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Posts published in April 2015

Frustration and lawlessness

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

For over a year, Ridenbaugh Press Publisher Randy Stapilus and I have been writing about the worsening conditions in several counties in Southwest Oregon - Curry, Jefferson, Jackson in particular. Problems started several years ago when millions of federal dollars previously paid to those and some 15 other Oregon and Washington counties began to dry up. We’re now at a point of instances of open lawlessness.

Those dollars originally came from timber sales on federal lands - lands from which local governments receive no taxes. The original purpose was support for public schools. A few counties squirreled away some of those bucks against future conditions. Several - including the three above - spent ‘em all to keep up with budget growth without raising taxes. Now, sequestration and other federal pressures have reduced the flow to a trickle. And several counties - most notably Curry - are close to bankruptcy.

While county commissioners and others have lobbied hard for a resumption of the federal payment, they realize long-term continuation of the program is highly unlikely. They also know there’ll be no White Knight riding to their rescue and tax increases - large tax increases - are dead ahead. Now the public knows that, too.

Curry voters face a bond election next month. If it passes, the minimally staffed jail and the minimally staffed sheriff’s department will survive. Somewhat. If it fails - as several other issues on the same subject have repeatedly - it’s almost certain the jail and the whole department will close. My money’s on the “no” vote.

Jackson County law enforcement has been curtailed for several years. In Josephine - Grants Pass - conditions are already grim. With nearly no county deputies, several “posse comitatus” groups roam the county 24/7 - armed to the teeth - looking for “bad” guys. Mountain-sized legal liabilities go with them. And it’s getting worse.

As Stapilus blogged here the other day, a mine has been operating illegally near Grants Pass without operators filing all required permit paperwork with the feds. On more than one occasion - when BLM people showed up onsite - they were met by armed civilians of the “Oath Keepers” group. BLM folks backed down each time - as they did with Clive Bundy in Nevada. Still no BLM paperwork today. No apparent county law enforcement involvement. Except a former sheriff siding with the lawbreakers. Now, the BLM has closed the Medford office, some 30 miles away.

As Stapilus wrote, “Hardly any law enforcement . . . groups of angry and heavily armed ex-military wandering around . . . what could go wrong here?” What indeed?”

All of this was in my mind this week when a column by Professor Robert Reich popped up on the old I-net headlined “Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless.” He was reading my mind! His main point was government, large corporations and our political system have become unresponsive to the American public. Power has become so concentrated that us average guys are being flipped off by all of ‘em.

Among his points: corporations firing workers with no warning and/or making more of the labor force part time. In 2005, we had nine major airlines - today just four. Eighty percent of us are served by just one I-net provider - Comcast, AT&T or Time-Warner. In 1990, the five biggest banks held just 10 percent of all banking assets - now they hold 45 percent. Fifty years ago, more than a third of workers were unionized - today less than seven percent. Major health insurers are larger - giant hospital chains are far bigger - powerful digital platforms like Amazon, Facebook and Google are “gigantic!”

Then, there’s politics. Over 85 percent of congressional districts are called “safe” for incumbents in the 2016 elections and only three percent are toss-ups. Presidential election states are already being called “red” or “blue” with only a handful to be statistically contested. Voters in most states will not see a presidential candidate on their home turf. So, more and more voters feel disenfranchised. Voter turnouts are smaller.

I believe there’s a straight line between the points Dr. Reich makes about so many Americans feeling powerless in their lives and the increasing instances of lawlessness we’re seeing in Oregon, Nevada and elsewhere in the country. Whether they call themselves “Oath Keepers” or “posse comitatus” or “Bundy’s Freedom Fighters,” they all fit into the same mold - mad at government in nearly all forms, feel their personal “liberties” are being take away, say they “want their country back,” are armed to the teeth with up to and including automatic weapons and large supplies of ammo. (more…)

On the front pages

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)

Otter calls special session (Boise Statesman, IF Post Register, Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News, Lewiston Tribune, Pocatello Journal)
Soft oil prices weaken industry in Idaho (Boise Statesman)
Support found for CWU bond proposal (Boise Statesman)
Potato growers at Shelley sue USDA (IF Post Register)
CWI land assessed $5m under purchase price (Nampa Press Tribune)
Idaho asks for re-up on No Child waiver (TF Times News)

