Archive for April, 2010

Apr 13 2010

WaMu as toxic

Published by under Washington

Here’s a striking quote: “Washington Mutual built a conveyor belt that dumped toxic mortgage assets into the financial system like a polluter dumping poison into a river.”

That comes from Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and it suggests pretty clearly what will emerge from the Senate banking scandal hearings starting today, which will be focusing on Washington Mutual.

But before absorbing the usual well-coached responses from the lineup of banking execs, give some thought to what was going on here. The press release announcing the hearing is so clear in its smackdown that we really need little else . . . other than some way of ensuring this sort of thing isn’t allowed to happen again . . .

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, under Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will launch a series of four hearings in April examining some of the causes and consequences of the 2008 financial crisis.

The first hearing will focus on the role of high risk mortgages, and feature Washington Mutual Bank, which was the nation’s largest thrift with more than $300 billion in assets, $188 billion in deposits, and 43,000 employees. Washington Mutual specialized in mortgage lending until it was seized by the government and sold to JPMorgan Chase in 2008. It was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. The Subcommittee investigation found that the bank contributed to the financial crisis by making hundreds of billions of dollars in shoddy, high risk mortgage loans, packaging them, and selling them to investors as mortgage backed securities.

“Washington Mutual built a conveyor belt that dumped toxic mortgage assets into the financial system like a polluter dumping poison into a river,” said Levin. “Using a toxic mix of high risk lending, lax controls, and destructive compensation policies, Washington Mutual flooded the market with shoddy loans and securities that went bad. Examining how Washington Mutual operated, and what its insiders were saying to each other, begins to open a window into the troubling mortgage lending and securitization practices that took our economy over a cliff. As the debate on financial reform begins, it is critical to acknowledge that the financial crisis was not a natural disaster, it was a man-made economic assault. Our hearings on the financial crisis will help provide a public record of what went wrong, who should be held accountable, and the ongoing need to protect Main Street from the excesses of Wall Street.” Continue Reading »

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Apr 13 2010

Tea Party crashing

Published by under Oregon

Seems that the man leading an effort to damage the Tea Parties (notably, presumably, those coming up in a couple of days) is from Oregon: Jason Levin runs a tech consulting company at Portland.

The damage would be a matter of PR – a kind of message monkey=-wrenching. A description in Talking Points Memo:

Levin’s group of protesters plan to get in the heads of tea partiers at the Tax Day Tea Parties nationwide Thursday and manipulate them right out of relevance. They’ll dress like tea partiers, talk like tea partiers and carry signs like tea partiers. In fact, according to Levin they’ll be completely indistinguishable from tea partiers, except for one thing — they won’t be out-crazied by anyone.

“Our goal is that whenever a tea partier says ‘Barack Obama was not born in America,’ we’re going be right right there next to them saying, ‘yeah, in fact he wasn’t born on Earth! He’s an alien!” Levin explained. He said that by making the tea parties sound like a gathering of crazy people — his group’s goal — the movement will lose its power.

Levin said he got the idea from a counter-protest to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church group held outside Twitter headquarters in January. Levin said the Westboro group broke up after counter-protesters showed up holding signs “even crazier” than the ones held by the Westboro group. “They realized they couldn’t get their message out, so they just left” Levin said.

The effort has gone national – reportedly, at least 66 local organizations have been formed – and its website is quite active, not least after “bombings” from (evidently) actual tea partiers.

The Oregon Tea Party has taken note. (It has posted on its Facebook site a statement opposing release of Levin’s contact information.) What effect will all this have? We may see in a couple of days.

We’re entering the second summer after the first Tea Beg summer. The TB opposition was caught flat-footed last time, but this is one indicator it won’t be again.

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Apr 12 2010

The great WA > ID shift . . .

Published by under Idaho,Washington

Did you hear that, following up on the recent move by Wal-Mart of its Lewiston, Idaho store across the river to Clarkston, Washington, there’s another move under way?

This one involves the transfer of about 200 employees from its Moscow, Idaho, store to a new supercenter about eight miles west in Pullman, Washington.

This announced on the day the Washington legislature was preparing to raise a string of taxes, including on a number of items Wal-Mart sells.

