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Posts published in July 2011

Visualizing the cuts

There's a good deal of discussion in King County about prospective cuts to the King County Metro bus service - major cuts, as plans have it. But what would it actually look like? What would the cuts mean? Is there a way to picture it?

Even if the King bus system isn't a top priority for you, check out the video put together by a blogger at Communications from Elsewhere. It shows, in dynamic fashion, where the buses run, and which runs are likely to be retained, which cut entirely, and which may be modified in some way. It gives you a good idea of what the real, practical effects may be. (Especially, it turns out, on the east side.)

Becomes almost hypnotic if you stare at it more than a few seconds.

The Interior budget: Two views

When you live in a one-party area, you tend to get just one point of view - from your local officials - on the subjects of the day. Here, an atetmpt to break that mold; we'll try to do this from time to time: Contrasting views about the same thing from different members of Congress, including the arguments made by each.

Topic today is the budget bill marked up - amended - on Thursday by the House Interior and the Environment Appropriations Subcommittee; the budget covers that subject area.

Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, who chairs the subcommittee, had this to say about it:

The Act provides a responsible level of funding for the Department of the Interior, the EPA, and related agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, by saving $2.1 billion from the current fiscal year’s level and focusing on proven, core programs.

“We are living at a time when the federal government borrows over 40 cents for each dollar that it spends. We are also living at a time of record deficits and debts,” Chairman Simpson said during the subcommittee markup. “This committee is taking meaningful steps to help put our country’s fiscal house in order. While reductions in discretionary spending alone will not erase the deficit, the bill before us this morning is a step forward in that direction.”

The FY12 Interior and Environment Appropriations Act funds agencies under the bill at $27.5 billion, a 12% cut from the President’s budget request. The EPA will see an additional $1.5 billion in cuts from the current level. Between this bill and the FY11 Continuing Resolution passed in April, EPA funding has been reduced by 31 percent during the current calendar year.

“Some naysayers will no doubt try to portray Republicans as not supporting clean water, clean air, and a clean environment, but such assertions are simply untrue,” said Simpson. “The reality is that the EPA has received unprecedented and unsustainable increases in recent years. In an environment of historic budget deficits and reduced spending, it should come as no surprise that the agency that saw the greatest increases will inevitably see the greatest cuts.”

The bill also shifts funding away from unproven programs and government growth and focuses it on agencies’ core missions and programs that have demonstrated value to taxpayers. The Chairman’s mark drastically reduces funding for new land acquisitions but provides adequate funding for priorities like National Park Service operations and resource management. The bill cuts funding for expensive and uncoordinated climate change programs by 22% but enables the government to meet its trust responsibilities to Native American communities.

(Follow the link, and you'll find some additional points Simpson makes.)

Here is Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, also a member of the committee, criticizing the budget:

“The Interior-Environment Appropriations bill being marked up in Subcommittee today represents an abdication of responsibility on the part of the federal government. Not only does the bill cut funding for clean air, clean water and protection of public lands, but in numerous areas it actually undermines the role of the federal government in protecting our nation’s environment and public health.

“The devastating cuts to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Park Service, EPA’s operating budget, the Interior Department’s oversight budget for offshore oil drilling and more will leave communities around the country struggling to provide services to their citizens and even to comply with federal laws.

“In Oregon, the cuts to public lands funding in this bill could mean missed opportunities to protect special places in the Columbia River Gorge and elsewhere in the state. In many cases, these cuts will also cripple local economies – studies have shown that every $1 billion invested in water infrastructure creates between 20,000-26,000 jobs. This bill cuts almost $1 billion from the SRFs, which help states finance federally mandated upgrades and repairs to water and sewer systems. It will put additional pressure on already tight local budgets as well as potentially increasing water and sewer rates, which would be an extreme hardship in cities like Portland that have already seen water rates skyrocket in recent years.

“The policy riders in this spending bill can only be described as fulfilling special interest wish list. From blocking clean air regulations and oversight of mining to preventing Federal action to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to a new moratorium on listing wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, this bill implements what polluting industries have been asking for. The bill would even allow new hard rock mining around the Grand Canyon.

“If this bill comes to the Floor, I will strongly oppose it and urge my colleagues to do the same.”

Sectors in conflict

A group called the Coalition for a Working Oregon, a group made up of leaders in such Oregon industries as restaurants, nurseries and others, is at work in Washington (D.C.) trying to oppose a piece of legislation which would require nearly all businesses to use the E-Verify system to determine whether the people being hired are in this country legally. The Coalition is forthright about its situation: Its businesses hire people who aren't. They do it because there's not much other way they can get needed work done, within their ordinary budgets.

