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Posts published in January 2014

Divisions and votes

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Josef Stalin was famously quoted as saying with snorting dismissiveness, in a discussion of European power politics: "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?"

It was the response of an authoritarian mind interested not in right or wrong, better or worse, or even the long term - only in immediate raw capabilities.

This is not - certainly! - a comparison of personalities, but the quote by state Senator Rodney Tom widely circulated today brought that old Stalin line to mind. Tom was asked about the new Washington Supreme Court report concluding that the legislature had seriously underfunded public schools in the state, and strenuously ... advised ... the legislature to take action on it. It was a report that quite a few people seem to have taken seriously.

Tom's attitude was a little different. Asked about the court's take on education funding, he said, "Let them have at it."

In other words, how many votes (as opposed to army divisions) in the legislative chambers has the court got?

Tom, though the majority leader of the Senate, is in effect just the co-leader, along with the head of the Republican caucus; but he in fact may be speaking for the governing caucus in the Senate. If so, he's calling for the legislature to simply defy the state's Supreme Court. (The third branch, led by Governor Jay Inslee, would be differently inclined.)

It may be able to do that for a while. But eventually, a price will be paid. Watch how the session, and the election following, play out.

Congress and the budget of meh

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

The adjective of the day is “modest.” That’s the standard phrase to describe the $1.012 trillion spending bill for a federal fiscal year that has less than nine months left. The bill gives modest relief from the sequester. There are tiny (I can’t bring myself to say “modest” even in jest) increases in some federal programs, including the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and it puts off the fight over the size and nature of government until another day.

This is the Budget of Meh. It better reflects a broken governance structure than it does true spending priorities. Neither the right, those who want to shrink government, nor those of us who want to the government to invest in key program areas can claim victory. Meh.

This budget reflects a continuing trend of austerity. The federal government is shrinking. Sort of. And austerity rules.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, took credit for this idea in his news release about the compromise spending plan. “The Omnibus will fulfill the basic duty of Congress; it provides funding for every aspect of the federal government, from our national defense, to our transportation systems, to the education of our kids,” Rogers said. “The bill reflects careful decisions to realign the nation’s funding priorities and target precious tax dollars to important programs where they are needed the most. At the same time, the legislation will continue the downward trend in federal spending to put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path.”

But Rogers’ line of thinking is misleading. This huge, 1,500-plus page spending bill, only covers federal dollars that are appropriated, about one-third of the budget. This is the budget that’s shrinking, while two-thirds of the budget continues untouched on an automatic pilot, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance and, I hope, money that is pumped into the Indian health system through the Affordable Care Act.

So for Indian Country the appropriations process is broken beyond repair; business as usual is no more. The federal programs that have served Indian Country well are essentially continuing to shrink. The Omnibus budget, for example, shows an increase of $18 million for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Eighteen million! Wow. In percentage terms that’s less than one percent. The IHS increase is under 2 percent. (more…)

What made the front page

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Kerry gives two Idaho potatoes to Russian minister (Boise Statesman)
Hiring on wolf hunter mangering conservationists (Boise Statesman)
Spokespeare Festival prepares for property law ruling (Boise Statesman)
Banks won't handle legal pot money (Boise Statesman)
H&W: Public assistance use rises in Idaho (Lewiston Tribune)
Lapwai school may review 'Braves" team name (Lewiston Tribune)
Pullman has 11 applicants for marijuana shops (Moscow News)
Upgrading downtown Moscow crosswalks (Moscow News)
Local levies in Caldwell and Middleton (Nampa Press Tribune)
New Nampa Council member (Nampa Press Tribune)
Last year was good for Canyon real estate (Nampa Press-Tribune)
Gunrights advocates hold event at Statehouse (Pocatello Journal. Sandpoint Bee)
Sandpoint will choose new mayor (Sandpoint Bee)
Twin Falls on alternate Snake River jumper (TF Times News)
Improvements needed in managing water (TF Times News)

