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Posts published in January 2013

Speaker Simpson – in Congress this time?

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The table just may start to be set for Idaho’s Second District Congressman, Mike Simpson, to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. Yes, the split in the House Republican Caucus started to show when one member cast a vote for Idaho’s 1st District Congressman, Raul Labrador, and Labrador himself refused to vote. Rep. Labrador, however, even though the darling of the Tea Party types, will never be
Speaker.

Mike Simpson, on the other hand, has a real shot in part because he has been a loyal lieutenant to Speaker Boehner. One can predict that if it becomes clear to the Speaker that he no longer enjoys the confidence of his Caucus and should step aside, he will still have a sizable contingent of loyalists. Boehner could no doubt direct these loyalists to vote for one of his key advisors, Mike Simpson.

It not only takes skill to maneuver successfully to ride herd on the incredibly divisive House, it also takes luck and a talent for being perceived to be the right person at the right time and the right place to become the next Speaker. Simpson, however, over his long career has demonstrated both skill and luck.

Make no mistake, Boehner has been mortally wounded. He just barely survived a major in-Caucus rebellion over his bumbling, lackluster inability to draw and quarter the president in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. The fact that the split within became so obvious is in all probability an unmistakable sign his days are numbered. He clearly cannot deliver a majority of his caucus on anything, which the Democrats smell, as do the House members of the Tea Party.

Simpson is thought to command the respect of all the factions within the Republican caucus in part because he is a good listener, a shrewd analyst and a savvy negotiator who is not afraid to compromise in order to achieve consensus and move forward.

There’s an old political saying about he who intends to kill the King ought to make sure they’ve done so. In this case, the challenge initially has failed but Boehner may be a member of the walking dead. It may take time to recognize his legs have been cut out from under him. But not by Simpson. Ever the loyalist he is not about to knife a friend and scramble over the body. That is another point for him.

Another attraction is that while second in line for Presidency, the House Speaker has rarely ever ascended to the Presidency. It is not a stepping stone. In fact the only Speakers of the U.S. House to ever make it were James K.Polk and James A. Garfield who by all accounts were successful speakers. Elected in 1880 he never was able to fulfill his promise as he was shot by an assassin within months of taking office. Incompetent doctors helped him to survive the bullet but he couldn’t survive their incompetent care. (more…)

The Idaho 2012 Yearbook

Each Monday, we publish the Idaho Weekly Briefing, sent via email to subscribers. toward the end of last year, we decided to try something new: Summarizing the key elements of the Briefings from throughout the year in one book. The Idaho Briefing Yearbook 2012 is now available, covering all of the last year.

Ordering information is in the box above. It is available now.

Unlike the regular Briefings, the book is available only (for now) in print version.

It takes in a wide range of territory, the same as the weekly Briefings (which also, separately, cover Oregon and Washington). We have reports on politics, federal, state and local government, legal and law enforcement action, business and the economy, the environment, health and education, transportation, communication and culture in the state. There are also calendars and reports on milestones of people - arrival and departures, including deaths, during the year.

If you want to know what happened (that's of importance) in Idaho last year, the Yearbook is probably the best place to start. Let us know what you think.

Idaho’s down to three members of Congress

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

One of Idaho’s two congressional districts will be missing in the U.S. House this year. And next. The Republican fella who normally sits in the chair reserved for Idahoans from Boise North – Raul Labrador – will likely be a non-entity. And those 650,000 or so people he’s supposed to represent will have to get along without him handling their interests for about 24 months.

In another moment of his usual detachment from political reality, Labrador assured his exile by not voting for Speaker John Boehner’s re-election. He’ll chose to call it a “matter of conscience.” The rest of us will call it what it is: a “matter of betrayal of constituents.” If you want to fly your own single-seat plane into a cliff for personal reasons of conviction, that’s “conscience.” When you take 650,000 people with you, that’s betrayal. Not actively supporting your leadership when leadership needs your support is the closest Raul will get to piloting his own plane again. He’ll disappear from Boehner’s radar for about every purpose.

As for Boehner, he’ll spend the next two years in an even more ineffective role than the last two. He can’t speak for all of his own caucus. In fact, 16 of his members voted against him to keep his job and, if another 15 had changed their votes, he wouldn’t have made the first ballot cut. Messages there? You bet. Boehner will be able to do nothing the nutty right fringe doesn’t allow unless he gets some Democrats to go along.

