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Posts published in December 2015

First take/collapsing middle

From the Pew Research Center, in a report released Wednesday:

After more than four decades of serving as the nation’s economic majority, the American middle class is now matched in number by those in the economic tiers above and below it. In early 2015, 120.8 million adults were in middle-income households, compared with 121.3 million in lower- and upper-income households combined, a demographic shift that could signal a tipping point, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

In at least one sense, the shift represents economic progress: While the share of U.S. adults living in both upper- and lower-income households rose alongside the declining share in the middle from 1971 to 2015, the share in the upper-income tier grew more.

Over the same period, however, the nation’s aggregate household income has substantially shifted from middle-income to upper-income households, driven by the growing size of the upper-income tier and more rapid gains in income at the top. Fully 49% of U.S. aggregate income went to upper-income households in 2014, up from 29% in 1970. The share accruing to middle-income households was 43% in 2014, down substantially from 62% in 1970.

And middle-income Americans have fallen further behind financially in the new century. In 2014, the median income of these households was 4% less than in 2000. Moreover, because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001 to 2013.

Meanwhile, the far edges of the income spectrum have shown the most growth. In 2015, 20% of American adults were in the lowest-income tier, up from 16% in 1971. On the opposite side, 9% are in the highest-income tier, more than double the 4% share in 1971. At the same time, the shares of adults in the lower-middle or upper-middle income tiers were nearly unchanged.

These findings emerge from a new Pew Research Center analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. In this study, which examines the changing size, demographic composition and economic fortunes of the American middle class, “middle-income” Americans are defined as adults whose annual household income is two-thirds to double the national median, about $42,000 to $126,000 annually in 2014 dollars for a household of three. Under this definition, the middle class made up 50% of the U.S. adult population in 2015, down from 61% in 1971.

Speaking softly

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She isn’t anywhere to be found on the 2015 list of the 100 most influential Idahoans compiled in book form by Randy Stapilus, publisher of Ridenbaugh Press. She was, however, on the 2014 list. She should be there somewhere between #74 Phil Reberger, Dirk Kempthorne’s former chief of staff, and #95 former Governor Len B. Jordan.

On November 24th in a scene right out of the old E. F. Hutton television ads
(You remember the tag line: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”) the audience of some 300 concerned citizens jammed into the gymnasium of the Grangeville Elementary school grew quiet.

While the weather outside was rainy and cold with the wind bringing in the taste of the onset of winter, inside the gym things were hot, emtions high and there was legitimate concern for the health and welfare of Idaho Senator James Risch and his staff. Thus, there was an unusual number of police officers and sheriff’s deputies present to ensure the safety of those speaking to th e issue of the day.

Could a proposed land exchange possibly generate so much angst? In a word, yes. Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, was holding an informational discussion among three pre-selected groups to be followed by a public hearing on legislating a proposed 30,000 acre land exchange in the Upper Lochsa River basin between the Forest Service and Western Pacific Timber Company.

Most of those there were opposed to the exchange, so much so that even the well-known local environmentalists, normally the objects of ridicule and scorn in the timber dependent community, were cheered when they spoke in oppostion.

Everybody, though, wanted to hear what the lady with gravitas and a command presence was going to say. Her name is Sandra Mitchell, and without question she is one of the most influential professional public affairs consultants in Idaho. She is the long-time executive director of the Idaho Recreation Council and the Idaho Snowmobile Association. She represents the thousands of Idahoans who enjoy the great out-of-doors, especially the public lands, utilizing atv’s, dirt bikes, snowmobiles and other mechanized vehicles.

Her influence is derived not just because she and her organizations are largely bankrolled by Joe Scott, the heir of Joe Albertson, but also because of her skills and demonstrated abilities. For example, it is widely believed she convinced Senator Risch to back away from his earlier commitment to support Second District Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder/White Clouds wilderness proposal. When the smoke cleared a couple years later almost all the areas and trails coveted by snowmobilers and atv riders were still open to their use.

Mitchell, on her part, made no claims but the results spoke for themselves. She also is a devout Republican having cut her teeth working for the 1976 re-election to Congress of Caldwell apple grower Steve Symms and then running his Lewiston office for a number of years, starting in 1977.