Eugene secret exit plan for leader pondered (Eugene Register Guard)
Lakeview marijuana grow plan draws concern (KF Herald & news)
Safeway store turning into Haggens (KF Herald & news)
Interior plans $4 million for wildfire planning (KF Herald & News)
Time to retire pot-sniffing dogs? (Medford Tribune)
Jackson Co sets pot dispensary guidelines (Medford Tribune)
Umatilla toughens rules on its adult zone (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Supreme Court decision expected on PERS (Pendleton E Oregonian)
new homeless camp site found in Portland (Portland Oregonian)
Changes sought for lottery rules, split (Portland Oregonian)

Sex abuse at WWU investigated (Bellingham Herald)
Officials look into options to oust Kelley (Everett Herald, Olympian, Longview News)
Judge kicks lawsuit on police race bias (Everett Herald)
DOE explores natural gas to replace diesel (Kennewick Herald)
Sage grouse conditions at Yakima army center (Kennewick Herald)
Businessman looks for spot on Lonview port panel (Longview News)
Volcano may erupts off Pacific coast (Seattle Times)
Lawmaker Fagan, accused of ethics issues, quits (Spokane Spokesman)
Commissioner Mielke may be Spokane Co exec (Spokane Spokesman)
Legislators look at pot taxes (Vancouver Columbian)
Clark Co may ban e-cigs in public places (Vancouver Columbian)

Shifting ground, changing values

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Pop Quiz: which is the most urbanized state, New York or Nevada? Between Alaska and Montana? Between Utah and Ohio?

Among these three states - Idaho, Iowa and New Hampshire - which has the highest rural proportion in its population?

If you answered Nevada (94%) is more urban than New York (88%); Alaska (66%) more than Montana (56%) and Utah (91%) more than Ohio (78%), give yourself an A. If you also know New Hampshire (40%) is more rural than Idaho (30%) and Iowa (36%) is more rural than Idaho, give yourself an A++.

Behind these figures lies an incontestable fact: our nation is steadily, inexorably becoming more urbanized. As children and grandchildren steadily leave rural areas to find jobs in urban areas, those of us left in the rural areas are more and more retirees and the elderly.

We sense that a way of life - connected families living close to the land and most often trying to make a living off of some form of resource conversion - is being lost.

The future looks uncertain. The “can-do, tomorrow will be a better day” attitude starts to erode. Fear creeps into the pysche. For some it is fear that medical challenges will force one to move into an urban area to be closer to the needed medical services. For others, it is fear that a heavily urbanized population in which a 9-1-1 call will be responded to within five minutes will lead to more restrictions on firearms.

What is more disturbing though is the few folks left in rural areas do not see the connection between an America becoming ever more urbanized and the proliferation of federal regulations regarding activities on adjacent public lands.

Too many country folks think their use of the national forests or the public range should get priority. We don’t grasp that our neighbor down the street, the Forest Service’s district ranger, has to manage for the urbanite in New York City’s equal interest in the public lands.

Surprise! The urban dweller sees the national forests as a place where he or she can camp, hike, raft, ride horses, bird-watch and a dozen other multiple often competing uses. The urbanite does not see timber cutting as a compatible use.

So, some rural county commissioners turn to schemes and dreams that the Federal government can be forced to sell federal lands because those living next to and off of the public resource can do a much better job of managing the resource. Dream on , my friend. It will never happen.

If anything, get ready for more regulations from the federal agencies, not fewer. Despite Idaho having established a good system of adjudicating water rights, as shortages begin to occur in the urban areas more restrictions on its use will be promulgated. (more…)

On the front pages

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)

Debates over murder charges in E Idaho (Boise Statesman)
Prospects for a special legislative session (IF Post Register, TF Times News)
Critics of ag-gag go to court (Nampa Press Tribune)
Female attorneys not sought out for judgeship (Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News)
Variation found in school enrollments (Nampa Press Tribune)
Idaho inexpensive for bad-driver insurance (Pocatello Journal)

Eugene school emails detail exit plans (Eugene Register Guard)
Klamath Co continues pot moratorium (KF Herald & News)
Work stars on building new Klamath high school (KF Herald & News)
Looking at Medford school board races (Medford Tribune)
Pendleton airport, police get budget raise (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Lawmakers ponder domestic-abuser gun bill (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Legislator considers left-lane hog bill (Portland Oregonian)
Obama headed to Portland next week, May 7 (Portland Oregonian)
Reviewing Salem school board candidates (Salem Statesman Journal)