So once again, how’s that mighty tax-driven business stampede from Washington and Oregon to Idaho turning out?

ANOTHER COMMENT Couldn’t resist adding this one to the mix. The writer is Idaho conservative blogger Adam Graham, who posted this:

“It seems strange. Idaho hasn’t elected a Democratic Governor in 20 years. Washington hasn’t elected a Republican Governor in 30. Yet, it’s Washington that has a pro-growth tax code that makes it a better place to do business. This is because, it’s policy and not partisanship that matters. And Idaho’s tax policy is leftover from the progressive area and not befitting a state that expects to grow in the 21st Century. The fact is that even Oregon is beating us in business tax environment and has a lower tax burden and that’s after its tax increase last year.”

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Apr 11 2010

A buncha taxes

Published by under Washington

With time about to run out on the special session and the governor saying she wouldn’t re-up, and no one wanting to increase the sales tax and with an income tax way off the table . . . the Washington House has passed a tax increase. (Goes now to the Senate, where passage looks more likely than not but isn’t assured.)

Sort of. More or less. Kind of a grab bag of taxes, aimed at raising $794.1 million.

What’s in it? Well, you kinda need a spreadsheet (six pages worth, to be exact) to work it out. Will you have to pay more taxes under it? Pretty much the same answer.

There’s a beer tax increase, a cigarette tax increase, a business & occupation tax increase (although it’s a decrease for some), and a bunch more.

The House Democrats, who passed the package essentially in-caucus, had this comment as well:

Three of the provisions are temporary and expire in 2013 – the B&O surcharge on most service businesses, the beer tax increase and the pop tax increase.
To protect really small service businesses, the B&O surcharge includes a doubling of the small business tax credit. The small business credit protects the first $46,600 in gross receipts for small businesses from any B&O tax. Service businesses that generate up to $80,000 in annual service income would have a smaller B&O tax bill under this proposal than they do today.
None of Washington’s breweries are expected to be impacted by the beer tax increase.
A B&O tax credit for jobs at Washington’s candy manufacturers will buffer them from any negative impact of the candy sales tax.
The first $10 million in volume of soda is exempt.

The idea being that small-scale taxpayers would be hit least, or not at all. A good deal of it sunsets in a few cycles. Parsed, it actually looks like not-bad stuff.

But it’s loaded with political ammo.

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Apr 10 2010

About that Oregon exodus

Published by under Oregon

Ben Jacklet, managing editor of Oregon Business magazine, wrote a web column on March 24 taking a few shots at (mostly unnamed) people worrying about the prospective loss of jobs in Oregon after the January passage of two tax measures, 66 and 67.

Apparently it stung: A week later he reported that the response “set new standards for vitriol. Some readers went so far as to suggest that the job I should watch out for is my own.”

He then wrote: “I have to point out that for all of the great and not-so-great responses last week’s column elicited, I still am lacking the name of a single job-creating investor or executive who is in fact leaving Oregon because of Measures 66 and 67.” (emphasis added)

And then proceeded to name the recent string of companies which this year have announced they are setting up major operations in Oregon, including Genetech, Facebook and Ferrotech, and others expanding theirs.

Worth noting as the states monitor their various business-development strategies.

H/T to Steve Novick, Blue Oregon.

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Apr 09 2010

Waiting for candidate

Published by under Washington

Tom Forbes at Red County makes what sounds like a good point in evaluating the relative rankings of the Republicans interested in taking on Democratic Senator Patty Murray.

He looks at the recent polling of the race by Rasmussen and notably the comparison over time, especially in a prospective matchup pitting Murray against former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi:

“Rossi has slipped a bit from previous polls. Instead of leading Murray by 2-3 points, he is now trailing by a similar margin. Rasmussen attributes this to the Democrat’s attacks, but I think that’s more likely due to impatience among Republicans, who want a horse to get behind sooner rather than later.”

Maybe the attacks mattered, and maybe too the threats on Murray (which might or might not have been reflected in the polling). But Forbes is likely right: Washington Republicans want a horse to back, and time’s a-wastin’. Realistically, trying to mount a major Senate campaign from a minority position in a state as large as Washington (or even Wyoming, for that matter) starting in April of election year is . . . well, a tough shot. It gets tougher every day.

