Writings and observations

Occupy in downtown McMinnville, at the US Bank square/photo by Randy Stapilus


The Occupy events in the big cities – New York, Boston, even Portland – get most of the headlines, but as of last week and especially this week they’re getting underway even in many smaller communities. As in our nearest mid-sized city, McMinnville.

This one is smaller scale, in numbers and ambition. About 30 people were there for the opening of the event at 11 a.m. today, at the US Bank plaza downtown (in front of the Ben Franklin statue), but organizers were hoping to triple that as the group walked a few blocks north up Third Street (the main downtown road) to a city park.

No one there really looked much like a hippy. (The crowd skewed older.) The signs were much like those most familiar from other marches: “People before Profit”; “You are the 99%”; “Jobs not Cuts/Tax Wall Street”; “Corporations are not People; Money is not Speech”; “Main Street not Wall Street.”

No long-term stays were anticipated there. But the sheer numbers of protesters across the country does provide an indicator of something substantial going on.

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A report well worth reading just released from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, involving Idaho to a substantial extent but not on the subject of neo-Nazis.

The Propagandists: Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association & the Demonization of LGBT People” fills in the story of Fischer, a highly visible Idaho figure in the first half of the last decade. Three years ago, he took a job as head of the American Family Association and remained audible, at least, via a radio program.

Controversial since its founding in 1977, the gentle-sounding AFA has been anything but. Since Fischer’s arrival especially, it’s not hard to see how the SPLC would place it on its list of hate groups:

But in the last three years, since hiring a radical Idaho preacher named Bryan Fischer as its director of issue analysis, the AFA has gone even further. Since moving to Mississippi to join the group, Fischer has declared that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler … the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews” — a complete falsehood, as any historian knows. He has suggested that gay sex be recriminalized. He has routinely claimed that gay men molest children at rates far higher than those of heterosexual men — another falsehood, as all the relevant professional scientific associations have long agreed. Fischer has said that President Obama “nurtures a hatred for the white man” and suggested that welfare incentivizes black “people who rut like rabbits.” He has said that non-Christian religions “have no First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion,” claimed that the “sexual immorality of Native Americans” was part of what made them “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil,” and suggested that the best way to deal with promiscuity would be to kill the promiscuous.”

The background about Fischer’s activities in Idaho, contains some new information and perspective, and is worth the read. As well as the larger picture.

A question: Why are broadcasters giving Fischer and this group air time?

The report overall was written by Heidi Beirich, Evelyn Schlatter
and Robert Steinback, and edited by Mark Potok. The portion of it containing the Fischer profile came from Idaho writers Jody May-Chang and Jill Kuraitis.

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One of the books on my bookshelf since its publication in 1986 is Who Profits: Winners, Losers and Government Regulation, by Robert Leone. It’s an academic treatment, but it offers a useful framework for looking at regulation, and an ironic one too: His academic background (Harvard) notwithstanding, Leone suggests that regulations – meaning law and rules generally – are best examined from a practical and economic standpoint, not ideological.

On page 135, he writes that “the first and perhaps most obvious characteristic of management to government policy is that it tends to be ideological. That is to say, management’s first reaction, especially to the adverse consequences of regulation or government intervention, tends to be a principled one and not an economic one.” Leone argues that while ideology has a useful place in politics, it is “counterproductive” in evaluating policy. Look instead, he suggests, at the practical effects. (For his full and compelling argument as to why, read the book.)

All that comes to mind in reading the excellent Seattle Times column out today by Bruce Ramsey on Initiative 1183, the measure that would allow for sale of hard liquor in private stores, instead of (as at present) only in state stores. It is a revision of two measures that failed at the polls last year.

Among the key arguments (implicitly or explicitly) against the measure are that liquor could be sold in thousands of tiny shops all over the place, and that teenage drinking could be expected to rise. Ramsey makes short work of these. He noted studies showing that teenage drinking is actually at lower levels in California, Nevada and Arizona, where private store sales are allowed, than in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, which all are state-store states. And he points out that, in contrast to at least one of the 2010 measures, few stores under 10,000 square feet – meaning few if any convenience stores or mini-marts – could qualify to be sellers.

Having made clear that the debate over the initiative isn’t about any of these things:

“This is a high-stakes fight. It’s fun to write about public safety, or whether selling schnapps is a proper function of government. But the organizations writing million-dollar checks are playing to win. To them it is a fight over the market for alcoholic spirits in a state of 6.6 million people — and also about Washington’s rules for selling wine, which 1183 frees from pricing restrictions. Costco is bankrolling the Yes campaign. It wants to get into the market in bottled spirits in its home state. It also wants more freedom to buy wine and sell it at good prices. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America are bankrolling the No campaign. Their members like the rules just as they are — and they do not want to compete with Costco.”

