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Posts published in May 2015

Open for business

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ATTENTION Washington, California, Idaho, Utah, Canada, et al: The Pacific Ocean is OPEN.

Traditionally, Memorial Day is the start of “the season” and, equally traditionally, it runs through Labor Day. I’m not so sure that holds true now as much as it used to since we’ve gotten more mobile and have the ol’ I-net to keep us connected for business, education or “reality.” To me, it seems to run from Spring Break to about mid-October. At least from traffic on our little piece of shoreline. But tradition is - well, tradition.

Life for we “locals” changes during the extended summer. Lots of little things visitors don’t see. For one thing, when driving Highway 101 through the downtown of any Oregon coastal community “in season,” locals learn to drive only in the right hand lane. That’s because there are always - ALWAYS - tourists who will try to make a left hand turn off 101 to get to the ocean. Typically, they do so at the intersection where the big “NO LEFT TURN” sign is posted. Above the painted arrow. Next to the flashing light.

If you live here all year, you spend some of your time researching alternate driving routes to get around town. May mean 10 or more stop signs from one end to the other but you stay off the main drag as much as possible. So, for half the year, local commutes to church or shopping - or the bar - take us a bit longer.

Locals hit the grocery stores during earlier hours in the summer. That’s because tourists who shop, do so later in the afternoon. After a day in surf, sand, wind and sunburns. We don’t usually shop Monday-Wednesday since many restaurants are closed those days. When visitors find those doors locked, grocery stores get crowded as people line up in late afternoon at Safeway and Fred Meyer for the usual vacation health foods - chips, Ding-Dongs and beer. Others travel in RV’s so they do much of their own cooking.

In our part of the central Oregon coast, the license plates we see most are from Washington and California. My guess is that’s because Oregon is the only West Coast state with an “open beach” law. Took the late Gov. Tom McCall two terms in office and all his political capital to get that mandate on the books despite voter and legislative opposition. Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Red Lion and many other “biggies” have tried to bust through. So far, the Oregon Supreme Court has rejected all comers. And McCall is revered for his perseverance.

Washington and California people either understand that or have unknowingly taken advantage of what Gov. Tom labored so hard to get into law. In those two states - and all but one other on the East and West coasts - unfettered access to the ocean is available only with city-county-federal land ownership or other designated public space. Hotels, tribes and folks with deep, deep pockets have bought up most of it and locked the rest of us out. Not so Oregon. Doubt it ever will be.

The next most seen license plates in our neighborhood are Canadian - British Columbia and Alberta. Lots of ‘em. Especially when their dollar buys more in the U.S. than at home. We’ve met many in the winter. Oregon is “snowbird” territory for them with December-January temperatures here 30-40 degrees warmer than their native land. I’ve found them - on the whole - to be friendlier than a lot of American tourists. And generally better stewards of the areas where they recreate or park their RV’s.

You don’t need a calendar to know when Memorial Day arrives near the Pacific. Just watch prices at gas stations. We pay more per gallon than anywhere else in the state year ‘round. But, end of May, add 20-30-cents per gallon. And don’t give me any B.S. about “refinery shortages” or “drops in oil reserves” or “prices at the wellhead.” In the local paper, some weeks ago, the largest wholesaler on the coast was asked why our prices are always higher - especially in the Summer months. His ballsy answer - “Because we can.”

Summer on the Oregon Coast is also a time to “get-out-of-Dodge” for a lot of locals. Many rent their homes May-September and head inland. Or South. Income at home to offset expenses on the road.

Nothing brings strangers to the Oregon coast more than weather forecasts. In Spring and Fall, it’s the ones with blue skies and temps in the 60's-70's. In the Winter, nothing swells the local population like a really good storm prediction. Thunder, lightening and high winds - coupled with a good Oregon wine and a fire - seem to be magnetic to lots of folks East of the Cascades and in the Portland area.

November through March, you see lots of empty storefronts or seemingly permanent “Closed” signs on the coast. Two reasons for that. First, some operate on a part-time basis like candy, small restaurants or novelty shops with their wind socks and kites. Tourists come - they open. Tourists go - they close.

