st maries
Main street in St. Maries

And our run across Idaho gets underway in St. Maries, where Chris Carlson and I talk to a bunch of people form the area and sell some books at the Paperhouse.

Weather is good and we’re off to a nice start. I’m noticing a bunch of scattered new development around Benewah County, mainly on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation on the west side (increasing spinoffs from the casino there) but also in St. Maries. This is the kind of area often said to be dying on the vine; but sure doesn’t look like it on the ground.

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This is a little different, or at least something we haven’t seen for a while: Low wage, hard-pressed workers going on strike. In this case, fast food workers in – and this part at least would be less surprising – Seattle. It’s the first strike of this sort anywhere in the region, though some other major metros in the east are involved. This is a real backflip through time. In recent decades, strikes most often hit the news when they involve well established and long-unionized work forces, people who are solidly established and simply are trying to keep what often are alread-significant benefits. This new strike involves people desperately trying to find a way to make a living, and hews closer to the ancestral days of American unions. Watch where this goes.

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First Take

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Bear with me a minute. This takes some background.

From our little burg-in-the-Oregon woods going South on I-5 to the California border, it’s about 125 miles. Within the last half dozen years, four multi-lane bridges along the way have been replaced/rebuilt and smaller ones in the communities on both sides of I-5 improved.

Now, North on I-5 to Corvallis, it’s about 100 miles. From here to there in that same time period, there have been four new multi-lane I-5 bridges built and another half dozen overhauled or strengthened. Bridges and two-lanes in smaller communities on both sides of I-5 have had similar attention.

Between the Pacific and Eugene, there’s a rail line used by commercial shippers. Several years ago, a major tunnel was declared unsafe and traffic stopped. Those shippers – mainly regional timber guys – hollered. Loudly. Sending things the long way around by truck was prohibitively expensive. In short order, the feds, state and some shippers came up with the big bucks and things were put in first class order.

Hold onto all that as we introduce you to our representative in Congress from the Fifth District – Pete DeFazio. He’s one of the older heads – a Democrat in a heavily Republican District. He relies on the more liberal Lane County voters to hold off Republicans in all the other counties that vote against him every two years. All of ‘em.

Would it surprise you to know Pete’s the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit? Or that he’s been on the Subcommittee on Railroads for many years?

Now, tie all that together. Highways, bridges and railroads. If you didn’t live in the Fifth Congressional District, you’d call all that “pork.” Strictly speaking, you’d be right. Good old federal bacon brought home by a ranking member of Congress. Taxpayer largess. Yep, pork.

But, also strictly speaking, all that federal help in our little corner of the Oregon forest is exactly what the federal government of this nation has been charged to do since 1776. Help us do the big jobs that need doing that we can’t do for ourselves. National defense. National monetary system. National transportation systems. Yes, highways, bridges and tunnels, too.

When the folks on the right loudly complain about “pork,” what they’re really saying is government dollars spent in their backyards are wise expenditures on badly needed projects. But, when it’s someone else’s backyard getting the attention – well, now – that’s “PORK.”

This sequestration business that’s strangling our economy – and deliberately hurting millions of people – is really mostly a lot about “pork. That’s really the bottom line with most of the naysayers. They want to bring government spending to a halt. Then slash and burn their way backwards. While they’re wrapping themselves in the Constitution and Bill of Rights few have likely read, they’re ignoring one of the prime reasons for having a government in the first place – to help us do for ourselves together those things we can’t accomplish alone. Says so. Right in those documents.

Imagine taking federal spending out of safe water systems, airline safety, food safety, public education, higher education, law enforcement, national defense, disaster relief, communications, electrical power creation and transmission, space projects, medical research, wilderness preservation, public lands management and more. Oh, yes. Those highways, bridges and tunnels all over the country. Like the ones we were talking about.

There are proper and necessary roles for government. The balance point most likely comes down in the middle – between the “government-is-the-answer-to-all-problems” utopia of the far left and the “get-government-the-hell-out-of-my-life” rants of the far right. That’s where the answers to most of our problems are usually found.

But, for now, this nation is being held hostage by a minority of mindless ideologues with their collective minority fingers around the throat of government. We are being slowly strangled. Baby, bath water and the nanny are all being thrown out the window.

A little interstate bridge over the Skagit river should remind us all we have urgent, life-threatening problems. Problems in the billions of dollars that endanger us everyday as we move about our nation. Two undeclared wars of choice and a financial system run amok for lack of proper government oversight have diverted our attention – and hundreds of billions of dollars – from more direct threats to our national security. Direct threats to our lives.

