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Posts published in “Year: 2012”

Could you shoot your neighbor?

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

(The following was written a week before the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre. It’s here today with no apologies.)

Imagine your neighbor has begun nailing all his furniture to the floor, has tied his pickup to a tree and put long ropes on all three kids. He’s convinced God is going to turn off gravity across the world and all he has and cares about will be drifting out into space. Soon.

Now, before you write the guy off as an idiot from our little burg-in-the-woods, hear him out. Listen to his reasoning. Here it is. “It hasn’t happened yet – which means it will.”

That’s right. You got it. Gravity still worked this morning and is likely to continue all day. But, in his world, gravity will end – everything and everyone will become weightless and fly off the earth. He knows it’s true. Because “it hasn’t happened!”

With precisely this same kind of anti-logic, thousands and thousands of Americans have been rushing to gun stores since our general election. They are cleaning off the shelves of rifles, shotguns, semi-automatic weapons, pistols and millions of bullets. Some stores have been cleaned out and the underground weapons business is going strong, too.
So what connects these two unrelated pieces of nutcase off-the-wall-ness? Well, two things. First, President Obama has been re-elected. And, second, he’s going to take away your guns and put extremely high taxes on ammunition. The same ammunition gun owners won’t need if he takes their guns. Oops. Just injected some rational thought there. Sorry.

Some stores sales are up 100% in a year. Seems lots of people “think” they will need more guns and ammo to protect themselves because government is going to take away their “absolute” rights and they need protection. Though it hasn’t happened. Which means it will.

But the REALLY deep thinkers promise the President may also end the food stamp program. And IF that happens, people will need a lot of firepower to protect themselves from the starving masses.

None of this – NONE of this – is made up. I swear. Except my ersatz neighbors tying down all their worldly possessions so they don’t float off when gravity ends – which they will because it hasn’t. But these gun nuts are sure what hasn’t happened is going to happen. Because it hasn’t. But it makes the point. (more…)

Next session’s purity test


Last week, Washington and Oregon were two of the first six states to get initial (conditional) approval from the federal government for their plans to set up state-based insurance exchanges. Idaho is rapidly approaching a final decision point on whether to start.

An Oregon statement on the plan called Cover Oregon says: “Cover Oregon is a central online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for and compare health coverage options and access financial assistance, starting in October 2013. Coverage for plans purchased through Cover Oregon will be effective January 1, 2014. Through Cover Oregon, individuals and families will be able to easily compare plans, see quality grades for carriers and plans, and access financial assistance to help pay for premiums.”

Doesn't, in truth, sound much like tyranny, and actually sounds more like a free marketplace.

That aspect of it – the federal requirement for a setup notwithstanding – may have resonated with free marketeer Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who (a day after the federal approval for the neighbors) said he would support establishment of a state-run exchange in Idaho. (Failure to set one up on the state level would result in establishment of a federal-run program.) But actual setup takes action as well by the state legislature, and that's where things get complicated, and political.

A comparable proposal died earlier this year in the legislature but, partly because of personnel changes, chances may be better in 2013. An early spate of news stories on key players in the health and welfare committees suggest the proposal has at least a reasonable chance of getting to the floor in either chamber.

But whether it passes remains an open question, and so is its impact on Idaho Republican politics.

The insurance exchange easily could turn into a purity test for Idaho conservatives, with “squishes” – presumably including, improbably, Otter – being distinguished from the purists who simply say: hell no. It might (we don't know yet if it will) pit parts of Republican leadership (not all of it) against large parts of the caucuses. It could split Republican leaders against each other. (more…)

Christmas in Connecticut like no other

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

A week or so ago, a friend and I spent a few hours bell-ringing for the Salvation Army in our little burg-in-the-woods. It’s one of the annual activities of our Rotary club – one I look forward to each year. Not so much now.

My friend and I have stood in the cold outside several local “big box” stores through the years. We have time for good conversation and, for the most part, enjoy interacting with others during the holidays. My favorite moment is when a young parent puts a few coins in a small child’s hand and shows them how to put the money in the red kettle. Then quietly instructs, “Say ‘Merry Christmas’.” Touches my old heart.

What doesn’t touch my heart is watching what too many shoppers have put in their carts as they roll out past us to the parking lot. Oh, there’s the usual supply of small appliances, toys, clothes, lots of electronic stuff and a bit of groceries here and there. Just like the carts in your town, I’d guess.

But we keep seeing more. Cases of beer. Many per cart. Boxes and bottles of wine. Many per cart. And guns. And boxes of ammunition.

