Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in September 2013

First take, Sunday

news

A Seattle Times editorial suggests that the majority Republicans in the U.S. House are descending into chaos. Φ Also in the Times, Danny Westneat writes about a Seattle woman who's being priced out of her Bank of America checking account. (What's happening: She doesn't have enough money to get gouging monthly fees waived; if she had a much larger bankroll, there'd be no fees.) Φ Where does Washington state store the money it gets from marijuana fees, taxes and so forth? Having a bank big enough to defend itself against possible federal activity seems to be a prerequisite.

The ocean's chemistry has been changing significantly, and Northwest scientists are look into it, and how those changes have been doing serious damage to much of the life within the ocean. Φ There's a significant industrial center in northwest Portland, close by the Columbia River; so what happens to it (and the river) if an earthquake hits? It won't be pretty, a new study says. Φ The Phil Knights are offering the Oregon Health Science University a half-billion dollars for cancer research - if they can match it. The push is on ... Φ Eugene is considering establishing more than one camp for the city's homeless, since the need seems to be so large.

St. Luke's is working on a major push in the Nampa market, and there's some serious pushback in the form of a lawsuit from other providers. At what point is competition squashed, and at what point does a large enough ability to buy goods and services allow for price containment? There's material for a serious round of thinking on this. Φ A new study suggests that the number of jobs in agriculture in Idaho (still the state's predominant industry overall) are down, although there's some growing demand for certain types of specialized work.

New on the Intermediary

intermediary

The Intermediary, the fascinating and remarkably detailed story by Orofino historian Lin Tull Cannell of William Craig and his unique role in the development of the early Northwest, came out a couple of years ago when it was published by Ridenbaugh Press. Now we're pleased to offer a couple of additions.

Lin has developed two more pieces available for free download. You can get them on the Intermediary web page or right here.

One is an index to the book, which Lin had contemplated earlier and now is available. (Note: the Index is based on books with print date 20 August 2012. The pagination is different in the earlier versions.)

The other is an errata sheet.

The swap(s)

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Last year the Idaho Department of Lands swapped out the University of Idaho Science Campus at McCall, which it managed as part of the state endowment lands used to generate money for public schools. It obtained in exchange an office building and about three associated acres in Idaho Falls, owned by the private firm IW4 LLC; the Idaho National Laboratory lead contractor leases space there.

Were this being done exclusively by private businesses, no one outside the parties involved would know or care; and probably not much either if only government entities were involved. The business deal gets more complicated when public and private entities both are involved, and this one shows why someone outside the process ought to oversee such exchanges.

The McCall property was estimated to be worth $6.1 million, and maybe it was since, after the Idaho Falls firm IW4 LLC obtained it, it flipped the property to another buyer for $6.1 million. However: The buyer was the University of Idaho, a state agency. So you could say the state sold the property to a private buyer for $6.1 million, which paid in the form of another piece of property, and then bought it back for $6.1 million. Or: IW4 LLC used the state to convert its Idaho Falls property into $6.1 million, rather than just sell it to a cash buyer themselves.

Huh? This still might make some sense if the Idaho Falls building and land was in fact worth, and salable for, $6.1 million. But here's the catch.

Last week a group called the Tax Accountability Committee, whose spokesman is Boise attorney John Runft, together with state representatives Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, threw some additional light on the situation. They had developed their own appraisal and concluded the Idaho Falls property was worth $4.5 million, which would mean IW4 LLC effectively cleared an easy $1.6 million on the overall deal. (Boise blogger David Frazier, who has been tracking state property purchases closely, said that Bonneville County has assessed the property for as little as $2.2 million.) Vander Woude and Burgoyne said they plan to introduce legislation in the next session to require review appraisals.

The question of what the Idaho Falls property actually was worth has led to a round robin of squabbling. The Idaho Department of Lands has replied that is did a proper review, and pointed out that while both properties generate rental income, McCall's amounts to about $250,000 annually while Idaho Falls' comes to $538,000 (although, since these are income properties, such rentals should have been factored into the appraisal valuations). Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who chairs the land board which approves such transactions, said that full appraisals could be expensive.

