Writings and observations

idaho RANDY

In some ways, the long-standing age at which people could smoke – 18 – has seemed an anomaly. Or the drinking age is; but setting one three years after the other seems a remarkable piece of inconsistency.
One which Washington state might address this year.
Or it might not since the address at hand is that of the state legislature, where the outcome of previously untried ideas is never certain.

The bill comes from Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose statement points out, “The harmful consequences of tobacco are clear. Smoking kills 8,300 Washingtonians every year, and $2.8 billion in health care costs are directly attributed to tobacco use in the state. Washington state taxpayers pay nearly $400 million in taxes to cover state government expenditures caused by smoking. According to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General, over 100,000 of today’s Washington youth are projected to die prematurely due to the effects of smoking.”

The Senate and House bills have in-chamber (and majority party bipartisan) backing from Senator Mark Miloscia (R-Federal Way) and Representative Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines).

The states split up the elements of adulthood, declaring that people are old enough to do A but not B. People can vote, enter into contracts, join the military and marry at 18, but they cannot drink until they are 21. Why? A case might be made that the potential damage arising from bad choices in those other activities reflect mainly on the individual person, or (as in voting) is spread out widely, whereas a DUI case can put other lived at imminent risk.

Where does smoking fall along that theoretical continuum? It may be a gray area. As Ferguson’s statement notes, the major harm is medical. But we also know that bad medical decisions raises the cost and availability of medical care for us all. (We also know that more people become addicted to nicotine before 21 than after it; lifetime smoking habits usually begin by around age 18.)

At least, that’s one theory. Watch for the flashpoint to open into flame this session.

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Washington Washington column


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)

Siddoway on school funding, against tax cuts (Boise Statesman)
Megaload protesters say FBI has contacted them (TF Times News)
Catastrophic fund may see some changes (TF Times News)
Rupert preparing itself to grow (TF Times News)

Eugene mayoral contest has no clear favorite (Eugene Register Guard)
Focusing on Medford’s zones of poverty (Medford Tribune)
Oregon pushes for more classroom tiume (Medford Tribune)
Cascade Locks looks at water for Nestle (Portland Oregonian)
Reports show fewer toxic chamical releases (Salem Statesman Journal)

Home prices at Kitsap steady in 2014 (Bremerton Sun)
Votes ahead for EMS facilities (Bremerton Sun)
Snowpack runs low in Longview area (Longview News)
State considers new casino standards (Longview News)
Navy may tries more sonar efforts in ocean (Spokane Spokesman, Olympian)
Police use of drones would be limited by bill (Tacoma News Tribune)
Clark County changes how it hires department heads (Vancouver Columbian)

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First Take

rainey BARRETT


It’s always seemed to me, people who attempt to do their own taxes should first try to take out their own appendix. If they’re successful doing the latter, they should have no trouble doing the former. This year, the tax side of that self-challenge may be even riskier for honest filers.

Self-tax doers normally have a backup at the IRS – the ubiquitous phone call for help with questions. There’ll be some new issues this year because of some tax law changes in 2014 and the matter of how to deal with subsidies – if qualified – and other issues dealing with Obamacare that will likely raise some need for assistance. Lotsa luck!

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen is the bearer of some really bad news. For instance, of the millions of people who annually call for filing help, less than half will get through to someone at the agency this tax season. Less than half! Of those that DO get to a live person on the other end, many will spend as long as an hour on hold. Those who want to try emails or some other electronic avenue for assistance will have no better luck. Forget it.

Remember that old term “sequester? Or “sequestration” which always reminds me of “castration” because the result is about the same. Well, your friends in your old do-nothing Congress have approved an IRS budget for 2015 which is the lowest since 2008! Yep. The outfit has to make do with less money than seven years ago.

And therein are those telephone waits and the emails going into a bottomless electronic pit and the six-out-of-ten callers who’ll never get someone on the phone. Oh, and a hiring freeze meaning the loss of some 4,000 more full-time employees by July. Since 2010, the IRS has lost about 17,000 employees while the tax load has increased and increased again.

Then, there’s the matter of audits. Yes, Virginia, there’ll be fewer audits for many of the same reasons. And while you may says that’s “good news” ‘cause you aren’t likely to have someone sniffing around your tax returns and checking your math, it also means more tax cheats and non-filers will get away with tax larceny. Since 2010, the Commissioner estimates the agency has not been able to collect about $6 billion owed because the enforcement division has 5,000 fewer employees than in 2008. He’s estimating you can add another $2 billion to that loss for 2015.

