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Posts published in October 2013

A letter to Governor Otter

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Dear Governor Otter:

I want to thank you for your letter of September 17, letting me be one of the first to know you are running for re-election, seeking a third term as Idaho’s governor.

Since I have never contributed a dime to any of your campaigns I am puzzled as to how I ended up on one of your numerous mailing lists, but nonetheless am flattered you would seek my support both personal and financial.

Before I would even consider either signing the statement of support you enclosed or contributing a dime, I do have a few questions to ask the answers to which would help this voter decide whether you have truly earned the rare tribute of a third term.

Let me preface these questions by saying from a personal standpoint I cannot help liking you. You can be disarmingly charming, you have a fine sense of self-deprecating humor, and I will always give you great credit for almost standing alone in the well of the U.S. House fighting against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act with all its incredible trampling on a citizen’s right to privacy and due process.

I have said it before, and will say it again: that courageous stand merits a modern profile in any updating of John Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage.

That aside, Governor, let me ask if you really expect voters to swallow claims in your solicitation. You state the most important role in ensuring future economic growth is building and maintaining a responsive, effective education system. True enough.

You go on to write: “I’m going to keep striving to improve our schools because I know how important an educated work force is to our success as a state. That means world-class instructional opportunities for our kids everywhere in Idaho, and a strong accessible postsecondary education system for our workforce.”

Governor, with all due respect your actions belie your words. How do you square those statements with facts documented by your former state economist, Mike Ferguson, that on your watch state support for public and higher education has declined by 25% of average gross income?

Idaho is now last among the 50 states in per pupil support. Is that putting your money where your mouth is?

Your own Education Reform Task Force called first and foremost for a restoration of almost $300 million in cuts that occurred on your watch.

You endorsed its conclusions, tacitly admitting that public education had been on rations trying to survive on a starvation budget. (more…)

The danger is very real

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

I fear for the future of our country.

There. I said it. Those eight words have been in my consciousness for several weeks but seemed too, well, dramatic to say – possibly overstatement or too fatalistic. But, as the battles in Washington D.C. swing from absurd to savage, such fears may not be ungrounded.

My deepest concerns are two. First, what lasting damage will the structure of our government incur before this political internecine warfare ends? And, two, what will our future form of government be – or look like – from that time?

Our constitutional political framework has been under attack for about 240 years. From just about everywhere. And everything. It has withstood wars – internal and external – depressions, recessions, assassinations and upheavals of all sorts. Its been challenged by forces of greed and destruction – man-made and acts of God. It has withstood them all.

But the warfare is from within now. American versus American. Or more accurately put, our political system versus the citizen. The battle isn’t over an issue like slavery or one’s beliefs. There aren’t two clear sides trying to gain the support of the rest of the country. Much of the fight – at its most basic level – is future elected job security on the part of some people – a very few people – many of whom know they’re wrong but will pursue the fight anyway. They’re in positions of authority. They have the power to compromise. They have the power to end it. Immediately. But they won’t.

The argument is not really about the direction of policy despite all the threats and overblown rhetoric. It’s not about fiscal issues or reducing national spending. There is no ideology at the bottom of this. This is simply extreme self-interest facing ignorant anger out to destroy.

That’s not hard to prove. Just listen to some of the combatants – members of Congress – listen to them when they say they don’t support a government shutdown – they don’t support hundreds of thousands of people being thrown out of work through no fault of their own – they don’t want people going hungry – whatever political “victory” was to be won has been lost. “It’s over.” Listen to them. Then watch how they vote. When their names – their offices – their personal futures are on the line – compare their words to their vote. Time after time after time after time.

This isn’t a battle of political parties. It’s not even about some 360 million citizens of this country. The threat to our system of governance – the war of words and wills – the strident defense of this-or-that – all this continues as a very personal cowardice of self-interest.

Yes, there are a few hellbent on gutting the government. And, yes, they and those who crazily support them with their dollars or any other way are to be feared. They offer nothing. No alternative. No plan for the future. No solution to national problems. Not one positive point. They’re out to destroy in the name of some farcical “patriotism” and in the guise of being “good Americans.”