We need – we must have – a redirection of national priorities to the reasons we create governments in the first place. We need the resources of all – together – to do what we individually can’t do for ourselves.

After all, not everyone can have a little fella in Congress on the Subcommittee for Highways and Transit or the Subcommittee on Railroads.

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QUIET WATCHDOG Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission has had a fairly good reputation, at least in some quarters, for watchdogging reporting and ethics issues in state government. But is that reputation inflated? The Associated Press has a powerful piece out about the agency’s deficiencies. Oddities in reports by lobbyists and campaigns, oddities that go unchallenged, are becoming increasingly commonplace, the article suggests. And “The Associated Press found cases in which lobbyists failed to properly complete basic forms, failed to disclose details of their expenses or regularly filed reports past their deadlines. Some lobbyists indicated they didn’t know the rules until reporters started asking questions.” Not to say, though it should be, that the population of reporters doing the asking is shrinking, rapidly.

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First Take Washington

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Press confernce at the Skagit bridge. (photo/Washington Department of Transportation)
 

Collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River near Mount Vernon was the hot topic last week and into this one – even occurring as it did near the end of the week. I-5 is the major throughway for most people in Washington and not only that, the major west coast throughway. A break in its run anywhere is a critical matter.

And it matters not only for that but also for the proposed Columbia Crossing project to the south, over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver. Its fate hangs in the balance as the special session of the legislature hits its heart and decision time approaches.

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Briefings

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

An edited excerpt from Chris Carlson’s new book, Medimont Reflections, about the idea of breaching Snake River dams – and the effect on Lewiston.

Ed Chaney has been correct all along. So has my Columbia classmate, Pat Ford. From their first appearances before the Northwest Power Planning Council in 1981, through all the intervening years in interviews, articles, lawsuits, and speeches, each has consistently said that the best science says and will always say that the only real solution to restoring native salmon and steelhead runs to their former state, as required by the Northwest Power Planning Act, is to breach the four lower Snake River dams.

Supporters of the status quo and of leaving the dams in place like to point out that in terms of sheer numbers of the various runs of returning salmon and steelhead, the count is up and still rising. This is of course due to the large amount of supplementing the runs with hatchery-raised fingerlings and smolts.

Chaney points out that one should only examine the numbers of wild fish, which continue to steadily decline.

Chaney and Ford believe the law as reflected by and through the Northwest Power Planning Act and the Endangered Species law requires the restoration of the wild runs of salmon and steelhead. They insist these runs represent a distinct and separate gene pool that is declining.

On the face of it, their contention the dams continue to damage and facilitate decline appears incontestable. Courts appear also to agree with them as they have successfully petitioned to have most of the so-called “Bi-ops” developed by the Corps, the Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NOAA and Bonneville Power Administration invalidated.

Breaching the dams is therefore the only measure not tried yet to restore and enhance the runs. What seals the deal, however, are the economic arguments for breaching the dams.

There are 31 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers which produce 60 percent of the region’s hydroelectricity. The power produced by the four lower Snake dams is about 1 percent of the overall production. BPA of course sells and distributes this power.

Due to the several laws guiding BPA’s management of this “federal base system,” the agency also funds and manages a fishery enhancement program whose goal is, as the law requires, protecting, mitigating and enhancing the runs.

In March, I asked the agency’s public communications office to provide me with an estimate of how much money they have expended to meet the law’s requirement for the 11-year period of 2002 through 2012.

The total number is a staggering $7.35 billion, or an average of $677 million a year, with little, if any, progress being made in enhancing and protecting the wild runs.

Subtract the breaching costs from that figure and cease funding all of the fruitless efforts underway and the region’s ratepayers would be billions ahead shortly.

The next unsound economical entity is the Port of Lewiston itself. Sold by its boosters that it was going to be the catalyst of an economic rebirth for Lewiston, it has been nothing of the sort. Boosters of the port sold Nez Perce County voters a bill of goods, saying that a local option sales tax would be short-lived and retired.

Fifty years later the tax is still on the books. Face it — the Port of Lewiston is a heavily subsidized operation that will never pay for itself. The citizens of Lewiston and Nez Perce County would be far better off shutting it down and supporting dam breaching as their preferred path back to real prosperity.

Another reason that should galvanize support for dam breaching is the likelihood of a 10-year flood event inundating Lewiston’s downtown core. In large part due to the rapid buildup of silt in and around the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, water is already well above the street level in the downtown.

The levees constructed by the Army Corps were designed (there’s that engineering word again) to have a 7- to 8-foot margin above the anticipated highest level of the water. Today it is much closer to a 2- to 3-foot margin.