Burgoyne countered that, “When doing a $6.1 million transaction or any other transaction involving endowment land, the cost of a review appraisal is not, as IDL contends, excessive; it is simply prudent, will save money by avoiding over and under valuations, and bring IDL into conformity with business standards of care.” (more…)

Perspective in the woods

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Roseburg, Oregon, called by one Ridenbaugh Press writer (who lives there) “our little village in the woods,” would seem to be an unlikely locus for a regional financial powerhouse.

And yet here we are. Umpqua Bank, which (surely with some amusement) calls its “The World's Greatest Bank,” is becoming one of the Northwest's largest. It already is the largest bank based in Oregon, and with the acquisition of Sterling Bank of Spokane is poised to become the largest or second-largest locally-owned bank in the Northwest.

It may do well to remember how it got there.

If it sloganeers its greatness, it seems to have remembered in recent years that it stayed standing, and prospered, while others faltered, in large part because it stuck to the knitting. By many accounts, including a number of regional best-of lists, it is widely considered one of the best places to bank and even one of the best places to work. (A note: We have no connection to Umpqua.)

Umpqua has grown steadily over the years, and now seems to be taking major leaps. It recently opened a store in downtown San Francisco – was that a purely business-based decision or was there some ego in it? – and now prepares to absorb Sterling, which has many branches, many in small towns, around the Northwest. The combination will include some but not massive overlap; the end result will great extend Umpqua's reach.

Already a substantial regional player, it is about to get much bigger and move onto a new level. Now a new challenge will emerge: Will it be able to hand on to the positive qualities that got it to this point? It's a point at which many businesses stumble.

Perhaps Umpqua can learn from their lessons. It can be calm and contemplative in Roseburg.

Things changing? Si!

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In 1968, we started the tradition of honoring our Hispanic population with a National Hispanic Heritage Week. By 1989, that was officially expanded to National Hispanic Heritage Month – Sep. 15-Oct. 15 – which covers the anniversaries of independence in five Latin American Countries. If things keep growing the way they are, we’ll soon have a National Hispanic Heritage Year.

At this point, we’re going to talk statistics – something I hate to do. But all these numbers – taken from the U.S. Census Bureau 2010 reports – are not familiar to many of us. They should be. Because – more than any other single societal factor – they accurately depict the most profound changes of our ethnic makeup since this nation’s birth.

Jul. 1, 2010, 53 million Hispanics lived within our borders. Just over one million were added in the previous 12 months. That number was a little over half of all immigrants moving here in that period. Over half. And – as a percentage – that added more than two percent to the Hispanic community in one 12 month period.

At the rate things are going, America’s population in 2060 will include 128.8 million Hispanics – far and away our largest minority at that time. In fact, it already is today! Fact: the only world nation with more Hispanics than American right now is Mexico.

So, where do most live? Texas has 10 million while Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and New York have eight million each. Fact: More than 50 percent of the total number of Hispanics live in just three states: California, Florida and Texas. In New Mexico, 47 percent of the state’s total population is Hispanic. Of the 21 states where they’re the largest minority, you’ll find Oregon, Washington, Utah and Wyoming.

For the congressional bigots who are trying futilely to hold back this brown flood, some surprising news. The number of Hispanics living in poverty is going – down. The number of Hispanic businesses is going – wait for it – up.

Over three percent – or about 3.7 million – have at least a bachelor’s degree and another 1.2 million have a master’s, advanced professional or doctorate. Sort of shatters still another lie for Iowa’s Steve King and his racist claim Hispanics have “cantaloupe-sized ankles from carrying illegal drugs across the border.” The Census Bureau figures more than 14 percent of all grad and undergrad students now enrolled are Hispanic. And this one. Nearly 20 percent of Hispanics 16 years and older worked in management, business, science and the arts in 2010.

But one other statistic should strike terror in hearts of thinking Republicans. In 2010, Hispanics were seven percent of voters. In 2012, 8.4 percent. Just 24 months. And every institution that studies national trends is projecting not only more Hispanic immigration but higher and higher percentages of them voting from now on. It’s already begun. (more…)

The Little announcement

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Lt. Governor Brad Little is announcing this week in a series of statewide appearances that he will ask the voters to renew his lease on the state’s number two position.

