"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

So here’s a question the executives at the Oregonian ought to answer sooner rather than later, if they want to do right by a community that relies on them:

Will the Portland Oregonian end 2013 as a daily newspaper?

There’s been persistent chatter that it won’t, that it will be cut back, maybe to three days a week, and the staff may be cut by something like a third – a massive transformation, even after the many slices and dices of recent years. If the people at Advance Publications are planning to do something like that, they owe it to their readers, advertisers and other economic and social partners to say so before it becomes a fait accompli (assuming it isn’t already), to allow for some feedback, alternatives and suggestions.

This isn’t idle rumor or speculation. There’s plenty in the recent record to give cause to, at least, wonder.

Advance Publications, based in New York and owned mainly by the wealthy Newhouse family (the papers in the group used to be known as Newshouse Newspapers), traditionally has done relatively well by the newspapers it owns, giving them some flexibility and allowing many of them to become as successful journalistically as economically. The Oregonian has been (my view) for years the best paper overall in the Northwest, doing more things better than anyone else. (The O is Advance’s only daily in the Northwest.)

The economic climate, and the hard hits to the newspaper industry, have hit Advance as much as other newspaper companies. The company has owned eight daily newspapers, generally small in size, and in 2009 cut them all to three or four times a week, with commensurate big staff cuts; the move was called “digital first” by corporate.

This year the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a 175-year-old institution, was hacked down from daily to thrice a week. (The news was broken by the New York Times, not by the paper itself.) An article in a Cleveland publication by a former Times-Picayune reporter recounted how “The following four-and-a-half months were a blur of protests, rallies, petitions, letter-writing campaigns and yard signs. The New Orleans Saints billionaire owner Tom Benson offered the buy the newspaper, while everyone from liberal actor Ed Asner (TV’s newspaper editor “Lou Grant”) to conservative suburban Congressman David Vitter publicly condemned the changes. But Advance was unmoved. “We have no intention of selling, no matter how much noise there is out there,” Advance.net Chairman Steven Newhouse declared to The New York Times in mid-June. About 30% of the newspaper’s total staff was cut, including almost one-half of its newsroom. Beginning Oct. 1, the previously daily newspaper began being printed on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.”

The same thing happened about the same time, to less widespread note, to Advance’s three dailies in Alabama, at Mobile Huntsville and Birmingham.

Cleveland was interested because its daily paper, the Plain Dealer, is also an Advance paper, and is going through … changes. They are large scale, and seem to be falling into the “digital first” pattern.

Rebecca Theim, the New Orleans reporter, outlined the pattern to observe in Cleveland, starting with: “Yes, you know something bad is coming, but The Plain Dealer’s management still has a lot of sensitive and emotional decisions to make, including who will be fired and who will be spared, when it will happen and how everyone will be told. Based on the New Orleans experience, expect off-site, super-secret meetings from which employees — even those not in attendance — may end up divining their own fates.”

So, yes: Is the Oregonian on the chopping block?

Or is Portland’s journalistic future going to be crafted behind closed doors as it was in New Orleans and is in Cleveland? Resolution for 2013: Don’t let that happen.

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briefing pic
TREES ON US 2: Falling trees laden with heavy snow and ice create hazardous conditions on US 2. (Photo/Washington Department of Transportation)

This week’s front cover from the Washington Weekly Briefing. It seemed timely, as snow is actually falling outside where we are (just south of Washington).

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Briefings Washington


Some highly hedged predictions (observations anyway) about Idaho 2013 …

1. As legislators hit the Statehouse, the health insurance exchange urged by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter looks like Topic A. Best guess now is that they pass something that Otter would approve – but make that a highly hedged bet. There’ll be plenty of pressure as well to re-up nullification efforts from sessions past; there’s a strong never-say-die element. Topic B: A partial Luna Law resurrection.