Mass apartment evictions land in court (Corvallis Gazette Times)
OSU center named for president's wife (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Former Lane commissioner sued for adminstrator report (Eugene Register Guard)
Eugene council may divest investments in energy (Eugene Register Guard)
End of week deadline for Klamath water deal (KF Herald & News)
KF school given to YMCA (KF Herald & News)
California mall buyer adds to KF holdings (KF Herald & News)
Still thin snow at ski area (Ashland Tidings)
No increase in Applegate Lake speed (Medford Tribune)
Albertsons at Pendleton closing (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Oil shipping trains roll through (Pendleton East Oregonian)
CRC discussion ahead (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Expension at Good Shepherd Hermiston hospital (Pendleton East Orgonian)
Mohamud's attorney call for FISA reports (Portland Oregonian)
Oregon at 28 enrolling for private health insurance (Portland Oregonian)
Banking tough for pot dealers (Portland Oregonian)
Cleaning railroad tunnels (Salem Statesman Journal)

Ski areas get more snow (Everett Herald)
Legislature begins, okays DREAM (Tacoma News Tribune, Spokane Spokesman, Everett Herald, Vancouver Columbian, Kennewick Herald, Yakima Herald Republic, Longview News)
Health enrollment figures released (Kennewick Herald)
Yakama Tribe seeks pot ban in large region (Longview News)
Unity plan for Port Angeles Business groups (Port Angeles News)
Boeing sales compared to Airbus (Seattle Times)
Assistant Seattle police chief retires (Seattle Times)
Rick Larsen loses Machinists endorsement (Seattle Times)
Planning for Tacoma Amtrak station (Tacoma News Tribune)
CRC gets another look (Vancouver Columbian)
Albertsons closes more stores (Tacoma News Tribune)
Yakima auditor won't run again (Yakima Herald Republic)

From the WA briefing

Bellingham Bay

 The Port of Bellingham and Washington Department of Ecology removed approximately 230 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the construction site. The soil is contaminated with low levels of metals and hydrocarbons. The soil is stockpiled nearby while arrangements are made to properly dispose of it. Crews have been investigating the area known as the Westman Marine cleanup site for contamination left behind from previous boat and shipyard work dating back to the 1940s. (photo/via Department of Ecology)
 

What made the front page

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Boise Elevated, a new business group (Boise Statesman)
Idaho gas prices above average (Nampa Press Tribune)
Sawtooth Society speaks on monument plan (TF Times News)
Avalanche warning at Sun Valley (TF Times News)

Amtrak train stopping at Albany (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Eugene city council debates climate change (Eugene Register Guard)
UO increases recruitment efforts (Eugene Register Guard)
Alex's Plaza closes (Ashland Tidings)
Packwood on Wyden's challenge (Portland Oregonian)
Ill tidings for CRC in Olympia (Portland Oregonian)
Plans for burned downtown Salem tract (Salem Statesman Journal)

Snohomish v Pierce for 777X work (Everett Herald)
Legislative session opens (Kennewick TriCity Herald, Port Angeles News)
Yakamas want to ban pot in some area (Kennewock TriCity Herald)
West Main realignment stressing businesses (Port Angeles News)
Port of Vancouver in oil legal case (Port Angeles News)
Yakima labor fight at Supreme Court (Seattle Times, Vancouver Columbian)
Interim Seattle police chief plans (Seattle Times)
University Road overpass rejected (Spokane Spokesman)
Pierce County prosecutor won't handle pot lawsuits (Tacoma News Tribune)
Clark County property tax increases (Vancouver Columbian)
Republican plan moves public employees to 401k (Yakima Herald Republic)