Now, a billion here and a billion there can really add up – especially during your old sequestration. But if you take more sheriff’s deputies off the trail, there’ll be more stagecoach holdups. ‘Twas always thus. And thus it still is.
And you just know the non-filers and tax cheaters know all this news, too.

If you’re expecting a refund, your wait will be longer. Especially if you’re a paper filer. Those using the old computer machine will see their refunds held up but only by a few days.

For years, Idaho’s excuse for a legislature did the same thing. “Get that damned old tax commission out of our business,” cried the folks at home. So the cretins came to Boise for years with avowed intent to cut, cut, cut the Commission budget. And they did, did, did. Then one legislative day, someone got them to understand basic math: fewer auditors to look for dollars meant fewer dollars for them to spend. On frivolous unconstitutional lawsuits and failed challenges to the federal government and the like.

So, the legislature relented just a bit by increasing the Commission’s staff of auditors by half a dozen or so. And voila!!! A year or two later, the old Commission was auditing more and improving the amount of taxes collected. It really worked! More hands doing the digging meant more tax dollars in the bucket.

Now, Idaho’s two U.S. Senators – Crapo and Risch – who were members of that old Idaho Legislature when the “more-auditors-means-more-income” lesson was learned, seem to have forgotten all that. They’ve become hardy supporters of “castra…” er, I mean “sequestration” with the I-R-S one of their favorite targets.

Remember, IRS Commissioner Koskinen is projecting a tax income loss – because of staff cuts – of about $8 billion. Imagine adding that “found money” to the nation’s education budget. Or, as our current Congress thinks, $8 billion more for Afghanistan bombs and missiles.

And the cherry on top for the IRS? Koskinen says, if it’s necessary keep his budget balanced, it may be necessary to close the agency for several days later this year. After tax season. Just lock the doors.

In the wise words of my favorite Russian comic: “What a contry!”

Yes, Spell Check. “Contry.”

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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)

Simpson releases his new CIEDRA bill, gets Risch ok (Boise Statesman)
New Boise police chief moves in (Boise Statesman)
UI looks for a way forward (Lewiston Tribune, TF Times News)
Looking at Idaho’s decaying bridges (Nampa Press Tribune)
Canyon looks at need for expanding jail (Nampa Press Tribune)
Pocatello school district seeks $9.25m levy (Pocatello Journal)
Lutheran church plans new Pocatello high school (Pocatello Journal)
Will faith healing bill return to 2015 session? (TF Times News)

Gun background check proposal comes to Oregon (Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune)
Do wildlife centers in Oregon meet bear standards? (Medford Tribune)
Polluting trucks from California come to Oregon (Portland Oregonian)
Rescue mission often packed full (Portland Oregonian)
Protesters push for $15 hour minimum wage (Salem Statesman Journal)
Schools examine new SAT test for next year (Salem Statesman Journal)

Panel considers teacher pay (Bremerton Sun)
Kitsap hospital paused for safety (Bremerton Sun)
Inslee details more views on road projects (Everett Herald)
Longview area looking at more school merger plans (Longview News)
New formula proposed for limiting slot machines (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
Not finding avian flu in Agnew area (Port Angeles News)
Kilmer wades into Navy electronic warfare debate (Port Angeles News)
More students opted out of standardized tests (Tacoma News Tribune)
Vancouver developer plans project changes (Vancouver Columbian)
Ruling: Selah was wrong to expel autistic boy (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

idaho RANDY

The legislative activities most likely to draw a rolling-eyes reaction, at least in the days when I was a newspaper legislative reporter, was the designation of something as the official Idaho state “something.”

Idaho has a roster of them: 16 including the state song, motto and seal. The official fossil (the Hagerman horse; no jokes please). The official fruit (the huckleberry; no jokes, please). The official raptor (the peregrine falcon; you know the drill) as well as the official state bird (the mountain bluebird).

Most reporters and legislators used to think, at least: Do we really need more? Is there need to spend legislative time on additional designations? Turns out there are some practical reasons to do so.

The first bill introduced in this session, House Bill 1, sought to designate the giant salamander as the state amphibian. It was rejected on January 19 by the House State Affairs Committee.

It’s given me cause for a rethink.