Second, we get a lot of folks who’ve saved money for retirement so they could go into business turning a hobby into a second career or even something entirely new. Living the American dream. Unfortunately, when the summer is over, so is the income it takes to stay in business 12 months a year. A lot of ‘em don’t plan for that or find year-round expenses higher here than they’re used to. Happens a lot.

We locals have a few other little secrets for living with the seasonal interlopers. I can’t share ‘em all. Local privilege, don’t you know. Besides, we all take an oath when we start paying local taxes.

But the “OPEN” sign is out. Y’all come. We’ll deal with it.

First take

Larry Kenck, who has been Idaho state Democratic chair for about three years, is departing for health reasons. Personable but also fair quick with sharp responses to Republicans, he's been a sound enough leader for the Idaho Democrats, but if he's found a way to make a dent in the overwhelming Republican machine in the state, it isn't visible yet. Not that it seems to have impinged his efforts, but - will the party go for a Boise-based chair next time?

What, Gandhi less than a saint? A contributor even now, more than 60 years after his death, to the enduring bitterness and conflict between India and Pakistan? An insightful piece in Foreign Policy today gets too exactly that, in compelling fashion. India's population, while majority Hindu, long has included a large minority of Muslims, but in the runup to independence Gandhi and the pro-indepedence Congress group he fostered was dominated by Hindus, and he countenanced a number of anti-Muslim efforts and rulings. Muslims feared that with independence (even once Pakistan was broken off from India) that Hindus would overwhelm the new country's power structure, and Muslims would be sidelined at best. Gandhi spoke repeatedly in favor of religious pluralism, but his approach to the independence movement was heavily grounded in Hinduism, and he made no secret of it. Critics (including no less than Leo Tolstoy) blasted Gandhi back in the day for mixing religion into the pro-independence movements. A piece well worth reading.

Mother of Earth returns

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This is a great day for Al Goozmer (pictured above). So the tribal president wants to show us everything in this village of about 200 people.

We start at the airstrip where there’s a new fire station. A mural painted in vivid colors proclaims, “TUBUGHNA: The Beach People.”

Then he shows us the tribal garden growing fresh produce. A few vegetables are already sprouting inside the greenhouse. But this is just a beginning, Goozmer said, “I asked them to look into putting another garden on the other side, that is going to be dealing, primarily, with our native berries, blueberries, salmonberries, and all the other berries here.”

But the real gem is ahead. We’re on our way to visit a piece of land that’s being donated to the tribe by The Nature Conservancy. The land is a couple of miles from the village. On the way, between the beach and a high bank of soil, Goozmer picks up a clump of earth, and explains how the land evolved over time.

He is that passionate about the land.

“I have a son who was 36-years-old and I never have seen him until he was 36. When we first met, we just fell into each other’s arms and cried and cried. It was just an awesome, awesome thing,” Goozmer said. “This is the same thing with the land. Our land, it was traditionally our land for the past thousand years, is coming back into tribal government, tribal hands. It’s like meeting your long lost relative again and reuniting with them.”

Goozmer starts his telling of the story with a coal mine that has been proposed by PacRim Coal. The land is near a deportation point for the minerals that would be shipped out. It’s a 160-acre parcel that had been homesteaded and was later donated to the Catholic Church. Then, in 2008, instead of selling the land for development (for what Goozmer calls “boo koo bucks") title was conveyed by the church to The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy has now donated that land back to its first owners with support from the Great Land Trust. The deal includes a conservation easement, limiting development and allowing tribal members use of the land for subsistence hunting, fishing, and berry-picking.

The return of such a parcel to an Alaska Native village is historic because the idea of tribal lands in Alaska is growing in both importance and inevitability. However a discovery a couple of years ago made this particular site even more important: It’s a rich cultural and archaeological site showing significant evidence about how Tubughna people have lived for the past thousand years.

“When we learned of the deep cultural significance of this place to the Tebughna people, we realized that the people of the Native Village of Tyonek would be its best long-term stewards,” said Rand Hagenstein, Alaska state director for The Nature Conservancy.

The formal title for this land is now, Etnen Bunkda, or Mother of the Earth. It comes from the Dena’ina name for the region. There is evidence of several homes from different periods of time, demonstrating a long arc of history for Tebughna as residents.

