Writings and observations

Among the stories not happening in the Northwest . . . wildfires.

There was a substantial fire this week, more than 100 acres and since put out, in the flat desert lands of the Idaho National Laboratory, west of Idaho Falls. But early indications are that it wasn’t natural, that it resulted from some human action, or inaction. And that’s about it.

The National Interagency Fire Center at Boise reports that so far this year, Idaho has had 122 wildland fires, Oregon 36 and Washington 165. Acres burned amounted to about 1,000 in Washington and Oregon together, and about 31,000 in Idaho. Those sound like large numbers but they’re actually relatively small, smaller than most of the time by now.

Fingers crossed.

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Idaho Northwest

The Ron Wyden Oregon Senate campaign in 2004 didn’t talk a lot about the opposition (which was slight), but it’s talking a little more this time. And it’s even made an accusation of the opposition, which on its face looks pretty sound.

Jim Huffman is a stronger candidate, but yes, he seems – certainly at this point – nowhere close to Wyden in numbers, either money or polling percentages. The Wyden line: “Huffman and Moore are releasing laughable poll numbers to distract reporters from their as-yet unreleased fundraising numbers due out today.”

Moore being pollster Bob Moore, who released numbers showing Huffman ahead. Which might not be a cred-blaster except for the strong of other polls giving Wyden a big lead, and an apparent dispute about whether Moore is polling for Huffman. (The Wyden people supply some evidence that he is.)

The whole statement is worth reading.

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Oregon

The do-away with plastic bags bandwagon is abruptly rolling at full speed. What lies behind the sudden impetus is unclear, but in Portland at leas the push is on.

Although, Jack Bogdanski makes a useful point: “At our place, every plastic grocery bag gets reused, usually for household garbage. If the stores stop handing them out, we’ll just buy a box of them every now and then. It’s not clear how this will help the planet.”

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Oregon

seattle nightlife

Almost sounds like a joke: How do you solve the problem of drunken behavoir at closing time? Maybe eliminating closing time will help.

Actually, it might. Has it ever made sense that cities dump their heaviest drinkers out on the street at the same hour? (Recognizing, of course, that plenty of bars simply choose to close earlier for their own business reasons.) Maybe allowing them to stay open until things wind down, which may be later than 1 or 2 a.m., would make more sense.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn seems to be up for exploring the idea. He launched it today, not as a hard proposal but as the opening of a discussion.

It’s just one piece of what his group at city hall is calling the Seattle Nightlife Initiative. Altogether: “1. Code compliance enforcement. 2. Flexible liquor service hours. 3. Noise ordinance enforcement. 4. Security training requirements. 5. Precinct community outreach. 6. Professional development. 7. Late-night transportation alternatives. 8. Targeting public nuisances.”

Which taken together has a sensible ring to it, at least as a core set of efforts.

A report on the “flexible hours” (nice euphemism) idea offers some specific support through extended studies of places where the idea has been tried.

For example:

Vingilis et. al. (2008) argue that in two Canadian cities, Ontario-London and Windsor, there was a significant overall reduction in impaired driving and no change in the rate of assault charges during the 11pm-4am window before and after the extended drinking hours.
Hough and Hunter (2008) find that in England and Wales the shift in policy had little effect on alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problem behaviors. They claim that the new law did not increase crime and note that these findings are different than in research findings in Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, Ireland and Iceland. They note that it is difficult to compare previous research findings due to the variability in evaluation methods. …
Plant and Plant (2005) argue that the Licensing Act of 2003 in the United Kingdom was not motivated by proof that extended hours would mitigate the harmful behaviors of over intoxication, but rather it was supported by the assumption that harmful drinking behaviors are primarily motivated by “drinking against the clock,” that is, drinking to excess shortly before closing time (363). The study authors argue that increased availability of alcohol through extended hours can lead to increased consumption. They cite previous research in Australia, Canada, West Australia, and Ireland that asserts extending hours leads to an increase in casualty traffic accidents and binge drinking; however, the study authors point out that in the cases of Canada, where only a modest increase in closing hours was implemented, the extension had no significant impact on blood-alcohol-positive road fatalities. The authors point out that each country has a particular drinking culture. …
Bouffard et. al. (2007) found that Minnesota’s extension of the closing time for eating and social establishments that serve alcohol did lead to an increase in police stops for DUIs; however, they suggest that the increase is caused by the increased police response concurrent with the study and not increased consumption.

