"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

A spooky note on the front page of the Seattle Times site today:

“You may have heard reports about viruses on seattletimes.com news stories. To the best of our knowledge, these kinds of attacks have never occurred by clicking on news articles. In general, malware attacks come from unscrupulous advertisers who target news and information sites across the country through a complex web of ad networks. If you experience anything suspicious on our site, do not click on it, shut down your machine, and then contact our Webmaster with as many details as possible.”

One hopes they will follow up and tell us more . . .

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Picking up a tree, or trees/Linda Watkins

You can tell it’s the season in the Willamette Valley when . . . the helicopters swoop in to pick up Christmas trees from the tree farms.

Grow a lot of them around here. More than anywhere else in the country.

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The shooting deaths – in reading the description, the sense you get is almost that of an execution – of four Lakewood police officers near Parkland this morning has become national news. The Tacoma News Tribune sums up: “The gunman walked into the shop and shot two of the Lakewood officers as they sat down. The other two officers stood up. One officer was killed. The fourth officer fought the gunman and may have injured him.” A person of interest has been noted publicly (though he has not been named a suspect), but not an arrest as yet.

Something approaching execution seems to have been the case here. The TNT points out in its editorial that in the last 30 years up to today, four officers in total in large Pierce County had been killed.

This wasn’t a heat of the moment situation; the officers were not out on the street but in a diner and there simply to have a meal. You almost have to conclude that they were gunned down solely because they were wearing the uniform at the same moment and in the same place that a person had both the weaponry and emotional motivation to go after them.

That’s got to be spooky for any other police officers, who usually are understandably cautious in dealing with calls and incidents but probably have felt they could relax a bit otherwise. It may spook anyone who wears a uniform.

Here’s hoping this shooter is caught quickly. Name, face, motivation and explanation are needed in short order, even more than usual.

THE HUCKABEE LINK Is this a national political story too? From Huffington Post: “A convicted felon granted clemency nine years ago by former Arkansas Governor and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is wanted for questioning in the shooting deaths of four police officers in Washington state. Maurice Clemmons, the man wanted for questioning, has been convicted of five felonies in Arkansas and has been charged with eight felonies in Washington state.”

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The first comment about this – on the blog Sound Politics, where it was posted – said, “Who the hell cares. Why is this being posted on a politics forum?”

But it’s all political, in its way. And something basic like this should be: The duration of yellow lights at traffic intersections in Seattle, where drivers are watched by auto-cameras for running red lights.

Poster Carter Mackley measured the amount of time, at three intersections where red-light cameras are installed, that the lights stayed yellow. He came up with 3.5 seconds each, and concluded, “The 3.5 seconds of yellow is too short in my view for 35 MPH streets, and it is shorter than the 4 seconds recommended by others. If borrowing a second or so from the green light would screw up the city’s carefully optimized system, I would support moving .5 seconds from the all red period to the yellow light, at least on an experimental basis to gather data. That would give drivers more time to make the stop-or-go decision, and still leave a half second of all red to allow the intersection to clear.” He is calling on others to help with additional time measurement, to build a base of information.

One of the aspects of the red-light cameras – which have a clearly useful goal- is that if they’re not structured just right, they can have unexpected side effects. People jamming on their brakes at the sight of a yellow, for instance, for fear of being nailed by the camera on what they would otherwise consider to be a safe crossing.

Or maybe that’s not a problem. But the discussion of it is clearly useful. The sort of thing political debate is supposed to be for . . .

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Political talk about prisons and prisoners tends to start and stop with locking up the evildoers and making sure we don’t coddle the criminals. Our narrow and crimped take on the subject has given us a raft of problems only starting with the world’s highest incarceration rates and super-high costs. There are many more, and some of them hit headlines this week.

When we (that is, us) lock up a prisoner, we take responsibility for that person. That can mean big medical bills, for one thing. But it also means protecting that person from violence: Sentencing a person to incarceration is not, or not supposed to be, sentencing them to assault and worse. (Shouldn’t that qualify as “cruel and unusual”?)

On November 18, the Washington Department of Corrections reported that “has agreed to pay $4 million to a former offender who sustained permanent, severely disabling injuries when he was assaulted by his cellmate at Washington Corrections Center near Shelton in 2006. Ryan Alwine, 26, was hospitalized and remained in a coma for nearly four months following the attack. The incident occurred in the early morning on September 7, 2006.” Washington’s taxpayers are on the hook for that payment.

Don’t be surprised if something similar happens in Idaho. On November 17 a jury in Ada County delivered a landmark, the first conviction in Idaho history of rape by a prison inmate (Cody Vealton Thompson) of another inmate; the incident occurred in September 2008, at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution. Since then, a batch of additional cases have begun to surface.

These inmates were sentenced to serve time behind bars, not to be raped. Among other things, these are lawsuits waiting to happen.

