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Posts published in February 2009

Of record, paper and pixel

blue book

Oregon Blue Book

The cover art for the Oregon Blue Books has long been spectacular, and the coastal shot on the cover for the 09/10 edition lives up to the past entries. Probably helps that the secretary of state's office, which publishes the book, gets the pictures by way of a photo contest. Probably also helps that Oregon is so photogenic.

The book appears to be as physically full as its predecessors (copies won't be available until next month), but you have to suspect a lot of the content will migrate, over the next few editions, on line. Already, with this edition, there's a fair amount of web-only material. Which seems likely to grow.

E-FILINGS On a semi-related note, the Oregonian's political blog notes that the Oregon Senate has voted to let people submitting materials to the legislature do so electronically, ending a requirement for print copies.

Mostly. One senator, Sherwood Republican Larry George, cast a protest vote because state agencies still would have to submit paper copies of executive summaries to all legislators. Why that exception, is altogether unclear.

Maybe they can amend that in to the measure when it gets to the House . . .

Evaluating the vunnel


Viaduct-tunnel/City of Seattle

Right next to the Crosscut article headlined "The tunnel solution for the Viaduct is too risky," are these links to encouraging stories from other news organizations: "Ideas debated about using private development to help pay for Viaduct park" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer), "Gregoire distances herself from car tabs portion of the Viaduct tunnel deal" (Times), "Tolls probably needed to cover full cost of waterfront tunnel, state says" (Tacoma News Tribune).

It's never easy, is it?

Approved about a month ago by the top elected officials at Washington state, King County and Seattle, the tunnel - why has no one called it the "vunnel" yet?, since it is loosely expected to approximate the current Alaskan Way viaduct - the underground plan has been on the table for a long time. Its main problem has been that it's been viewed as the Rolex plan - nice, maybe preferable, but awfully expensive.

Matt Fiske at Crosscut sums up the issues, which include the financial concerns (fair enough) but also adds this:

"My father Tyman Fikse was an expert who invented many tunneling technologies and spent his career designing massive tunnel boring machines (TBMs) for projects around the world. If there is one thing hanging out with "sandhogs" as a kid and riding muck trains miles in the dark deep below ground taught me, it is this: The earth will surprise you. Consider: The ground between preliminary core samples can change most unexpectedly. Geologic pressures are enormous. Tunnel liners shift and spring leaks. Gases escape — or worse. The best hard-rock boring machine will become gunked-up to a standstill if it is surprised by a section of sand or clay. Stuff happens. Deep tunnels are marvels of engineering that are also among the most difficult projects to plan in advance. To pretend otherwise is delusion. Remove the blinders and the real-world cost of the deep-bore tunnel will easily be double the current guess of $2.8 billion."

All of which sounds real-world. And yet . . . they had to do something.

So now they - and especially their successors (one of the signatories, King County executive Ron Sims, already is almost outta here) - get to ride the tiger.

Stimulus, health, etc., and Wyden

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden at McMinnville/Randy Stapilus

We've attended a number of the town hall meetings over the years by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and today's in McMinnville (number 498; his 500th is Tuesday in Fossil) seemed the most focused of those, on the part of the audience. It may even have been a fair representation, since somewhere over 100 people showed up, more than the norm.

Held in the city's utilitarian new police building, this was a policy session, pretty wonkish, and pretty non-ideological. Economic and stimulus questions dominated, health came in a strong second, with a smattering of remaining questions (during the 90 minutes or so) covering energy, transportation, immigration and secrecy/security issues.

That health care, as policy, was as prominent as it was should be an indicator, because it's not been on recent media radar. Wyden, naturally, was happy to address it, since he's just reintroduced the Healthy Americans Act he's been working on for some years. He sounded optimistic that major developments in health policy will make their way through this year, and said that President Barack Obama has in mind a major passage before the year is out. His own bill, he suggested, seems poised for Senate passage not with a narrow majority, but with as many as 70 to 75 votes.