No insider doubts her clout and on this particular Tuesday evening all present knew Senator Risch would be listening carefully. One of Mitchell’s assets is she does her homework, digs into the details and does not deal in cant, bromides or platitudes.

She stuck to the allotted two minutes, but went right to the heart of why despite the considerable efforts of Western Pacific’s attorney Andy Hawes, who she has great respect for, to educate folks about why this exchange is in the public interest (and the Forest Service does support it) the company was still coming up short.

The core issue is a lack of trust in Western Pacific to keep its word and in the Forest Service to keep its promises. She cited a long history of broken promises which undeniably had occurred.

She did, however, lay out a path forward for the company and proponents of the exchange, which, if followed, could lead to a change of heart on the part of the folks she represents. She identified eight areas ranging from dissatisfaction with the Forest Service’s process for chosing which lands in Idaho county would be in the exchange, to confusion over how easements would work, to loss of access, to the sale of lands to other private interests after being logged, to impacts on wildlife, to maintenance of roads and trails.

Hawes believes the company can address all these concerns to Mitchell’s satisfaction and that the exchange can still win Senator Risch’s support because folks like Mitchell will reward the company for demonstrating its ability to listen. Mitchell, for her part, will wait and see. She is a living embodiment of the speak softly but carry a big stick school of politics. She does both with skill and charm.

First take/leaves

Yesterday while walking through my neighborhood in heavy rain, I saw one of the dumbest things I have ever seen: A man using a leaf blower to try to move around leaves in the street over to the yard. Leaves that were thoroughly wet and had been rained on for hours, many of them in puddles.

I had to stop and stare. But not in disbelief. On the list of really dumb everyday activities I have witnesses, use of leaf blowers holds many honored spots.

I'd concede some limited uses where leaf blowers can make sense, mainly in places not easily accessible otherwise, blowing leaves and other material out of hard-to-get-to places. But most of the use I have seen of them involves chasing leaves around, and around, and around, places like streets and parking lots. They make racket that can be heard from blocks away; when I hear them in downtowns, the sound can reverberate all over the place. They (at least most, though not all) pollute.

And they weigh a lot more than an inexpensive rake, which mostly can be used far more efficiently and disrupt the lives of no one else in the area. - rs

Independent Democrat strategy

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When Sen. Chip Shields (SD22-Portland) announced he wasn’t running for re-election and Rep. Lou Frederick (HD43-Portland) announced his intent to run for that seat, Frederick’s seat became in play. In a city with may more ambitious Democrats than available positions we may expect several candidates in the May primary.

HD43 is 61% Democratic and 5% Republican so commonplace for the winner of the Democratic primary to start ordering furniture to their Legislative office in Salem. And typically in these deep blue PDX districts, the Democratic nominee even wins the GOP nomination with a handful of write ins. So all the non Democratic voters end up with basically no viable choices in November.

So far two candidates have announced for the Democratic HD43 nomination

Tawna Sanchez, is the Family Services Director at the Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA Family Center). And Roberta Phillip-Robbins, a youth and gang violence prevention specialist for Multnomah County.

Both seem highly qualified and capable. Judging only from their websites Ms. Phillio-Robins has garnered much of her support from the Democratic party stalwarts. A check of her ORESTAR finanical reports confirms that. On Ms. Sanchez’s endorsement page, she lists community activists, parents, educators and small business owners. Ms. Sanchez hasn’t filed any financial reports with ORESTAR yet.

A few other office seekers may jump into this race, but these two candidates seem likely to be at the top given their early start, qualifications and endorsements.

If we had a top two system, these two fine candidates would likely be on the November ballot and HD43 voters would get to choose between them. But we don’t, so one of these two candidates will likely be the Democratic nominee and presumptive new State Representative. That means that just 61% of HD43 voters will be able to vote for their next State representative.

Unless that is, one of these two candidates likes their chances better among 100% of the electorate in November. In which case, they could withdraw their candidacy for the Democratic nomination just prior to the deadline, then run as a write in candidate for the Independent Party nomination. (Because of Oregon’s “sore loser law” a candidate can’t run for and lose the nomination for their own party and then later get the nomination of another party).