But they offer no patriotism. They offer no acceptable alternatives. They have no plan. They’re ignorant about governance and history. They’re absolutists with no sense of compromise. And, what makes this loud, ignorant few most dangerous, is others who do offer those things – those who do have alternatives and do know how to govern – are being cowed. They’re afraid to stand for what they know is right – afraid to offer legitimate resistance – afraid to tell the know-nothings to “Sit down and shut the Hell up!”

Self-interest on a massive and nationally dangerous scale.

There’s more – much more – at stake at this moment in history than budgets or parties or political choices. Leaders of our economy – heads of international corporations – leaders of other world nations – academicians and still others with unquestioned wisdom and experience – all these and more are warning this internal battle of self-survival at any cost poses dangers even to other nations. Much less the calamity of our own markets – our economy – every person in this country.

Ask yourself this. If this increasingly hostile situation were to magically end today – just quit – how would those 535 in Washington deal with each other tomorrow? Would trust suddenly be restored? Would comity? Would the extreme self-interest just disappear? Would compromise break out to solve what today is “unsolvable?” Would healing begin? What would be the condition of our government to function going forward? (more…)

Drones ahead?

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer sees the state potentially taking the lead in converting military drone technology into commercial unmanned aircraft applications, but he worries the Idaho National Laboratory’s lucrative nuclear research and development projects are at risk.

During a recent presentation to the Rotary Club of Pocatello, Sayer noted Idaho has the 46th largest economy in the nation and essentially zero R&D funding, putting it at a significant disadvantage with competitive, wealthier states.

The state’s three universities and industry are cooperating to concentrate on work force development, which is difficult to accomplish but crucial for Idaho’s economy, said Sayer, who has headed the state’s commerce department since October 2011.

“We’ve got to find a way to train people industries need. It’s the single most important thing to do to move the state forward. We’re coming together at an unprecedented level,” Sayer said. “There’s going to be a shortage in the nation and the world of a qualified work force. That’s not lost on Idaho.”

Idaho can capitalize on its existing assets to develop unmanned aircraft that can be used in agriculture, wildlife management, transportation and many other fields, Sayer said. The INL has the second largest authorized flying area for drones. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) considers INL its leading test site for unmanned aircraft.

Idaho can move faster than any state in developing an unmanned aircraft industry and still protect citizen privacy rights, Sayer said, mentioning there are more than 100 companies engaged in the state’s robust firearms industry.

Since last year, Sayer has chaired the Idaho Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission forged by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to support and protect the INL and the state’s nuclear energy industry. In 1995, Idaho, the U.S. Navy and DOE reached an agreement settling a lawsuit filed by the state to prevent shipment of spent nuclear fuel to the INL for storage.

Otter “knows the political risks stepping into this arena,” Sayer said, praising his foresight in initiating the LINE Commission. “It was an environmental issue, but now it is an economic issue. We’re actually getting involved in the nuclear industry to make sure what happens comes to Idaho. … Things have changed in 30 years.”

As of 2010, the INL accounted for 24,000 jobs and a $3.5 billion economic impact. “None of us in eastern Idaho wants to see that go away,” he said.

Sayer said the Idaho Cleanup Project, administered by CH2M-WG Idaho, is one of the most successful cleanup projects in the nation. From the 1950s to the 1970s, waste management at the INL site consisted of dumping, isolating, diluting and minimizing exposure, he said. Now, spent fuel onsite is carefully managed by using top technology, he said. (more…)

Shutdown days

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

If we're fortunate, the federal government shutdown will be over before you read this. Meanwhile, let's put an Idaho lens on what the shutdown translates to.

You may get the impression via some reports that the shutdown closes a few campgrounds and admission to some monuments, and some paper-shuffling bureaucrats may be sent home. Passports will be harder to get. Not so bad: And at first, it isn't. But as the closure persists, effects accumulate.

In Idaho, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter pointed out that in impact, "Gowen Field, Mountain Home, and probably the Idaho National Lab would be the biggest and the civilians that may be assigned to those." Yes, together with Idaho's massive national forests and Bureau of Land Management property.