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Idaho Washington

turkey roof

Turkey on the roof/Linda Watkins

When this old world starts getting me down
And people are just too much for me to face
I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
The Drifters (Gerry Goffin/Carole King)

Picture by Linda Watkins, taken in the hills north of Sheridan, Oregon.

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Bruce Hanna

There are a number of candidates, and some variety of candidates, in the running for governor of Oregon next year. But there’s a vacancy: While Democrats have a couple of major names (John Kitzhaber, Bill Bradbury) who logically appeal to the mainstream of that party, Republicans have had in the running only candidates (Alley Alley, for example) who appeal to only a slice of their party. Not, in other words, to the conservative main core of the party, someone most Republicans would happily back. It’s been a yawning gap ever since state Senator Jason Atkinson, who would have filled that role pretty well, opted out of the race.

Which is why, well, a couple of things.

One is that this is an opening too obvious not to be filled, meaning that it almost certainly will be. Oregon conservatives are just highly unlikely to fail to produce someone to speak for their views. They’re not shy.

Yesterday the site Northwest Republican ran a press release from Bill Sizemore, the prominent initiative-backer and 1998 Republican gubernatorial nominee, announcing “that he was running for governor to break the stranglehold the public employee unions have on the state of Oregon, saying he is the only one willing to challenge that behemoth head on. Sizemore said the public employee unions, especially the OEA, run the entire state from top to bottom. He said they own every state office in Oregon and almost every legislator in the capitol is scared to death of them. He said the public unions are the ones who set the state budget and are the ones pushing the Democrats to vote for huge tax increases.”

Sizemore, the crusader against taxes and unions, would have some appeal in the Republican base. But he’s heavily damaged; his legal problems have approached the scale of legend, and there’s even question whether he could raise or spend money on a campaign. “I may have to run my campaign from inside a jail cell,” Sizemore said – which may actually energize his strong supporters, but condemn him to a loss beyond them.

The Sizemore prospect got some Oregonian paper attention today, but another, albeit less definitive, piece in Northwest Republican might merit more attention, because it speaks of a Republican gubernatorial prospect who could appeal to the base and run more strongly as a party nominee.

We’ve been hearing, too, some chatter for the last few weeks about House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna of Roseburg as a prospect for governor – not so much with the idea that he wants to do it, but that he could work: A conservative leader who would speak for the base, clearly a partisan (not meant in a perjorative way), while sounding capable to the electorate at large. He likely would not strike most voters as a bomb-thrower.

Veteran blogger I Am Coyote remarked of him, “after talking with several political insiders I have learned that the discussions are beginning to reach a boiling point. I for one think that Bruce Hanna would make a very fine gubernatorial candidate and from what I have seen a pretty darned good governor.”

The big downside for Hanna is that he’d have to give up his (safe) House seat to run. And there’s no external evidence that he’s inclined to. But the pressure may grow: He could wind up being the option for conservatives next year if they don’t want to be represented in the governor’s race by Bill Sizemore.

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Two years ago, Oregon saw a seriously contested primary contest in its U.S. Senate race (Republican Gordon Smith was defending) between two Democrats, House Speaker Jeff Merkley and activist Steve Novick – they were competitive and the outcome was not foreordained. Partway through, leadership of the Democratic U. S. Senate committee weighed in, making clear that Merkley was their preference. That probably made some difference, certainly in fundraising and organization. It gave Merkley the imprimatur of being the nominee-in-waiting. The national involvement was decried by Novick’s backers. But Merkley wound up winning.

So although only one Idahoan – Representative Mike Simpson – is mentioned in today’s The Hill report on a fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, it ought to be taken seriously, even moreso than the Democratic lining-up was in Oregon in the last cycle.

Seeking to oust Democratic Representative Walt Minnick, Ward is the guy to beat. The other major contender, state Representative Ken Roberts, has dropped out. Although another state rep, Raul Labrador, says he plans to enter, he will be starting from scratch, while Ward now has an impressive organization, fast-growing support and name familiarity and somewhere around a third of a million dollars, which is likely enough to leverage a good deal more.

The Hill‘s article specifically was about a large-money fundraiser in D.C. The particulars: “House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.), Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas) and Deputy NRCC Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) will all headline a fundraiser for Ward on Dec. 8 in Washington. . . . In addition to the five mentioned, nine other members of Congress are also listed on the invitation. They include the state’s other congressman, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), as well as Reps. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) and Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.).”

They’re evidently ready to throw in to wrap this up and move to general election mode. That will be hard for competitors to overcome.

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The last Washington legislative session was something remarkable: Facing a time of tax revenue shortfalls, a heavily Democratic state legislature opted to slice state government, in a big way, rather than raise taxes. (Their counterparts in Oregon chose otherwise.)

In the next Washington session, however, making cuts sufficient to balance the books likely won’t be realistic.