Now, I’m a tippler. And a gun owner. So my reaction to this annual scene is not one of moral judgement by the uninitiated. My own shopping could mean buying a firearm of some sort, maybe some ammunition and – more often – some spirits.

No, what I have trouble with each December is reconciling the armament and bulk alcohol with the real spirit of Christmas. Thinking of the birth of Christ as reported in the gospels – remembering tenderness, wonderment, joy and surprise we experience – filling our thoughts with Christmas.

And especially this Christmas – 2012 – when we mark the murder of 20 elementary school children who went to school one morning – looking forward to pageants, plays, singing carols, exchanging gifts and learning more each year about the true “reason for the season.” Doing all the “kid things” we did. They were anxious with fun and hope – doing projects they’d spent hours and hours practicing. Until bullets ended all that. (more…)

So what are we going to do about it?

Randy Stapilus
View from Here

And so as we end another year, another round of madman shootings - just this week three dead and one injured at Clackamas Mall in Oregon - where only luck kept the death toll from rising much higher - and at the elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, where so many children were slaughtered.

How much longer, how many more insanity-driven shootings, before something meaningful is done? Not, to be sure, with the idea that there's such a thing as a perfect prevention, but with the idea that mass killings should be at least harder to accomplish, and diverted more often. And recognizing that it doesn't have to be this way: The United States really is an aberration among the more developed countries around the world, most of which see nowhere near as much of this sort of violence.

Drawing in part from a Jeffrey Goldberg piece in the Atlantic and a spate of other articles, here are a few thoughts.

• If someone is determined to kill, they will kill. But the impact can be lessened. If guns were not the hand weapon of choice, violence would not end, but fewer people probably would die. Last week in central China a man entered a school and attacked about two dozen people - but he did it with a knife, and while many of those people were slashed and stabbed, all of them lived. The attack was not prevented entirely, but the efficacy of weaponry made a difference.

• With something on the order of 300 million guns of various kinds in the United States, the idea of getting rid of them, or even very many of them, is futile. Leaving aside legal issues, there are many legitimate legal uses of many guns apart from those use by law enforcement and military, and self-defense is a legitimate use. But relatively few people really know how to properly, carefully and safely use a firearm. Anyone who thinks the Clackamas or Newtown events could have been stopped by a population of shoppers or educators who'd been packin' ought to stop to visualize what probably would have happened in fact: A frantic shootout by panicked people that would have doubled, tripled, quadrupled the death toll. A public of vigilantes ready to shoot first and ask questions later would be vastly more dangerous than what we have now.

• Do we really need, on the open market and available for any (prospectively crazed) person to buy, semiautomatic firearms that can kill dozens of people in minutes? Yes, other guns can kill, too, but not so many people, so quickly. Do we really need such easy access to 30-round magazines for AR-15 semiautomatics? Shouldn't it be at least harder to access such lethal firepower? (more…)

Legal troubles? Go work for a big bank

NW Reading

"Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen," sang Woody Guthrie - but you're a lot less likely to serve time in the Crossbar Hotel if you use the latter.

That was the angry point of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley's letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice's ongoing refusal to go after even the most brazen bad guys in the financial section. And leading to the sad but logical conclusion that "jail time is served by over 96% of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80% of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63% of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank."

How that can be called justice is hard to imagine.

From his letter:

On Tuesday, the Justice Department entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC related to more than $800 million in illicit narcotics proceeds that drug traffickers laundered through the bank’s Mexican and American affiliates, as well as over $600 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer highlighted just how brazen the violations were, with traffickers depositing “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller window.” Sanctions violations were equally deliberate, with the bank intentionally stripping information from transactions to avoid detection. Yet despite these clear and blatant violations, the Department of Justice refused to bring criminal charges against the bank, relevant employees, or senior management.

Indeed, Mr. Breuer stated yesterday that in deciding not to prosecute, the Department considered the “collateral consequences” of its decision on the financial system. Mr. Breuer stated “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?” The HSBC decision comes on the back of deferred prosecution agreements with Standard Charter Bank and ING Group related to similar charges.

I do not take a position on the merits of this or any other individual case, but I am deeply concerned that four years after the financial crisis, the Department appears to have firmly set the precedent that no bank, bank employee, or bank executive can be prosecuted even for serious criminal actions if that bank is a large, systemically important financial institution. This “too big to jail” approach to law enforcement, which deeply offends the public’s sense of justice, effectively vitiates the law as written by Congress. Had Congress wished to declare that violations of money laundering, terrorist financing, fraud, and a number of other illicit financial actions would only constitute civil violations, it could have done so. It did not.