At the hearing, Frank Lundberg of Boise, who is as expert on the subject of reptiles as anyone I know, pointed out that state symbols aren’t just ornamental: “They are a way to promote and enhance understanding of qualities that are unique to the state. Our symbols serve as messengers of what is special about Idaho to other people, states and countries.”

Why a state amphibian? Lundberg: “Amphibians are one piece of the natural heritage of Idaho that makes this state such a wondrous place to live. They have some amazing characteristics, some that could one day help medical research. Salamanders can regenerate lost limbs, some frogs freeze solid in the winter, having no heartbeat, and yet defrost in the spring and hop off. The word ‘amphibian’ means double life, referring to the fact that they are born in water but often live on land. Idaho Giant Salamanders epitomize the name ‘amphibian’ as they are born and live in water with external gills, yet for reasons we don’t quite understand yet, some individuals absorb their gills, grow lungs , and go live on land, only returning to the water to breed. Twenty other states have recognized this uniqueness by including these marvelous creatures in their state symbols.”

And, he pointed out, Idaho is the only place where the Giant Salamander lives.

How would Idaho benefit from this? “It says something good about Idaho. It says we care about the things that are unique to our state, to Idaho. It provides us with yet another symbol, another tool, which we can use to promote the benefits of Idaho to others. While it may be safely stated that not everyone cares if there’s a state amphibian, many in the country do care and will take note of one unique to Idaho. A few more people will visit the state. A few more scientists will study something in Idaho. School students will have another opportunity to learn more about Idaho.”

Practical benefits, then, at no cost.

The bill, proposed by a Boise junior high student, got support from Boise-area Democrats and Republicans, but not nearly enough to clear the committee.

The counter argument seemed to be the default worry at the legislature: That there might be feds under the bed. Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls: “My whole concern is potential federal overreach. In North Idaho we have the water litigation going. I just am in fear that something could be impacted if it became an endangered species.”

The designation would have nothing whatever to do with an endangered species status. (And the water litigation is aimed not at increasing but at limiting federal ability to pursue water rights.)

Looks as if there’s some room left on the learning curve at the legislature, and not just about salamanders.

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Idaho Idaho column


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 public library hosts 3-D printers (Boise Statesman)
Legislators look at banning instant racing (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune)
Lewiston’s Gold’s Gym will shutter (Lewiston Tribune)
Legislators consider general fund for roads (Lewiston Tribune)
Democrats paid for ‘Tea Party’ flier (Moscow News)
Idahoans polled on use of public lands (Moscow News)
Nampa likely to see a Chick-fil-a (Nampa Press Tribune)
Idaho has varied online learning operations (Nampa Press Tribune)
Ohio Governor Kasich pitches messag at Boise (TF Times News)
Jerome works on Main Street revival (TF Times News)

Where do crime victims at UO go? (Eugene Register Guard)
Nike sued over Michael Jordan picture (Eugene Register Guard)
Gas prices at Klamath below $2 a gallon (KF Herald & News)
Part-time office opens by OC&E state trail (KF Herald & News)
Marijuana public hearings begin (Portland Oregonian, KF Herald & News)
Police go after string of car break-ins (Medford Tribune)
Layoffs accumulate at Ashland Ski Area (Medford Tribune)
Negotiations seem near end on drone flights (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Salem Health facility packed full (Salem Statesman Journal)

Bainbridge Island may buy park area for $6m (Bremerton Sun)
Carrier Ranger to be towed to Texas (Bremereton Sun)
Signs for free coffee will return to I-5 (Everett Herald)
Longview narrows search for city manager (Longviiew News)
Reichert says Obama should get Democrats behind trade (Olympian)
Prices for Super Bowl tickets super-high (Seattle Times)
Diocese-firm deal reached on malpractice case (Spokane Spokesman)
Bill aims to speed analysis of rape kits (Tacoma News Tribune)
Poison centers hear more pot-related calls (Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic)
Clark County staff reviews effect of charter (Vancouver Columbian)
Gas falling below $2 a gallon in Vancouver (Vancouver Columbian, Yskima Herald Republic)

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First Take

carlson CHRIS


Cheers. . . . . to Boise Mayor David Bieter who took advantage of some face time with President Barack Obama on Air Force #1 while flying to Boise to lobby for the President to utilize his authority under the Antiquities Act to make the Boulder/White Clouds a National Monument. The President can and will give Rep. Mike Simpson the six months he has requested to get a new bill through the House after Senator Jim Risch six years ago went back on his word and put a hold on the bill Simpson had worked out with all the interest groups and was ten years in the making. Risch remains a road block in the Senate so even if Simpson gets his revised bill through the House he still has to overcome Risch before something is on the President’s desk. You can bet your last dollar though that if there is no Boulder/White Clouds bill on Obama’s desk as his term winds down, there will be national monument declared under the Antiquities Act.