What made the front page

news

Here's what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Strangers find a plane (Boise Statesman)
Washington legislative session begins (Lewiston Tribune)
Washington's Fagan would change sexual prdator law (Lewiston Tribune)
Dangerous Highway 55 (Nampa Press Tribune)
Extreme drought possible (Nampa Press Tribune)
Online Canyon College hit by state (Nampa Press Tribune)
Malad post office robbery a hoax (Pocatello Journal)
Idaho legislative session starts (Sandpoint Bee)
Community radio station KRFY names new leaders (Sandpoint Bee)
Committees review common core (TF Times News)

Eugene cemetery in bankruptcy court (Eugene Register Guard)
New Klamath Promise coordinator (KF Herald & News)
Not a drought so far, but close (Medford Mail Tribune)
Oil transport trains lightly regulated (Portland Oregonian)
2014 legislature preparations (Salem Statesman Journal)
Alcohol funds apportionment (Salem Statesman Journal)
Statesman Journal says it will add more (Salem Statesman Journal)

Monkey housing Everett (Everett Herald)
Washington legislature ahead (Tacoma News Tribune, Everett Herald, Vancouver Columbian, Longview News)
Banks rejecting pot industry funds (Kennewick TriCity Herald)
New Pasco prison opens in April (Kennewick TriCity Herald)
Dispute over Richland school letters (Kennewick TriCity Herald)
Real estate prices down (Port Angeles News)
Heavy storm on coast (Port Angeles News)
Rehab for Port Townsend library (Port Angeles News)
Yakima labor dispute hits Supreme Court (Yakima Herald Republic)
Yakamas seek pot ban on some of its land (Yakima Herald Republic)

Water projects

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter's state of the state speech last week was mostly a recitation of the familiar – education? Check; wolves? Check – but his reference to $15 million he'd like to spend on water projects seemed a little out of the blue.

“Water sustainability initiative projects”? Doesn't sound very Otter-like.

And 2014 would seem to be a year when water matters settle down: This is likely to be the year a “final decree” is issued in the Snake River Basin Adjudication, which at last nails who has rights to what in Idaho water.

Throw in a few factors from here and there, though, and it does begin to fit.

There is, of course, the growing likelihood that this will be a parched water year.

Another was the reference to water not long after he spoke about economic growth in the Magic Valley. Many businesses setting up in that region either rely on a strong water supply, or rely on other businesses that do.

Idaho and its history are richly woven with water projects, the bulk of them more than 50 years old. The collapse of the last major project, the Teton Dam, seemed to slam the lid on big dams in Idaho.

Bear in mind that, although his proposal for $15 million was singled out in the speech and got a fair amount of media attention, the amount of money is, in context, small. To build a single large dam would cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, one of the reasons so few have been built in recent decades. What Otter is proposing are much smaller-scale.

Those include (his budget book says) “acquiring water rights to provide a reliable water supply to Mountain Home Air Force Base ($4 million); conducting studies of the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer to support the establishment of [city] water rights for long-term needs ($500,000); initiating environmental compliance and land exchange analysis for the Galloway Project ($2 million); completing Arrowrock enlargement and flood control feasibility study ($1.5 million); beginning Island Park Reservoir Enlargement Project ($2.5 million); developing computer infrastructure necessary for the operation of the Water Supply Bank ($500,000); and developing additional managed recharge capacity ($4 million).” (more…)

Passage on the CRC?

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The hot political ticket this week may be Tuesday's legislative hearing on the Columbia River Crossing bridge proposal – not that it is likely to put the issue to rest.

At this point, it seems, hardly anything is likely to.
The CRC, just as a reminder, is the label for a new and improved bridge on Interstate 5 between Portland and Vancouver, to upgrade from the often traffic-stressed road it is now. The key here is that two states necessarily are involved, Oregon and Washington.

The overall CRC story goes back a long way, but the trajectory for this part of it comes from last winter when, after Oregon's legislature and other public officials flipped the green light for committing to their part of the deal, Washington's legislators couldn't (in large part because part of the Clark County delegation was opposed) gather enough to pass their counter-measure in Olympia. Without both states signing on, federal funding seemed unlikely, and there the matter seemed to stand – stuck for the foreseeable future.