Instead, Congress placed these financial crimes squarely in the federal criminal code precisely because the consequences are so severe. Drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico continues to wreak extraordinary violence across North America, leading to 15,000 deaths in Mexico in 2010 alone and continued gang violence and deaths in the U.S. Drug cartels are also increasingly connected to terrorism. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 39 percent of State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) have “confirmed links” to the drug trade, as of November 2011. The consequences to U.S. national security for violations involving terrorism financing and Iran sanctions violations are obvious and severe. Congress deemed criminal law the appropriate tool for punishing and deterring actions that have such serious and damaging public consequences. (more…)

Pressure on coal

Coal transport is becoming a front burner issue in Oregon, but it already has made the leap in Washington. A port in Whatcom County, in the Bellingham area, is considering handling large-scale coal shipments to China, and protests have grown quickly, and grown large.

A hearing last night at Seattle drew about 2,300, most of the apparently in opposition.

Pushing past the solidly green political climate of the Cascades-west is going to be tough for the coal industry, which is why it has been hiring professional help. The green-oriented Sightline Daily has outlined some of the professional contours in a notable piece out Thursday.

Some of them, the article notes, are organizations with long histories of pro-green activities. An example: "A Portland-based economic consulting firm, ECONorthwest has a long history of work supporting conservation, so many were surprised to learn the firm took money from Ambre Energy to produce an economic impact analysis. ECONorthwest’s analysis has become a key piece of support for the Morrow Pacific Project, a complicated scheme to move as much as 8 million tons of coal annually in barges on the Columbia River for onward shipment to coal plants in Asia."

Really unaffiliated

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

STOP THE PRESSES! HOLD THE PHONE! Or, as Wolf Blitzer would say, “We have BREAKING NEWS coming into the Situation Room!” Well, that’s what he tries to say – no matter how it comes out.

Have you heard of the “nones?” No, not “nuns.” NONES! Well, you’re going to get familiar with that label and be seeing and hearing more about that group if you follow elections. It’s the newest identifier word among political wonks and the Nate Silver’s of the world.

“Nones” are officially voters who have no specific religious affiliation. The “nones.” In the 2012 election numbers, “nones” accounted for 17% of the vote. Put in perspective, 17% is larger than Hispanic vote, 18-24 year olds or the hardest core of pro-lifers. Can you say “significant?”

The Pew Research Center says this new classification of voters is “politically important and consequential” and “one of the strongest Democratic constituencies in the population.” In 2012, Pew found about one in five survey respondents called themselves “atheist,” “agnostic” or “nothing in particular.” All said they never attend church.

Now that attendance information might be unimportant if you figure there are probably a lot more “unchurched” folks out there who don’t vote. So what? But if 17% of the people who DO vote can be identified, the question for political campaigns is “how do we reach them?” ‘Cause they gotta be reached!

These folks are important. In 2008, for example, numerically they were as reliable a constituency for Barack Obama as white evangelical Protestants were for John McCain. Democrats didn’t identify the “nones” and go after those votes! There was no specific effort to target them. How could there be? And their number grew a full three percentage points from 2008-2012.

The demographics of “nones” make them hard to appeal to. They seem to be liberal on social issues – more likely to support same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. But half surveyed called their political ideology “conservative” and about 40% “moderate.” A real mixed bag. Still, they appear to lean heavily toward Democrats.

It’s not surprising that two-thirds of the “nones” believe churches and other faith-based organizations are too involved in politics while 70% say religious institutions are “too concerned with money and power.”

Remember – it’s the “money and power” factors that make groups like evangelical Christians and Catholics targets of political campaigns because they can plug into nationwide communications networks and fund raising. These “nones” don’t have a system of connection so, again, how do you find them and how do you reach them? (more…)

Native jurisdiction (con’t)

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As I walked into my publisher’s office for our weekly discussion on issues, political and otherwise, he threw out this opening gambit: “You must still feel guilt from having had Chief Allen call you a racist?

Dan was referring to my column/review of Louise Erdrich’s National Book Award winning novel, The Round House. A richly textured and finely written book, it is full of ambiguity. At one level it is an eloquent plea for tribal courts to have jurisdiction especially in capital cases over non-natives if they commit a major crime on native land.

“As usual, you’re wrong,” I shot back at my good friend who loves to twist one’s tail and succeeds because he outrageously exaggerates where one may be on an issue. “I took no position on the issue but rather pointed out what an important matter it is for tribes and how central it is to understanding the novel’s plot.”

“So, given your raising this controversial topic why not inform your readers why Congress and the Courts have come up with this concept of “quasi-sovereignty” for reservations? Check with some of your lawyer friends,” Dan suggested.