Wrote Forbes: “No one is a bigger supporter of the Tea Party than me. But there will be no replay of the Scott Brown Miracle in Washington. Voters are definitely more inclined to look to the GOP this year for real solutions and alternatives, but they will want more than poster slogans and talk radio tropes.” And that will take longer to sell . . .

ALSO Forbes also suggests that the Rasmussen numbers are suggesting that, absent Rossi, Vancouver state Senator Don Benton is emerging as the Republican front runner. That sounds about right.

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Apr 08 2010

Mediating toward health care?

Published by under Idaho

The natural tendency by the Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred of mediating toward compromise is finding some expression in his new missive on health care. It’s also a demonstration of how difficult, in these times, mediated compromise turns out to be on our hot-button issues.

It emerges in part as kind of response to the incumbent Republican Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who recently happily signed legislation directly challenging the new federal health care law and backed a lawsuit against it. A typical stance: Otter against the feds. Or, Idaho Republican (fill in the name) against the feds.

Allred’s statement on the issue seeks to place himself in the middle, more or less: “In recent weeks, both our federal and state governments have passed new laws regarding health care. Neither of them address our health care problems effectively. Today, I want to tell the people of Idaho that a more promising direction is still available to us.”

One that is non-federal law, and non-state law, presumably. Ah, not exactly:

“I prefer finding solutions. Governor Otter’s focus on lawsuits overlooks an important provision in the federal legislation. States can get a waiver from the federal requirements if they establish alternative programs that control costs and increase access better than the federal legislation itself (see Sec. 1321 and Sec. 1332). I’m here today to tell you that when I’m elected governor, I’ll work to do just that.”

The provision is real. It was pushed by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, and likely is better known in Oregon than in most states. In Oregon, various political people (including legislators) have been talking for some weeks about how the state might use it both to fill in some of the blanks in the current federal law, and to put a more individual state stamp on the effort. One, for example, might (and this appears in a Wyden paper) “Set up a state-run public option that would compete with private insurance companies and hold them accountable. The state could use the total federal dollars it gets to subsidize coverage for low-income folks in the public option as well as in private plans.” There’s a range of possibilities, as long as you meet overall federal guidelines – something like what states have done for years in managing water pollution themselves, but within federally-set limitations.

But we ought to be clear here. What those Oregon political people are talking about doing, like what Allred is talking about doing, is not an opt-out of the federal bill: It is a fulfillment of it. The Wyden provisions amount to a recognition by good number of members of Congress and others in DC that (contrary to their reputation) they do see that good ideas can come from the states, and left them to devise answers to some of the blank spots and to find better ways to do some of the things that were prescribed. Allred’s approach, like Wyden’s, would be an acceptance and a carrying-out of the federal bill.

Allred’s specifics and policies might be, probably would be, different from Wyden’s and Oregon’s. We don’t know exactly what they would be, because his campaign indicated that he would like to develop them through the Common Interest model: to develop a policy brief and then “invite thousands of Idahoans randomly chosen from the registered voter list to review the document and give us their opinion.”

Till then, we have one Idaho gubernatorial candidate (Otter) taking shots at the new law, and another (Allred) who says he will develop policy inside its terms. Politically, this sounds like a framework we recognize.

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Apr 07 2010

Attacking the non-candidate

Published by under Washington

Washington Democrats don’t fool around. A Republican who might (and underscore that) be a strong challenger to Democratic Senator Patty Murray, former gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi, has been mentioned and expressed some modest interest in the Senate race. That has been enough for Washington Democrats to launch the “Dirty Deals Dino for Senate” website, where the text begins, “People call me Dirty Dino because they think my associates are crooks and my deals are unclean.” And goes on from there.

There’s also a “follow Dino on Twitter” icon, which would suggest it’s Rossi’s (but isn’t, of course).

Not till you get to the bottom do you find it was paid for by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (with, you have to figure, a good deal of input from Washington state Democrats).

The idea, doubtless, is to discourage Rossi from running (and the guess here is that, partly because it would be such a late start, he won’t). But at this point, he’s still a private citizen. He has asked the DSCC to pull down the site. The DSCC responded with a suggest that “significant questions remain unanswered” about Rossi.