My guess is that Ms. Phillips-Robbins wouldn’t consider such a strategy since she seems more invested in the Democratic Party and leadership would definitely frown on such a strategy. But a better case could be made to Ms. Sanchez that come March 2016, if her chances for the Democratic nomination seemed slim, running as an Independent could be the best path to a November victory. Particularly since the IPO has opened up it’s primary and non affiliated voters will be allowed to vote on an IPO ballot.

And, if she ran as a write in candidate, there would be no need for her to change her own voter registration. She could remain a registered Democrat, and if she won, she could caucus with the Democratic Party in Salem.

Utilizing the May primary ballot access won by the IPO and now open to all IPO and NAV voters could be a viable path for non career progressives to challenge Democratic party insiders in Portland area districts. It is not an option for those who seek a political career are are tied to the Democratic Party apparatus. But for Democrats who genuinely seek to be citizen legislators, it is a path that is legal, logical, and smart.

And wouldn’t democracy be better served if 100% of the voters were able to choose between these two qualified candidates in November and whoever is elected is beholden to all the voters of HD43 and not just active Democrats?

First take/about war

President Obama's speech Sunday night drew brickbats from the expected quarters (especially the Republican presidential candidates), but what it did not draw was this: An alternative strategy. Most of Obama's critics in this area don't have one.

Obama argued forcefully for the approach he has been pursuing: Air strikes, cooperation with other governments, special forces on the ground and so on. He argued against any proposal to send a mass of American troops on the ground (something only Lindsey Graham has been pushing), because that would provide the gasoline for the bonfire Daesh (I call them that because they hate the term) do badly wants. Anything that can be played as the big bad West crunching down on the Islamic world, or on Muslims, is catnip for them.

And I think he's right. And that's apart from the fact that the United States has wasted far too many lives and too much treasure in the Middle Eastern sinkhole for a generation now. And if ground troops were to be engaged, we'd be drawn into another big war, one damn near without end.

Read this piece, which centered on a professor of military science named Elliot Cohen, who has called for a more aggressive posture in the Middle East but is also sufficiently well versed to understand what would mean: "his war will probably go on for the rest of my life, and well into my children’s.”

Article writer Andrew Bacevich continued, that "would require at least a five-fold increase in the current size of the US Army — and not as an emergency measure but a permanent one." The draft probably would have to be reinstated. The cost would be immense: "ratcheting up military spending would undoubtedly require either substantial tax increases or significant cuts in non-military spending, including big-ticket programs like Medicare and social security — precisely those, that is, which members of the middle class hold most dear." In return, we get this: "the more deeply we insert our soldiers into the Greater Middle East the more concerted the resistance they face; that the more militants we kill the more we seem to create; that the inevitable, if unintended, killing of innocents only serves to strengthen the hand of the extremists."

Bacevitch called that kind of outright war "an invitation to collective suicide."

Or. We could ratchet down and back ourselves out of the Middle Eastern snakepit. And the argument against doing that, as terms of the well-being of this country and our people, would be what exactly? - rs

Ignoring the cancer

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“BREAKING: In __________, a tragic situation leaving ______ dead and, with no known motive and few details, still confirms our opinion about ____________.“ (Ron Fournier in the National Journal this morning, the day after San Bernardino.)

Fournier is being sarcastic, of course. Maybe. Or, maybe he’s just trying to make it easier for the media to report on the latest carnage by not upsetting anybody. Just fill in the blanks. Maybe sarcasm best describes the callousness of a nation refusing to act.

Well, I’m damned upset! If I hear one more political son-of-a-bitch spout the words “thoughts and prayers” after mass murder in this nation, I’m prepared get the 12- gauge out of the closet. Talk, talk, talk while innocent Americans die, die, die!

The President has warned us of the dangers of starting to take such events as commonplace because there have been so many of them. And, because there has been absolutely no commitment on the part of our society to take a single step to stop this maniacal savagery. None!

It would be easy - and wrong - to lay all blame for this national cowardice at the feet of a Congress terrified to act because of an outsized concern for personal future employment at the public trough. A lot of it correctly goes there. Just not all of it. What’s happening in your city hall, the courthouse, your statehouse? Anyone in your neighborhood who can write legislation or an ordinance or put new laws on the books in any form working feverishly to get it done? Didn’t think so.

Oh, we give it lots of lip service. We tell each other how sick and awful this unchallenged attack is. We grieve and wring our collective hands about another shooting “somewhere else.” We do it each time it happens. But what’s being done to stop it?