But the nearly 12,000 Idahoans who work for the federal government (Idaho politicians tend to forget many constituents are also those hated feds) pull down around $800 million in a year in pay – a big driver in Idaho's economy. A Boise State Public Radio news report quoted a state researcher as estimating those jobs have an economic multiplier of 4.74. For every federal job eliminated in Idaho, five non-federal jobs could be lost. Remember too, many “essential” federal workers on the job are working without pay.

While the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Defense (at Mountain Home Air Force Base) and the Department of Energy (Idaho National Laboratory) are the biggest federal employers, many other agencies do work in the state. Bear in in mind that even the less popular are there for a reason. The Environmental Protection Agency in Idaho just from April to June this year stopped a half-dozen businesses dumping waste into waterways, pumping filth into the air, violating pesticide rules and more – threatening the health of Idahoans. That protection largely goes away with the shutdown. Along the same lines are massive cuts in the Department of Health and Human Services, which tracks toxic substances and remedies for them, disease information, Indian health services, substance abuse, services for Medicare and Medicaid – services to protect the health of actual people.

But the shutdown affects more than just federal agencies. When you see reports about Idaho's state budget, most attention is on the “general fund,” about $2.7 billion fed by state taxes and fees. Did you know that nearly as much – another $2.4 billion this fiscal year – is “federal funds”? (more…)

transition: excerpt 2

transition

This is an excerpt from the Ridenbaugh Press book Transition, by W. Scott Jorgensen. More will be appearing over the weeks to come. The book is available now from Ridenbaugh Press.

October 2010

When I started to think hard about leaving Grants Pass, one of the first people I met with was Carl Wilson. Over the years, he had become like a second father to me.

We met at the Bluestone Bakery in downtown Grants Pass. It was surprisingly quiet, as the sun was shining brightly and the Growers’ Market was underway just a few blocks down the street. Carl pulled up on one of his many motorcycles and we took a table outside. The coffee shop was almost completely empty.

For more than two years, I had been responsible for booking the Wednesday talk shows at the radio station, as well as the Tuesday shows that Carl hosted. I always tried to book the shows about a month in advance in order to allow for adequate preparation, and was already working on November’s schedule. As such, one of my first orders of business was to tell Carl that I was leaving town, and would be unable to continue booking and hosting the show.

He listened patiently as I gave him the rundown on what was happening.

“Sometimes it’s all right to take a leap of faith,” he said.
Though I was no longer working at the paper, I was still doing the Wednesday talk shows on KAJO. This worked out well for me. Packing and making all of our moving arrangements would have been a nightmare if I were still commuting 45 minutes each way to work eight, 10 and 12-hour days in Cave Junction.

I was doing a show one day when I received a text from my longtime friend Robert. It stated that he wanted to “beat me to a pub.”

Because of my busy work schedule, I had rarely seen Robert or my other friends since they had helped me move from Cave Junction back to Grants Pass nearly a year before.

“What’s this about ‘beat you to a pub’?” I asked Robert as we sipped beer and played a game of pool. We were joined by his girlfriend, Nirvana, and our friend Tim.

Robert responded that every Wednesday, he and our other friends all received their unemployment benefits. The first one to wake up texts the others the location of a chosen pub, and the last to arrive buys the first round of drinks.

This was probably happening all over the place, as the national unemployment rate was at 9.5 percent. Josephine County’s seasonally adjusted rate was at 13.8 percent.

Although it was nice to see my friends again, I was saddened by the whole situation. They had all clearly seen better days. Robert had actually been my manager at the portrait studio in the mall. Now he was reduced to seeking multiple part-time minimum wage jobs just to get by.

We left to go play a round of disc golf at the park. Disc golf is pretty popular in Oregon, and involves tossing Frisbees into baskets. Now unemployed, I could do as I wanted, and I relished the opportunity provided by the nice warm weather.