2. No gun-related legislation this year, other than reaffirming more guns in more places.

3. The 2014 governor’s race should take on clearer contours by the end of 2013. By then, incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter ought to – fellow Republicans will insist – clarify whether he’s on the ballot once again. He has said he plans to run, but there are reasons for saying that (political strength, fundraising, etc.) that may not translate to ballot status. A year from now, we should know who the major candidates are and aren’t. Note: An Otter candidacy doesn’t necessarily preclude a primary challenge.

4. Don’t expect other major non-incumbent candidates to surface during the year (unlike most recent off-years). Apart from the governor’s race, 2014 isn’t looking very exciting in Idaho.

5. But: Better than even odds another fairly high profile ballot issue, on some topic, arises for 2014. Non-conservatives had their biggest statewide win in many a moon in 2012 with the ouster of the three legislative “Luna laws.” There’d be a lot of political sense in going back to the electorate to challenge other things the Idaho Legislature may do next session, whatever those might be.

6. There are no partisan general elections in Idaho in 2013, but cities will be electing. One of the most interesting contests could be in Pocatello, where in 2009 Brian Blad came out of nowhere to defeat incumbent Roger Chase. What kind of opposition will he draw this time? Watch too the city races in Coeur d’Alene, where an emotional ideological battle in 2012led to a (failed) recall effort, and is likely to yield hard-fought, even bitter, races for some of those same offices in 2013.

7. A correspondent points out that in the coming year, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals likely will decide whether the Idaho Roadless Rule stands or falls. He suggests: “If it stays it becomes a success story in collaboration with the support of some conservation groups like Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League. … If the 9th Circuit strikes it down the victory goes to the Wilderness Society and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition who were hold outs and did not want to work with the state on a state-based rule.” Real poliltical implications could emerge from all that.

8. Looks like a pretty good water year. As 2012 ended, every one of Idaho’s water basins had above-average snowpack (the Little Wood River was at 172 percent of normal accumulation). As 2011 ended, most of Idaho’s river basins were below-average; the Weiser River area, for example, was at 72 percent.

9. Chances are good that the Snake River Basin Adjudication may actually wrap up this year: As 2012 ends, it’s getting close. In the context of big water adjudications, that would be a speedy success.

10. Overall in the change department: Don’t expect a lot to shatter the earth. Idaho is not likely to be a great deal different as it approaches 2014.

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Idaho Idaho column

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

As a nation, it would seem the best we can say about the year 2012 is “It’s over.” I doubt few of us will recall it fondly. But the problem is it doesn’t look like 2013 is going to be much different.
I don’t recall another 12 month period during my long lifetime that whip-sawed this country so completely – top to bottom – as did 2012.
Few of us have escaped being touched by events – being shaken by some – disgusted by some – traumatized by others. It’s been an emotional year. It’s been a time when the direction of this country was fundamentally changed forever. Even our weather seemed to repeatedly conspire against us.

Perhaps the largest change – one easily documented – has been a recognition by most of us in 2012 that we’re no longer a white, Anglo-Saxon majority nation – that the racial pot simmering for the last 200 years has finally boiled over and we’ve become a multiple ethnic stew. Evidence is everywhere. From our city streets to corporations to our nation’s presidency. We’re a nation of color – of different languages – of different traditions. That should be a good thing in a nation in which all of us are – or are descended from – immigrants.

But, in 2012, for some unexplained reason, this has come as a shock to a lot of folks. Maybe that should read “frightening shock.” Bigotry that used to be whispered is now shouted from the front pages. Acts of racial bigotry in some of our nation’s legislative bodies have resulted in laws attempting to stop non-white citizens from voting – from qualifying for government assistance – from receiving health care. Some things they’re trying to legislate out of existence are freedoms going back to the end of the Civil War and the adoption of civil rights and voting right laws of the ‘60′s.

In those states and elsewhere, we’re seeing fear on a scale larger than ever before as millions of citizens clean out the shelves at gun stores and arm themselves against some sort of perceived threat from people who look “different.” Homes that have never seen a gun are being turned into arsenals. Requests for permits to carry concealed weapons are at an all-time high. And you can bet the farm thousands and thousands more people are simply keeping a gun within reach – law or no law – permit or no permit.