Many of those people are Republicans, and their efforts appear likely to be setting them on a collision course with other Republicans. To which one nursery executive told the Oregonian, "If you're 80 percent our friend but the 20 percent puts us out of business, we will have a problem."

This situation is nothing new in the case of immigration law; Republicans have been dealing with the internal difficulties there at least since President George W. Bush tried to rationalize the system, and couldn't get enough support.

Consider now, though, the situation in Idaho: Ordinary trade development efforts are becoming enough to rouse concern of foreigners too.

On July 16, at its annual convention, the Idaho Republican Party will be asked to demand the legislature investigate the state's current efforts to expand trade with China.

It's a real peculiarity. Trade expansion with China has been something the state has been pushing for a great many years, and it's one of the initiatives Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter appears to be (with some justification) proudest of. He has worked on a number of agreements, some of which have brought business to the state. There's been talk of setting up a free-trade zone. There's been nothing especially secret about this; Otter has enjoyed trumpeting his efforts in these areas.

But the effort before the state GOP would ask the legislature to "inquire 1) how does this not violate our own state Constitution, 2) if this is a security risk to Gowen Field, Mountain Home Air Force Base, the State of Idaho, or the U.S., and 3) why are we not internally developing our own natural resources."

Try Googling "otter china free trade zone idaho" and you'll find some peculiar stuff: CHINESE INVASION OF IDAHO « The Radio Detective ... Idaho to be first Chinese state ... Why has Butch Otter invited Communist China to Idaho? ... And this goes on, and on.

Is the next step kicking Otter out of the Republican Party for not being rigorously conservative enough?

Not hitting expectations

The big Tea Party-related event of the season in Idaho has been slated to be "Arise and Awake America: A Solution," on July 8 in Nampa. It has gotten some attention, some local participation and some name speakers. Evidently, it has not, so far, gotten much by way of confirmed attendance.

Probably one reason for this is that Tea Party events this year nationally have been falling into a pattern: Rather than growing from the energy many had in 2009 and for a while in 2010, they have been cratering - handsful of people showing up where hundreds or thousands did not so long before. And that's at the free events; you have to pay $10 to get into this one (or $15 for the two-day version, running into Saturday).

But there's another factor here that the groups own backers acknowledge in an e-mail, as the Idaho Statesman has noted. Seeking more ticket-buyers, the backers launched a recent email with this:

"It has been brought to our attention that the turnout for the Awake and Arise America event has been much less than expected. As one scheduled speaker says “there may be frustrations about religious affiliations or the fact that the speakers may speak on controversial issues, but are we really not then just looking for excuses to not attend? As many of you know, what we once knew as mere conspiracy theories today have varying degrees of truth. Are we willing like so many other people today to turn our head thinking if we ignore the possibilities that these problems will just go away?"

That the organization's own backers use the phrase "conspiracy theories" should tell you something. So who are the speakers? The keynoter is Stephen Jones, founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice, which suggests that the Bush Administration and key industry people knew about but declined to stop the 9/11 attacks. The Statesman described another keynote speaker, Jack Monnett, as "a historian and author of, "Awakening to our Awful Situation: Warnings from the Nephi Prophets." Monnett explores the Book of Mormon's account of "Secret Combinations" and how they infiltrated government at the highest levels, and argues such conspiracies are afoot today."

You can see where the broad numbers of Idaho people, conservative as they may be, aren't jumping on board with the event.

More interesting is who in Idaho did jump on board and stay there - who is listed as a speaker at the event (meaning, of course, that even if they didn't originally know who would be keynoting, they could have backed out later but didn't). These Idahoans include Paul Venable, chair of the Constitution Party of Idaho; Tom Munds, a Constitutionalist Idaho state candidate; state Representative Pete Nielsen; Dale Pearce, area coordinator for John Birch Society; Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation; and Idaho State Senator Monty Pearce.

Carlson: “To be, or not to be …”

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The latest national Gallup poll on social attitudes reports a new number one issue that most divides the American public. For years the issue has been abortion. Today it is physician assisted suicide (PAS).

While 48 percent of the respondents said the matter was “morally objectionable all the time,” some 45 percent said it could be morally acceptable.

The issue has gained sufficient attention that the nation’s Catholic bishops finally issued a policy statement deploring its increased public acceptance at their annual summer meeting in June in Bellevue, Washington.