A number of Oregon officials, however, and these included Governor John Kitzhaber, refused to let it go. New, less-costly plans were developed, alternative approaches were worked out to make sure Washington (or its drivers) eventually coughed up enough of the cost, and a new funding formula was worked out. But would it work? And would Oregon be too much on the hook if it didn't?

There are not yet any totally clear answers to those questions, and the waters have gotten muddier. Murmurs from Olympia have grown a bit louder with the coming of legislators there, but some of those voices are of the “try again” variety while others ensure the approval will go no further this year.

Reports on the Oregon side have gotten murkier too. A new study out on January 10 says that the main effect of tolling on the I-5 bridge would be push drivers over to I-205, to the east Portland and east Vancouver bridge, to the point that bridge's capacities would be severely stretched. Political people in Clackamas County, through which I-205 runs on the Oregon side, are concerned about the prospects. (more…)

Failure guaranteed

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

In terms of useful work accomplished, the recently ended session of Congress was bad – worst ever. The new session that began last week will strive for – and likely surpass – that historic low. The square earth cancer existing in the House for several years has spread to the Senate, guaranteeing already single-digit voter approval ratings will slip even more.

Grim forecast? Yes. Without basis? No. Indicators are all over the place. But here are three that resonate with me.

First – the longer-than-usual list of members quitting. But not just that. What makes these departures more problematic is the political leaning represented by many in the exiting group. Moderates. Many from the middle who’ve historically cooperated with that “other” party. Some who’ve had to beat off primary challenges from the tinfoil hat crowd in the past because of their willingness to “get-the-job-done” using the politics of compromise. Punishment for statesmanship. Attacked by the ignorant for doing the job they were elected to do. At some point, a guy gets fed up being clobbered for doing the right thing.. At some point, he quits. We’re seeing it this time in spades!

Additionally, even some of those who’ve carried water for the far right have somehow slipped into disfavor – encouraged the wrath of the foil folk – finding themselves “primaried.” You won’t find that word in Webster’s or SpellCheck. It means the nuts have put up someone further right-of-center than you and you’re going to have to spend big bucks to win your own primary – then more big bucks to battle the other party in a second election.

Rep Mike Simpson (R-ID) comes to mind as a prime example. Sen. Minority Leader McConnell, (R-KY), too. Though hewing to the square earth Republican line – even when that line was a guaranteed loser – both men are raising money to battle their own party folk. Then still more bucks if a Democrat shows up for the November general election. Gotta have “purity,” dontcha know.

The exit of moderates – especially GOP moderates – assures the mess we’ve endured in recent years will get even messier. A victory here and there for newly minted extremists will simply further foul a bad situation.

Second – both political parties are shrinking in membership. Large numbers of people who previously considered themselves Democrats or Republicans are abandoning whatever’s left of those organizations and moving to the Independent banner. But that’s a very, very sharp two-edged sword.

While one might feel personally and philosophically rewarded by being politically free to pick and choose, the problem is there is no viable “Independent Party” with any clout. Many states don’t allow candidates who aren’t Democrat or Republican on the ballot. So what you get in many cases is the recognized two parties put unacceptable candidates on the ballots for the disenfranchised “Independents” to chose between. (more…)

Wireless juice

Found this remarkable paragraph in the most recent report on Idaho National Laboratory operations for late last year. I can't recall seeing any news reports ...

INL researchers recently released independent testing results of a wireless charging system designed for plug-in electric vehicles. The system tested, Evatran’s Plugless Level 2 Charging System, uses inductive technology to wirelessly charge a PEV’s traction battery, which powers the vehicle. Soon, drivers of electric vehicles may only need to park to begin charging their batteries. INL continues to conduct independent testing of PEVs and charging systems. The Plugless system is the first wireless power transfer technology to be independently documented and published.