Mass killings are no longer rare. We’ve got ‘em regularly in shopping malls – elementary schools – movie theaters – college campuses – city streets – police stations – neighborhoods – doctor’s offices – roller rinks – high schools – play grounds – churches. There’s no sanctuary. There’s no city – no town – no place safe from armed destruction of human life. And we’re doing nothing. Not in 2012. Since 20 children were cut down in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 14, more than 280 Americans have been killed. By guns.

Also in 2012, while that esteemed private enterprise politicians delight in talking about was beginning to restore our national economy, those same politicians spent much of the year doing their damndest to kill it. With one manmade crisis after another – ignorant attacks on government – personal political savagery directed at a president of mixed color – roadblocks deliberately placed to stop lawful efforts by those trying to solve issues – we’ve got a Congress actually undermining our way of life.

It’s also a Congress that’s turned its back on its own constituency and the majority instructions issued by that constituency in November elections. In 2012, we’ve found “representative government” is not that at all. We’ve told ourselves for 200 years those we elect “serve at the will of the people.” In 2012, more than any other time, we’ve found that is not true. The difference is influence in the hands of a few. The difference is money and terribly gerrymandered congressional districts.

We’re continuing an undeclared war for which there is no victory – only more killing until an artificial end date on the calendar in a year or two. We’re continuing to throw treasure and young lives into a bottomless pit for no national goal – with no rational meaning. Who will we send to be the last to die? And for what?

Our basic political system was under attack by monied interests hellbent on taking control to turn our democracy – our Republic – into some sort of “national supra corporation” they can control. In 2012. Though they’ve not been entirely successful, they’ve already “bought” voices in Congress and many state legislatures. They’ve secretly funded third-party groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and Super PACs and their influence is being felt in new state laws passed to achieve their ends.

In 2012, our nation came under sustained attack from within. On these and other fronts. Not just through the evolutionary change common in society. Our values, our economics and even our freedoms were assaulted. By people we elected. At a time when economic and employment improvements were expected – had been earned – we were held back and undercut – prisoners of a national Congress frozen by egos. By ignorance. By ideology. By fear. By money.

Pretty grim stuff. And in 2013? What lies ahead? Will we suddenly realize these and other dangers? Will we take steps to end them? Will the voices of fear spouting faulty ideologies fall silent? Will the outbreak of racial divisions and hate be stilled? Faced with the same players, will we return to truly representative government “of the people, by the people, for the people?” Will our liberties and rights as citizens trump the treasonous efforts to overcome them? The efforts so blatantly revealed? In 2012?

If pessimism is truly optimism with experience, hope for significant change seems very elusive.

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NW Reading

When Idaho voters in November decisively killed the 2011 “Luna laws” on changing Idaho public schools, what did they intend – to kill all of the changes in them, or just some of them, and if some of them, which? Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, one of the prime advocates of the laws, detailed his views on that question in a just-posted piece.

After voters on November 6 rejected the process, pace and policies for improving Idaho’s education system enacted in 2011, it became the task of everyone who cares about the quality of Idaho public schools to constructively continue that conversation.

My staff and I spent the next several weeks reaching out to educators, business leaders and Idaho citizens about staying engaged. Now that I’m optimistic we have a critical mass of interest, I’ve asked the State Board of Education to shepherd a statewide discussion about school improvement.

I’m asking the Board to guide the work of a broadly representative group of concerned Idahoans in studying best practices in school districts around the state and using data and experience to drive sound decision making. The group is likely to be large, but only large enough to include the diversity of opinion needed to properly study such a complex issue.

I’m not going to direct the discussion or the issues covered in any way. There must be no “third rail” in this conversation. But I am asking participants to come to the table ready to speak openly and candidly, and to bring ideas. I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators.

The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it.

Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session. It is imperative that our partners in the Legislature engage in this process and I am pleased to have the support of House Speaker Bedke and the Senate President Pro Tem Hill in balancing this fragile dynamic.

I expect this group to have meaningful discussions and reach out to communities all across our state. For those groups representing educators, I am asking that they not only bring people to the table, but that they also serve as a conduit to their memberships in school districts throughout Idaho. Everyone involved will be responsible for the tone and substance of this conversation.

I’m asking that the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho School Boards Association in particular reach out to a diverse cross-section of their members to join this process. I would hope they select members balancing urban and rural, small and large districts, but I also emphasize that the choices are theirs to make, and I trust them to make the right ones.

I am encouraged by the positive response to this initiative from education leaders.

“IEA members believe it is our moral imperative, as professionals, to be the voice for our students and for our profession. Research shows – and we believe – the one factor that can make the most difference in improving a student’s achievement is a ‘knowledgeable, skillful teacher’ in front of the classroom,” IEA President Penni Cyr said. “On behalf of the members of the IEA, we look forward to working with other stakeholders, including parents, business leaders and elected officials, to identify policy recommendations that will assure our state’s students have access to a world-class education system.”

“I have already met with representatives of each stakeholder group individually and am anxious to move beyond discussion through an open, transparent, accountable process so we can all take the steps necessary to move our education system forward,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said.

“With money being tight, we must find ways to most efficiently spend those dollars for the benefit of our children,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d’Alene said. “I look forward to serving and will come to the table with an open mind. I sincerely hope other stakeholders approach the meetings with a similar attitude.”

“For more than a decade, Idaho has been engaged in school improvement efforts including the statewide development of education standards, student achievement assessments, teacher quality and professional development, and measures to increase rigor in high school to better prepare students for postsecondary education,” State Board of Education President Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls said. “The Board appreciates the Governor’s leadership as we take the next step in designing quality improvement efforts, and we look forward to a positive and inclusive process.”

Men and women of good will can sometimes disagree passionately about the specifics of public policy, especially when it involves our children. But I’m confident we can broadly agree on the need for improving how we educate Idaho students, and I’m equally confident that the people of Idaho will rise to the occasion of this renewed opportunity for taking positive steps toward achieving our shared goals.

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Idaho Reading

An unfortunate commentary on the news diets of the reading public – even what remains of the newspaper-reading public …

A piece in the Slog recounts the 10 most-read (online) articles for the year in the Seattle Times:

“That’s six stories about death [murder celebrity, blizzard], two about the weather, one about sports, and one about Microsoft’s new logo. Those were the top ten stories in our state’s paper of record. During a presidential election year.”

Not a happy commentary.

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Preview from the next Washington Weekly Digest:

A new proposed rule from the Washington Liquor Control Board highlights some of the ongoing aftermath of the conversion of the state liquor sales system from public to private hands.

Rule 12-24-089 said that “The passage of Initiative 1183 and the privatization of spirits theft and product loss is significant and increasing. This is contributing to increased underage access to alcohol. Rules are needed to clarify reporting requirements of product loss due to theft and internal shrinkage.”

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“They also serve…”

The full quote from the 17th century English poet, John Milton (1608-1674; author of Paradise Lost), is “They also serve who only stand and wait.” It’s from another of his writings, On His Blindness, made poignant by the poet’s own blindness.

It’s a reminder that most are supporting cast on the stage of life to a few star players whose light outshines others and who are more noted by historians. That said, their roles, seemingly insignificant, are necessary to fill out the drama. Every star needs a supporting cast to help them stand out in life’s movable parade.

These thoughts were prompted recently following a discussion with two of the four most noteworthy stars from the Idaho State Senate freshman class of 1961. This is the class whose stars and role players, with seasoning and maturity, four years later led Idaho into modernity by debating, then adopting and sending to the voters for ratification the first ever sales tax designed to better fund public education and meet the stated first goal of Idaho’s state constitution.