We’ve become cleverly artistic designing barricades out front of many buildings. We’ve gotten better disguising video cameras so they’re not intruding so we can continue with our false sense of both security and privacy. We’ve come to expect armed guards, body scanners, barefoot strolls around airports and looking at ourselves on monitors in banks, government buildings and even some theaters. We’re coping really well while armed murderers learn to work their way around our latest “barricades.” (More sarcasm there.)

As a society, we keep coming up with all sorts of mental nostrums to deal with the aftermath of these multiple, unprovoked killings. But we’ve not done a damned thing to remove the underlying cancer eating the guts of our collective security. Getting guns and other weapons of destruction out of the hands of the sick and deranged. Or anyone else who violently attacks our society. Not one damned thing. We’re treating symptoms and cleaning up after each new slaughter but ignoring the obvious steps demanded to end the killing.

Outside of more cops in our schools and insane talk of arming teachers, what’s been done since Newtown to protect our kids and grandkids? Has putting armed guards inside and outside Planned Parenthood clinics ended the murders of innocents? Is there a single college campus safer now than 10 years ago because enlightened leaders have done enlightened things? With thousands of cameras and mental detectors hidden in stores, are we less likely to see someone blasting away as shoppers dive for cover? Have we ended sniper attacks on our highways? How about theaters? Churches?

The only possible answers to all those queries is a shouted national “NO!” We’ve done nothing. And, if we keep treating the NRA as some sort of above-reproach protector of the bastardized Second Amendment, we’ll continue doing nothing. Despite the continuing slaughter of unsuspecting innocents who happen to be in the “wrong place” at the “wrong time.”

As a society, we’re bombarded by the NRA and gun fanatics - who may or may not be members - that “Obama is after your guns.” Membership campaigns are based on this B.S.. And, despite absolutely no proof, they succeed. And we let ‘em!

Speaking of that Second Amendment garbage about gun ownership being guaranteed because of the Constitution, retired SCOTUS Justice John Paul Stevens has an answer for that. Insert five words - just five - in that paragraph. His wording would read “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms - WHEN SERVING IN THE MILITIA - shall not be infringed.” Seems to me that would put some common sense back into the original words written by the authors a couple of hundred years ago.

Republican presidential candidates are a national embarrassment (again) as they pander for votes after another mass murder. Carly Fiorina said “liberals are wrong” to blame those phony abortion videos for what happened in Colorado Springs. She says that after (a) the makers of the trash admitted the falsity of their work and (b) the shooter told police there would be “no more baby parts” harvested there. With any luck at all, the wicked witch of H-P will melt away when cold water is poured on her latest fraudulent presidential ambitions .

We’re facing many serious national problems. But, before we can begin solving them, we MUST first secure the safety of citizens insofar as government can do that. It may mean replacing a significant number of politicians with folks who have the determination and guts to end this weaponry nightmare - to put the NRA Hydra back in its box - to shout “NO” to interests trying to keep unfettered access to guns the “law of the land.”

The Second Amendment also talks of the necessity of “the security of a free state.” We’re long overdue in quoting those words long and loud! What the Hell is it going to take? And when the Hell is it going to start?

First take/supremacists

Turn over a rock around certain places in the Northwest and you'll see - white supremacists, usually scurrying away when the spotlight shines in their direction. But Sunday night in Seattle, that changed.

Back in and around the 80s, supremacists were highly visible and in the headlines. That was especially true with the Aryan Nations group in the Idaho Panhandle, which held cross burning events and occasional parades in downtown Coeur d'Alene. There were high profile criminal events around the region too. But we haven't heard so much of that in recent years. It's not that the supremacists aren't around, it's just that they've been keeping relatively quiet.

That changed in a big way on Sunday night. In Seattle's Capitol Hill area (generally a liberal redoubt), a crowd of (masked) supremacists took to the streets. Where they went, the sound of breaking glass was heard; in the area, a TV news van was trashed.

A counter-parade of anti-supremacists appeared soon after.

David Neiwert, a Seattle resident who has tracked supremacist activities for years, remarked, "Normally they’ve kind of hidden from view, but it’s becoming pretty obvious that white supremacists are feeling a lot bolder. After all they have a presidential candidate, obviously. I think they are feeling a lot more emboldened these days.”