The rest, he said, is just “face paint and rubber masks.” He seems to have it about right. The guess here is that Leone might agree.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

On Election Day, in November of 1994, a Seattle reporter for the Hearst-owned Seattle Post-Intelligencer came by my office in downtown Spokane early in the day wanting to know what I thought we’d know at the end of day, after the polls closed and the ballots were counted.

Solveig Torvik, of obvious Norwegian heritage, was raised in Blackfoot. By reputation she was a solid, well-informed reporter who did her homework. When I opined that the end of the day would see Tom Foley become the first sitting Speaker of the House to lose both his seat in Congress and the Speaker’s gavel since something like 1846, Ms. Torvik was shocked.

Surely the people of Washington’s 5th Congressional District had enough sense not to turn their back on their own self-interest in having the most powerful member of the House, the person second in line for the presidency, as their congressman?

The answer came quickly within 90 minutes after the polls closed: Yes, the voters of the 5th District were, in their view, willing to place the needs of America ahead of their own self-interest and retire the Speaker who had served them so well for 30 years. The 5th district, along with Idaho’s 1st district, bought into Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” hook, line and sinker.

My answer to the why was even simpler: Speaker Foley had lost touch with the voters.

The evidence was easy to see. Voters had awakened to the fact Congress exempts itself from almost all the rules and regulations it imposes on the rest of us when it comes to things like OSHA, Clean Water and Clean Air, Labor practices, etc. Speaker Foley’s normally keen ear had turned to tin after 30 years.

In debates with the charming, pleasant George Nethercutt, the Speaker chose to defend the congressional perks. It was not well-received. In addition, part of the Contract with America was a pledge to serve only three terms and then retire.

Speaker Foley spoke against term-limits while both Nethercutt in Washington’s 5th District, and Helen Chenoweth, in Idaho’s 1st, signed the pledge. Only Chenoweth, it turned out, kept her word, retiring after three terms.

It was no coincidence the Contract referenced a three term limit. Like most pension plans, the Congressional plan vests after five years. Unlike most pension plans, however, Congress awards itself a Cadillac plan if there ever was one, with health benefits attached that exceed the best plans anyone can obtain anywhere else.

Members of Congress do take care of themselves and their colleagues, both current and former. Therein lies one of the biggest disconnects between the governed and their governors, and why some pundits today see parallels to 1994.

Occasionally, one will see some member of congress try to make a p.r. splash by turning back part of their salary (now at a nice $166,000 per year), or part of their office allowance. Never though does one see a member rejecting the pension and retirement health benefits plan.

Because it also takes enormous sums of money to run for office, those able to fully or partially self-finance have a leg up on those that can’t. Is it any wonder then that the current Congress is comprised of more millionaires than ever before?

Is it any surprise that these predominantly rich individuals take care of their rich brethren and their rich donors by continuing to protect loopholes and tax dodges?

Is it any surprise also that means-testing of things like Medicare and Social Security, which seems so logical, never gets taken up?

Is it really a surprise to see Congress held in its lowest regard ever?

Clearly, our representatives really aren’t representative. Just look at their financial disclosure reports. There’s no way a multi-millionaire like Senator Jim Risch (estimated worth is between $15 million and $50 million) can feel the uncertainty, the pain and the fear of a 55-year-old hard-working, God-fearing, decent family raising man who is looking for a job in this economy to keep body and soul together. Senator Risch never has to worry. He’s insulated from a dire future. The vast majority of the rest of us are not.

Nothing personal, but how can he empathize? He can’t. So how can he get what’s going on in the state and nation? Almost all members of Congress are losing touch. They’ve created a system of security for themselves and simply cannot relate to the insecurity so pervasive in society.

It has to disturb everyone, regardless of party or ideology, that so many middle class, hard working Idahoans and Americans are up against the wall and losing hope.

Admit it. We all know hard-working, tax-paying folks turning their homes or condos back to banks, inviting foreclosure, despite what it does to their credit rating.

There’s a bitterness brewing in the hinterland towards all members of Congress that should tell them to quit dwelling in “Beulah land,” and start to get it. We’re in trouble. And many members of Congress are in trouble, whether they yet know it or not.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Washington

Albert Rosellini

Albert Rosellini‘s father was a saloon keeper whose business was shut down by the coming of prohibition. He grew up in the Ranier Valley area of south Seattle when it was known as Garlic Gulch because of all the immigrant Italian families there.

Rosellini, who would become governor of Washington for two terms (elected 1956 and 1960, defeated in bids for third terms in 1964 and 1972), lived through some astounding changes before his death Monday at the age of 101. As a political record-setter, there was this: He was the first Catholic elected governor from a state west of the Mississippi.

