Writings and observations

image/courtesy, Seattle Public Library

So, last week the Infallible Gallup Organization revealed that Oregon is a teeny bit more liberal than Washington. This week that bastion of “institutional research and assessment” – Central Connecticut State University – found that Seattle is the nation’s second “most literate city,” while Portland – home of the eighth wonder of the world, “Powell’s City of Books” – straggled in at No. 10.

At least they beat San Francisco this year.

The Other Washington came in No. 1 in 2012, while Minneapolis took the third spot. Over the last eight years, Seattle’s been duking it out for the top spot with Minneapolis and DC, with Seattle perched on top four times. Portland has ranged from ninth to twelfth since 2005, except for a sixth-place blip in 2009, when something suddenly sent Portlandians into a reading frenzy.

Boise didn’t quite make the population cutoff of 250,000, but we’re sure the City of Trees would be up there somewhere. The study focuses on six key indicators of literacy: number of bookstores, educational attainment, Internet resources, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and newspaper circulation.

Check it out all you data junkies: http://www.ccsu.edu/page.cfm?p=15619. – Tom Menzel

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Menzel Washington

new building
photo/Randy Stapilus


Anyone who hasn’t been to downtown Boise in a while will notice something new: That hole in the ground at Main and 8th, which has been a hole in the ground for many years, is now being filled. Something like five stories (the basic skeleton thereof at least) is filling the spot, and an actual new building is only, it seems, months away. (You can see it here in the background, toward the center, still partly covered with plastic layers, under the crane.)

Also, there’s a good deal of work a few blocks from there on the “Jack’s Place” development, between the connector.

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rainey BARRETT


I’ve long believed Karl Rove is a secret agent, probably on the payroll of – and operating secretly for – the Democratic National Campaign Committee. I’ve been reluctant to blow his cover because he’s obviously been effective at electing Democrats and confusing the hell out of Republicans for so long. But now, he’s very close to being forced to “come out” as it were. So the game is up.

I’m beginning to actually feel sorry for my Republican friends. They belong to a fine old Party – the “Party of Lincoln,” you know – with a long history of laudable accomplishments. They’ve produced some excellent officeholders who’ve made significant contributions to the nation’s welfare for more than 150 years. The GOP provided leadership in hard times, cared for those who needed a hand up and was a stabilizing force when the country faced dangers. You remember that Republican Party, don’t you? The one we had before the one we have?

In many ways, Rove has been the most effective – and most destructive – mole any political party has ever had. He first went under cover for the Democrats in the 1990′s, gaining the confidence of G. Bush Junior in Texas. In no time at all, he was little George’s most trusted advisor. There’s even a book about that connection calling Rove “Bush’s Brain.” He became so successful in the role that his mentor soon gave up thinking – politically. “Whatever Karl says,” he’d tell his staff.

Karl rode his Bush “horse” in Texas, then eight years in the White House. Pretty plush duty for a guy with no significant political life before the Bush clan took him in. Or, he took them in. Whichever.

From his suite of power just down the hall from the Oval Office, he operated all things Republican. Like a balding, smiling spider at the center of a large web hosted by the President of the United States. Talk about access for a guy who never previously had any of his own! Eight years. And Republicans were thrilled with their new “brain.”

Then after the Bush “horse” was put out to pasture, Rove had to come up with something to keep that national “brain” working for the GOP. So, using the unlisted phone numbers of billionaires he’d collected during his White House years – and aided by a tragic “Citizen’s United” decision from the U.S. Supreme Court – he built a SuperPAC. A couple of them, actually. And he conned otherwise intelligent rich people into parting with hundreds of millions of dollars. All those dollars – less Rove’s generous “expenses” – were thrown into the bottomless pit of trying to buy a couple of national elections. With some state contests thrown in where available.

Democrats pretended to be furious. “That damned Rove” became a rallying cry. Republicans bought it. Rove was thoroughly “in.”

Then the elections. And none of Rove’s horses won. Not one. More than $300 million down the drain. The rich folks who’d made fortunes wound up getting “skunked” and Rove got rich. The Democratic Party’s dream come true! Rove was inside and it was all working as planned.

It was about then I began to suspect Rove was really a mole. Any REAL Republican operative at that level would have had at least one victory to brag about. Something for cover. And wouldn’t have personally cracked up “live” coast-to-coast on Fox.

But it had to end. Not because he’d been so successful at separating billionaires and millionaires from so much money. No. They still believed in Karl. But a good scam – in the hands of a good mole – has to keep building. Sort of like pyramid and Ponzi schemes. He needed a new scam.