The conclusion: “Seattle is a model city to pilot a flexible hour system. Unlike many of the cities referenced in the research review, the introduction of extended hours for alcoholic beverage service in Seattle is part of a comprehensive, citywide nightlife management initiative that
addresses many of the concerns and potential impacts from the change.”

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Washington

Most people probably won’t encounter this, but it’s worth considering as we think about the long-range future of vote-by-mail, which is probably growing, and of the U.S. Post Service, which has been slowly spiraling downward.

The Klamath Falls News & Herald reports about the community at rural Crescent Lake (in far northwest Klamath County, about 70 miles southeast of Eugene), which has lost its post office and the zip code that goes with it, replacing it with another that has resulted in confusion. Getting mail there has become something of a problem.

When time came to vote in the primary election, there were issues getting them because the elections office was set up to use the Crescent Lake address and zip. The ballots were expedited, finally. But when time came to mail them back, the voters had to drive 35 miles to get them sent off.

Given the trend lines of mail voting and postal cuts, this is the sort of glitch that probably needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

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Oregon

The point tends not to be made this bluntly – and for good reason. It seems worthy of quote here because, we suspect, quite a few people out there are like-minded.

It comes in a letter to the editor of the Tri-City Herald from Jerry Czebotar of Pasco, who starts out mentioning (inaccurately) statistics on tax rates, and winds up with this:

“The rich are rich because they are smarter and more ambitious than the average person. There are three reasons why an otherwise healthy American won’t be successful. They are either lazy, stupid or have substance abuse issues or some combination of the three. Those who are feeling wealth envy should examine their own lives. Are they stupid, lazy or drink or drug too much?”

There being, of course, no people laid off because of no fault of their own, or people working three jobs at minimum wage to survive. And there being, of course, absolutely no rich people who are “stupid, lazy or drink or drug too much”? And of course all of the rich having earned it all by the honest sweat of their brow, rather than inheriting or marrying into it. (Has he so much as visited a supermarket checkout counter lately?)

There are reasons Czebotar’s line of reasoning has spread in recent years. Inadvertence is not one of them. Nor is anything resembling a reality check.

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Washington

digest
weekly Digest

A variety of indicators last week, ranging from a slowing growth in Washington state, along with a decline in sales tax revenues, to – strange though it might seem in these times – growth in revenue the state of Idaho has received from banks.

Politics was a little quieter last week, although the Oregon Independent Party got underway with its unusual, first in the region (maybe the first in the nation) form on on-line voting for selection of its parties members. The Palomar gas line in Oregon was put on limbo, and talk spread about a possible move for the national fiddle festival long housed at Weiser.

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests – for Idaho, Washington and Oregon – moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what’s happening. And we’re taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That’s $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 – in printed book form – and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here’s a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you’d like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

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Digests

otter
Butch Otter

When politicians talk about governments benefiting business, they almost always talk too generically. Very few governmental actions can help, or hurt, all businesses equally. Walmart and Ridenbaugh Press are unlikely to be equal recipients of benefits of any single government policy. (Well, health care reform comes to mind, but not many others.)

This comes to mind with today’s Idaho Statesman story about Governor C.L. “Butch Otter and his take on the economy.

Otter is famously down on government and a cheerleader for the private marketplace. But not, it turns out, all of the private marketplace in anything resembling an equal way. Otter grew up in a rural area. He attends and participates in rodeos and similar events. He worked in his formative professional years for a large agricultural processing company (J.R. Simplot). His background wouldn’t necessarily have pushed his view and perspective hard toward the traditional, and mostly vanished, rural farm/ranch sense of what the world is about. But it seems to have done. (Look at the pictures on the governor’s web site front page.)