So I did, all of whom benignly indulge my “practicing law without a license.” Ever since learning of the 1902 Winter’s Doctrine, and laws in which Congress reserved rights to tribes, it has intrigued me why tribes have been reluctant to fully exploit the obvious power contained therein.

While Walter Echo-hawk’s book, In the Court of the Conquerors, outlined the ten worst rulings by the Supreme Court denying basic constitutional rights to Native Americans, he failed to point out that there are laws and court rulings, such as the Winter’s Doctrine, which give Native Americans first in time water rights on all bodies of water arising on
or passing through their reservations. Some tribes are starting quantify their claims while others prefer to let things simmer longer as water becomes ever more valuable.

When asked the question as to what they considered the key obstacle standing in the way of tribes attaining the right to enforce their laws on both natives and non-natives, all said the real issue is whether Tribal Courts are truly an independent branch of government.

One attorney said that in his state “and I suspect everywhere else the real issue is the lack of independence from the Tribal Council. Tribal Councils control Tribal Courts so instead of the rule of law you essentially have the rule of the council. If the council doesn’t like the result in a particular court case, the council overrules it or perhaps fires the judge.” (more…)

Interesting times for the Forest Service

Martin Peterson
From Idaho

I recently moderated a forum for City Club of Boise featuring U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. Tidwell grew up in Boise before his family moved to Spokane, where he graduated from high school. He took classes at both the University of Idaho and WSU and received a degree in range science from WSU.

At a time when federal funding is threatened, forest fires are on the increase, forest restoration needs are growing, and timber harvests on federal lands have declined, it is a challenging time to be the head of the Forest Service.

Idaho has a greater share of its land mass in national forests than any other state. 38% of Idaho is part of the national forest system. Of Idaho’s 20.4 million acres of national forest land, an estimated 15 million acres are overgrown and vulnerable to the risk of wildfires. Last summer’s fires burned 1.7 million acres of forest and rangeland. The Forest Service spends 42% of its budget on firefighting and nearly one-third of its employees are firefighters.

Tidwell says that in recent years the annual acreage burned by wildfires has increased dramatically and has burned in excess of 8 million acres six times since 2004 and could reach 12 to 15 million acres in the near future. In addition, 30,000 homes have been destroyed in the last ten years, including 3,000 this year. Fire seasons are also running 60-70 days longer than before, with the days over when snows came in September and ended the fire season. Causes for this dramatic increase include past forest management practices, insect infestations and climate change.

Tidwell says that the Forest Service in now making forest restoration one of its highest priorities. Forest restoration includes hazardous fuels reduction, protection and restoration of critical habitat, including riparian areas and watersheds. In areas where restoration has taken place, oncoming fires drop from the crowns and become more manageable.

As an example of the benefits of fuel reduction, Tidwell said that this year’s Mustang Complex Fire north of Salmon covered 340,000 acres and that the work done on a logging project in the area helped fire fighters keep the fire from engulfing U.S. 93, the primary highway route in that
part of the state. (more…)

Left, right … or middle

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Whatever happened to the word “moderate?” You hardly here it these days. If you’re talking about someone’s politics, “so-and-so is on the right” or “so-and-so is on the left.” But no moderate. If you’re talking media, there’s “right” and “left” and “conservative” and “liberal.” But no moderate. If it’s congress, members are referred to as “right” and “left” but too seldom “moderate.” The word has almost disappeared.

My Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines moderate as: “avoiding extremes; observing reasonable limits; avoiding extreme political or social matters or behavior; reasonable; one who favors a moderate course.” Still sounds good to me.

I have friends on the right. And friends on the left. Over the years of my journalistic career, some of each have accused me of being a fellow traveler with the other. Right or left. And people I’ve never heard of who respond to these opinion pieces often start out by labeling me one or the other. Right or left. After so many years of this, I’ve learned to immediately discard whatever the response if it starts out “You are obviously a right winger – or left winger……” Or “nut.” Or “crazy.” Or worse.

For reasons I don’t fathom, we seem to have to label everyone. Assign them a space on some imaginary line that runs from right to left, left to right or some other extreme. Or put them in a box with a label on it. We do it with movie stars. George Clooney is obviously on the left while Sylvester Stallone is a “rightie.” We do it with musicians, rock stars, economists, scientists, the homeless and – at times – God. I’ve heard Jesus described both right and left. We do it with churches. Presbyterians, of course, are “always” left – Baptists and fundamentalists are “always” to the right. Whether true or not. (more…)