So, Karl announced he’d no longer back the Teapublican crazies he’d been creating and paying for. The ones he went out and recruited. No, those days were over. Now – now he’d turn that herd of billionaires and millionaires to more centrist candidates, moving just to the left of the nut crowd. He cut off the money to the Palins, the Walshs, O’Donnells, Angles, Millers and all the other wannabees. Left ‘em cold.

And the response to his decree? Anger! Threats! “TRAITOR,” they cried. From the very people he’d given public life to. People who were nothing until Karl Rove built ‘em. Wow! And the effect on the world of politics? The already split Republican Party is now split again! Not two but three!!! We’ve got the run-of-the-mill Republicans who still foolishly think they can change things, nuts and nuts-light. Three! Count ‘em. Three GOPs!

Even though his cover should be blown by now to thinking people, some of the more loony millionaires – and a billionaire or two – will continue to play the Rove schemes. They want a nation to run so badly they’re willing to reach even deeper into their huge pockets.

So much for story time, friends and neighbors. What Rove has effectively done is split the Republican Party so badly the in-fighting will keep the crazies at each other for years. In less than a week since Karl made his move, more far-right clowns have announced for Senate and House races while condemning him. Some of the heavier Republicans – Mitch McConnell for one – are being “primaried.” Primaried from the RIGHT!!!

National poll upon national poll shows a sizeable majority of Americans picking the center path on issue after issue. Spending, reducing the debt, access to abortion, Obamacare, gun problems and more – get us out of the extremes and move back to the middle. But Rove – I’m sure with the solid backing of Democrats – has opened the floodgates and “Teapublicans” are running far, FAR to the right. And eating their own in the process.
If ever there was a time for a Democrat to seek national public office, it’s right now. Karl has filled Republican waters with internecine blood and the far right Piranhas are starting the feast. On each other!

But Karl’s time is about over. His undercover work for the Democrats has been very, very effective. He’s taken Republican money by the hundreds of millions. He’s cost the party seats in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. He’s siphoned away all those dollars and most of the staff from the GOP national committee. He’s split nutcase from nutcase and has them pitted against each other. And he’s done this all by himself!

But – maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he’s just what he seems to be. Maybe he’s really a Republican after all. Maybe he’s just who he says he is. Maybe Democrats just got lucky.

Turd Blossom. The moderate working man’s best friend!

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Menzel TOM

My Home

Listen up here all you liberal Evergreeners. It’s time to get back into the ring and fight! I know you’re a bit bruised and bloodied by the news, but you can still win this battle if you just do the right thing (actually, the left thing).

In case you haven’t heard the news, Washington The State came in an embarrassing sixth place in the battle for liberal supremacy in these United States, according to the infallible Gallup Organization. (Check it out: http://www.gallup.com/poll/160196/alabama-north-dakota-wyoming-conservative-states.aspx#1) Not only that, but we had to share the sixth spot with Rhode Island, a state about the size of Franklin County where you can’t yet marry your same-sex sweetheart and you can only smoke weed legally with a prescription. Talk about demeaning.

But this story gets even worse. For crying out loud, we got beat by the Beaver State, which stands alone in the No. 3 position right behind The Other Washington and Massachusetts. (Slipping in at No. 4 is Vermont, followed by Delaware and Connecticut in a tie for fifth.) I’ll get to Idaho in a minute.

So what gives here? In Oregon they’re OK with weed, but still don’t allow same-sex marriage. Just a couple of months ago Evergreeners approved same-sex marriage and recreational pot simultaneously. We partied in the streets like it was New Years. Shouldn’t that catapult Washington into the No. 3 spot, at least? Nope, it doesn’t work that way. This isn’t an issue-driven poll. It’s about our perceptions of ourselves.

You see, Gallup called nearly 212,000 people in all 50 states and DC throughout 2012 and asked responders to “self-identify” their ideology. During that phone call you could admit to being conservative, moderate or liberal, which, of course, could depend on your mood on the day of the phone call. This is social science, not rocket science. Give Oregonians credit for feeling a teeny bit more liberal on the day of the Gallup phone call.

However, the numbers for both states pretty much break evenly into one-third portions for each category. While Oregonians claimed to be more liberal than Washingtonians by a 1% margin (29.3 to 28.3%), they said they were more conservative by a whopping 0.1% margin (33 to 32.9%). Evergreeners, meanwhile, felt a tad more moderate than the Beaverites on the day of the Gallup call (36% to 35.1), if you ignore the margin of error.