Fifty years later two of the “stars” who played critical roles in the sales tax debate and passage are still alive with sharp memories: former four-term Governor Cecil D. Andrus, who in 1961 was elected to the Senate as a Democrat from Clearwater County, and former Majority Leader Bill Roden, a Republican from Ada County.

Curious about the other lesser known members of their class and what each might recall of these supporting players, I called both recently.

Coincidentally, both Andrus and Roden started by recalling the same anecdote. It seems the Statesman’s then political editor, John Corlett, ran profiles during the session on new members from both the House and Senate. Corlett wrote up a glowing profile of Roden in 1961 in which he said Bill, at 29, was the youngest person ever elected to the Idaho Senate.

Andrus, almost a year younger than Roden, not only took exception, according to Roden, he demanded and obtained a retraction and a correction from the Statesman. Andrus didn’t deny it. The anecdote is more a reflection of how competitive in all things politicians are than it is a vanity item.

Both obviously hold the other in high regard. Andrus, chuckling, said Roden was really a Democrat at heart and that his father had been a long-time Democrat. Roden, who considers himself a moderate Republican in the mold of three-term Republican Governor Robert E. Smylie, laughed heartily when told Andrus considered him a Democrat and the first of the so-called RHINO’s!

Two conservative members of that class, both opposed to adopting a sales tax and still went on to higher office, were State Senator Jim McClure (Payette County), and Bonner County State Senator Don Samuelson. McClure carved out a long career as a congressman and a U.S. Senator, while Samuelson served one term as governor, defeating Andrus in 1966 and then losing a rematch in 1970.

In today’s political environment it is stunning to realize it was progressive Republicans like Pocatello’s Perry Swisher who fought hard and took the lead for adopting a sales tax dedicated to properly funding public education in the mid-60’s, but its true. Roden cites another member of that class, Watt Prather from Boundary County as being the real thinker for the “Rat Pack,” a nickname given to Roden and his supporters.

Co-chair with McClure of the “Economy Bloc” (senators of both parties who opposed the sales tax) was Bill Dee (Idaho County). Dee would always make a motion to cut every budget regardless of need by 5 percent, Andrus recalled. Likewise both Andrus and Roden recalled Senator Joe Ausich (Custer County) who boasted he never voted for any appropriation bill.

Andrus also recalled Cy Chase (Benewah County) who supported Dee for Minority Leader in 1963 over Cece, who lost by one vote. Always a good vote-counter one could tell Andrus was saying that Cy had double-crossed him. Later Chase became minority leader, a position from which every day he and Roden would engage in verbal combat over the issue of the day.

Andrus and Roden also fondly recalled Cecil Sandberg, a mortician (Bingham County). Solid and steady, he was especially good when the legislature had to redistrict itself. Andrus noted though that Sandberg was quick to get caskets exempted from any sales tax—just the beginning of a series of exemptions that over the years has gutted the sales tax’s ability to achieve its intended purpose.

Other members of that class: Ray Burge (Power County), Rollie Campbell (Valley County), Vince Nally (Gem County), Hal Wallington (Blaine County), and J.E. Yensen (Boise County). All played some role which while history may not have recorded it, still was a part in the play.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

While trying to fight back my anger at the National Rifle Association’s contempt for civilization the other day, I got to thinking about the concept the demonic LaPierre was spewing. He didn’t use the actual words I was thinking of but there was no mistaking they formed the irrational concept he was spouting.

It’s called “Mutually Assured Destruction.” Or maybe you remember the utterly accurate acronym: “MAD.” The world lived with that MAD sword hanging over us for some 60 years. To some extent, we still do.

It began in the 1950′s when both we and the Soviets – at that time -had nuclear bombs. The idea was, if one of us decided to lob a nuke over the North Pole, the recipient would return the favor – plus a dozen, dozen additional. The concept was simple:” You kill me – I’ll kill you more.”

It was taken to the lunatic extreme of us having some 2,000 nukes in the 60′s and they had about the same. So it got to be: “I’ll kill you a thousand times but you’ll only have time to get off enough to kill me 438 times.” I’d always thought being killed once was sufficient but – since I wasn’t asked to help with national security issues – I just sorta lived with it.