So it would seem. The extremes are pushing ever outward, and where white supremacists were not so long ago beyond the political pale, they're now getting closer and closer to one wing of the political spectrum." - rs

A sales tax gamble

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When the Idaho Legislature convenes next month, it will have to place its bets on the sales tax, just as the League of Women Voters already has.

The reason is a proposed initiative just released by the Idaho League of Women Voters “reducing the sales tax rate and broadening the sales tax base.” It does that most basically, by reducing the overall rate from six percent to five, and by extending the coverage of the tax to include not just many goods but also many services, which generally have been exempt.

The whole matter of sales tax exemptions has been a heavily chewed-over bone throughout the tax’s half-century in Idaho. When passed amid high controversy in 1965, the sales tax started (originally at three percent) with few exemptions, though it didn’t reach to include services. Over the 50 or so legislative sessions since, few have adjourned without some adjustment to the tax, generally by way of exempting someone or something. Lobbyists have kept busy in Boise on that front for decades.

And just as busy blocking the periodic attempts (they seem to average about one a decade) to scale back some of the exemptions, which from time to time have been the subject of study committees, sometimes legislative. Many legislators over the years have argued that the exemptions are just too many, that almost everyone who comes before the legislature asking to be exempted gets their way. Not everyone has, but the list of happy exemptees is long.

There are good reasons for some exemptions, especially in cases where the same product, because it’s passed along through a supply and delivery chain, might be taxed multiple times. (That is why retailers do not pay a sales tax when they buy from suppliers, though they collect it upon sale to consumers.) There are other rational arguments as well, though you can move quickly into the murky waters of rationalization.

In addition to the risk of advantaging the exempted over the payers in places where they may be in competition, there’s the simple money equation: Exempt a transaction from sales tax and you’re bringing in less money. The League’s proposal, driven by decades of legislative refusal to meaningfully revisit the exemption roster, makes the point. It is able to reduce the tax by one cent on the dollar and still raise an estimated $424 million more than at present, by removing a number of exemptions and covering many services.

That is not all the 20-page initiative does; it is a highly complex piece of tax legislating, and would be one of the more complex initiatives put on the Idaho ballot in many years. If it goes to ballot, a careful parsing will be called for.

If the signatures for it can be obtained – and the guess here is that a competent effort will get them – will it be passed by voters? It can after all be presented as a tax reduction measure (even if it does wind up generating more tax revenue). It might even be presented as property tax relief, if some of the money were used to replace local property tax levies for schools. It would be bitterly opposed, but the chances of passage are not bad.

So, we get to betting time, as the legislature convenes while the initiative petition signature effort begins. The best way the legislature could cut the initiative off at the pass would be to approve substantial sales tax exemption revisions this session. The point of an initiative is to do what a legislature would not; if the legislature shows it can act, the initiative may become moot. If they essentially ignore the initiative, legislators may give it an extra boost.

The League is betting too, on passage: If signatures cannot be gotten, or if the initiative fails at the polls, exemption changes may be dead for another decade, or two.

Some high stakes are emerging here.

A Hells Canyon story

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A reminiscence from Brock Evans, a long-time leader in the Sierra Club and one of the original advocates for preservation of the Hells Canyon area. Now retired and living in Washington, D.C. he is a frequent contributor to magazines on environmental issues and has authored several books on environmental advocacy.

Such a strange-sounding, mysterious place: a whisper of an echo of something ancient and far-off, forbidding even in its very name.

Springtime 1967.1 had just left my law practice in Seattle take on a new position as Northwest Representative of the Sierra Club—the only paid, full-time conservationist position (we weren't called environmentalists until after Earth Day, 1970) north of San Francisco. My "territory," as it turned out (my boss, David Brower, had a rather loose management style!) was everything on the Pacific Coast from the North Pole to California, plus Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Alberta, and the Yukon Territory-Northwest North America.

I had actually heard of Hells Canyon for the first time the year before. By a strange turn of fate, the law firm I worked for had as its major client, the Washington Public Power Supply System-­one of two premier dambuilding entities in the Northwest—and mortal rivals of the other dambuilders: the private power companies, equal in numbers and political power. The struggles between these two over who got to plug up the great northwest rivers seem grotesque to us today, but those were the realities of that not-so distant past—when the words "wild river" were subjects of scorn and derision from all the Northwest powers-that-be. It was in the struggle between these two dam-building titans that I was first introduced to Hells Canyon as a place.