Lynden passes $48m bond for schools (Bellingham Herald)
Monroe looks to pass school bond (Everett Herald)
Hanford seeks much more money for cleanup (Kennewick Herald)
About 270 mill jobs to be lost at Shelton (Olympian)
Port of Olympian helps fund harbor patrol (Olympian)
Many juniors bypass new state high school tests (Seattle Times)
Spokane transit tax issue looks to be failing (Spokane Spokesman)
Looking ahead to special legislative session (Vancouver Columbian)
Clark teachers consider single-day walkout (Vancouver Columbian)
Some bond measures passing, others failing (Yakima Herald Republic)
Sunnyside votes to ban pot business (Yakima Herald Republic)

How to improve Oregon schools?

harris ROBERT
HARRIS

 
Oregon
Outpost

The following statistics are from the latest National Education Association report of 2014 for the 50 State plus the District of Columbia. (Except as noted)

Average US per capita income is $44,200
Oregon per capita income is $39,258 making it 34th of 51 States + DC
The US average paid in local and state taxes per capita is $6,414 which is 14.5% of total average per capita US income (NEA latest stats was for 2011-12)
In Oregon, the average paid in local and state taxes is $6,093 (26 of 51), and is 15.5% of total per capita income. ( NEA latest stats was for 2011-12)
K-12 school revenue in Oregon is $11,988 per pupil versus the national average of $12,357. Making Oregon the 25th of 51 and 97% of the national average.
The national average teacher salary is $56,610, while average teacher salary in Oregon is $58,638 which is 103.6% of the national average making Oregon 14 of 51 in highest salary. (Salaries don’t include other compensation such as retirement, or health insurance, so Oregon, with its excellent benefit program is likely in the top 6 States +DC for total compensation per teacher)
The average student teacher ratio in the US is 15.9, while Oregon has a teacher student ratio of 21.5, Number 3 highest of 51 and 135% of the US average.

While Oregon is slightly below average in per pupil revenue we are well below the US average in per capita income. So individual taxpayers are paying a larger share of our lower than average income in taxes than most other states in order to fund an education system that pays its staff some of the highest total compensation in the country. (Compensation includes not only salary, but retirement and health care)

About 85% of school spending is on salaries and compensation. High cost per teacher and lower than average financial support for schools can result in only one thing. Fewer teachers who try their best in crowded classes during fewer classroom hours.

While most people agree on the problem, not enough revenue to pay for more teachers and classroom hours, we don’t agree on the solution, which has to be either cost containment in individual total compensation, or increased revenue. The question is, what is more fair. Or what is the least unfair way to deal with the financial crisis.

I don’t think there is serious consideration of decreasing K-12 spending or teacher salary, so the goal of any changes should be to increase the number of teachers and/or the classroom time. Or hopefully both.

Oregon will adopt a k-12 budget of about 7.3 Billion dollars/ biennium. In order to get Oregon’s education spending to the US average it would take an additional 3% increase, or about $220 million per bi-ennium, or $110 million per year. But where would that come from?

Oregon individual taxpayers are already paying a higher share of their income in state and local taxes than average. So individual taxpayers can argue that they are doing more than their part already.

What about other sources of revenue? The Tax Foundation ranks Oregon as 12th best in business tax climate. According to that article Oregon has the fourth lowest overall sales tax burden nationally for businesses. So we have a relatively friendly business tax rate – with a lot of specific tax breaks and tax expenditures for businesses – and one type of common business tax that is extremely low. If were looking for additional revenue, absent complete structural tax reform, the source that could be deemed most fair would fall on those who already have a good deal. Additionally increasing an inordinately low business tax rate would have the least negative impact on Oregon business competitiveness. (more…)

On the front pages

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)

ACHD bike lane issue resurfaces (Boise Statesman)
Developing oil and gas production in Idaho (Nampa Press Tribune)
Pocatello issues bonds for sewage work (Pocatello Journal)
The intense campaign for Gooding School District (TF Times News)
Residents try to save Magic Valley drive-ins (TF Times News)

Eugene civic stadium purchase finalized (Eugene Register Guard)
Lane official Leiken may run for governor (Eugene Register Guard)
Faceoffs expected in Medford school races (Medford Tribune)
Water levels falling in eastern Oregon (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Hermiston goes to work on dog licenses (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Pendleton school boundaries imposed (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Oregon lawmakers may tighten medical pot rules (Portland Oregonian)