In the 50′s and 60′s, I was in the Strategic Air Command – the outfit that would do all the long-range killing for this country. Adding to the MAD irony for me was the motto of SAC emblazoned on the nose of every bomber and intercontinental ballistic missile: “Peace is Our Profession.” Looking back, you gotta admit that was kinda sick.

Stanley Kubrick skewered the concept in his movie “Dr. Strangelove – or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb.” A far right SAC general – played by Sterling Hayden – got doped up on right wing paranoia and launched his planes in an attempt to flatten the Soviets before they could respond. One scene I’ll never forget is the U.S. Army storming his airbase as hundreds of machine gun bullets shredded that “Peace is Our Profession” sign at the main gate.

I’d like to say Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush light and Obama ended MAD. They didn’t. Despite occasional talk about “disarmament,” the Russians still have more than a thousand warheads and we have about the same. So, yes, MAD is still with us.

But now – now the National Rifle Association is proposing we introduce a new version of MAD into our local school systems. It’s so simple the rest of us should have thought of it, too. Put an armed person – police or principal or teacher or parent volunteer – just one person “carrying” – and it will send an immediate and stern warning to all who want to attack any second grade classroom. If that doesn’t work – if the attacker ignores his certain demise – when the shooting breaks out all the children will have to do to stay safe and out of the line of fire is “duck and cover” just like they do for earthquake drills. Damn!

The only thing making me more angry than the NRA’s stupidly arrogant self-interest is the chorus of voices being raised in support of such a mindless idea. Granted, it’s still a small chorus. And since nut cases generally are the first to speak before thinking, maybe we’ve heard from most of ‘em. I pray that’s so.

The proposal we adopt a policy of “you-shoot-me, I’ll-shoot-you-more” for the public school system reeks of the internal decay of reality so often represented by the NRA. In a nation where law enforcement has daily brushes with people creating a “suicide-by-cop” scenario on our streets, it’s entirely irresponsible. You think some dysfunctional person is going to stop on the sidewalk and suddenly say “Boy, if I take this assault rifle and these 300 bullets into that school they’re gonna hurt me. I better go home now?” You think a Connecticut National Guard tank would have changed the shooter’s mind in Newtown?

If no responsible element of the NRA – IF there still IS a “responsible element” within the NRA – doesn’t disavow the association’s current absurd stance articulated by LaPierre, solving indiscriminate mass murder incidents will be harder. But we have to do it. With or without the NRA.
As a nation, we are nothing more than parents, grandparents, great grandparents, brother, sisters and – well – you get the idea. While we are different – one from the other – we also share the need to care for each other. And each other’s children. We must end this.

As for LaPierre, sometimes someone like him comes along with no obvious parentage. In that case, we have a name for him, too.

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Martin Peterson
From Idaho

When Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s million-dollar-a-year executive director, held his press conference on December 21 responding to the Connecticut school shootings, the national response was quick and largely negative. However, what was overlooked by both the
media and the public was the fact that in his response, LaPierre did a fine and concise — although entirely unintentional – job of demonstrating three of the major ills that are keeping this country from solving many, if not most, of the major problems it faces.

The first ill is to always blame someone else and ignore any contribution you may have made to creating a problem. We hear it day-in and day-out in the halls of Congress. Republicans blaming Democrats and Democrats blaming Republicans. Never accept personal responsibility for a problem when you can point the finger at someone else. Assault weapons and large capacity clips didn’t create this problem, according to LaPierre. It’s video games, movies and lack of armed guards that are the problem.

The second ill is to identify a problem and then ask the federal government to pay for it. That is the mind-set that has helped lead us to the serious fiscal problems the federal government currently faces. The NRA offices in Washington must be in a soundproof bunker. Apparently LaPierre is unaware that Congress and the President are currently dealing with serious budget issues that will likely make it impossible for them to consider his proposal that the federal government fund armed guards at every school building in the United States. If he is really serious about obtaining the support of Congress and the President for his proposal, and he really thinks that those guards will eliminate school shootings, while protecting second amendment rights, he should consider recommending the means of paying for it.

