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Posts published in December 2008

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…)

Ski area report card

The group Ski Area Citizens Coalition has out an environmental impact report on ski areas around the west, with some results Northwesterns may find of interest. (See the site for a description of how the scores were arrived at; individual report cards are posted as well.)

There were 10 best and 10 worst lists. Westwide, the best was said to be Aspent Mountain Ski Report. Bogus Basin Mountain Resort near Boise was listed eighth best, and Mount Bachelor Ski Area near Bend was ninth. Both did well on conservation and effective use of existing ski territory.

The worst overall was said to be Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado. But all but two of the other's in the worst 10 were in the northwest: No. 2 Sun Valley Resort near Ketchum, No. 3 Tamarack Resort near McCall, No. 5 Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park near Spokane, No. 7 49 Degree North Resort in Washington, No. 8 White Pass Ski Area in Washington, No. 9 Brundage Mountain Resort near McCall, and No. 10 Crystal Mountain Ski Area in Washington.

Effective use of land - as opposed to grabbing more and more - was a substantial consideration in the rankings. Take a look at this paragraph from their report:

Since the 1978/1979-ski season, skier numbers nationally have increased less than 2% over 23 seasons, or less than 1/10th of 1% per year. Yet many ski area terrain expansions are being undertaken in an effort to attract the limited pool of skier dollars nationwide. Doing so fuels a cycle whereby other ski areas feel pressure to expand in order to retain their market share and/or lure the limited number of skiers from other resorts. Ninety percent of ski areas in the western United States are on public lands administered by the Forest Service. It is not sound public policy for the Forest Service to continue to approve terrain expansions, which feed this cycle encouraging ski area expansions without regard for public recreation needs. In the White River NF for instance, home to ski resort icons such as Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain, skier numbers have increased 28% since 1985, yet skier acreage has more than doubled (a 107% increase).

Sizemore’s edge

Bill Sizemore

Bill Sizemore

The premier Oregon initiative monger of the last decade and more, Bill Sizemore, has had to rely to some extent - in his campaigns for initiatives - on the idea of being on the virtuous side of the things. That's the whole undergirding of initiatives, conceptually anyway: That these are the good things that the people have to do themselves because their elected officials won't.

To that extent, Sizemore's efforts - and he has continued to be busy on the initiative front up through this year - may increasingly be hamstrung. That process was hurried along considerably during the campaign season when forces opposed to Sizemore's initiatives beat up on him as much as his ideas - he became the bad guy. Now, there's the inconvenient matter of his going to jail.

The reason stems from Sizemore's campaign filings, and what a judge has ruled as their inadequacy, and his management of campaign funds. Sizemore has been in court a number of times on these issues, but today Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Janice R. Wilson had enough, throwing him into jail for contempt of court.

There have been movement leaders over the years who have gained stature from time spent in jail. But you have to suspect that Sizemore won't be one of them.