"Brock, we just got our appeal to the Supreme Court approved [challenging a license recently granted by the Federal Power Commission (precursor to the the present FERC) to PNPC, a combine of private power companies, to build a big dam in Hells Canyon, flooding out the last 120 miles of its inner gorge]. We'd like you to work on the brief for us," said one of the firm's senior partners.

A brief before the Supreme Court—every young lawyer's dream! But I hated dams—the whole idea of dams—even then, and I knew I just could not do it. I begged off, wanting no part of what I considered a dirty business.

The wheel of fate turned again. A year later in my new position, I attended my first meeting of the Executive Committee of the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Sierra Club, at a member's home on Puget Sound. Not only was the Club much smaller in those days—about 40,000 members nationwide—but its tiny membership in the Northwest was almost exclusively located in the "westside" Seattle-Portland-Eugene axis. Although knowledgeable and determined on issues there—wilderness, parks, and forests—few knew much about the vast deserts, rivers, wild mountains and forests of the Northwest interior, much less had ever visited there.

On that bright spring morning, from "Darkest Idaho," across the rivers and the deserts and the mountains, came a visitor—one Floyd Harvey, of Lewiston. Floyd, longtime boatman and guide in the Canyon, loved the great river, knew every bend and cove and cliff. His quiet earnestness, eloquence, and passion moved us all as he told us of the loss of a great living river if the dam was built, and pleaded with us to try to save it.

"OK Brock—take a look and see what we can do," said my ExCom.

Yeah, sure, I thought. I hate this river-killing dam, the whole idea of it— but what could be done at this late date? The license had been already granted, and the only issue before the Supreme Court was now only about who got to do the terrible deed-not whether. I was morose and unhappy about it for weeks, and could come up with no solution to the problem, given our very few resources in those distant times.

But hope came—and from a totally-unexpected place: the Supreme Court itself (this was long before there was any such thing as "environmental law"). That June a small headline in the Lewiston Morning Tribune screamed out at me: "Hells Canyon Case Sent Back by Court for More Hearings."

What's this?

What happened, it turned out was a now-famous opinion of the great Justice, William O. Douglas—one which had nothing to do with any of the legal arguments presented by those who argued the case. But Supreme Court Justices don't have to worry about such niceties; it is they who decide what the law is. Justice Douglas' opinion (known in Latin legalese as an opinion obiter dictum—meaning outside the parameters of the case itself) was a landmark in American environmental history. And for me and our tiny band who wanted to save the Canyon—it represented Hope, a fighting chance—if we could seize it.

Douglas said that "the Court will not now make a decision on who gets to build this dam. The first question that must be answered is whether there should be any dam at all. Therefore, we remand this case back to the FPC for a determination on this one point: should there be a dam or not." The very words themselves amounted to a stunning legal precedent; never before had the Court—any court-ever even questioned the 'common wisdom' of dambuilding.

Aha, I thought: "I'm a lawyer. I know what remand means! It means a whole new hearing, new witnesses-a new trial. YesP'At least that's what it ought to be. (I did not know then that the FPC "Trial Judge" was not only furious about this decision, but that he was irrevocably pro-dam, determined to issue a new license no matter what. But that's a story for later.)

So now, what to do? We weren't parties to the previous proceeding; would there be any chance that they would let the upstart Sierra Club into it now?

Remember, no such thing then as "environmental law." NEPA and the Clean Air Act were a full three years away; the Clean Water Act, five, the Endangered Species Act not even a gleam. There was nothing out there-no guidance, no precedents, no law review articles—nothing. Not even the word 'environment.'

I wrote a letter to the Supreme Court. It read something like, "hey, you never heard of me before, but I just read this opinion, see, and I have a question: if the case has been remanded for a new trial, does that mean that any new parties can intervene [get involved]?" I can only imagine the bemused contempt at such temerity from the provinces on the part of the Court official who saw the letter!

But I did get a brief response, about a month later: "well yeah sonny, I guess you can [intervene] if you want to ..."