The site also includes a number of cold storage pits. These were the first refrigerators, deep holes once lined with grass and bark to preserve salmon and other foods for winter consumption. The Mother of the Earth site is a clear example of the Tebughna reliance on fish for a thousand years.

“Land managers do not fully take into consideration the fact that indigenous people have a whole cultural identity that’s related to land and subsistence, an appreciation for what the land provides,” said Heather Kendall-Miller, an attorney for the Native American Rights Fund. So the agencies responsible for making decisions about land, fish and game did not get the subsistence connection to the land. “The Chuitt River is one of the last rivers in the entire Cook Inlet that still has habitat for King Salmon. And that would have been impacted by the coal project,” Miller said.

The Native American Rights Fund represents the village in the land transfer.

In addition to subsistence, the transfer of this land adds to the larger Alaska debate about tribal lands. This agreement recognizes the possibility of the land being taken into trust by the Interior Department once that process is open.

“For us to again have a land base is just awesome. We have our identity refocused and reconnected back to the land of who we are,” said Goozmer. The village was once a part of the Moquawkie Indian Reservation.

However, he said, “the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act took away our ability to own land.”

Instead the land title was conveyed to regional and village corporations. “So we became shareholders instead of land owners. The corporations … are the owners and we have shares, but it’s not the same.” But the transfer of such a significant piece of land is a step in a new direction. “For us, as Natives, to be land owners intricately tied to the land, its resources, its animals, and what it produces, this is our grocery store and our pharmacy,” Goozmer said. “Hopefully this is just a beginning to get our identity back and reconnect us to the land.”

Mark Trahant 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.

First take

Basic rule of thumb: Mergers of giant businesses hardly ever are a good deal for anyone other than a handful of insiders and stockholders. Competition is massively reduced (you can call that the diminishment of a free marketplace, if you like), for one thing. For another, unlike the merger is really well thought out (which seems not to be the usual case), service and operations take a nose dive. That in part for a third problem, which is that massive mounts of money changes hands, tremendous debt is created, and gets who gets to pay for it? Customers, employees and vendors top that list. So there was cheering in this quarter when the proposed Comcast-Times Warner Cable deal collapsed. And there's hope now that the same will happen as Charter Communications tries its takeover of Time Warner (it also wants to gobble up a third cable company, Bright House Networks). Keep your eye on this one.

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo has inherited the long-running Idaho torch for a federal balanced budget amendment - like other Idaho delegation members before him, most notably Larry Craig - and is pumping hard for it. He indicates a Senate vote will come later this year, and maybe it will, but there's really nothing new here, as the long history demonstrates. But there's also little value in it, as former Oregon (Republican) Senator Mark Hatfield said in voting against it, that it was a "political gummick." Why? First, because Congress could balance the budget this year of it chose to bring income and expense into alignment (and actually has done so, mostly recently in the late 90s) - but it won't, because that would mean tax increases and unacceptable budget cuts, neither of which a constitutional amendment would cure. Second, because any balanced budget constitutional amendment would have to include a trap door for emergencies (the country's been invaded, and we can't fund a defense?), and any trap door could be easily abused and render the amendment meaningless. And Crapo must know all this . . .

First take

Lots of political discussion over the last weekend about the predicament of Republican presidential candidates asked whether, considering what we now know about the absence of weapons of mass destruction and other issues, the United States should have invaded Iraq in 2003. I thought it was a terrible idea at the time, but I was in the minority then. The candidates are on the spot now because, while the nation overall has long since concluded the invasion was a bad idea, they're in the position of disowning an important decision of the last Republican president, and one they (all or nearly all) long supported. Then too there are some who take this view, expressed in a front-page Oregonian article by a former Army sniper: "I have trouble with the question itself just because it lends itself to disregarding the sacrifices that have been made."

He is wrong. The equation of support for a war - any war - with respect for the soldiers who are or at risk of being killed or wounded has two serious problems the sniper ought to consider. Americans ought to respect the work and sacrifices made by its people in uniform whether in peace or war, and in any war. If the sniper wants to tie that to support for engagement in any and all military conflicts, that means he's arguing we should be obliged to support, and for all time, any war we may enter - however self-destructive to the nation, however ill-conceived or even grossly immoral, it might be. Blind support for a war that does more damage than good to our country - is that the form of patriotism he suggests?