Two privileges the government gives me that I enjoy are driving motor vehicles and fishing. I drive on roads that are largely funded by persons like me who use them, with fuel taxes and registration fees. The same with fishing. I buy an annual license and those fees are used to support the state’s fisheries program. If you don’t want to enjoy the privileges of driving or fishing, you don’t have to pay. The same could be true with the proposal to protect the rights of gun owners by using armed guards at schools.

Place a federal tax, similar to Idaho’s personal property tax, on every privately owned firearm in the U.S. The FBI estimates there are 200 million, so the annual amount of the tax would probably be quite low. Similarly, a nominal tax could be charged on all ammunition sold. Estimates are that around 10-billion rounds a year are sold in the U.S., so that tax would probably be quite low as well. But, if Mr. LaPierre is correct and the funding of these armed guards would deter future school shootings, then I’m sure gun owners and ammunition buyers would agree that it would be well worth the additional cost. And, like driving and fishing, if you don’t choose to own guns or buy ammunition, then you wouldn’t need to share in the burden.

The third ill is the Jimmy Swaggart syndrome, “do as I say and not as I do.” The NRA has built its power base by being among the staunchest of all constitutional defenders. They, more than anyone else, make it possible for every American to own an assault rifle, large capacity clips, and cop killer ammunition and they gladly take credit for that. But now we find that apparently their constitutional support only applies to the second amendment, and not the first. Rather than even remotely recognizing that there may be some blame for all of the unchecked shootings in this country on the shoulders of the most rabid defenders of the second amendment who believe in every American’s right to own an assault weapon, LaPierre says that it is those staunchest defenders of the first amendment, the media and entertainment industries, who are to blame for all of this.

I don’t disagree with him that the makers of violent video games and motion pictures need to share some of the blame for these shootings. Just as I think that the manufacturers and sellers of civilian assault weapons share some of the blame. But, were these first amendment defenders to steal a page from the NRA, their best defense would be to plaster the country with bumper stickers stating that “Video Games Don’t Kill People. People Kill People.”

We have a problem in this country and it’s too bad that the NRA leadership isn’t interested in making the kinds of compromise that are always essential in solving major problems. It would be good to have them play a productive role in developing realistic solutions, rather than the kind of claptrap mouthed by Mr. LaPierre. Until he’s ready to play a more reasonable role in the efforts to reduce the risk of classroom shootings, he needs to crawl back into his bunker and stay there.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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Mike Crapo/Alexander VA police

Becoming Idaho’s senior senator has started turning into a bad-headline situation: There was the internationally-famous Larry Craig incident from about five years ago, and now the DUI arrest of Mike Crapo.

One difference between the two is that while a long-running rumor circuit made the Craig arrest a surprise but not a complete shock, it’s probably safe to say not many people saw a DUI arrest in Crapo’s future. Crapo has always appeared to be a totally observant, teetotaling Mormon; he has specifically said that he doesn’t drink, and he seems to have given no reason till now to doubt that. His name never has shown up – as far as I know – on any informal list of quiet occasional drinkers among the politically active faithful, at least outside his circle of closest friends and relatives.

Crapo was arrested early Sunday morning, and police in Alexandria, Virginia, reported he had a .11 blood alcohol level, substantially above the .08 line for DUI (in Virginia as well as in Idaho). That BAC level is ordinarily an indicator of being not just tipsy, not close to borderline sober, but being seriously sloshed.

The senator’s first statement out of this was appropriate enough: “I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance. I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me. I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter.”

He isn’t, evidently, trying to dodge, prevaricate or avoid, which is a good sign.

Two other points are worth making before more plays out.