Snohomish medical examiner office may change (Everett Herald)
Mint Farm pot development is off (Longview News)
AG asks Supreme Court to wait on school review (Olympian)
Idaho senators ignoring women for federal bench (Spokane Spokesman)
Dave Smith cars in Kellogg bought by Texan (Spokane Spokesman)
Ports redacted records on Sea-Tac alliance (Tacoma News Tribune)
Profiling Senator Murray (Everett Herald, Vancouver Columbian)
Looking ahead to drought conditions (Yakima Herald Republic)

Accomplishment

stapiluslogo1

The bitterness was already there on the side of the anti-government Oath Keepers group, but it started to grow last week as well on the part of . . . the anti-Oath Keepers.
The scene was Grants Pass and Medford, at the Sugar Pine Mine near Merlin, where the Bureau of Land Management has been held at bay from enforcing its normal rules (requiring the filing of a plan of operations) by armed people associated with the Oath Keepers. On Thursday, the Medford BLM office closed out of concern about confrontations with employees.

The Medford Mail Tribune on April 24 reported that “Grants Pass sporting-goods salesman Dave Strahan was one of several protesters who said the sudden appearance of dozens of armed outsiders was fostering a reputation many community members have worked hard to avoid.”

Hard work indeed. Josephine County has been one of the counties in southwest Oregon hit by the loss of federal timber funds, and responded by refusing to increase local taxes to compensate – even though that has meant extreme cuts in law enforcement (layoffs of most of the sheriff’s department, for example) among other things.

Strahan remarked that “Over the last few years, I've gotten more and more questions from my customers about the safety of coming to Josephine County to recreate.”
\
Hardly any law enforcement . . . groups of angry and heavily armed ex-military wandering around . . . what could go wrong here?

Business in Josephine County may have to do some more belt-tightening of its own.

In the Briefings

bear creek
 

Jeremiah Griffin scouts the Bear Creek site, in a greenway in the Rogue Valley, for any trash as crews prepare the are for landscaping. (photo/Oregon Department of Transportation)

 
Has a Clive Bundy situation arrived in southern Oregon? Maybe not quite yet, and if things defuse, maybe not at all. But plenty of people in the area are concerned about the real possibility.

So the Washington Legislature in fact is coming back, this Wednesday, having been unable to resolve the budget in regular session. Don’t expect this round to take just a few days.

Will Governor Otter call a special session this week? That remains as unclear today as it did a week ago, though prospects may be considered to diminish with time.

On the front pages

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)

What the state will do with new road work funds (Boise Statesman, TF Times News)
Caldwell starts widening 21st avenue (Nampa Press Tribune)

Competition for Medford school board seat (Medford Tribune)
Oregon continues to consider speed limits (Portland Oregonian)

Ballingham airport may see quiet summer (Bellingham Herald)
Legislature prepares for return (Vancouver Columbian, Bellingham Herald, Bremerton Sun, Olympian)
Allen supports bill on species trafficking (Seattle Times)
Vancouver waterfront could generate revenue (Vancouver Columbian)
Water quality, permits mean conflicts (Yakima Herald Republic)

A million lines of code

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

No child grows up hearing — or asking — for numbers. Instead the four words, “tell me a story,” are the ones deeply embedded into our human software. And that will never change. But the power of numbers, the importance of data, is growing exponentially and becoming essential to how we understand larger narratives.

Then this is not new. The use of statistics, counts, numbers, all have always been a part of how we tell stories. Buffalo hide paintings are great examples from another century. Pictographs recorded people, buffalo, soldiers, villages, and meteor storms. The data was recorded. Then we did the same things with ledgers, books, computer tapes, and a couple of decades ago floppy discs, CDs, and thumb drives. Today we carry more data capacity in our phone than we ever had in our offices and homes. And what’s on that recording? IBM once estimated that the content of all of human history totaled some 5 exabytes (or five billion gigabytes of information). Now we produce that many videos, pictures, and words every couple of days.

We need more useful numbers — and this is one of Indian Country’s great challenges in an era of both austerity and transparency. In 1900 the Bureau of Indian Affairs budget was $8.2 million. It took nearly 80 years before that funding level topped a billion dollars. Then the first $2 billion was in 2001. Last year $ 2.6 billion. And the Obama administration’s current request is for $2.924 billion. (I am working on a history of Indian appropriations — more on that soon.)