(He also answered a question no one asked: He will not leave the Senate to take a job as secretary of Health & Human Services. After all the headlines about that possibility, the people in the audience were less concerned about that possibility than about, well, health care.) (more…)

Paperless Mondays at Idaho Falls

Beginning in March, the Post Register daily newspaper will not publish any more on Mondays. The reason is cost-saving: Evidently, to judge from Publisher Roger Plothow's piece today on the change (behind a pay wall), it was that or lay off employees. And since the paper will be continuing to update its website on Mondays, that seems the rational choice.

He points out that the Post-Register was a six-day paper - no Saturday publication - until 1996. Might be interesting to know (Plothow doesn't say) why the ax fell on the Monday, rather than the Saturday, edition. At a guess: The ad picture penciled out better than way.

Cross-border polygamy

Boundary County area

Boundary County area

The Spokane Spokesman-Review has out today a solid piece - and evidently just one of several to come - on polygamy in the Bonners Ferry, Idaho/Creston, British Columbia area, bringing a lot more detail and clarity to a long-running development that has been in the shadows for years.

The polygamous community - a Mormon splinter faction, not part of the main church - in the area is not new, and neither is public knowledge of it; the great 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer made reference to it. But details were few and scattered, and only in the last year or so has the scene there started to come fully into focus.

One semi-surprise: The community is not wholly on the northern side of the international line, as had seemed to be the case. The Spokesman reports that "The move into North Idaho by FLDS [Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints] members began in 2003 after a leadership split in the Canadian community. By conservative estimates, there are at least a half-dozen polygamous families – about 100 men, women and children – living in Boundary County, even though polygamy is banned by the Idaho Constitution. One ex-member says the number in Boundary County could approach 300."

For some years, Canadian officials had done little about prosecuting the group. But recent media reports about it - notably from Daphne Bramham, a columnist at the Vancouver Sun - seem to have prompted action in the cases of child abuse and the practice of marrying off very young girls. (There does seem to be some question of whether polygamy as such might be constitutionally protected in Canada.)

Idaho long has had, of course, strict anti-polygamy laws. As the news reports about developments in Boundary County start to circulate, will that lead to more crackdowns on the southern side of the international line?

Inside-the-border stops

Norm Dicks

Norm Dicks

The decisions by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Norm Dicks to take a closer look at the Olympic peninsula border stops - not stops at the border, which are not under debate, but quite a few miles from it - are likely to generate a good deal of comment. Not all, but most, we suspect, positive.

From a Dicks release on this:

The congressman said he met in October with the Chief of the Border Patrol, but that since then “CBP agents have adopted an even more aggressive strategy of performing ad hoc traffic stops, making individual arrests. While I understand that the Border Patrol mission includes coordination with local law enforcement on border control issues, I have serious questions about the agency’s direct authority to stop individual automobiles and detain, in some cases, legal residents of the United States until they are able to prove their status.”

In the letter, Rep. Dicks also said that he was also disturbed by reports of Border Patrol agents boarding local buses and primarily questioning riders about their citizenship.

“I would appreciate your personal attention to the question of whether these activities are the appropriate and best use of the limited resources available to your department as it confronts the myriad of serious threats to the security of our homeland,” the congressman’s letter concluded.

You need to recall here that Dicks may be a Democrat but he is also one of the closest to military and security interests - this is not someone automatically and by nature suspicious of that community.

There is, as noted, a lot of comment about all this. There's a string, pro and con, well worth reading tagged to a Seattle Times piece on this. One of the comments that caught our attention:

I guess none of the other posters on this thread live out on the Peninsula. The Border Patrol's random stops have caught no-one with any connection with terrorism or illegal drugs or anyone who has crossed into the US from Canada. They have caught medical marijuana users (legal in Washington State, illegal at the Federal level), harvesters of salal without a permit, and a few inoffensive Mexican agricultural workers who have been in the country for years, some undocumented, some who actually are legal but are still sent to immigration detention. For this they violate our fourth amendment rights, make us miss our ferries, and squander our tax dollars.

By the way, the right they claim - to suspend the Fourth Amendment anywhere within 100 miles of a border - would allow them to conduct stop-and-search operations on I-5 in Seattle. If they did that, maybe you'd feel a little different.