Meteorologists and other government agency forecasters, when pressed, will admit that a 10-year flood event, such as heavy snow in the mountains followed by a surge in temperature with a commensurate heavy rain that could bring most of the mountain moisture cascading down the Clearwater could easily inundate the city.

Lewiston City officials will also concede their ability to remove that amount of water is virtually nonexistent. For all practical purposes, the water would be trapped on the inside and it might take weeks to remove it by various siphoning methods. The damages would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and insurance would not begin to cover the rebuilding cost.

This is not a case of if; it is rather a matter of when.

The Corps response is to propose a massive dredging program for the next 50 years. By law the Corps is required to maintain a channel behind Lower Granite dam, just downstream from the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, that is 14 feet deep and 250 feet wide to facilitate barge access to the Port of Lewiston.

It’s not happening, folks.

Needless to say, the rapid accumulation of river-borne sediment will significantly add to the cost and the subsidies necessary to keep the port open and to operate the dams.

Kooskia resident and environmental activist Linwood Laughy estimates the 10-year cost of the taxpayer subsidy necessary to keep the port of Lewiston open would be $39 million — and the sedimentation accumulation would still continue.

He believes each fully loaded barge leaving the infrequently used Port of Lewiston leaves with a taxpayer subsidy of $19,000 reflecting the dredging and sediment management activities.

Virtually the only option left to comply with the Northwest Power Planning Act and the Endangered Species Act appears to be breaching and it is just a matter of time — unless of course those who want to save the dams can muster the political support to amend the Power Act and the ESA law. Such a prospect is highly unlikely.

So as a region let’s face up to the inevitable and get on with breaching the four dams.

A pure guess is that the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams would be somewhere between $500 million and $1.5 billion. This is a huge chunk of change, but still represents less than 20 percent of the costs incurred by BPA over the first decade of this century trying to enhance the native salmon and steelhead runs.

In this period of diminishing federal resources as the nation tries to get a handle on its deficit spending challenge, however, the cost benefits derived from adopting the last, best chance for real fishery enhancement are overwhelmingly compelling.

Add to that the cost avoidance of the flooding out of Lewiston and the elimination of shipping subsidies and breaching is a no-brainer.

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Idaho

We’ll be circumnavigating Idaho in the next week.

All of which requires explanation.

The travelers will be Chris Carlson, author of the new book Medimont Reflections, and Randy Stapilus, publisher of that book and co-author (with Martin Peterson) of the book Idaho 100. We’ll be traveling around Idaho, stopping and speaking here and there, with copies the book available (provided those last longer than the trip does).

“Circumnavigation” here is more or less a term of art, since you can’t recall travel in anything resembling a circle if you’re travelling “around” Idaho – there’s almost no way to avoid retracing your path when it comes to the long, high Panhandle in the north. The best you can do, which is what we will, is department Idaho north of Salmon, run up through western Montana, then rejoin Idaho on the east side of the Silver Valley.

We’ll start with an event Friday noon at the Paper House store in St. Maries, which is near Carlson’s home turf at Medimont (some miles to the north). From there we go to Coeur d’Alene, to the Hastings store there.

The next day, we head south to Moscow and Lewiston for events there. Sunday, it’s a run down U.S. 95, stopping for a gathering at White Bird, to Boise. We have some activities planned in Boise on Monday and Tuesday. Tuesday evening, we head to the Wood River Valley for a talk at Ketchum.

Wednesday, we’re at Twin Falls, speaking to the Rotary Club there. Thursday, we’re at Pocatello, doing the same along with a panel discussion (actually, this one’s Wednesday night) that we’re told is scheduled to include House Speaker Scott Bedke. Later, we head north to Salmon.

From there, it’s back to the Panhandle, and the circle is tied.

So goes the plan. More details, and we expect quite a few reports from the road, in the days ahead.

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CARRELL’S PASSING Washington state Senator Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, who died earlier today of cancer complications, was one of the veterans of the legislature – a House member from his election in 1994, and a senator most of the years since. He was quick to call himself a conservative, but that did not mean intransigent ideologue. He had great interest in education and mental health, some did highly useful legislative work in those areas and in dealing with juvenile runaways. It was cooperative and bipartisan work, too, of a sort seen less often in the case of so many legislators in recent years. A fellow Republican, Senator Mark Schoesler, was quoted, “He was a proud, conservative Republican who certainly worked well with Democrats in the those subject areas. It is a trait we need more of here, and we’ve lost someone with it.”

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First Take

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

One of the guiding principles for legislators and other elected officials is often summed up by the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Elected officials are lobbied by a variety of special interests who seek advantage for their respective enterprise by seeing a law or regulation passed that will give them a competitive advantage although it is sold to lawmakers as increasing efficiency or a new and better way to generate tax revenue.