Maybe a few, too, about attack web sites aimed at private, non-candidate citizens . . .

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Apr 06 2010

He’ll probably say it was just a joke

Published by under Washington

I can advise you to hit the link that follows, but don’t do it if you’ve just eaten or if you’re currently drinking – you wouldn’t want to choke. And prepare yourself for some of the most nauseating reading you’ve ever seen in what may be described as political debate.

It comes out of the arrest today of Charles Alan Wilson, of Selah, on charge of threatening a federal official – mainly Washington Senator Patty Murray, but others as well. The formal complaint is on line at Talking Points Memo.

“Now that you’ve passed your health-care bill, let the violence begin,” goes one of the more family-friendly sentences quoted in the complaint. They came from phone messages, apparently well over a dozen of them, deposited over the course of days shortly after passage of the health care bill. Every one consists of a sickly and inflamed hatred.

Read if you figure you can stand it. The point would be knowing what’s actually involved here when the usual crowd of media apologists tries to describe this obscenity as nothing more than a joke.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: This courageous fighter for freedom never left on Murray’s answering machine anything other than anonymity – never his own actual name. Such courage.

A QUOTE As part of the investigation, an FBI agent called Wilson (identifying himself as a member of a health-related interest group). During it Wilson said he owned and often carried a firearm:

I do pack, and I will not blink [] when I’m confronted, and that is a guarantee. It’s not a threat, it’s a guarantee. . . . And I work in a neighborhood where I have to pack . . . But I pack a .38 and I – If somebody says, I will not blink. Cops only minutes away, but then seconds count . . . That’s how come I pack a firearm.

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Apr 06 2010

Rebellion at Boise

Published by under Idaho,Oregon

Not where you would have expected a rebellion to surface:

The Reverend Thomas Faucher, pastor of the Catholic St. Mary’s Church in Boise, has an opinion piece in the Idaho Statesman today calling for the resignation of Pope Benedict.

It is brief but carefully reasoned, and based around the idea that the church is in a period of crisis and needs a younger and stronger leader:

“It is my opinion, for what it is worth, that 10 years ago many American bishops should have been retired. They might be nice people; they just made terrible errors in administrative judgment. I think the same thing should happen today throughout Europe. I think it would be best if Pope Benedict were to retire. He may be a saintly man, but he is much too old to lead the church through this mess. We need a strong leader who will call the church to humility and penance for our past.”

A good many high Catholic leaders have circled wagons around the Vatican in recent weeks. In Portland, Archbishop John Vlazny killed his subscription to the Oregonian (and urged other Catholics to do likewise) after the paper criticized the church’s handling of its sex scandals and the pope’s role. But that would be what’s expected as an organizational imperative. Faucher’s statement runs against the organizational grain. How many others think something like what he has written, but decided not to stick their necks out?

This blog doesn’t much get into matters of interior church doctrine or governance; the feeling here is that those generally are matters for the various congregations to settle internally, and outsider views don’t matter a lot. The current Catholic scandals, and responses to them, do seem to be spilling over beyond the church’s own boundaries, and what happens next could have an effect on many people who aren’t, as well as are, Catholics.

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Apr 05 2010

Ramparts in the beer wars

Published by under Washington


This weekend we watched the new – or, fairly newly available – documentary Beer Wars, which though shooting widely around the country managed to miss the Pacific Northwest, which is a major hotbed of craft beer activity. In unlikely places. On an obscure mountain road a couple of miles from our small rural town is a guy with a shack brewing and selling some pretty good craft beer. It’s not just in Portland, which may have claim to being the most craft-beer-intensive metro area in the country.

The movie made the point that, because of the way the laws work and the distribution structure is rigged, smaller craft brewers have a tough road trying to get their beers to market – that they do it at all being a minor miracle. They’re visible enough around the Northwest that the question arises of whether the system isn’t quite so rigged here against the small guys as it is elsewhere.

It’s tough nonetheless, which is why the lastest twist in the never-ending Washington state tax negotiations catches some attention, and may have more merit than it seems.