So I have been thinking about these numbers in the context of the recent narrative about Native youth. The stories themselves are inspiring, starting with the president’s visit with young people in North Dakota, followed by the recent meeting at the White House. As First Lady Michelle Obama put it: “So we all need to work together to invest deeply — and for the long-term — in these young people, both those who are living in their tribal communities … and those living in urban areas across this country. These kids have so much promise — and we need to ensure that they have every tool, every opportunity they need to fulfill that promise.”

This is where the numbers and the story intersect.

A commitment to invest deeply and for the long-term requires serious cash and resources. The president’s budget matches that rhetoric with a budget request of $1 billion to promote Generation Indigenous, an initiative designed for Native American youth. “In today’s global economy a high quality education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity – it is a prerequisite to success,” the Interior Department said. “President Obama set out a vision for a 21st century education system grounded in both high academic standards and tribal values and traditions. Making advanced education opportunities available for tribal members is a high priority for tribes, who see education as the path to economic development and a better quality of life for their communities through an educated and skilled tribal member workforce.” (more…)

On the front pages

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)

Woodgrain Millwork owners alerted about roof (Boise Statesman)
Campaign contributions and cannbidiol veto (Nampa Press Tribune)
Water supplies may run out early this year (Nampa Press Tribune)
East Idaho counties low on alcohol consumption (Pocatello Tribune)

New start for business recruitment group (Eugene Register Guard)
Jail ballot issue hits in Klamath (KF Herald & News)
Analysis shows money flows from Crater, other parks (KF Herald & News)
Pot entrepreneurs await July 1 (Medford Tribune)
Oswego bank grew too fast, burst (Portland Oregonian)
Environmental review of session so far (Salem Statesman Journal)

Whatcom plans November vote on jail bond (Bellingham Herald)
Legislature will return this week (Everett Herald)
The undoing of Microgreen Polymers (Everett Herald)
The women in Cowlitz county government (Longview News)
School districts in budget guessing game (Vancouver Columbian)
Medicaid expansion plans in review (Vancouver Columbian)

Shock and incentive

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

A recent e-mailed press release from an Idaho state agency took my breath away with shock when I read it. It still stuns me – and, too, other people I’ve discussed it with, who have a history of working in state agencies and writing press releases.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare press release of April 10 (a copy is posted at www.ridenbaugh.com/dhw150410.html) belongs in some kind of hall of fame for useful press releases, with citation for bravery. It does something I’ve never seen a state agency (as opposed to some elected officials) do before: It explicitly calls out the state legislature for doing harm to people in Idaho.

State agencies hardly ever take on state legislators, especially in public, even in cautious weasel words. It’s dangerous: Legislators have endless ways to take revenge.

And in this release, DHW Director Richard Armstrong could not have been plainer or blunter, with his quote saying “this vote will make it nearly impossible for us to enforce child support like we should, so Idaho’s children are taken care of. The bottom line is that Idaho families may not receive their support money because we will not have the tools we need to make sure those payments are made.”

The reference, of course, was to the House Judiciary Committee vote rejecting a bill to let the state cooperate with national and international entities in collecting child support payments. The winner of that vote was the deadbeat, non-paying parents, and the losers children now at risk of going hungry.

The release went out in the few hours between the committee vote and the legislature’s middle-of-the-night adjournment, and it seemed aimed at convincing legislators to revive the bill (its last line was the unusual exhortation, “All families who rely on child support payments are encouraged to contact their legislators”). The bill died anyway. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was left to consider whether to call a special session.

Did Otter know in advance about the release? He seems to have been in support of the bill, and has indicated something needs to be done in light of its rejection, but his response so far is vague and unclear. (That could change.)

I have a specific reason for focusing here on the press release, one worth considering by anyone unsure whether the key issue is hungry children or a loss of “Idaho sovereignty” to the federal government or Sharia law.

The bill was passed unanimously in the Idaho Senate after discussion of what it did. It failed in House Judiciary after warnings surfaced about governmental roles and subjugation came up – just the sort of thing smeared around in campaign season, or even year-round. It’s not hard to image a legislator gulping; in the face of it, the “safe” vote in today’s environment might have been one against the bill.

The press release from Health and Welfare, however, was highly impolitic in the sense that it’s just the kind of thing that can cost people their jobs – people like Armstrong, for one, for making look foolish elected officials who hold the purse strings of their agencies. (Agency executives do in fact lose their jobs under such conditions.) The people at DHW have no personal incentive at all for doing what they did other than in mounting a last-ditch attempt to protect the lives of Idaho children.

Who would you believe?