Liberals in both states shouldn’t get too giddy about their lofty national ranking. They still must cope with an underlying “conservative advantage,” which Gallup defines as “the percentage conservative minus the percentage liberal in each state.” In Oregon, conservatives have a 3.7-percent advantage. In Washington it’s 4.6. Gallup says that, overall, Americans in 2012 remained slightly more likely to call themselves conservative (38%) than moderate (36%) or liberal (23%), “a pattern that reflects the general consistency in ideological self-reports over recent years.”

But back to Oregon vs. Washington for a moment. When you come right down to it, these numbers could easily be bent in any direction you desire. Gallup points out that the margins of error for this annual poll are ±3% percentage points in most states, so go ahead and add or subtract a few points from any of the three categories as you see fit – whatever makes you feel better. This is a classic win-win for all of us.

Oh, by the way, if you add up the percentages for all three categories you’ll find that 2.6% of poll respondents in Oregon and 2.8% in Washington don’t think they fit into any of the three categories – or just plain don’t give a damn. My kind of people.

Finally, what about those intrepid liberals in Idaho? It should come as no surprise that the Gem State stayed true to its colors (better red than dead), proudly claiming its place as the seventh most conservative state at 47.1%. You’ll find a few friends in Idaho if you’re a moderate (32.6%), but you could get pretty lonely at times as a liberal (17%). Conservatives in Idaho who are bummed out by the seventh place finish can take heart, however. The margin of error could very well vault the state toward the top of the conservative heap, which is led by Alabama at 50.6%.

Tom Menzel, of Hansville, Washington, is a communications consultant, community volunteer and former newspaper editor.

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trahant MARK


I was in Vancouver last week for a couple of days and I went out of my way to not spend any cash. I paid for my hotel with a credit card, used a cell phone for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and walked to a meeting so I wouldn’t need to pay for a taxi. I didn’t want the hassle of trying to spend my Canadian dollars at the last minute; I usually end up with Canadian coins with no recourse other than to “collect” them.

But staying cashless in Canada meant I missed out on the last penny. As of today, the Canadian mint will no longer make the penny. People won’t be able to use that coin at the store for purchases. Instead the clerks will round up or down the sale price to the nearest nickel. (Credit card or check purchases will still be the exact amount.)

I have been writing a lot about saving programs from the budget axe. This is a good example of something that would be easy to do, save a significant sum of money, and send a signal that it’s OK to end traditions of the past.

The United States now spends twice as much on production of the penny, and the nickel, than the coins are worth. It also makes no sense to print dollars. We should have done what Canada did twenty-five years ago with the Loonie and Twonie, the one and two dollar coins.

Slate magazine says the U.S. loss on the penny and nickel is about $116 million. However the magazine says the U.S. could really save money – big money — by eliminating cash all together. That would force people to use electronic transactions for everything. One study says it would save 1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, roughly, $150 billion.

Sweden is already giving up on cash. Bjoern Ulvaeus, former member of 1970’s pop group ABBA, and a vocal proponent for a world without cash, told The Associated Press last year, “I can’t see why we should be printing bank notes at all anymore.” (Funny, one of ABBA’s hits was, “Money, Money, Money.”)

It’s no longer possible to use cash for public buses, most business, and even some banks. There are entire towns where it’s impossible to transact business with cash, The AP reports.

A cashless society would be a hurdle for many people on the reservation. I still know people who dislike banks, let alone, turning everything into a digit. But I also think there is an opportunity. Tribes could create “cash” cards, electronic devices for tribal members that would make transactions easier. And that has been the experience in Sweden. Elderly and rural are the most resistant to a cashless society, even some stores continue to accept paper and coins as a service. It could be the same in Indian Country.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:

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carlson CHRIS


First District Congressman Raul Labrador is a smart, charming, articulate, up-by-the boot-strap, 45-year-old attorney known for his fearlessness in taking on the establishment within his Republican Party in Idaho as well as Washington, D.C.

A darling of the Tea Party types (those to the right of Attila the Hun) and the Club for Growth as well as the Grover Norquist never-support-a-tax-increase of any kind for any reason crowd, he is being urged to come home to seek the governorship.

Odds are, he will, for a variety of reasons not the least of which is a sincere desire to spend more time with his wife and the four of their five children still living at home in Meridian. Labrador and his wife are both devout members of the LDS Church, and family togetherness is a cherished value and tenet of their faith.

When a practicing attorney he specialized in immigration law and has parlayed that expertise skillfully while in Congress. He is viewed by leadership as a credible Hispanic face who will lead the Republicans to the promised land of a larger slice of the future Hispanic vote as he works with Florida Senator Marco Rubio to fashion a fair and more reasonable Republican position on immigration reform.

What many pundits are overlooking is that for Labrador immigration
reform is a double-edged sword for him and in a different sense for his party.