I also had the time to make multiple donations to Goodwill and took maximum advantage of our last month of trash and recycling service. (more…)

Flu shots and lies

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

This being the season for flu shots, I was sitting in a clinic waiting room this week with seven other seniors awaiting the seasonal puncture.

The other six apparently knew each other and – while we waited – they had a lively discussion about health care. Specifically “Obamacare.” All opposed it and each had animated – if false – “facts” to support their opposition. They used words like “socialism,” “communism,” “big brother,” “government interference” and other colorful adjectives.

Then, one by one, all surrendered to the nurse for the necessary swab and shot, signed a form and were on their way. The form each signed showed the name of the clinic, who administered what, and medical coding for the vaccine. And a charge of $57 each – to be paid by the federal government’s Medicare program. That old “socialist” health care. The 60-year-old precursor of today’s Affordable Care Act – the dreaded “Obamacare.”

Now, I live in a part of Oregon in which Vlad the Impaler would be an acceptable candidate for any public office for much of the population. Moderates are extremists. Liberals are only good for boat anchors. But conservatives – of any stripe – are “God’s chosen people.” The problem is – as affirmed in conversations with local friends – too many get their “news” from sources that simply affirm their beliefs. Like the Romney campaign of 2012, there is no room for information that conflicts with their “truth.”

My eavesdropping experience with the flu shot group is not an unusual occurrence in our neighborhood. And far too many others. Republicans have been trying their damndest to kill the ACA. They’ve been spreading disinformation and outright lies for several years. Many – including leaders who know better – still call it a “bill.” It’s LAW. Affirmed up to and including the U.S. Supreme Court. The principle sponsor was elected – and elected again – by a majority of Americans. It’s a damned LAW!

Now they’re crying “I-told-you-so” because there were lots of hiccups in the first days of implementation. I did a little digging in old news files this week to see how smoothly things went in the 60′s when Medicare started – the 70′s when Medicaid came along – and the 2000′s with Pres. Bush’s new Medicare prescription drug program.

It wasn’t hard to find stories of significant problems with the initial rollout of all three. Surprised? Hardly! The first days – the first years – were filled with issues and problems. Even supporters expressed concern. Predictions of failures – for all three – were common.

But they didn’t fail. And the ACA won’t, either.

In my mind, two factors have complicated the situation more recently. One is the I-net. The other is the 24-hour news cycle and the thousands of sources for information. Some true. Too many not. It took six weeks for news of the murder of Abraham Lincoln to reach all the nation. Now, when something happens, we have words within minutes – pictures in an hour. And – too often – maybe facts later. No matter where in the world it is. (more…)

How pure is pure enough?

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

There is something gone terribly awry in our democratic system when decent hard-working legislators can be recalled simply because they are not 100% pure on any particular issue near and dear to the hearts of the world’s zealots.

That’s the only take away one can have from the recent recall in Colorado of two solid public servants who though basically supporters of the Second amendment’s qualified right of an individual to keep and bear arms, had the temerity to support something a majority of Coloradans support - namely universal background checks.

It’s the first time ever in all of Colorado’s political history that two legislators have been recalled. Sadly, the National Rifle Association is claiming credit for its role in this travesty and abuse of the recall provision, saying it illustrates once again their message of “don’t mess with me and my guns.”

The NRA would have one believe the Second amendment is an absolute unqualified right for an individual to have most any weapon he wants short of a small nuclear device to defend hearth and self. This is simply not the case.

In point of fact it wasn’t until recently that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Heller vs. the District of Columbia, in a stunning move led by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, reversed two hundred years of settled law and affirmed the right of an individual apart from service in any sort of militia to have and bear arms.

Despite this precedent-shattering, five to four majority opinion written by Scalia, one has to wonder if Supreme Court Justices had to stand for election every so many years whether the NRA would even support him. Why?

Well even the great Scalia wrote that the Second amendment was a qualified right, not an absolute right. Near the end of his opinion he wrote these qualifiers: (more…)

Table-clearing

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

UPDATE: Reflecting on the difference between Congress and the Oregon Legislature - well, it's night and day. As for the Oregon Legislature, Governor John Kitzhaber said, "This is what working government and leadership look like, with people from across the state finding balanced solutions to real problems." Washington could learn from Salem. ...