From the Tacoma News Tribune politics blog: Senate Democratic leaders’ “latest offer to their House colleagues includes a 50-cents-per-gallon tax increase on beer that would exempt microbrews, a new proposal that was in neither the House nor the Senate budget.”

It would be a substantial increase. But the micro exception could go some distance to affecting the marketplace.

Keep a watch on this. And have a sip.

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Apr 04 2010

Wu-Cornilles in OR 1?

Published by under Oregon


Rob Cornilles


Stephan Brodhead

Not many true second-tier Northwest congressional races this time: Races where there’s a clear edge to one candidate but involving substantial, significant races not totally locked up. The clearest example, at the moment, looks to be Oregon 1, which has had a fuzzy aspect because of the large number of candidates.

It begins to clarify, though: This looks like a November contest of incumbent Democrat David Wu against Republican Rob Cornilles.

It’s a second-tier race to begin with because there’s an entrenched incumbent in a district where his party is in the majority, and there’s no real scandal or crosswise-with-the-district issue that looks anywhere close to a career-killer. He hasn’t had a close call since his first election in 1998, and in 2008 (when he pulled 71%) didn’t even have a Republican opponent.

The Oregon 1st is anchored by Washington County (west of Portland, and including Beaverton and Hillsboro), which a decade ago leaned Republican but now leans Democratic. It also includes western Portland, Yamhill County (which leans Republican but less than it once did) and the St. Helens-Astoria area (strongly Democratic). This is, at present, a Democratic district.

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing for a challenger to work with: The 2004 college scandal, the 2005 t-shirt issue, the 2008 Klingon speech. Wu’s town hall meetings from last year were a part of the contentious Tea Party summer, and though our take was that Wu handled them pretty well, opinions varied. And as a usually loyal member of the Democratic House caucus on matters from health care to finance and beyond, how you think about Wu will related to how you think about what Congress has been doing.

And Wu has a primary challenge from David Robinson of Beaverton. Robinson’s appearances and statements suggest a calm, centrist Democrat interested most strongly on economic development and defense. But based on what we’ve seen, he’s subtle at best about why he should oust Wu in the Democratic primary. With little evidence of strong funding or organization, Wu doesn’t seem much threatened in in the May primary.

Four candidates filed on the Republican side: Cornilles, Stephan Andrew Brodhead, John Kuzmanich and Douglas Fitzgerald Keller – none terribly well known. Keller has raised little money; Kuzmanich has raised some more (and angled for some visibility at Dorchester). But the contest looks as of it may come down to Cornilles and Brodhead.

We first spotted Brodhead last summer passing out cool drinks at summer town hall events – winning a little gratitude right there. He has self-funded to a considerable degree – $298,300 according to reports as of the end of last year, and apparently more since. One problem is that he doesn’t seem to have attracted a lot of other contributors, and doesn’t seem to have a lot of organization. His website suggests inexperience in running and a quirky smattering of issues, some of it matching up with general Republican views and some outside the box. (He may be one of the few candidates to emphatically say, “Update Air Traffic Control grid to latest computer and moving map display technology” – not to criticize the idea, which certainly makes sense.)

He has some money to spend, but Cornilles (whose signs have been more visible around the 1st than anyone else’s) has the overall range of assets that suggest the nomination is his to lose. His funding seems to be not far off Brodhead’s, and it’s contributions rather than self-funding. He has an experienced campaign core, and he has been making himself visible and fitting into the national political discussion, making regular responses to Wu’s statements and stands. He seems too to be the one Republican of the four to attract some national Republican attention; the House Republican committee gave his campaign status as a “contender” back in February.

Odds in the first is that after the May dust clears, it’ll be Wu and Cornilles.

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Apr 03 2010

The session that’s barely there

Published by under Washington

There’s not a lot good most casual observers of the Washington Legislature would have to say at this point – a session not wrapped up (as it originally was supposed to be) in the middle of last month, but instead dragging on interminably in special session.

But the best you can say is, most legislators aren’t even there. Most of them have gone back to their day jobs; only some of the members of leadership are consistently around the statehouse.

This week, the Washington House mostly didn’t meet at all except just enough to meet the constitutional minimums. They met on Friday to pass some bills, but probably won’t be back until next Friday.