For Labrador it is a classic case that any final reform no matter how it is phrased will ease the path to citizenship for the millions of illegal largely Hispanic immigrants within our borders. To critics of reform, especially the many in Labrador’s Tea Party base, anything that rewards the illegal immigrant for their scoff-law attitude is unfair to the many million others who played by the rules.

Sandy Patano, former Senator Larry Craig’s state chief of staff, once told me that no issue generated more mail including hate mail aimed at the Senator than immigration reform. In all her years working with the Senator she had never seen such outrage, down-right hate, and such raw emotion regarding any issue they had ever faced.

Labrador recognizes the volatility of the issue and that he is riding the proverbial tiger. What makes sense is what he is doing—getting the debate started, helping to frame the issues, but then getting out of town and back home to run for governor. He can capitalize on his notoriety but can also provide himself the ability the side-step the final product.

The reform issue is a two-edged sword for the Republican Party
nationallyas well. The reason is simple and was verified by recent
research from the renowned Pew Research Lab. Their analysis shows
that out of the pool of several million illegal immigrants expected to
benefit from reforms as many as six or seven out of every ten that
becomes a citizen will become also a Democratic voter.

Thus, in the global sense, the Republicans expect some modest gains in Hispanic ranks for votes for them because they finally got it and adopted progressive reform policies. The raw national political sense the reforms will create is several million more votes for the Democrats.

All this adds up to powerful incentives for Labrador to return home.

Nor will Labrador be afraid of taking on a sitting governor if Governor Otter decides to seek a third term. He has challenged Butch before, both over his transportation reform proposal during Otter’s first term and his support for a gas tax increase. He beat him both times. Doubtless he is not afraid of a third round with the governor.

Here is the clincher: it is even money bet that the funds to finance Labrador’s gubernatorial bid will be supplied by a fellow Mormon, Frank Vandersloot, the multi-millionaire owner of Idaho Falls-based Melaleuca Corporation. Don’t be surprised either if the campaign manager turns out to be Damon Watkins, the son of former Idaho Falls State Senator Dane Watkins, and the campaign chair of the Idaho Mitt Romney for President Campaign.

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Duly noted, with the proper verbiage.

This has the feel, it seems here, of a lower-key and less-ambitous session, this despite the fact that control is unified this time, unlike the last couple of years. After the major structural redos of the state’s medical and education systems, and more, it would seem a little surprising if this session matches or outdoes those.

Still, it might. Some adjustments – massive “reform” doesn’t seem either in the cards, or needed – of the state’s public employee retirement system would be a very big deal. So would a significant alteration of the tax system, which is under discussion.

And off they go. All three regional legislatures are now in motion.

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rainey BARRETT


Bet you’ve never thought about how your personal politics might be related to the brand of car you drive – or if that brand might be a reflection of your politics? I hadn’t either until I came across some research the major car companies are paying a lot of attention to. And there’s nothing like combining a guy’s two favorite subjects – cars and politics – to get my attention.

Edmunds.com is a favorite web haunt dealing with all things automotive – vehicle values, road tests, consumer reviews, government safety testing and the like. If you’re into cars, it can keep you digging around on the subject for a long time. But I’d never thought of it as a place to go for political or economic news. Seems it is.

Our “Big Three” automakers are totaling the numbers to see how well they did in 2012. Two key factors used to measure success are sales and market share. These are reliable – though shifting – benchmarks and the news is expected to be good. As far as it goes. But Edmunds has begun pointing out a third measure for a successful year. And that factor is not good for domestics. In fact, it’s troubling.

Edmunds researchers have found brands of the Big Three are becoming “regionalized.” Each may have a strong following and a sales lead in one area of the country while losing share in another part. In fact, core markets can be rooted so deeply that sales for any one of the three can go way up. Or drop way off.

Let’s call it the “Red State-Blue State” phenomena. State-by-state sales data strongly indicates cars made by the Detroit Three are largely Red State cars, popular with people in the heartland that vote Republican. Yep, it’s true. And imports, by contrast, do better in Blue States where the majority of voters are Democrats. Usually on or near both coasts.

“So what,” you ask? “Who cares?”

Well, the Big Three care. A lot. Because the news doesn’t favor domestic brands. Red states tend to be more rural, less populated and slower-growing than the rest of the country. The top 10 in order: Michigan, North/South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Indiana. They have in common stable or declining populations (except for North Dakota which is temporary), are mostly ignored by national media and have little impact on broad national trends.

Now, Blue States. Mostly import brands. In order: Hawaii, District of Columbia, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Florida, Maryland and Washington State. Coastal states with higher populations (potential buyers) and more traffic. Smaller import cars sell much better than the Big Three.

