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Posts published in January 2009

One of a kind

Bill Grant

Bill Grant

Once, just as the idea of Republicans getting elected from within Seattle was an ordinary and normal thing, there were Democrats - usually relatively conservative, but Democrats - getting elected from the parts of rural Washington east of the Cascades. But there hasn't been one of those - the rural Democrats from eastern Washington - in many years now, with one exception. Bill Grant, a Democrat who has representd the Walla Walla and surrounding area for 22 years, has been the last of his kind. (Even back then, he was unusual - the legislative seat he won had been held by Republican Doc Hastings, now a U.S. representative.)

Until now. Grant, diagnosed with lung cancer only last month, died on Sunday at Walla Walla.

There will be the usual laudatory remarks following his passing. I his case, they will generally match with the favorable descriptors he tended to get from around the political sphere. They also match up with this: A person who could get elected as long and convincingly in such strong territory for the opposing party, must have been doing something right all those years.

The Bell page

One of the Web's utilities, in addition to moving information quickly, is its use as a standing reference sheet. We've used it for that purpose here, with information about subjects ranging from candidates for office to whatever happened to former journalists.

We ran across another use a short time ago: A tracking location for keeping up with radio announcer Zeb Bell.

Posted by the editors of The MountainGoat Report and The Political Game, the page about Bell - actually Ronald Zebell - is of note as provider of one of the more extreme radio voices in southern Idaho. The bloggers describe him: "an ultra-conservative talk radio host who leases time on a Rupert, Idaho AM radio station owned by Lee Family Broadcasting. His show, 'Zeb at the Ranch' currently airs four days a week on KBAR which he hosts from his home in Murtaugh, Idaho and which is broadcast throughout the Magic Valley and Mini-Cassia areas and online through a live stream. Bell's show is a call-in/talk format where topics range from political to agricultural to promoting community events. "

It is, of course, not the agricultural or community events discussion that tends to bring the outside interest. The tracking page and Bell's own site provide plenty more background, better digested at length there than by summary here . . .

Cabin fever, when there’s a cabin

Spokane snow

Clearing the Spokane snow/Spokane Street Department

Two days ago we were plowing through water - some rain, some snow melt - and barely made it through the Coast Range before the road we were on was closed due to flooding. But if it's snow you want . . .

The situation is getting really bad around Spokane. This is a city accustomed to snowfall, and generally fairly prepared for it; the city says it has "a total of 35 plows for use, 7 of which can sand at the same time and 6 of which can de-ice at the same time. Additional sander trucks and 3 de-icer trucks are available." Which would seem enough.

But this is really unusual snow - mass drop after mass drop, with no change for meltoff. And it's not just the roads. The city's web site also says this: "With an additional 6 inches of snow last night, many buildings which had sustained the weight of recent snow storms finally succumbed last night. An additional four buildings suffered from collapsed roofs this morning bringing this week’s roof collapse total in the City of Spokane to about 28, which include a mix of commercial buildings, industrial buildings, awnings, carports, and residential garages."

The Spokesman-Review is running a backgrounder on "cabin fever throughout history."

Another storm is scheduled for Sunday night.

Unearthly formations

Rainier clouds

Lenticular clouds/photo by Kathy Marshall

There's something almost hypnotic about this shot we received in email today via the feds: The clouds almost seem like something out of Close Encounters.

From the mail: "Those are called 'lenticular clouds.' They're caused when the air flow is just right so when it flows over Mt. Rainier, the air gets pushed upward where it cools and condenses into clouds. Depending on how smooth the flow is, you can get some amazing clouds formations. (Photo: submitted by Kathy Marshall, Assistant PN Regional RD)"

Initiative misdirection

The latest Tim Eyman special is truly classic misdirection - an initiative that would, if passed, seek to do something a whole lot different than its backers are proclaiming. Without telling you very exactly what that something different is.

Here's what Eyman says: "We have a proposal for 2009 that aggressively tackles our state's property tax crisis. It's called the Lower Property Taxes Initiative. Our tax burden keeps growing faster and faster and government keeps getting bigger and bigger - the people are losing control. The Lower Property Taxes Initiative is our last, best chance to gain control of our government."

It is spun as a property tax limitation proposal. But that's not exactly what it does; the core of that comes in this a little further down: "This measure would limit the growth of state, county, and city general fund revenue, not including new voter-approved revenue, to the annual rate of inflation. Revenue above this limit would be used to reduce property taxes."

In other words, what it gets at directly is overall spending limits, the same sort of trouble-prone device we've seen across the last generation. What it has in common with those long list of efforts (which started with California's Prop 13 all of 30 years ago) is the placing of a ceiling on governmental spending, but no indication of how those budget limitations will be managed - where the resulting cuts will be. Like so many other initiatives before it, it says, "I don't wanna pay," but is silent on the other side of the equation: What should be tossed overboard.

Which is why it explicitly isn't the "last, best chance to gain control of our government." It might be if Eyman filled in both sides of the equation; by leaving one side blank, voters would be no more in control of their government with the initiative than without it. (We've long thought an initiative aimed at cutting specific government activities would be a far for responsible approach than cuts on the revenue side.)

Will it pass? Maybe - anti-tax initiatives are always popular. But then, voters should see the impact of this coming a mile away.

Snuffed out


A few blocks down the street is a pub that features, besides its beverages and pool tournaments, some above-average burgers, fries and other comfort food. We've eaten there only occasionally, though; the barrier has been its status as a smoking-allowed establishment.

After today, that will be no more, and the smoke and tobacco gradually will start to clear out. And we may become more consistent customers. The turning point is a change in Oregon law, banning smoking in most of the remaining business and public places where it has been allowed until now - a law that generally matches with one passed not long ago in Washington. Studies there showed a period of static business for some months after the change, and then growth - in many cases, new prosperity for establishments that went no-smoke. We'll be watching to see if that happens in Oregon too. We guess it will.

Memorializing the occasion, a longish set of posts - linking here to the first one - in the Portland Mercury blog - touring the end of an era in the Portland bar scene.

This could be a big one

Hard to know exactly how seriously to take this: It is marked in a number of places (seen here via the Slog, twice removed) somewhat as rumor, and yet the details of a mass layoff at Microsoft seem quite specific:

Currently Microsoft employs about 90,000 people across the world and from what we're hearing, some 15,000 of those are expected to be giving marching orders come January 15th. That's almost 17 percent of Microsoft's total work force, not exactly a small number. So far, we haven't managed to confirm what departments or regions will be hit the worst, but we're hearing that MSN might be carrying the brunt of the layoffs. We're also hearing rumors about the possibility of somewhat larger staff cuts at Microsoft EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa).

The source is described as ordinarily sound but not entirely reliable. But, as we begin 2009, something to watch for.