He was known for a good many things, including his improbable tangential connection to “strippergate” not so many years ago, but probably most significantly to infrastructure (well, that and the Seattle World’s Fair, which he promoted heavily). One of the Puget Sound area’s landmark construction projects, the floating bridge on Lake Washington that links Seattle and Medina via SR 520.

All these years it has been a free-passage bridge. But that would be the same SR 520 on which that is about to change, as the Washington Department of Transportation notes: “Electronic tolling starts in December on the SR 520 bridge to help pay for the construction of a new faster, safer bridge.”

Haven’t seen any commentary from Rosellini on the new tolls. But he undoubtedly had some opinions about a bridge construction that could be done without them a half-century ago … but, apparently, no longer.

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We here make a fair amount of use of press releases; we grab a good deal of material from them for our weekly Digests and other things. Much maligned, they can be highly useful. They tend to be pretty accurate, at least as far as they go, and if you have enough background to know when you’re being spun, to know what’s inflated, and to know what’s being left out, you can gather a lot of useful information through them.

Some of these matters show up in an excellent piece today in the Twin Falls Times News, which dissects a press release from Senator Mike Crapo. Of this one in particular, the paper concluded, “As with most press releases we receive, Crapo’s release is completely factual. But the data is also spun harder than it should be.” Fairly normal for press releases from most political sources.

The article itself is a nice piece of background, well worth reading whether you are or aren’t on many news release mailing lists.

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ONE. The 1st district debate, involving three Democrats and three Republicans, saw relatively few direct shots between candidates, and most of those were between two Republicans, Rob Cornilles and Jim Greenfield. (Greenfield considered Cornilles as insufficiently faithful to Republican principles.)

The main shot from a Democrat to a Republican, and it may have been the only one in the 90-minute debate, came from Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian to Greenfield. The subject was corporate profits and benefits and labor outsourcing; Greenfield argued that businesses including corporations need as favorable a tax and regulatory environment in the United States as they could get, to keep them here. Avakian said that (his words were fairly close to this) that the difference between Greenfield and himself is that Greenfield wanted the mass of corporate profits – and profits among major corporations are trending high, and the Fortune 500 is sitting on a mass of unspent money – and overall income, to go into the pockets of Americans, while Greenfield wants them to go into the pockets of multi-national corporations. (Greenfield did not seem to want to reply.)

It was a very well taken turn of phrase. Many Republicans have for years spoken of taxes as money taken “out of the pockets of Americans” and given over to the government. Avakian’s construction shows that the imagery can be put to effective use to make other points as well.

TWO. Cornilles told a story with a moral that seemed to come out of nowhere, and it merits a note here.

During the debate, he held up a business card from a cafe in Forest Grove. He said that afternoon he’d been walking downtown (presumably campaigning) and stopped in. On a Sunday afternoon, the place was empty – no customers. The owner rushed forward from the back of the cafe, expressing delight that a customer had shown up.

Cornilles didn’t report whether he became a customer, but did say the talk turned to politics, and he asked the owner what his biggest business problem was. “Taxes,” the owner replied.

The Republican candidate was making the point, of course, that taxes impinge on the ability of people to run their businesses. But after hearing his description of the cafe, we expected the owner to say that his biggest problem was a lack of customers. For any business, that would ordinarily be first and foremost. Taxes may be an irritant, but no customers, no business.

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Debate at Forest Grove
Debate in Forest Grove: from left, Lisa Michaels, Jim Greenfield (behind Michaels), Rob Cornilles, Brad Avakian, Suzanne Bonamici and Brad Witt (photo/Randy Stapilus)

If you’re a candidate, and in a crowd, you want to stand out. Preferably in a good way. The five candidates in the special election for Oregon’s 1st district U.S. House seat at Sunday’s debate in Forest Grove all stood out, in their various ways.

The debate at Pacific University was not the first of the campaign, but it was one of the first (maybe the first) to feature candidates from both major parties – three each, Democrats (Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, state Senator Suzanne Bonamici and state Representative Brad Witt) and Republicans (businessman and 2010 nominee Rob Cornilles, Jim Greenfield and Lisa Michaels). The crowd numbered about 60, was well split between partisan supporters, and had lots of patience: The 90-minute forum for public questions followed a nearly 90-minute endorsement interview session for the Forest Grove paper (a Pamplin newspaper; that chain is substantial in Washington County).

In style, Cornilles and Avakian seemed most polished, organized and confident.

The three Democrats differed by degrees on several issues, but not dramatically. Witt was a little stiff and programmatic at first, but settled into a solid comfort level as the debate went on. Bonamici wasn’t far off the mark but by comparison seemed to have a soft night in several places. Top issue for all three was employment and the economy, and all favored federal infrastructure spending as a key in the solution. (Bonamici ran through a string of ideas, but didn’t put the pieces together.) The Democrats got into no scrapes.