An odd couple, and an idea

Two Northwest House Democrats turned thumbs down on the conference committee stimulus package. Idaho's Walt Minnick, coming from the Blue Dog conservative side, wasn't hard to understand; like most of the other critics, he thought there was too much spending and too little likelihood the bill would get the job done. And he had the credibility of having developed an alternative of his own: “My bill was a high-powered rifle. This bill is a shotgun, and it will add nearly $1 trillion we do not have to a debt already out of control.” So, siding with the Republicans.

But then there too was the nay from Oregon's Peter DeFazio - for almost exactly the opposite reasons. Too many cuts from the bill for spending proposals, in DeFazio's view.

Of course, no one knows exactly what will work best to pump some adrenaline into the economy.

Some further attention ought to go, though, to one suggestion DeFazio had - a procedural one applying to the Senate.

The idea in the Senate is that to pass controversial legislation, you have to have not just a simple majority (50 senators and the vice president, if all are present and voting) but 60 votes to override a filibuster. The Senate rule basically is that you can't stop a senator from speaking on the floor - for hours or days - unless you round up 60 votes for "cloture." In recent years, we haven't seen many real filibusters, instead abbreviating to the idea that you need 60 votes to force a bill to the floor if the minority says it even might try to filibuster.

DeFazio's suggestion (according to the Bend Bulletin): Eliminate the niceties. If the Republicans, or anyone else, wants to filibuster, let 'em filibuster. Make 'em work for it. Let it all out there. For that matter, entertain us - and point up what's at stake at the same time.

Here's a case where some bread and circuses could actually result in better lawmaking . . .

Hard times, all over

Member of Congress - not all, but most - tend to be more insulated than most of us from economic downturns, but that's a little less true at the state legislative level. State legislators (in the Northwest's states, as in most others) are part-time positions, and those not retired or relatively wealthy have to deal with the same economy as the rest of us.

A useful piece in the Boise Weekly points out some of the Idaho legislators who are hitting scrambling times outside the session.

House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-McCall, is quoted, "I'm looking for jobs and doing my taxes," and the report adds, "Roberts owns a construction and excavation business in Valley County, where construction has come to a near standstill. His wife works four days a week at a pancake house in McCall." Had a little intake of breath when we saw the phrase "construction and excavation business in Valley County" - that may be as good a locus of a rough business climate as any in the Northwest right now.

The breakup

Tough budget times tends to foster talk of either (1) combining agencies to merge and diminish administrative costs, or (2) splitting up agencies, the better to search for efficiencies which might more easily be hidden away in larger organizations.

Which is right? Hard to say; and it probably varies by agency. But there are plenty of efforts around the Northwest to seriously consider one or the other.

This thought prompted by a proposal to split the Washington Department of Social & Health Services into two. Or four. Depending on which legislator you're talking to . . .

But will they know it when they see it?

Mark Miloscia

Mark Miloscia

The definitions are so often what trip you up.

It was Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart who remarked in a 1964 decision that he would not "attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [hard-core pornography]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it . . ." The know-it-when-I-see-it standard, though, never quite works for state laws, which creates no end of difficulties.

A group of Washington legislators, evidently led by Representative Mark Miloscia, D-Federal Way, has the idea of helping fill a bit of the state revenue deficit with a porn tax of 18.5% on goods and services. That concept may not get too much criticism, apart from the affected industry. Buy how do you define exactly what is covered?

Here's the attempt in House Bill 2103:

"Adult entertainment materials and services" means those entertainment materials and services that are primarily oriented to an interest in sex, including but not limited to magazines, photographs, motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, cable television services, telephone services, audiotapes, computer programs, and paraphernalia. "Adult entertainment materials and services" does not include (a) books or magazines that contain no photographs or other graphics; or (b) motion pictures, videotapes, videodiscs, or cable television services that do not contain any explicit sex of the type that would be rated "X" using the standards existing on January 1, 2009, of the motion picture association of America, inc. Any motion picture, videotape, videodisc, cable television service, or other visual medium that contains any explicit sex of the type that would be rated "X" using these standards is considered to be primarily oriented to an interest in sex.