In between, as the Spokesman-Review‘s Jim Camden wrote, “Speaker Frank Chopp, Majority Leader Lisa Brown and the two chambers’ Democratic revenue leaders will continue to seek agreement, or at least less disagreement, on a tax package that can get 25 votes in the Senate and 50 votes in the House.”

In theory, as long as the governor sees fit to call additional special sessions, this could go on for months. But at some point, an embarrassment factor will have to kick in. You would think. Other than for for the legislature’s Republicans, who must be enjoying the heck out of it.

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Apr 02 2010

Got your census?

Published by under Northwest

We keep seeing the “full out your census form and send it in” comments in a range of places, but with a glitch: We haven’t seen our form yet.

Tried calling a census office to find out what the situation is, and got referred to another office, where all we got was a telephone answering machine.

Have other people been getting their census forms? Or not?

UPDATE A friend from Roseburg writes to say that he hasn’t gotten his form either – and gives an indication as to what we may have in common: The post office doesn’t deliver to our houses, only to our post office boxes. It’s a mail system that works perfectly well (for us in Carlton at least) but might be confounding the census bureau, might may be sending a lot of people to addresses that could be reached via box.

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Apr 01 2010

Health care, stateside

Published by under Oregon,Washington

A great deal of what happens next on moving ahead with the federal health care project will occur not on the federal but on the state level. The states most forcefully opposing the new law, which include Idaho, may not be on the front line of this. But others, including Oregon and Washington, are hitting the case at a run.

In Washington, Governor Chris Gregoire held a press conference today to announce a new “health care cabinet” to consider what the state could do next. This could sound like another study group, except that it has specific assignments: to “write and implement the policies and rules necessary to carry out health care reform statewide for all affected state agencies, including consolidating duties, functions and powers related to the state’s overall health care purchasing.”

Things are moving along faster in Oregon, where state Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, who was one of the prime movers behind the state’s health reform law a few years back, is developing legislation to create a state-run health insurance public option that could work within the context of the rest of the state and federal effort. Ulness the Oregon Legislature changes dramatically in November, you’d probably be unwise to bet against its passage.

Maybe even then, because at least one key Republican, Representative Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point (and not a caucus moderate), is quoted as saying he’s open to the idea, even if concerned about some of the possible provisions.

And indications of more coming soon.

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This will be one of the most talked-about Idaho books in Idaho this season: 14 years after its last edition, Ridenbaugh Press has released a list of 100 influential Idahoans. Randy Stapilus, the editor and publisher of the Idaho Weekly Briefing and author of four earlier similar lists, has based this one on levels of overall influence in the state – and freedom of action and ability to influence development of the state – as of the start of 2015.
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WITHOUT COMPROMISE is the story of the Idaho State Police, from barely-functioning motor vehicles and hardly-there roads to computer and biotechnology. Kelly Kast has spent years researching the history and interviewing scores of current and former state police, and has emerged with a detailed and engrossing story of Idaho.


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The Old West saw few murder trials more spectacular or misunderstood than of "Diamondfield" Jack Davis. After years of brushes with the noose, Davis was pardoned - though many continued to believe him guilty. Max Black has spent years researching the Diamondfield saga and found startling new evidence never before uncovered - including the weapon and one of the bullets involved in the crime, and important documents - and now sets out the definitive story. Here too is Black's story - how he found key elements, presumed lost forever, of a fabulous Old West story.
See the DIAMONDFIELD page for more.

Medimont Reflections Chris Carlson's Medimont Reflections is a followup on his biography of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. This one expands the view, bringing in Carlson's take on Idaho politics, the Northwest energy planning council, environmental issues and much more. The Idaho Statesman: "a pull-back-the-curtain account of his 40 years as a player in public life in Idaho." Available here: $15.95 plus shipping.
See the Medimont Reflections page  
Idaho 100, about the 100 most influential people ever in Idaho, by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson is now available. This is the book about to become the talk of the state - who really made Idaho the way it is? NOW AN E-BOOK AVAILABLE THROUGH KINDLE for just $2.99. Or, only $15.95 plus shipping.

Idaho 100 by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson. Order the Kindle at For the print edition, order here or at Amazon.