Lawmakers listen, deliberate and then say yeah or nay with the guiding thought of what is the greatest good for the greatest number.

Another guiding principle is the need for laws to protect the lives of people.

The first law of the social contract is that people band together to protect life, especially the weak, young, elderly, and disabled from the strong, the greedy, the selfish who exploit weakness wherever it is seen.

For Idahoans these two guiding principles should be kept in mind as the public is asked to comment in hearings before the Idaho Transportation Board on regulations needed for the implementation of a new law passed by the Legislature at the behest of Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch and Clearwater Paper to allow on north Idaho roads the weight of trucks to be increased from a limit of 106,000 pounds to 129,000 pounds.

Dear reader, this quite simply is not in the public interest nor would it be safe, especially in wintertime. It is a classic case of corporate interests rationalizing their desire to maximize their profits regardless of the increased risk to the driving public.

Look at a map of north Idaho and note the facilities owned by Idaho Forest Group. From Moyie Springs to Laclede to Grangeville to Lewiston, to Chilcoe, the firm, the result of a merger several years ago, has its mills in disparate locations. Someone, somewhere within the company no doubt did a study that showed if they could increase the weight of whatever they hauled between these facilities they could reduce operating expenses and make a few bucks more.

But at what price? Some critics cite the increased weight doing more damage to roads and bridges, but a ten year study in southern Idaho supposedly showed that not to be the case. That’s not really the issue, though.

The issue is and the only question that matters is will this extra bit of profit come at the expense of more risk to and the eventual loss of human life. The fact that only one hauler was brave enough to testify against the bill should be telling, and yes, off the record the major haulers in the region reportedly said they had gotten the word to keep quiet their reservations.

The lone brave hauler expressed genuine concern about how unsafe he and all twenty of his drivers felt the increased weight would be.

Here’s the other kicker to keep in mind. If in the wintertime a 129,000 pound truck going down the Winchester grade on Highway 95, starts to slide in an icy spot and the second oft-times smaller trailer starts to swing into the oncoming lane, and hits an oncoming vehicle that results in serious injury or death, guess who is most liable?

You guessed it – the hauler, even though he may be hauling product for Idaho Forest Group under contract, IFG does not have to concern itself with the safety issue because they don’t own the trucks. The safety issue is the haulers’ concern not theirs. So the north Idaho ‘big three” get all the benefit and none of the new risk. Isn’t that interesting?

Fortunately, even Governor Butch Otter when signing a special interest bill he should have vetoed, underscored that the rulemaking process had to operate on the principle of safety first, of protecting life not putting it at risk, of reflecting the greatest good for the greatest number.

Let’s hope the public reinforces that message and that this piece of special interest legislation gives way to the public interest.

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Carlson

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

The Oregonian has been running a fine series – as of today, unfortunately, concluded – of interview pieces profiling the attitudes of various Oregonians about guns. Many of them have been enlightening and thoughtful, but a pairing of two of them shines a bright light on the most serious and distinctive gun divide we have.

Both are of young men, both proud gun owners and advocates for gun ownership. What’s different is their perspective and viewpoint underlying their attitudes.

Today’s interview was with Brian Jarvis of Dallas, 29, owner of a rifle and pistol. He grew up in a rural family where gun ownership was simply an understood part of life, and understood in a particular way: “I was raised that a person’s ownership of firearms is a provision of family for food, for security and basically to set an example for the next generation.”

That much, about his take on his world, is easier for someone from a different perspective to take, probably, than Jarvis’ view of them: “What I see is people who are afraid of guns because they were not raised to see them in the same light that I was. They see the gangster on TV shooting up a block, bullets flying everywhere. That scares the tar out of me, too, but I sense that people who don’t own guns don’t want to learn about guns, and instead of stepping out and accepting the responsibility of our world and learning about them, they would rather take the right to own a gun away.”

A mixed reaction here to this part. Jarvis overstates the eagerness of non-gun enthusiasts to “take the right to own a gun away” – no more than a sliver of people are in favor of that. He is probably correct, though, that many non-gun owners fail to take the trouble to learn more about guns before issuing pronouncements about them.

Still, on balance, a large majority of Americans probably could nod their heads in general agreement with most of Jarvis’ perspective, even if their experience and his are a little different. As far as it goes, at least, his viewpoint represents something most Americans could likely accept; it’s a mainstream view.

Here’s a second interview, of Trevor LeeJack Francois of Gresham, 18, who’s about to enter the Army. Here’s the key line from his interview:

“I feel powerful with my guns. My dad doesn’t like me keeping them in my room, but I can’t live without them. I feel lost when they are not with me. We live in a crazy world, and I guess the guns help me feel safe.”