You can probably start listing the question-mark areas - how about this? how about that? - about as well as we can. Passed in present form, this one will probably be shot down in court. But there's some indication it may be amended before going much further. We'll be interested to see what improvements they come up with.

Not quite so much the warrior, maybe

Gil Kerlikowske

Gil Kerlikowske

For coming on to 40 years, we've had a "war on drugs," which has become quite a war indeed. The February 2 Washington Post Magazine featured a must-read, detailed report about the raid on the home of a small-town mayor in Maryland: "Acting on a mistaken drug trafficking suspicion, a SWAT team broke down their door, shot beloved pets and shattered a happy home. Was it an extreme reaction, or business as usual in America's war on drugs?" (The pretext for the raid was a box containing drugs, which police themselves had planted at the mayor's front door.) In a followup online chat, one of the writers remarked, "Obviously, one of the most frightening aspects of this sad tale is that it could happen to any one of us."

This paramilitary activity in our country has been a federally-driven, primarily, development, pushed by presidents of both parties for four decades; the results have included no diminishment of drug activity but unabated violence which is becoming increasingly hazardous. Might the Obama Administration try a different direction?

In nominating Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske as "drug czar," Obama may be signaling that change is in the wind. Not radical, 180-degree turnarounds - which might have been what appointment of his predecessor, Norm Stamper, would have indicated - but significant adjustment at least.

The key touchstone here is Seattle Initiative 75, a 2003 measure which specifically called for making marijuana not legal exactly, but the lowest priority for law enforcement. The measure passed. It didn't pass with Kerlikowske's endorsement, but that has to be parsed: The Seattle Times reported local law enforcement considered it "vague, potentially confusing and unlikely to change what they do on the street" - in other words, not wrong as policy, but simply unnecessary. The followup sentence: "Arresting people for possessing marijuana for personal use, says Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, is not a priority now." Since the measure's passage, the chief appears to have abided by its terms, without complaint. (more…)

Transportation confusion

Jeff Kropf

Since the advent of live blogging, we've been a little sad this medium wasn't available years ago; it would long have been a great way to cover and follow, for example, state legislative meetings. Fortunately, there was some live blogging of today's Idaho House Transportation Committee meeting, which was giving initial consideration to a string of road bills, five of them key measures proposed by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter.

A subsequent news story, even if well written, may not give the flavor of what happened here as well as some of the real-time takes on what happened. Some excepts from an Idaho Statesman live blog on the meeting (in chronological order, reversed from the original):

1:42 p.m. — Jason Kreizenbeck, Gov. Butch Otter's chief of staff, is presenting an overview of all five bills. Kreizenbeck said these bills are to generate additional revenue to maintain and improve Idaho's roads and bridges.

1:46 p.m. — Kreizenbeck is looking for some help from the Idaho Transportation Department, but none seems to be coming.

1:50 p.m. — Hard to say this is going well. Committee members seem stumped by the bills, which seem to be lacking some pivotal information. Kreizenbeck and committee chairwoman JoAnn Wood have struggled to connect on information as well.

1:55 p.m. — [Representative Phil] Hart wants to know what the money going into a new account created by the Gov. is going to be used for. Pam Lowe, director of the Idaho Transportation Department, said the money will be used to renovation and restoration.

2:00 p.m. — Wood got a jab in saying that she has not had time to look at the bills. The bills did not get to the Legislature until late Monday afternoon.

2:02 p.m. — It is hard to hear in the room as legislators are struggling to hear questions. "I think the amount of people here is soaking up the sound," Wood said.

2:03 p.m. — There is a lot of confusion, particularly about financial impact of the proposals, in the room.

2:19 p.m. — JoAnn Wood expressed concern about what raising the fees on the heaviest trucks would mean, especially since they pay such a high rate now.

The committee voted to print the bills, though some of the committee members made a point of indicating that didn't necessarily mean they would vote to move them any further. As the committee chair, JoAn Wood, remarked at 2:31 p.m.: "We do have a lot of work left in front of us."