One is that Crapo has no cause – no external reason, apart from whatever his own preferences may be – for resigning. That may sound awfully premature since no calls for departure have surfaced (that I have seen), but expect some to materialize, from anti-drunk driving activists if not elsewhere. Remember that in Craig’s case, the chorus for resignation was deafening, not least from Idaho, and Craig’s legal offense (while much more spectacular from a tabloid perspective) was lesser than Crapo’s.

Crapo is being charged with a misdemeanor, however, so there’s no legal requirement to leave. He appears ready to accept the consequences, which is all you can ask at this point. And we don’t, or at least shouldn’t, hold our officials to some standard of perfection. There’s no reason Crapo can’t, if he chooses, go on doing the job the voters of Idaho hired him to do.

There is something else, though, Crapo owes those voters, and in a looser sense (as a relatively senior senator, and top Republican on the increasingly significant Banking Committee) owes the rest of the country: An explanation.

At some point in the days ahead, as he has the chance to collect his thoughts and re-evaluate whatever needs to be evaluated, Crapo ought to open up about what’s going on in his life and what led up to his driving under the influence – and, for that matter, being under the influence. This would not be an easy thing to do, and facing this up to his fellow Mormons would be awfully tough.

If Crapo wants to retain the support and confidence than Idahoans at least (and people outside the state as well) give him that allow him to function effectively in the Senate, then he needs to come clean about what’s happening. And how he intends to deal with his challenges, so that he can do the job he was elected to.

A good deal of Crapo’s support over the years has come from the sense that this is a man of strong and upright character. Now, in this moment of challenge, Idaho will get to see more clearly than it has before exactly what is the nature of Crapo’s character – not so much in in the mistake that led to a DUI arrest, but in what he does from this point forward in response to it.

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For those who have to pay it, the personal property tax must be one of the most aggravating.

Many Idahoans probably don’t know much about it – don’t often encounter it – and may have wondered what the deal was when a report about the Idaho personal property tax was released by the state Tax Commission last week. It may be one of the least liked taxes among small businesses; under its terms, businesses have to itemize things like office equipment – furniture, computers and much more – and estimate their value, with taxes to be paid on them. The taxes have not been massively high, but in relative terms the paperwork can be extensive.

Unsurprisingly, there’s been a movement for some years to eliminate the personal property tax, and it’s picking up steam. (The lobby at the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry is working on it, for one, following up on lobbying it did last year.) Prospects are fair or better that the personal property tax in Idaho may be amended or maybe even eliminated next session.

At the same time, not a lot has been known about it – what it raises, where it goes, what it covers.

Some of that information gap ended with the Tax Commission report’s released on December 18, and it should provide the information base around which debate will run. It’s the first report on the subject the commission has ever released. After reading it, you suspect it won’t be the last.

It tells us, for example, that the PPT brings in about $140 million a year. Split among the hundreds of local government districts (the sewer districts get $12,852), that’s a fairly small piece of the tax pie. Even so, $140 million would make a dent of some kind, especially in the cities and counties, if it abruptly went away.

A close read of the report suggests, though, that changes could be made that might ease its often onerous nature without cutting away all the revenue – and in fact the personal property tax probably due for some good review and a legal rewrite anyway.

One memo in the report (dated October 26) concerns “operating property,” which relates to certain mainly industrial types of business. There (in many cases at least) the “personal property” is deemed to be almost anything other than land and buildings. In addition to the furniture, electronics and office equipment, the “personal property” includes telephone poles, power pumping equipment, rail cars, line pipe, oil tanks, water hydrants – a whole lot of stuff you don’t really think of as “personal.”

Some of that may be questionable, because the memo adds: “These are under the assumption that everything but land and buildings are personal property. Any assumption can be made as there are different interpretations on the definitions of what is real and what is personal property, particularly in the area of conduit, pipe in the ground and various fixtures which are strongly attached to the buildings …”

There is, in other words, plenty of room to maneuver here. And the surprise may be that there have been more lawsuits over this uncertainty.

If only to clear up the confusion, this looks like a legislative topic for 2013.

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