OK, here we go, I thought to myself- "I'm a lawyer, I know how to do these things..." I did what I had always done in my (few) years of law practice — marched right down to the King County (Seattle) Courthouse, went up to the Clerk's desk and said: "get me the Form Book for Petitions for Intervention before the Federal Power Commission, please..."

Eyebrows raised. "Sonny, what on earth are you talking about?" It was about then that I began to realize: whatever was to be done would have to be created, in its entirety — by me. There was no body of environmental law, no cases, no procedure — no nuthin'. This was to be, in lawyerspeak, a case entirely de novo (brand new).

OK. I went back to my office, read all the materials I could find about the Canyon and its values, read some of the literature about rivers, and dictated out a Petition of my own, with a whole lot of whereases and a lot of reasons why the Sierra Club — which to my knowledge had ever been involved in any sort of legal proceeding before — was qualified to present the evidence about why the Canyon was more valuable to the public as a free-flowing river.

Then another consideration started to dawn: this is going to be more than just a legal proceeding. Given the overwhelming pro-dam climate of the times, we are certain to be fiercely attacked by politicians and media. We must demonstrate that we have local support, too. Which means I've got to "find" more plaintiffs. (I also had to explain-in those innocent days—just exactly what a "plaintiff was!)

That took some doing. It was early August, and the deadline for filing the Petition was the 31st. Hurry, hurry, much to do. I tracked down the President of the Sierra Club, and the President of the Federation of Western Outdoor Clubs-which represented many local northwest groups. After obtaining their permission (how much easier then than the cumbersome processes of today), I searched Idaho for a likely "true local" candidate.

I found it in the Idaho Alpine Club — a FWOC member group, based in Idaho Falls. It turned out that I had, inadvertently, also stumbled onto some of the finest ecowarriors in the whole state: Jerry Jayne, Russ Brown, Boyd Norton, Pete Renault, and Jim Campbell.

They agreed to sign on IAC as a party—and then went on, a few months later, to form the organization that became the passionate heart and soul of our whole campaign thenceforth: the Hells Canyon Preservation Council itself.

Now time was very short. The deadline pressed in, and many other issues were simultaneously overwhelming my one-person operation. No such thing as desktop publishing in 1967! This was the age of typewriters and rotary phones, mimeograph machines and carbon paper. Everything was cumbersome, all logistics painfully slow. The Petition somehow did get finished, the required thirty duplicate copies painfully put together. At 11:40PM on the evening of August 31, 1967, I deposited them all, duly stamped and dated, at the Post Office desk at Sea Tac Airport, for the next flight to Washington, FPC headquarters.

It was done. Now, at least we had a chance to fight for the Canyon we loved.

PS: Of course this was only the beginning of a new chapter in the story—also a beautiful and terrible one, as they all are: a tale of joys and despairs, violent twists and turns of fortune, as the case then made its way through a three year new trial, and then five more years in the halls of Congress. The "other side,” enraged at our intervention, did its best to get us and our evidence out of the case, touting the Snake as "The River that Wants to Work. " We successfully escalated the whole cause into a major national issue. But all that is a story for another time, perhaps. (photo/by X-Weinzar)

First take/WAholiday

So, you live in or near Washington state and you're looking at going somewhere in the region for a holiday. The Seattle Times is polling on three popular choices: Victorian Port Townsend, Bavarian Leavenworth, or Wild West Winthrop?

All three have real appeal. And I have to think that all three are well-known mostly just in the region (though Leavenworth partisans may argue that). I've been in all three, and punching the button didn't make for an easy choice.

Winthrop, in north-central Washington, is surely the least known of the three. Its theme, as noted, is the Wild West, and it's started some nifty work in setting up for it. Its location in the Methow Valley is plenty eye-catching too. But it isn't quite yet developed to the point of matching the other two.

Leavenworth may be the best known, and its Bavarian sheen is spectacular. It's in an out of the way location - the better part of a three-hour drive from Seattle - but definitely worth seeing. And especially appealing in the winter.

It's a close call, but I'd choose Port Townsend, because there's more to see and do, and simply more variety in the immediate area. The Victorian surface to much of the city grew naturally out of the community's history, and just exploring the downtown is a delight.

The poll takers went with Port Townsend too, about half of them.

But probably, you can't go wrong with any of the three. Good choices all. - rs