There is another problem. Many critics of the American conflict in Vietnam, in the 60s and 70s, felt obliged to denigrate the troops as well as the decision to engage there. The sniper's logic - linking a decision to support the troops and the decision to get into a war - legitimises that Vietnam logic too, and it was wrong then, and wrong now.

Criticising a policy is not in conflict with supporting and respecting the people this nation has asked to do a job. A point to ponder this Memorial Day. -rs

And (taken from a Facebook post of veteran Frank Lundberg, guessing he won't object): "Some ways to honor all of us might be to cease these endless futile wars and truly support the VA by reforming the bureaucracy and providing all necessary funding for medical treatment." Second that.

First take

So what's a sea lion afraid of? Not a lot, really. They congregate in port areas where people are; people don't bother them. Smaller animals don't, and sea lions are hefty creatures. And sea lions by the hundreds have been hanging out at certain Oregon port areas, especially Astoria where they've been taking over dock area supposedly in use by people. So how do you scare a sea lion off? The Port of Astoria is about to try a fiberglass orca, one used up to now in parades. Should be interesting to see how it does.

Supply and demand: Oregon is said to grow about three times the amount of pot it consumes (and still in the neighborhood after legalization hits in another month or so). The state Senate Republican leader even described the state as the "Saudi Arabia of marijuana." So where does the excess go? You could argue that Washington, and maybe Colorado, would be logical markets. But what about interstate trafficking? That could be a major (legal) obstacle.

Season of discontent

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Try drawing a straight line through the results in the school-related election results from this week, and where it seems to land is on a season of education discontent in Idaho.

You might run into trouble trying to get a lot more specific than that – the discontent appears to bounce in several directions. But indicators of discontent were all over in last Tuesday’s elections.

As usual this time of year, a bunch of levy and bond issues were on the ballot, and as usual a good many (a lot of those supplemental levies that just maintain existing operations) passed.

But voter turnout was low (it seemed generally lower than last year) and overall support for incumbent positions seemed down. Even, for that matter, some proposals for money-saving improvements.

This year the biggest proposal, a $56.1 million bond at Idaho Falls failed, though barely. That amount alone was triple the total amount of all the school issues that passed.

A batch of school board elections wound up with striking sometimes unconventional results. In the largest school district in Idaho, West Ada, two of the three seats up for election went to outsiders. Julie Madsen, a physician, took out a board member who had served 13 years. And maybe the most interesting winner of the night was the other newcomer there, Russell Joki, a former Nampa school superintendent (and failed 2013 Meridian City Council candidate) who for years pursued a legal case against school districts charging fees to students. “School districts should not be charging fees for any part of the locally approved, endorsed, or sanctioned educational experience offered to students,” he wrote in a 2013 opinion piece. What will he do about that now as a board member?

In Caldwell, where all three board seats were decided by extremely small margins, a local tempest developed when a challenger, former Democratic legislative candidate Travis Manning, defeated an incumbent. Some area conservatives argued he should be disqualified: He’s a teacher in a neighboring school district, and associated with the teacher’s union. But Manning’s politics may have a lot to do with it too, and the dynamics of the Caldwell board may change a bit with his arrival.

Then there was the case in southeast Idaho of two small districts, North Gem and Grace (in Caribou County), which were proposed for consolidation. It would seem to make perfect sense. The districts have small populations and school attendance and a limited tax base. On top of that building renovations (especially a century-old school at Bancroft) and other costs have been pressuring taxpayers, something a merger might ease. But the voters, after seeing a good deal of local divisiveness on the question, rejected it, which means they’ll soon be faced with several difficult and expensive bond issues.

The Idaho Legislature’s actions on schools this year may have been a side factor in some of this. The legislature funded schools a little more amply than in most recent years, and that could have affected some attitudes locally.

But the common thread, in so many places, of boat-rocking is hard to miss. A fair number of voters seems to have decided they’re not happy; what they haven’t yet concluded, evidently, is what to do about it.