Look closer. Check metro areas. Domestics sell well in Buffalo, Cleveland and Indianapolis – Reds. But imports beat ‘em in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, San Diego, Portland and Seattle. Growing areas. Also New York City, Washington, DC and Los Angeles – the so-called “media and opinion centers.” Blues.

Bottom line: If Big Three sales leads are mostly in stable or declining states or markets, there’s no chance for larger numbers. Stagnation or even decline will eventually occur. But the Blues, if they’re more upbeat with growing markets (populations) with better economies, market share – and thus sales – will continue to expand.
Of course, these are broad statistical findings and there are many exceptions. In our Blue State, I drive a domestic pickup and Barb drives an import built in this country. And I’m a registered Independent. She’s not.

But the Edmunds findings are statistically comprehensive and quite meaningful. When you’re talking in the millions of vehicles, they’re worth some really deep studying. And attention.

The terms “Red State” and Blue State” were conceived decades ago by an NBC-TV director who wanted a more vivid visual appearance on election night graphics. But, like so many words and terms in our language, they’ve taken on other, more important meanings. To you and me, we use them mostly to describe Republican and Democrat politics.

But to our domestic automakers, their meaning is directly economic. And the more red they see, the worse the future will look. Keep this in mind as you watch the next couple of national elections.

Maybe you’ll want to re-evaluate your auto stocks.

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hazing crew
Sea lion hazing crew on the Willamette. (Photo/Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife)

As Oregon’s legislature prepares to join the other Northwest two in action, weather eased up – became a little less wintry. The economy continued on a steady if uneasy course.

From the Idaho Digest: A new comprehensive study of records compiled by the Boone and Crockett Club concludes that big game harvest has reduced the size of horns and antlers of trophy male big game species over time. Why? (Read ahead …)

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idaho RANDY
The Idaho

On February 11 Idaho will pass another anniversary, six years away from the centennial mark since it last created a new county. Caribou County, hacked away from Bannock County in 1919, is the youngest, though by only three days: Jerome County was formed the previous Saturday, its territory taken from Gooding and Lincoln counties (Jerome being situated in the middle).

These were not rare instances. Twenty counties, almost half of Idaho’s current 44, were formed in the decade of the 1910s, all carved out of pieces of other counties. Most have in common relatively small geographical areas and small to midsized populations. Idaho’s smallest county, Payette, was formed in 1917 from Canyon County. There was Adams in 1911 (from Washington), Benewah in 1915 (from Kootenai), Boundary in 1915 (from Bonner), Camas in 1917 (from Blaine), Lewis in 1911 (from Nez Perce), and so on. Many more Idaho counties were formed in the 1910s than in any other decade.

Why then?

One reason may have been a population boom. Idaho’s head count doubled from 1900 to 1910, and by about half again during the 1910s. Many of the counties that split up in the 1910s had experienced huge growth; Lincoln County, which was split three times, went from 1,784 people in 1900 to 12,676 in 1910. In 1920, after the cut-ups, Lincoln was back down to 3,446, territory where it has remained since.

Another reason probably was transportation, and transportation expectations. The first two decades of the twentieth was transitional, between an established but lightly-populated state, and a state with significant population. In 1900 Idaho’s population was about 162,000, fairly close to Nampa plus Meridian today. In 1920 it reached 432,000, making Idaho a whole different kind of place. Commerce and other reasons for travel were booming.

Travel infrastructure hadn’t kept up. Early in the new century there were a few wagon roads, but mostly little more than trails. The first state highway commission was not created until 1907. The first stretch of hard-surfaced road (five-miles in the Fort Hall-Blackfoot area, on the route from Pocatello to Idaho Falls, roughly the current Highway 91) was built in 1911. Even that was no prize; a state transportation history noted that “so difficult was this stretch of roads for teams and automobiles that it was marked as especially bad on automobile maps. It fully deserved this reputation, for during the greater portion of the year it was almost, if not wholly, impassible to automobiles, and it was impassible for any but the lightest loads over it with a team.” Other roads doubtless were much worse.

Meaning that in 1919 people in Soda Springs may have been getting awfully tired of driving over the mountains separating the Bear from the Portneuf river basins to get to the courthouse in Pocatello, and started agitating for more local county services. Even in flatter country the difficulties of transportation must have had an effect. Rather than build a new highway system, Idahoans just created more counties.

Leading to question, since for some decades now Idaho has had perfectly passable highways between nearly all of its communities: Does the state still need 44 counties? Might we revisit just how many really are needed in the day of Internet and I-can’t-drive-55? The centennial decade of the rapid creation of so many counties might be as good a time as any.

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Idaho Idaho column