It is an eloquent statement, worth reading. It provides effective counter-arguments to those made by PAS supporters that the issue is a matter of “choice” and “compassion.” Sadly, it fails to grasp that one cannot effectively counter an emotional appeal rooted in the fear many have of dying with rational appeals. The challenge is to find an emotional appeal that resonates more forcefully with the public, regardless of whether one believes in God and an Afterlife, and one rooted in hope rather than despair.

Opponents of abortion on demand finally figured this out and began to turn the tide when they started running ads featuring the child at 20 weeks in the womb, with a beating heart and already human form. Those ads made an emotional connection that underscored their message. Consequently, it put abortion supporters on the defensive by casting would-be mothers who use abortion as a contraceptive or simply don’t want to accept the responsibility for a consensual act of sex that produces a third life as being selfish and willing to sacrifice the life of a child because of inconvenience.

Physician assisted suicide is an equally complex issue, which most folks instinctively see purely in their own context. Many can see themselves taking a premature departure if they feel they are being made to suffer unendurable pain, or have become a burden on their families. (more…)

Carl Burke

A thanks here to Marc Johnson at Boise for taking note of the passing of Carl Burke, an event that didn't draw a lot of public attention but surely should have.

Read Johnson's piece on Burke. We'll add here not a lot more, other than that Burke was Senator Frank Church's closest political partner - other than Church's wife Bethine - for the three decades they were involved in politics. It started with both of them seeking to run, filing for the legislature in Idaho in 1952, and losing - this just four years before Church would run statewide and beat an incumbent Republican, Herman Welker. Surely there was a time when Burke, who was as skilled and polished as Church though in different ways, was also considering elective office. He might have done well had he pursued it.

As it was, he was one of the critical people behind Church's long political career, and never more than at the beginning, when the core believers around the young Boise attorney, who'd never won a political office, wasn't especially large. In later years, he was a fine interview - a very likable person. And, it should be noted, widely regarded as one of the best Idaho attorneys of his time.

Test case Yakima

Probably there will be more such cases, but watch the numbers coming out of Yakima County.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has developed a program working with local law enforcement: Whenever someone is booked and fingerprinted by local law enforcement, those fingerprints are sent to a national database and matched against fingerprints of people who have been picked up previous on immigration issues. The idea, of course, is to catch illegal immigrants who have committed crimes.

Yakima County will be one of the pilot "Secure Communities" programs. A dozen other Washington counties are lined up to take part sometime after.

It is the first in Washington, but not in the Northwest.

In Idaho, Ada and Canyon counties have been in the program for more than a year (since June 3, 2010), and Kootenai, Bannock, Bonner, Bonneville and Twin Falls - between them, the largest counties in the state - were added this spring. The "The statewide cumulative number of convicted criminal aliens administratively arrested or booked into ICE custody" thus far is reported as 303.

In Oregon, four of the five largest counties (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas, Marion) joined the system in the spring or summer of 2010, and four more (Columbia, Clatsop, Jackson, Josephine) this year. The total "criminal aliens administratively arrested or booked": 989.

It'll be useful to see how the numbers develop over time.

Governable

Not a lot to add really to the Oregonian's editorial today summing up this year's legislative session, and Governor John Kitzhaber's role in it.

With few substantial exceptions (tax policy reform for one), legislators got done this session what they had to get done and actually accomplished a number of things - such as redistricting of both legislative and congressional districts - that few people would have bet they could have done at all. The sweeping education restructuring and health care efforts were the sort of major initiatives that, if done at all, usually take years. But that may be the advantage of having a session that runs close to half a year: There was enough time to consider them, at length, without blindly rushing, and still get them done.

Nothing's perfect, this legislature included, but lawmakers from elsewhere could do worse than to look closely at just how and what this 2011 session did, and maybe extract some lessons. In a time when partisanship nationally is as ferocious as in many decades (at least), both parties in this case genuinely worked together and worked cooperatively. Occasional brief potholes emerged, but they were navigated around. Overwhelmingly, legislators seemed to display the attitude that they were there to get work done, not to make partisan points. And they got a lot of work done. Anything short of real determination along those lines would have been enough to blow things up, with the House evenly divided, the Senate nearly so, and the governor having a reputation from the past of being quick with the veto stamp.

Plenty of state legislative sessions routinely come in for complaint - that this isn't the way it should be done. Well, call this a counterpoint: To a large extent, this is how it should be done.