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Posts published in January 2016

First take/YallQaeda

The indicators are running strong that the sit-it at the very remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge will not come to much.

One of the first real indicators of failure is the way the Bundy-aligned group has been mocked - the name Yall Quaeda has clearly entered the popular vocabulary. That wasn't the case with the protesters generally who showed up in Burns last weekend, paraded in the streets and held a rally. Those things were legal, and they involved interactive conversation with the locals (who generally seemed unimpressed).

But it is the case with the people occupying the wildlife center and begging for snacks. (Really thorough planning on the part of these guys.) Yes, you can see the cartoons being scrawled even as you read.

This particular group might not care for the thought, but they might have done well here to consider Saul Alinsky's rules for radicals, which may have been identified with the sixties left but are applicable to any radical group trying an outside-the-system action. People on the right can and have used them as well as people on the left.

How well do the Malheur bunch match up to these ideas?

“Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.”
“Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
“Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
“Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
“A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
“Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”
“The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
"The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition."
“If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.”
“The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

Every one of these rules might have afforded useful ideas for these protesters. Instead, one by one they suggest the ways of their near-term undoing. - rs (photo/Oregon Department of Transportation)

Not really exploded

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When people talk about Oregon’s “budget” they are generally talking about Oregon’s General fund Lottery fund budget. That’s the budget the State Legislature votes on and adopts every two years, and includes education, public safety and most human services expenses. (The General Budget is not to be confused with the all funds budget, which includes all the federal funds transfers, general budget, lottery budget, expenses from trust accounts, and dedicated fees and expenses. The Legislature has little control over the all funds budget.)

This is an analysis of Oregon General and lottery funds Budgets from 1999-01 biennium to the current 2015-17 biennium.

So is the Oregon General funds budget out of control? Are we throwing more and more money at education? The answers I think are probably not, and an emphatic no.

For this analysis, I chose 1999 as a starting point. For a couple reasons. First, it was after all the Measure 5 and 50 phased in when the state started picking up the majority of State education spending for all schools. If you start earlier, it would look like there was enormous growth in education spending, but that’s misleading. M5 and M 50 capped property taxes and education spending was largely transferred from local districts to the State. So taxpayers did see more State tax dollars going to education starting in the 1990’s but they also realized a reduction in local taxes because their property taxes were held down. Using pre 1999 budget data would therefore create and apples to oranges comparison unless I was to delve into all the local property tax relief taxpayers received. Ain’t gonna do that.

And, 1999 was also a good year for the economy. There was steady growth, low unemployment and the 2001-2003 downturn wasn’t contemplated. Similar in many ways to our recent economic long and steady growth.

The Budget hasn’t gone off the rails. In fact, through the 2013-15 budget it was been below the inflation and population adjusted average. (By the way, this is the TABOR formula that many conservatives argue we should adopt). The most recent 2015-17 budget is high historically, but when you compare with other post recovery budgets (1999 and 2007), not terribly so. And of course, many will argue that the budget should be accelerating at a higher than average rate to get education spending back up to where we need it to be.

I was rather surprised of two things. First, that all candidates talk about education but fail to prioritize it in their budget. Second, in spite of consistent complaints from some candidates about out of control spending and how we should quit throwing money at schools, K-12 and higher education have actually been the big losers in the budget battles over the past 16 years. Its public safety and human services that have been the big gainers. Both in inflation adjusted dollars, and as a percentage of the total Oregon State Budget.

I’m not arguing that we should cut human services. What I am arguing is that if there is out of control spending, it hasn’t been on schools. It has been on public safety and courts – and most probably a large part has been on incarceration costs – and on human services.

So the next time an incumbent claims that they are protecting school funding, or someone argues that we just keep throwing more and more money at schools, you can share this post with them.

First take/Outpost

The occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge near Burns, acting ostensibly in protest of the imprisonment of members of the area's Hammond family, are protesting as well in a more general sense the federal activity and management of many of the lands in the area.

A quick review of how the refuge center, which they're now occupying, came to be, might be in order.

The push for a wildlife refuge in the area began in earnest around 1918 after so-far unsuccessful attempts to rebuild key elements of a bird population that had been mostly killed off around the turn of the century. With the purchase of more than 60,000 acres of ranch land in 1935, the effort got more serious. But improvements and needed infrastructure came with the arrival of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which in the later 30s built not only that but also much of the other infrastructure in the remote area southeast of Bend.