What practical effect does this have?

That’s where the story today, by Rocky Barker, picks up. He starts with a description of the governor’s recent trade mission to Asia, and described solid work in helping bridge international trade – for some businesses, not exclusively but mainly the agricultural-based and the well-connected (such as Melaleuca). From the story:

In China, Otter repeated the economic vision he has held for Idaho for decades.

“You’ve got to dig it out of the ground, you’ve got to grow it or you’ve got to cut it out of the forest,” Otter said in meetings aimed at bringing Chinese investors to Idaho. Even computers, Otter said, are built with natural resources like silicon.

And there was this: “This vision leaves out those companies who are not aimed at farming, mining and logging, said Mark Rivers, a Downtown Boise developer who opened the innovative business incubator the Water Cooler. It discourages the very creative people who are the raw material of the next economic boom. ‘You can’t say you are a new economy state with an old economy mentality,’ Rivers said.”

Idaho’s considerable growth in the last generation has had nothing to do with the kind of resource businesses Otter seems to focus on. It has had to do with technology and service businesses, primarily. And Idaho’s population is less and less rural, these days; at this point, most of it suburban.

Not that the resource or older businesses aren’t important; of course they are. But Otter’s view seems to be that other businesses – which is to say the great majority of businesses, even in Idaho – are valuable in large part to the extent that help or support those he sees as central.

It’s a narrow view of the economy, and becoming narrower.

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Idaho

There’s been a lot of talk about the idea of dramatically changing the legal structure within which Oregon’s universities operate. Several university presidents have raised the idea. But the state Board of Higher Education, meeting today at Portland, now seem to be taking work on the idea much further.

What the board flatly approved today has a dramatic ring to it: “the Board approved a legislative concept that changes the legal status of the OUS [Oregon University System] from that of a state agency to that of a public university system and provides the Board with the authority outlined in the legislative concepts; and that staff, working with the Governance and Policy Committee, develop and negotiate a compact with the state government with measurable outcomes for the level of appropriations that constitute state investment in 2011; and that the Board authorize an ongoing, participative public process with citizens, state officials and groups throughout Oregon regarding the education, research, and service activities and programs of the OUS and its institutions in order to ensure that the OUS is meeting state needs and can help ensure that Oregonians understand the value of its public university system.”

This still doesn’t sound super-specific, and probably wasn’t meant to be. But some of the thinking behind it, and where it might be headed, seems clear enough. Here’s some of what Chancellor George Pernsteiner said (this is in minutes-type form) as he outlined the idea:

He “introduced the OUS governance proposal by laying out the need for change based on demographic, economic, educational and other changes that have occurred in the 80 years since the OUS was created, and which is outlined in the Chancellor’s paper, “Considerations for Change.” He noted that the continued erosion of state support for higher education has not been accompanied by parallel reductions in state controls over university operations. The costs and inefficiencies inherent in the current legal status of the OUS as a state agency are many, and thus the OUS is seeking the flexibility to operate more effectively to enable the universities to be more successful in educating Oregonians. Pernsteiner noted that Oregon’s community colleges operate as special districts established by the legislature and do not work under the restrictions of a state agency as the OUS does.”

Well, something needs to be done about the underfunding of Oregon higher education – there’s a strong consensus about that much. Maybe this is it.

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Oregon

The dustup between Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has gotten only limited media attention, though the Horse’s Ass blog has been tracking it thoroughly. The dispute has to do with Goldmark’s request for legal work from the attorney general’s office in a land case in Okanogan County, and McKenna’s refusal to provide it. The dispute has gotten increasingly heated.

Today’s note comes from the Washington news site Publicola, which said it ran into Representative Jay Inslee and chatted about the case. There’s some reason to: Inslee (a Democrat) is leading prospective candidate for governor in 2012, and so is McKenna (a Republican).

Asked about the McKenna-Goldmark dispute, Islee replied that McKenna “seems to think he’s the Lands Commissioner, the Secretary of State, the Governor, and the AG.”

Round 1.

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Washington