Cheers. . . .also to former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Idaho Conservation League Executive Director Rick Johnson and to Roberta Crockett, all of whom mentioned to the President while he was in Boise the need to protect the Boulder/White Clouds.

Jeers. . . .to Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who, as Acting Governor with Gov. Otter recovering from a hip operation, greeted the President when he landed in Boise. Little used his face time to lobby the President against a Monument declaration. Little should not be carrying Sandra Mitchell’s brief case nor carrying water for the snowmobilers and ATV users she represents who think it is their God-given right to run anywhere they want, anytime they want in Idaho’s vast backcountry. Brad should be aligning himself with Rep. Simpson and not the troglodites like Senator Jim Risch.

Cheers. . . . . .again to Governor Andrus, and add Governor Phil Batt, for once again standing up to the federal government and saying no to additional spent fuel alledgedly for research purposes. The Batt agreement is working and Idaho should not grant waivers for any reason.

Rest assured Andrus, who had some time with the President, also touched on the subject of nuke waste with the President. Though Andrus seldom mentions what he says to any President, always treating such conversations as private and privileged, don’t be surprised if the Energy Secretry doesn’t get an order from the White House to back off plans to bring two shipments of 25 spent fuel rods each to Idaho, at least until the department has answered the pointed questions Andrus sent on behalf of himself and Batt to the Governor’s office and the Department of Energy on January 22nd.

Jeers. . . . to the City of Boise. Or cheers if you lean towards secular humanism. Despite a heavy concentration of Mormons and Catholics in Idaho, the state’s largest metropolitan area failed to make it anywhere on Christianity Today’s recently published list of the 100 most Bible-oriented communities in the nation. Study was based on the percentage of population that reads the Bible at least once a week.

Not surprisingly the top of the list came right out of the old southern Bible Belt with Birmingham/Tuscalosa being number #1. Folks there must really pray hard and read the Bible often so as to keep their beloved Tide football program on top.

How does one explain the nation’s acknowledged sin cities—Las Vegas (#95), New York City (#91) and San Francisco (#97), in effect finishing higher and thus more Bible-reading and less sinful behaving than Boise?

And Salt Lake City, the St. Peter’s of the LDS Church, came in at #90, right there with the Big Apple, and behind the nation’ s capital that was placed at #85?

Apparently in Boise there aren’t enough good Catholics, Protestants and Mormons (as defined by whether they are judged worthy of the “temple pass”) who while they may practice the exhortation in Section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants appear not to read their Bible as much as they read their Book of Mormon.

The most Bible reading city in the northwest surprisingly was Spokane at #52. Those who spend time in both Boise and Spokane will question the survey just on that ranking alone, as Spokane seems far more secular than Boise.

Go figure. Lists like this one always create more questions than provide real answers.

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trahant MARK


It’s time for State of the Unions. President Barack Obama, of course, on Tuesday. Then, a variety of state reports across the country. And, on Thursday, Indian Country’s national version, the State of Indian Nations. National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby spent about an hour talking about some of the challenges facing the more than five hundred tribal governments.

“Today, I bring a simple message from the tribes of the 21st Century: We must tear down barriers to growth, simplify regulations that are limiting opportunities, and acknowledge that tribes have the capability as governments to oversee our own affairs,” Cladoosby said. “Congress and the administration need to find ways to help bring federal agencies out of the 19th Century and into the 21st Century. We need them to be partners for growth and not barriers to growth.”

President Cladoosby’s talk covered much ground — a lot of material critical to tribal governments, such as rethinking the federal-trust relationship, an invitation for leaders of Congress to visit Indian Country, and for Washington’s NFL franchise to finally, finally, change its name.

I’d like to expand on two themes from the State of the Indian Nations speech — youth and technology.

The most common age in America today is 22 years old. This year, 2015, the Millennial Generation will pass the Baby Boomers as the largest-age group in the country. Indian Country is even younger than the rest of the nation. The American Indian Alaska Native population from birth through age 24 makes up 42 percent of the total Native American population (compared to about a third for country as a whole.)