And former Speaker Dennis Hastert – on Fixed News – had an experienced warning about such coalitions for ol’ John: “Maybe you can do it once; maybe you can do it twice. But you start making deals when you have to have Democrats to pass legislation, you’re not in power anymore.”

Then there’s this. While more than 82% of Americans disapprove of Congress and what it’s been doing – or rather, not doing – the evidence is overwhelming members don’t care. It used to be such polling numbers would send those folks home to apologize and promise they’d never do again whatever it was that put them in such disfavor. Now, they don’t care. (more…)

Prospects for natural gas in Idaho

mendiola
Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” coupled with technological advances in horizontal drilling, have revolutionized the natural gas industry’s ability to tap into North America’s vast shale reserves and dramatically boost available natural gas volumes.

Because of its relatively low cost and increased availability, natural gas has become the “energy of choice” for many companies using it to fire up their plants, heat their buildings, generate electricity and maintain business operations.

Natural gas executives lately are expressing an optimism they haven’t always enjoyed about their industry’s future. Before, limited natural gas reserves appeared for decades to be locked up and inaccessible due to an inability to reach them underground.

Fracking and horizontal drilling have made an almost infinite supply of natural gas and petroleum a reality, they say, greatly helping America’s energy independence.

But the controversial hydro fracturing technology is opposed by many environmental groups who fear it contaminates ground water, reduces air quality and causes gases and chemicals to migrate to land surfaces.

Injection of highly pressurized fluids into subterranean shale formations creates new veins or fractures, which improve extraction rates and recovery of hydrocarbons. The fluid injected into the rock typically is a slurry of water, sand, gels , foams, chemical additives and gases, including nitrogen, carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Industry officials say fracturing liquids consist 90 percent of water, 9.5 percent of sand and .5 percent of chemicals. A typical fracking treatment uses between three and 12 chemical additives, including acids, salt, friction reducers, ethylene glycol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, carbonates and disinfectants.

Petroleum engineers, not public relations professionals, coined the term “fracking,” notes Dan Kirschner, executive director of the Portland-based Northwest Gas Association – a trade organization that includes six natural gas utilities serving Idaho, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, and four transmission pipelines that transport natural gas throughout the region from supply basins.

There were large declines in industrial natural gas use in 1999 and 2000 in connection with California’s energy crisis, which left only two of 10 aluminum plants standing in the Pacific Northwest, Kirschner says. The “Great Recession” that started at the end of 2008 also caused permanent shutdowns of other plants across the region.

Meanwhile, “gas came into the market right into the teeth of the Great Recession. There was a decline in demand just as there was a great increase in production.” From 2007 to 2010, there was a dramatic spike in production, driving down costs. (more…)

Splitting the house

The House delegation from the Northwest split in some uncommon ways on the big tax/budget bill Tuesday - splitting the parties in the region on some not totally expected lines. (See this excellent New York Times map.)

The Senate delegation was united in its vote in favor of the bill, as the Senate overall was lopsidedly in favor.

The House was more deeply split, and unusual in this cycle has featured a bill passing the House with a strong majority of the Republican caucus in opposition. 151 Republicans voted no, almost twice as many as the 85 who voted yes; Democrats basically passed the bill, with 172 in favor and 16 against.

The Northwest delegation, given that kind of split, didn't vote as you might expect.

Of the seven Republicans in the region's House delegation, just one voted against the bill - Raul Labrador of the Idaho 1st. All six of the others - Idaho's Mike Simpson, Oregon's Greg Walden, and Washington's Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Jaime Herrera Beutler and Dave Reichert - all voted in favor, on the minority side within the Republican caucus. Might it matter that Walden and McMorris Rodgers are in leadership, Simpson is fairly close to leadership (well, presumably, the John Boehner side of what now looks like a split leadership) and Beutler and Richert come from relatively marginal districts?

On the Democratic side, you see an interesting split as well. Most of the Oregon Democrats voted no - Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader - while Suzanne Bonamici in the 1st district voted yes. Washington was more deeply split: Norm Dicks (the senior member of the region's delegation), Suzan DelBene (the junior member) and Rick Larsen voted yes; but Adam Smith and Jim McDermott voted no. Overall, the Democrats in the region voted 6-3 in favor of the bill, a closer margin than in the caucus overall.