The reasons why are laid out well in today’s Peter Callaghan column in the Tacoma News Tribune.

He concludes: “Like it or not, Democrats will have to consider the big three: sales, property, and business and occupation taxes. They will have to amend or ignore a voter-approved initiative to do so. And they will face a rhetorical barrage from Republicans that will continue all the way to Election Day. There are worse things in life than losing an election. That’s a realization many legislators may come to before the end of the 2010 session.”

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This one looks just about ready to blow up.

The Nampa Classical Academy is an Idaho charter school, running grades 1-9, which emphasizes, to a great extent, a traditional “classical” education – they note, “very strong in phonics, classical literature, grammar, composition, mathematics, “modern” sciences, history, geography, and rhetorical analysis and writing.”

It’s an interesting approach, but one element of the style of rigorous education as it often was practiced, say, a century ago, runs into problems now: Teaching about religion. And NCA leaders have said explicitly that they intend to use the Bible and other religious books in their classrooms. Which might not necessarily be a problem, depending on how they’re handled; but then again, might.

The Classical Academy has in the last few months become a big subject of controversy in Idaho, in part because the academy’s stance seems not to have involved much compromise. The Idaho Charter Commission, which seems in most past cases to work alongside charters, has been asking for more information about the use of religious texts.

The Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune backgrounds, “The Alliance Defense Fund brought a lawsuit against the Charter Commission and state officials Sept. 1 in federal court on behalf of the charter school arguing for the school’s right to use religious texts as part of its curriculum. The Wednesday letter from ADF says the Charter Commission’s recent reprimands of the school are in direct “retaliation” for the lawsuit.”

That Wednesday letter from the Alliance Defense Fund – which takes legal action on religious rights issues, and evidently is representing the school – said that the renewed inquiries are retaliation, and it will sue the commission if it continues to pursue its inquiries.

The state’s response is that it has responsibilities to pursue whether or not someone files a lawsuit.

Not that the academy has been of one mind about all this. Since mid-October, seven board members have resigned, saying the school’s direction (under Chair Mike Moffett) saying among other things “We believe there have been issues at the board level and with some of the leadership at NCA that conflict with the core values and will affect the success of NCA.”

The commission’s next step may be revocation of the charter school license, which could close the school since it would mean an end to public funding.

A bunch of hot-button culture war elements are beginning to line up into place. This could go national before long.

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ida cap

Idaho Statehouse reconstruction/YouTube

There was some concern, expressed publicly during the last legislative session, that the reconstruction work at the Idaho Statehouse might not be done in time for the next session. But evidently it is, or just about.

A press release from the state Capitol Commission says that “Capitol restoration construction managers presented the Idaho State Capitol Commission with their certificate of Substantial Completion today after commissioners completed a walk-through inspection. The 30-month, $120 million project is on schedule to accommodate the 2010 legislative session in the restored and expanded building.”

Doors open on January 9; the last of the construction work, and then move-in, will likely continue until just about then (and maybe a little past).

It’s been a longish haul, but not much different than in recent statehouse work in Olympia and Salem; it does take a while. And the offices have managed reasonably well in their locations nearby, though the people in them will no doubt be delighted to move out of the cramped annex and Borah building.

There’s been one disquieting note in recent days, about proposals by commission members to more sharply limit displays in the Statehouse (notably the long-running and widely-enjoyed Buy Idaho display, which traditionally have spread to three or four floors). A suggestion: Commissioners may find that pleasure in the end result of this project will relate to how open the building is. The Idaho Statehouse has a tradition of bring a building broadly open to the public, and that is one thing about it that ought to change as little as possible.

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It’s being billed as a three-senator deal – Senators Max Baucus, Harry Reid and Oregon’s Ron Wyden – but the history demonstrates that this is Wyden’s baby: A change in the Senate version of the health care bill that would dramatically change the health insurance picture for not just a sliver of people, but for most. And in a way that allows for more options.

Essentially, this is an agreement to insert into the health bill the Wyden proposal called “Free Choice.” His office describes it this way:

“Under the Senate legislation as it is currently written, Americans with employer-provided coverage, whose income is below 400 percent of the federal poverty level and whose premiums are between 8 and 9.8 percent of their total income will be exempt from having to purchase health coverage but will not be able to access the exchange to qualify for government assistance to purchase insurance. The agreed to amendment will make it possible for these individuals to convert their tax-free employer health subsidies into vouchers that they can use to choose a health insurance plan in the new health insurance exchanges. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a previous version of this provision will expand coverage to more than a million Americans.”

Wyden’s comment: “While this is just one step in the direction of guaranteeing choices for all Americans, it is a major step because – for the first time – it introduces the concept of individual choice to a marketplace where it has long been foreign.” And “foreign” is a good word choice.

That alone makes Wyden one of the major authors of the bill coming up for Senate voting.

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