against others - to whoever wanted to deliver a display. This year, an atheist display (provided by an organization based at Madison, Wisconsin, but petitioned for by a Mason County woman) was set up as well, saying among other things "Religion is but myth and superstition." Which has led to counterpoints from the Christians.

This modest local tempest went much bigger once it arrived at the notice of cable gasbag Bill O'Reilly, he of the war-on-Christmas fantasy: "There is no reason whatsoever to allow an anti-religious sign to be posted alongside a Christmas display." (How about this: Is there any reason the non-religious people of Washington state should be required to provide support and protect for a religious display but explicitly not for others?) By the way, notice in this clip how O'Reilly specifically takes after Governor Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, but not Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who alongside Gregoire said that the atheist display should be allowed if the religious displays are.

(Shorter O'Reilly: Your civil rights in this country are on a sliding scale, depending on how much of a minority you are in. Atheists poll as a small minority=Far fewer rights than Christians, who poll in larger numbers.)

That, of course, resulted in increased visiting to the site of the controversy (a political Lourdes?) and eventually theft of the atheist display. Which was eventually dropped off, by persons unknown, at a radio station. Throughout, the whole deal has become quite the hot story - far outpacing the massive state budget cuts or other, you know, substantive developments - in Olympia.

How much of the hoorah is the doing of the atheists? Suppose for a moment that they had delivered their sign, and no one from the opposition said anything about it. Result: No (or very little) coverage, no crowds, no Bill O'Reilly. (Remember: The Statehouse in Wisconsin has had a similar display on display for more than a decade, to little attention.) Suppose someone - presumably though we don't know for sure one of the Christian activists - hadn't walked off with the display? Far less media attention and coverage. The uproar isn't what the atheists, or atheism, wrought: It evolved courtesy of the other side of the fence.

Beyond all that . . . what's the harm in the discussion? Apart from the (temporary) theft, no damage seems to be done here. Some discussion is being engendered, and maybe some educating is going on. Nothing harmful in that.

And last we checked, Christmas is still scheduled to arrive on the 25th.

Where they go

The tough-on-crime, lock-em-up crowd has a lot to explain when it comes to what should be done with convicts after they're released, as almost all of them eventually will be. Because of the ways the system operates, some geographic places have had to come to grips with that more directly than others. At Pierce County, it's an issue: The Tacoma News Tribune today runs an editorial about "a state prison system that has made Pierce County a dumping ground for ex-cons for far too long."

work release

Washington work release centers

Pierce County was, until not long ago, one of the select places around the state where prisoners were released, about a fifth of all prisoners in a county with about a seventh of the state's population. That's been amended, but prison activity still weighs heavy on the Tacoma rather than Everett side, since Snohomish County north of Seattle has no work release centers, while Pierce has two. (The News Tribune's point is that Snohomish is overdue for a work release center, whether it wants one or not. Which apparently it doesn't.)

Remarked a commenter on the TNT's web site: "Just take a window survey of who's leasing office space in or near downtown these days & the DOC could very easily be termed an occupying force." Look a little closer, and check out the prisoner population alongside . . .

A matter of motivation

The post today by David Frazier on his Boise Guardian site about Boise and the special winter Olympics is the kind of provocation likely to ruffle any number of people locally.

But a number of long-timers may find they identify with a number of attitudes Frazier isolates. And as a 38-year resident, Frazier have the standing to talk about them . . .

The shift in King

Our analysis of the 2008 governor's race in Washington would be a little different from that of former state Republican chair (and former elected official) Chris Vance, who has delivered his take on it at Crosscut. We'd throw in several additional reasons that Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire did much better this time against Republican Dino Rossi - the power of incumbent and image reshaping (on both sides) among them. The qualitative differences in the 04 and 08 Democratic campaigns would be useful to mention too.

But this bit at the end really seems worth highlighting and absorbing:

Rossi’s numbers were down all across the state, but it is the results in King County that Republicans must focus on. John McCain received an incredible 28 percent of the vote in King County. Rossi received 36 percent, down from 40 percent in 2004. In 2004, Rossi lost King County by 18 percent; this time he lost by 28 percent — the biggest change of any of the large counties. Republicans will never elect a Governor or U.S. Senator, or regain legislative majorities in Olympia, if this trend in King County continues.

It wasn’t new voters that made this difference; it was a continuation of the long-term erosion of Republican support among suburbanites. This key shift is the most important factor Republicans must address going forward.

Fraud and the Port of Seattle

Google "Port of Seattle fraud" and Google says they can find "about 119,000" hits . . . which, yes, isn't a very precise measurement, but sure feels about right. Which more or less suggests why today's release of an internal investigative report about fraud at the port, which indeed points to some fraud at the port, doesn't seem especially jaw-dropping.

The new report does, however, get very specific in detailing some of the problem areas. Here are some examples from its summary section: (more…)

Northwest bailout bucks

Sterling Bank

Sterling Bank

Wondering where exactly that mass of financial bailout money is going? The online journalists at ProPublica have some answers, and Northwesterners may be surprised, maybe troubled, by some of them.

Their research finds that as of midday today, $242.02 billion has been designated to 129 financial institutions around the country, to buy senior preferred shares of the various companies. Eight of them are based in the Northwest, six in Washington state, one each in Oregon and Idaho. They are (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.

Unlike the federal bank takeovers, this is a voluntary program, and banks (or banking companies) apply to participate - to sell shares of stock.

Another that should be of regional interest is Wells Fargo - one of the top banking operations in the Northwest - in San Francisco, getting $25 billion. It is in fact one of the biggest dollar recipients, tied for third place overall; first and second go to Citigroup and AIG, respectively. Wells seems on its face a puzzler, since it was praised (and rightly) for avoiding much of the bad-mortgage financial garbage that sank so many others. But Wells is buying Wachovia Corporation, which did make a mass of bad loans, so at least some of that funding is understandable.

But what of the others? Some curious questions start to arise, including the question of how many of these federal stock buys are really needed. At least one Northwest bank CEO says explicitly, in a press release, that his bank didn't need it at all. (more…)