Court tech

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

A guest opinion from former Idaho Supreme Court Justice (and former chief justice) Linda Copple Trout.

From Amazon to Google, Apple to Microsoft, 21st Century business is driven by technology, the Internet and constant and necessary improvements in efficiency and productivity. Idaho’s court system must also perform at the highest levels and in the same modern information technology environment.

Idaho courts have long taken pride in staying abreast of the needs of a 21st Century economy and we have reached a critical point where technology investments must be made if we hope to ensure that the thousands of cases that come to Idaho’s courts annually are resolved fairly, timely, and efficiently.

Idaho’s courts will be asking the coming session of the state legislature to invest in a well-planned, comprehensive approach to updating the judicial branch’s critical technology infrastructure. It’s not inexpensive, but it is essential and we have developed a range of options to fund the necessary upgrades that we believe will allow the legislature and governor to meet the need.

In truth, the court’s existing technology infrastructure has reached what the experts call “the end of life.” The software that supports the court’s statewide ISTARS system, in place for 25 years, is obsolete and licenses are no longer renewable. Realizing that we must face these technology challenges if Idaho’s courts are to continue to meet the Constitutional mandate to resolve cases without delay, the Supreme Court established a technology committee to evaluate options.

After months of work and consultation the committee is recommending a modern 24/7 web-based case management system for Idaho that will benefit every aspect of private commerce and public business in the state, and will join all of Idaho’s 44 counties into one cohesive system. By taking advantage of significant advances in technology generally, and in court technology specifically, the new system will generate across the board cost savings, while enhancing productivity and efficiency. (more…)

Snowden and pornography

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Dealing with my feelings about the Edward Snowden story creates some of the same thoughts I have about pornography. As an issue, I’m opposed to porn. But that doesn’t mean I don’t take a quick look if it pops up unexpectedly on a web site I’ve happened across.

What Snowden did – stealing and distributing U.S. government secrets – is abhorrent – a clear violation of oaths he took when granted a security clearance to work with classified documents. He’s no hero. He’s a criminal and should be punished as such. He betrayed the trust granted by his civilian employer – and the entire nation by implication – and he may be a source of lasting damage to our national security. So far, that’s doubtful but not all the information he purloined has been published.

With that said – like porn – we’ll all take a look at what stolen details come out of the electronic stash of documents. And they’re coming. Some boring – some interesting – some downright scary and unsettling. It’s certain there will be more revelations, like the ever-present surveillance of the National Security Agency in all our lives. It’s likely to be an even bumpier ride.

Like it or not, what we’re learning about “big brother” and the gaze on us all by the “eye that never sleeps,” is alarming – yet fascinating – stuff. Kind of like that brief, occasional glimpse of porn. Those doing the surveillance are pissed because we now know. But – as the surveilled – we need to know. We have a constitutionally guaranteed right to know.

I hear many people say, “Well, so what? I’m not doing anything wrong. Go ahead and look. They won’t find anything.” Two things scare me about people who say that. First, they’re probably licensed to drive on the same highways I use. Second, the issue is not what we’re doing but rather why should our government be watching us?

This is not a political issue for which this administration or the previous one – or the one previous to that – can be solely criticized. If it’s true the neo-cons of the first Bush years started this, it’s equally true all subsequent administrations have approved it.

In the days after 9/11, there may have been sufficient reasons for ramping up surveillance of electronic traffic. Or, it may have been an overreaction to fears raised by that terrible attack. Makes no difference now. What does make a difference is we’ve had a dozen years to see if such government snooping on its citizens is warranted or is simply being continued because it “may” be effective to identify terrorists. Operative word there is “may.”

There’s been plenty of time to assess the value of such surveillance. The question is, has anyone done such an assessment? If so, what were the results? If not, why the Hell not? One agency says, “Well, we don’t look at these messages from those sources” and another says “We only look at these people.” Is there any coordination here? Who’s in and who’s out? We need to know. (more…)