Only a couple of days ago, this Oregon near-miracle was widely described as falling apart: A grand bargain including ideas (tax law changes) Democrats wanted, others (PERS adjustments substantially beyond last session's) sought by Republicans, and other pieces not terribly popular anywhere. Pieces in all, though, much sought after by many.

It was the great white whale of the regular legislation session this year. For months, legislative leaders met with Governor John Kitzhaber, who had proposed something resembling (though not exactly the same as) this in his state of the state address, and it was a revolving exercise in frustration. Repeatedly, the details of a deal that would collect enough votes in both chamber seemed to be just about there; just as repeatedly, it kept falling short.

Kitzhaber did not give up, however, and took his case for a grand bargain on state finances around the state, and into ongoing legislative negotiations. Calling the session was no done deal, and even after it was called reports kept leaking out that it might fall short enough votes, Last weekend, after initial hearings on the pieces (on "legislative concepts") things seemed about to fall apart again.

That they did not this time is remarkable, and it may have some significant political effects down the road.

One involves Kitzhaber, who was the favorite for a fourth term - if he wants it - from the beginning. But success on this special session was thought likely to be a nudge toward another term, and could make him all but impregnable. This PERS/tax deal is - recognizing that the work on taxes and retirement isn't done yet - something sought after for more than a decade, and many people had wondered if it was even possible. Turns out it is. Kitzhaber's third term has been an astonishingly productive gubernatorial term, and the reality of that should not be a hard sell.

Linked to that are two other elements: The removal from the table, as hot political issues, two matters which looked to be big deals on the legislative stump.

Those are the PERS structuring and tax increases that afford more money to the public schools. Republicans were set to go to war on the first, and Democrats on the second. This special session does not remove those topics from discussion, but it takes the heat, and the air, out of them. PERS now has been substantially revised, not as much as many Republicans would like but probably to a point most Oregonians overall would find reasonable. Similarly, attempts to raise taxes on the Democratic side should at least be paused; the largest needs (if not, to be sure, all of them) now are addressed.

Oregon is a politically different place than it was a couple of days ago. And 2014 is likely to be different, too, as a result.

Get some experience

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Having become thoroughly disgusted at the mess in Washington – and believing little – if anything – will change in 2014 – I’ve been trying to find some sort of solutions to our congressional problems. Yep, even here in the old growth, Oregon forest, we try to keep up on current events and even chip in an idea now and then. Now, I’ve got one.

And it’s this. No one – NO ONE – should be allowed to run for any seat in Congress until that person has served at least a full term as a mayor, city councilman or county commissioner. Such political apprenticeships should be an absolute first step for anyone wanting higher office. No exceptions.

Think about it. Few other professions – and that’s what national politics is now – few professions allow someone right off the street to step in at the top without some sort of internship – some special training for the duties about to be undertaken. From medicine to professional sports to banking to flying an airplane – we’ve been conditioned to studying and preparing under supervision before assuming control. Whether it’s a medical residency, minor league ball or ground school – you first learn rudiments of the craft before you get the “license.”

I began thinking along these lines when that goofy Palin woman pranced out of the Alaskan bush with solutions to all our dilemmas. But HER problem was she “knew what she knew” and was supremely confident she didn’t need to know anymore. Half a term as governor and some whispers in her ear from John McCain were all she needed to become “expert” in the heady world of national politics. We all know how that ended. “ Sarah who?” Had she gone back to her days as part time mayor of Wasilla, she might have had some useful backgrounding for higher office. But noooo! She had to start at the top.

I’ve long-believed the most practical, most useful, most important political decisions are made in city halls and county courthouses. From pot holes to zoning issues to drinking water to street lights to prompt fire department response to levying taxes to pay the bills to neighborhood policing to the local jail – it’s all right here at home and it’s all got to be taken care of by local folks. None of this “Potomac living” and “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality so many in Congress quickly adopt. (more…)