They should regardless of whom the Democrats may offer as the alternative.

The former four-term state senator from Emmett has performed well whether leading trade missions or greeting visitors to his office.

In this writer’s opinion the 59-year-old Little is the best to hold the office since former State Senator John V. Evans served as lieutenant governor to Cecil Andrus. That is saying something because Idaho has had a series of fine “governors in waiting,” all of whom did the state solid service especially when called on to exercise the full power of the Office of Governor when the sitting governor is out of state.

The list includes such luminaries as Phil Batt, David Leroy, Jack Riggs and the current governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter. Others on the list include Bill Murphy, Mark Ricks and current U.S. Senator, James Risch.

While the official duties are few - chair the State Senate and, if necessary, break tie votes, as well as substitute for the governor especially when he is traveling out of state, there are numerous demands on the office. By all accounts, Little does his homework and performs well to the credit of the voters who conferred the public office on him.

The founders thought the position would be part-time, so the salary is a paltry $35,000 per year, but in today’s demanding, competitive environment, it is increasingly a full-time job. Thus, many of those who have held the office often have had to supplement needed items from their own purse.

Thus, almost all have been or are men of means.

Such is the case with Little. He is the owner and operator of a family cattle, farming and investment operation in the Treasure Valley and has served with quiet distinction on a number of boards and foundations. He is a former chair of the state’s most powerful and influential lobbying group, the Association of Idaho Commerce and Industry; and, a former president of the Idaho Woolgrower’s Association. (more…)

In the cities

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

With candidate filing for Idaho cities now done, it's time to take a look at which races might carry some useful lessons come November.

The largest Idaho city with a mayoral contest, Nampa, shouldn't be much of a firefight; Tom Dale, mayor for three terms, seems likely to move into his fourth (over three opponents). But one is a city council member, there's a dispute over taxes, and this could turn into a fight over tax levels. If Dale runs into trouble, that may be why.

The next largest city, Pocatello, could be more interesting, though probably not. The 2009 mayoral came up with a surprise when veteran Mayor and former legislator Roger Chase lost to a little-known challenger, Brian Blad. Blad has not exactly been a major force in the Gate City, but he hasn't stirred great controversy either. Chase has filed for a re-match, which could mean a hot contest for November. But Chase is said to have not to be getting a lot of traction. And there's this: Incumbents on the ballot usually are helped by multiple opposing candidates – in the Pocatello mayoral, there are three. So it wouldn't be a shock to see Blad get 50 percent of the vote, and avoid a runoff. If Chase does force him into a runoff, no bets will be accepted.

Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene are the largest cities with open mayoral seats – incumbents in each not seeking re-election – but they're likely to be very different situations.

Idaho Falls city politics traditionally is low-key, involving long-time city hall people. The first election of current mayor Jared Fuhriman in 2005 was a surprise because he was relatively little-known and his opponent was a veteran and well-known county commissioner. Four candidates are running this time, one (Sharon Parry) a council member. Will an outsider prevail again?

If Idaho Falls is likely to be quiet and civil, Coeur d'Alene may rock and roll. Mayor Sandi Bloem is wrapping up her third term, the longest-serving mayor in Coeur d'Alene history – an indicator of the rapid rotation in the Lake City (a contrast from, say, Idaho Falls). She has played an outsized role in the city over the last decade, so the contest to replace her may be outsized. (more…)

‘This Town’, for a laugh and cry

weatherby JAMES
WEATHERBY
 

“This Town,” is both a funny and sad portrayal of Washington, DC’s elite. Author Mark Leibovich is the New York Times Magazine chief national correspondent. In his view, our nation’s capital is a town with a lot of back stabbers and self-serving parasites who are doing extremely well financially and not at all disturbed that the rest of the country is not.