You'll hear a wide range of explanations for all this in the days ahead.

An open letter to DOE (part 1)

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

An “Open Letter” to Jeffrey Sayer
Chair
Leadership in Nuclear Energy Commission

Dear Mr. Sayer:

Former Governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus have once again rendered their fellow citizens a tremendous service - indeed, service above and beyond the call of duty.

Both governors saw through the smoke screen of wishful thinking by blind Idaho National Laboratory partisans who with dollar signs dancing in their eyes thought they could hornswoggle the two governors into accepting amendments to Governor Batt’s 1995 agreement with the Lab, Do E and The United States Navy severely limiting the importation of any more (other than a small amount for research purposes) nuclear waste and mandating it all be gone from the Site by 2035.

Idahoans ought to thank the members of Governor Butch Otter’s LINE commission for being, choose your word: dumb or naïve, enough to think that dangling a carrot of vague, unspecified additional economic development might possibly entice Idaho ’s current leadership to amend the 1995 agreement.

There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that Butch will buck two governors who he served as Lt. Governor and cross their emphatic response to even the hint of amending the agreement with their firm not just NO!, but Hell No!

Batt and Andrus understand that Idaho has the only agreement of any state NOT to be turned into an interim waste or possibly permanent waste repository. The 1995 agreement gives Idaho the only real leverage it has and it is reinforced by having been held up as binding in a Federal Court of law.

To deal away a “hole card” would be the height of folly when dealing with a Federal government that did not begin to keep many of its promises until the 1995 agreement was in place.

One cannot be any clearer than Governor Andrus was in his letter to the LINE Commission chair, Commerce director Jeff Sayer. He told Sayer he had carefully read all 50 plus pages including the recommendations and “nothing in the (Line Commission) report warrants any amendment for any reason to the Batt Agreement of 1995.. . .”

To have Governor Batt follow suit immediately with his own strongly worded letter to the Idaho Statesman ensured that folks would still see the two governors from different political parties were absolutely tied together at the hip on this matter.

It was meant to signal to anyone who might try to make this into a partisan matter that that too was a non-starter. The governors had obviously been talking and had coordinated their responses. One could almost hear the gnashing of teeth in far away north Idaho emanating from the INL booster types in Idaho Falls. (more…)

Our neighborhood’s getting rougher

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

There’s really nothing remarkable about Kelli Lee Fields. You’d walk past her on any Eugene, Oregon street and probably never notice her. Except, she might be wearing the biggest smile of her life.

You see, Kelli Lee Fields was driving her car in Eugene late on a November evening. In the space of a couple of minutes, she was to blame for two wrecks and sending several people to the hospital – one with life-changing injuries. She was drunk. Legally sloshed. Before the officer finished writing up the incident report, she had more than a dozen charges against her. Pretty serious stuff. And, it wasn’t the first time.

Then the lawyers got into it. A little give here – a little plea there – and the list was pared down to nine counts to which she pled guilty. Drunken driving, third-degree assault, hit and run and criminal mischief among them. The judge bought off on the agreement and sentenced her to 15 months in the lockup. And off she went to the Lane County jail to serve her sentence.

Except – after she was processed in and ready to be shown her cell – she was out the front door with papers showing she had served her entire sentence. She was a free woman. She was free because the Lane County jail – built to house 500 prisoners – has laid off most of its staff and the 135 beds still active are full. So Kelli Lee Fields walked on her first day! To drive Eugene streets again.

About a month ago, a Eugene fella with a long criminal record – including bank robbery – was arrested for the second time in 90 days. He was taken to the Lane County jail, booked, and released. Less than two hours later, he held up another bank and was back again. Sheriff must have cut somebody else loose because – this time – he stayed.

You’ll find the same sort of thing happening in Josephine County where law breakers are routinely arrested, charged, booked and – released. Not unusual to see the same faces coming back again and again. The jail in Grants Pass has only a few beds occupied because so many jailers and other deputies have been laid off.

In the western parts of Josephine, armed civilians are prowling the streets and forest roads – “citizen patrols” they like to call themselves. Sheriff says it’s just a matter of time until somebody’s shot. The citizens claim, if the County can’t afford patrol officers, they’ll do it themselves. (more…)