Credit Francois this: He has opened up, and taken us to the heart of his thoughts.

Were you to deny Jarvis his firearms, he would (based on the interview we see) protest, and as argument for keeping his weapons would speak of tradition, culture, the ability to hunt for food, and some additional ability to defend himself. These points would not be hard to understand and deal with, even for people who aren’t positioned the same way he is.

Were you to do the same to Francois, you’re denying him a sense of personal power (that, presumably, he doesn’t get elsewhere), exposure in a world of life and death, real peril, and a sense of being utterly lost. Confront a person with that, and what sort of political reaction would you expect?

The divide between someone like Jarvis and someone like Francois is the really important chasm in the gun debate, It is not the line between gun owners vs. non-owners or between Second Amendment advocates vs. some supposed cadre of gun seizers. This is the proximate point at which the issue becomes hard to resolve – when it reaches not a point of disagreement over details, but a point of panic.

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Stapilus

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Like a lot of other things in our America these days, poverty ain’t what it used to be. It’s not where it used to be. It’s not who it used to be. And we in the West are among the prime statistical examples of the “new” poverty that seems to be under most people’s radar.

When we think of poverty – if we do – the picture that normally comes to mind is inner city or some of the smaller, mostly rural communities around us. Not so, McGee. Suburban poverty is the fastest growing segment of poor in America – up 64% in the last decade.

Brookings Institution has a new book out – “Confronting Suburban Poverty In America.” Using Census Bureau records and other numeric profile sources, the bottom line is this: almost 16.4 million suburban residents now live below the poverty line with just under three-million more in cities.

Check out the numbers for our region’s largest population areas. In the last decade, the number of people living in poverty in the suburbs of Seattle has increased 78.9% – Portland 99.3% – Boise 129.7% – Las Vegas 139.3% and Salt Lake City up 141.7%!

Co-author Elizabeth Kneebone found many reasons for this silent shifting of people below the official poverty line of $23,021 income per year.

“As wealthier folks moved to the suburbs,” she says, “a lot of companies did, too. Following along, people from inner cities looking for jobs joined the quiet parade. Service sector was a major employer but most workers were paid minimum wage or slightly higher.” Then the bottom fell out.

When the “great recession” came along, many of those jobs disappeared. Lower income folks were stuck. Businesses closed, unemployment went up and formerly middle class families started to slide down the economic ladder into poverty.

Compounding this new and growing problem has been a government that’s kept directing resources to the inner cities where poverty has historically existed. As people being served moved out to the ‘burbs, the programs didn’t move with them. Now, with our damned sequestration, agencies that have been providing the “safety net” are both miles away and losing their own funding. So, people at or near the poverty level fled inner cities to follow the jobs but the government support resources didn’t. Now they can’t.

As is the case with so many other “people” programs, the faces of Americans feeling real pain – and hunger – are unseen by members of the most disgraceful Congress in recent American history. Between crippling gridlock and sequestration – neither of which are being addressed – millions of people are losing employment, losing homes, losing whatever savings they may have had and – in too many cases – going hungry.

What the hell does it take to get 535 people making $174,500 a year each – plus travel and expenses – to get off their asses and back to work to stop the suffering in this country for the millions of Americans who make less than $23,021 a year?

The poverty that used to be out there – inner cities and small, rural communities – is now in America’s vaunted suburbs. People – strangers – who need our help to have shelter and food – have gone from over there to here – right next door.

Life – however tough – goes on. Out of sight and out of mind for those we elected to take care of things.

What the hell do we have to do?

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SCHOOL RAFFLE Truly strange, or it should be. Not a complaint against Middleton resident Phillip Allaire, who devised the plan, whose intent doubtless is the best, and probably should be commended for trying to held. But is this the best the Nampa School District, one of the largest in Idaho, can do? Here’s a description from an editorial in the Idaho State Journal: “Allaire has started a nonprofit organization to auction off 40 area houses in raffles. He says he will buy the houses and refurbish them. A raffle ticket for a house will cost $100 and when 2,500 tickets have been sold, the house will be raffled. The plan has been sanctioned by the Idaho Lottery Commission, which will raffle the homes.” Really?

BORDER ENTRY Among the many fees out there, the border crossing fee has gotten little significant attention – outside border communities, where it has become a big deal. A neat factiod on this from an Associated Press story: The owner of a gas station at Blaine, on the southern side of the I-5 border with Canada, estimated that nine out of ten of the drivers who pump gas there are from Canada, not the U.S. Wonder what his view on the fee is?

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First Take