We are at a moment in history where we really ought to be investing more resources in young people. Yet, instead, as President Obama said in his State of the Union, we’re loading up this generation with student debt — a total that now exceeds a trillion dollars. This is the logic behind the president’s call to make community college free. A proposal that will benefit Indian Country, including tribal colleges and universities.

But this is also about technology. We need a structure to prepare people for jobs that don’t yet exist.

This is what President Cladoosby said: “The last technology census of tribal nations took place before Google, Twitter, or smart phones even existed. The best data we do have indicates an ongoing digital divide. While 73 percent of Americans have access to broadband, in Indian Country, it’s only 10 percent …

“We need a comprehensive and updated study of our technology needs to advance more common sense initiatives like this one to increase our participation in the Digital Age.”

We do need more information. The Digital Age doesn’t look like it did even ten years ago. Back then “The Facebook” was a new startup — and certainly not much of a presence in Indian Country. Today Facebook is in most homes, on our phones, and a presence linking Native America in ways that television networks never did. On social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Native Americans are creating, telling stories, and building communities. This is just the beginning of this digital age.

It’s not just social media either. It’s a whole of commerce, activity, and potential.

So what does it mean? Well, once we figure out how to unlock these digital tools we will never again be faced with watching our children leave a community just to get a job. We can create our own jobs. Anywhere. In a village in Alaska, a reservation in Montana, or, yes, in a city. But the choice will be ours.

But for that to happen we need to prepare young people better. They need to have a bundle of tools, ranging from computer science to video production.

Some of this preparation starts with schools. Helping young people get basic skills in math, science and writing. But much of this Digital Age starts with imagination.

The beauty is that we now live in a world where storytelling is a value. And that’s a value that Indian Country already understands and has for thousand of years.

Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

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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)

Tuition raises go partly for pay raises (Boise Statesman)
Looking at the cost of Obama’s Idaho trip (Boise Statesman)
Obamacare easing pressure in indigent care program (Nampa Press Tribune, Lewiston Tribune)
Regents at WSU may ban tobacco on campus (Moscow News)
How safe are Moscow crosswalks? (Moscow News)
Add the words hearing set for Monday (Nampa Press Tribune)
New Nampa office building opens for St. Alphonsus (Nampa Press Tribune)
Obama says he’ll work on freeing Idaho pastor (Pocatello Journal)
President at Eastern Idaho Tech likes free college (Pocatello Journal)
Rangen water call stayed in SRBA court (TF Times News)
State says wolf population high enough to avoid feds (TF Times News)

Eugene utility exec once fired, now rehired (Eugene Register Guard)
Funds arrived for Swanson mill rebuild (Eugene Register Guard)
Two UO librarians questioned about doc leak (Eugene Register Guard)
Oregon Tech trustees hold initial meeting (KD Herald & News)
Series of quakes erupt in S-Central OR desert (KF Herald & News)
Protest arrive over natural gas pipeline (Medford Tribune)
Possible closure ahead for asphalt plant (Medford Tribune)
Pendleton parents want pot kept away from kids (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Minimum wage at $15 would add $49 a month (Portland Oregonian)
Orenco nature park makes progress (Portland Oregonian)
Who should decide on school mascots? (Salem Statesman Journal)
Area C in Keizer might be developed (Salem Statesman Journal)

Root rot leads to chopping park trees (Bremerton Sun)
Narrows ferry tolls go up on July 1 (Bremerton Sun)
More bridge work planned at Everett (Everett Herald)
Everett city turns down county new courthouse plan (Everett Herald)
Counting the local homeless at Everett (Everett Herald)
Temporary Wyerhaeuser layoffs scheduled (Longview News)
Kalakala goes on its final trip (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
Lucky Eagle casino slated for expansion (Olympian)
Bird quarantine set for Agnew area (Port Angeles News)
Tab for Bertha goes mostly to the state (Seattle Times)
State fair set to expand in 2016 (Tacoma News Tribune)
Fisher CEO says local economy looking good (Vancouver Columbian)
Medical pot under more review at Olympia (Yakima Herald Republic)
How about ballots with return postage? (Yakima Herald Republic)
Solid job improvement through 2014 (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take

Obama at Boise

President Barack Obama greets attendees at his Boise State University speaking event.

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