“This Town,” hilarious reading at times, is combined with a searing critique. Snarky remarks are sprinkled throughout, made at the expense of well-placed DC celebrities.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is described as having “all the magnetism of a dried snail.” When interviewing Reid, the author imagined that Reid had “a little self-editing gerbil inside his skull hurling itself in the unimpeded pathway that typically connects his brain directly to his mouth.” But, believe it or not, the Reid profile is relatively positive; he’s weird but efficient, more authentic than most.

We, from far outside the beltway, regard DC as a highly polarized city, divided into fiercely warring partisan camps. But Leibovich writes of a much different version – one of bipartisanship and teamwork - but that’s not a good thing. The goal of these political elites is primarily to make money, lots of it. These powerful insiders are politicians, lobbyists, consultants, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals.

Leibovich concludes that “far from being hopelessly divided, in fact they are hopelessly interconnected.”

The explosion of money over the last twenty years or so in and around the federal government has sparked a virtual gold rush: increased spending in governing, campaigning, and lobbying. The capitalists among us would say that’s okay; nothing wrong with making money, unless we consider that much of the money in their pockets are our federal tax dollars. No wonder that Washington DC is America’s wealthiest town.

There’s plenty of fodder in this book for those who reflexively hate and distrust DC.

Solving our nation’s problems is becoming less and less a priority. According to Leibovich, “the business of Washington relies on things not getting done” - so much for all of the optimistic talk about both immigration reform and tax reform. Why leave millions of dollars on the table by solving problems today that could fester for many more years of debate and conflict producing even bigger lobbying and consulting payouts. And, when problems are eventually “solved,” the solution often comes in the form of huge, complex legislation loaded up with all kinds of loopholes quietly inserted by lobbyists, the kind of legislation elected officials probably don’t even read. These supposedly minor tweaks to the legislation mean hundreds of millions to the interests who pay the lobbyists and “rent” the elected officials. (more…)

Words forgettable, words wise

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Idaho is well hidden from the national media spotlight when it comes to quotable prominent voices making prominent quotable quotes. But it’s happened twice in recent days. One worth nothing. The other not so much.

The less worthy words came from Speaker Boehner as he visited Boise to raise more Republican money for still more Idaho Republicans. People who should know better paid big bucks to hear Boehner promise a “whale of a fight” over the debt ceiling struggle just over our political horizon.

Our country is torn apart by out-of-control partisan politics, government intransigence to deal with any meaningful issue in any meaningful way, sequestration that’s deeply affecting millions of Americans, financial big guys raping investors and customers alike, our military sacrificing young people in Afghanistan for no discernable purpose and a president tip-toeing around on getting us into another civil war.

But Boehner chose to ignore all that and put Idaho in the media spotlight with yet one more GOP threat to close up government when the bills come due for all the federal dollars already spent. That’s what the national debt ceiling is, you know. Paying for what you’ve already bought – not what you might buy in the future. But the GOP has been making a useless fight over this debt ceiling business as if it were some kind of Holy Grail. It ain’t.

Rome burns. Emperor Boehner grabs his fiddle. And he plays still more uselessly partisan tunes for the national media to broadcast. All with Idaho’s name attached. Well, maybe better than skinhead stories. Maybe.

The far more noteworthy appearance by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor got some national play. Though not as much as the Boehner babble. She was in Boise – not to make money for perpetually dollar-starved politicians – but to honor and promote efforts on behalf of women in the marketplace. Any marketplace. Seeking any goal.

She spoke to her subject. And she did it well. But, along the way, she detoured into some comments that got little note – except on MSNBC. What she said in Boise should be heard by millions more of us.

Here’s the sum of Justice O’Connor’s remarks. About two-thirds of us can’t name one Supreme Court justice – only about a third can name the three branches of government – four out of five high school seniors can’t explain how citizen involvement benefits a democracy – less than a third of eighth graders can state the purpose of the Declaration of Independence though that purpose is right in front of them in the title of the document.

And worse. O’Connor said research has shown young people getting out of college have just about the same level of civics ignorance as when they went in. Even those leaving grad school. They go in without it – spend thousands of dollars – even tens of thousands – for more education and come out with no more understanding of how our system of government operates.

She had more examples but you get the idea. (more…)