The three Republicans were another story.

Cornilles sounded in several places (not all) just a few degrees away from Democratic. (His major specific shot at the Democrats was that “I’m not a lawyer turned politician turned congressional candidate,” a description that does cover Avakian and Bonamici.) He took a number of shots at Republicans in Congress, and described the state of jobs and the economy in terms that weren’t far from the Democrats. As for the Occupy Wall Street (and Portland) demonstrations, he said that to the extent the protesters were blasting bank bailouts, undue benefits to corporations and the shipping of jobs overseas, “If that’s what they’re protesting, I join them.” (Avakian and Witt said they attended Portland Occupy events, and Bonamici spoke approvingly.)

[ADDENDUM: A Bonamici staffer did call to point that Bonamici, who was in Portland as the Occupy events unfolded, walked and talked with some of the demonstrators as well, also attending part of the event.]

The other two Republicans gave no quarter from a hard-line viewpoint, regularly referencing the Constitution and founder fathers. Greenfield suggested that Cornilles was a Democratic-style tax and borrower and even that he ought to run in the Democratic primary. Greenfield and Michaels said they would sign anti-tax pledges; Cornilles said he would not. Michaels said that “I’m a conservative. Jim’s a conservative” – but she declined to say so of Cornilles, a sharp blast in a Republican constituency.

The most striking distinction between the parties as a whole had to do with Israel. The Democrats called, in slightly different terms, for a two-state solution. The Republicans said they stood with Israel and made clear that, at best, they didn’t trust the Palestinians. Michaels made maybe the hardest-edged statement of the evening on that subject, saying “a lot of what the Islamic religion teaches is murdering people.”

Many more debates ahead.

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Is it difference in the cities? Almost feels as if it is.

From Portland, here’s the safety and crime situation as regards Occupy Portland from the point of view of the Police Bureau:

On October 7, 2011, representatives from Occupy Portland, the Portland Marathon, the Mayor’s office, and the City of Portland met to discuss plans for Chapman Park and Lownsdale Square.

After the conclusion of yesterday’s successful march, numerous people asked for permission to camp in the parks overnight. Those camping were told that the Portland Marathon has had a long-standing permit that began on October 7 at 9 a.m., to allow for preparations before Sunday’s Portland Marathon. This morning, Occupy Portland’s General Assembly held a press conference and stated that they were in support of the Portland Marathon and wanted to work collaboratively on an agreement that would suit the needs of both organizations.

The communication between all the parties has been marked by a desire to be collaborative. At this time, discussions are productive, but have not reached a final conclusion. We will release further updates as discussions progress.

The mood in the parks is relaxed, and people who are camping are otherwise following park rules. The Police Bureau will continuously monitor the camping situation, but are not expecting any large-scale issues.

Sounds about as positive as any side could hope for, and a lot better than many had expected. There had been some openly-expressed worries about violence and arrests, but none of that seemed to happen.

In Seattle, there were arrests, and there were problems. This from a post by a Seattle detective:

On October 5th Seattle Police encouraged demonstrators to remove tents from city property (Westlake Park). After numerous refusals to comply, officers arrested 25 demonstrators.

Of the 25 arrests, there were 21 adult males, two adult females, and two juvenile females.

Sixteen demonstrators were interviewed and released from the West Precinct. Those 16 cases will be forwarded to the City Attorney’s Office with a request for charges of Obstructing a Public Officer.

Nine demonstrators were booked into the King County Jail for Obstructing a Public Officer.

Officers from various Seattle Police units were utilized for this event: uniformed patrol, mounted patrol, foot beat, bicycle and traffic officers.

Why the difference? The Portland event, by the way, seemed to be the larger of the two.

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Oregon Washington

Watch live streaming video from oppdx at livestream.com

The Livestream of the Occupy Portland march and – gathering? – is hypnotizing, and the chat considerably more than the video.

The crowd does look, from what you can tell, like a more varied group than many of the commenters – a lot of whom have seized on “hippies” as the main perjorative – will willing to accept. There are quite a few people in any event; KGW-TV indicates an estimate of 4,000, and Portland police indicated perhaps 5,000. An Oregonian report said of the waterfront crowd (that being where the group gathered), it might amount to 10,000. Not a small group for mid-weekday.

The number of Livestream viewers, this afternoon, typically ranged around 1,600 to 1,800. (Irony: To watch the stream, you have to play an ad first, paid for by one of several large national corporations.) Most consistent chant: “We … are … the 99 percent.”

Two political figures spotted so far: Portland Mayor Sam Adams (who was there in connection with police management), and congressional candidate Brad Avakian, who was marching. Are there others?

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