From the refuge's history:

The three CCC camps on Malheur Refuge left behind an incredible legacy that remains today. Initial projects undertaken by the camps included fencing over 200 miles of the Refuge boundary; some of this fence is still in use today. Cattle guards were installed at all access points to the Refuge to prevent trespass by adjacent cattle. At refuge headquarters, work began on construction of four stone buildings (two residences, an office and a barn) to better manage the Refuge. The CCC also extended the telephone lines from the Narrows to refuge headquarters, and then on to the communities of Diamond and Frenchglen.

The telephone lines followed improved or new roads. Major portions of Highway 205 south of the Narrows were surveyed and constructed by enrollees from all three camps. This not only improved access to the camps and made transportation of materials more efficient, but enhanced the transportation network used by refuge neighbors. The enrollees also improved access to the community of Diamond as bridges were constructed across the Donner und Blitzen River. Along portions of the river channelized by the Eastern Oregon Land and Livestock Company in the early part of the century, enrollees used dozers to sculpt the dredge piles into a network of roads that would traverse the center of the valley. Over 35 miles of road would provide access to the center of the refuge for better management of the newly acquired lands. Seven bridges were constructed by the CCC along this newly created Center Patrol Road.

As work progressed over the next seven years the CCC enrollees would construct five concrete diversion dams on the Donner und Blitzen River. Several of these dams replaced existing smaller wood structures left over from the ranching days. All five dams improved diversion of irrigation water along hundreds of miles of new or revamped irrigation ditches. Major diversion ditches, including the Buena Vista Canal, the East and West Canals, Ram Ditch and the Stubblefield Canal, increased the amount of water that could be diverted over a greater distance in the Blitzen Valley. Much of this water was directed to new ponds (the Buena Vista Ponds, Wrights Pond, the Knox Ponds, and Boca Lake) that were crafted from the valley floor.

As transportation improved across the refuge, the CCC also made significant improvements elsewhere on the Refuge. Two large shop buildings and a residence were constructed at Buena Vista Station to facilitate management of the north end of the valley. At the south end of the valley major renovations were made to Pete French’s White House to improve living conditions for new Refuge employees. Existing ranch buildings at the P Ranch were modified for new Refuge uses. An addition was also added to back of the Frenchglen Hotel, which became part of the Refuge with the purchase of the Blitzen Valley.

Not a lot of "improvements" have been added to the area since.

The occupiers might reflect on that, too, as they wait through the winter days and nights at the refuge headquarters. - rs (photo/Malheur Wildlife Refuge)

Coming attractions

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2016 should be one heck of a national election year, if the evidence of 2015 is any indicator.

But what sort of year is it likely to be in Idaho?

Here, as we transition from one to the other, let’s pause to consider what sorts of subjects may be defining the four seasons ahead of us, in the Gem State.

Idaho’s Republican choice. Who will Idaho support out of the large field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president? Polls have offered various answers (Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz have at various points done well.) Idaho’s elected officials, unusually, aren’t united on the question. The primary is set for March 8, which could come at a pivotal period in the selection process. Idaho could become a serious stomping ground a couple of months from now.

Few Idaho choices. Things could change, but Idaho’s Republicans seem not to be gearing up for the kind of party-rending internal battle they had in 2014, when competing slates of candidates went to war over almost every significant office. How will Idaho’s many Republican insurgents react to that situation this year – and what sort of inspiration might they get from the presidential contest?

More fires? 2015 was a rough wildfire year for Idaho, though in truth many recent years have been. (Wildfires have been around the top of end-of-year news story lists for some time now.) This winter so far has been encouraging for keeping those fires down in 2016, somewhat at least. Will Idaho get a reprieve next year, and maybe use the opening for more extensive rehabilitation in places like the massive Soda Fire burnout? Or will 2016 be yet another hot spell?

JUMP and urban renewal. 2015 could be an important year for Idaho cities, at and near the legislature. Nearby, the opening of the massive JUMP (Jack’s Urban Meeting Place) center, which held an opening in December, will start to kick in, amid a batch of other downtown development projects. At the statehouse, meanwhile, legislators will be considering major overhauls – and maybe major limitations – in Idaho’s urban renewal laws, a situation that has city officials far from Boise highly concerned. City issues may be front and center this year.

Central wilderness. 2016 will be the year when the development of the Central Idaho wilderness really hits the road too. The idea of wilderness may be of an area that people don’t change, but in fact they do and so do their uses over time. A lot of how the wilderness in Idaho’s center develops will become more settled in this coming year.

Medicaid expansion. The expansion of Medicaid that was contemplated in the Affordable Care Act started mostly with some blue states, but has been expanding apace to include many of the reds as well. In Idaho, that would mean bringing coverage to about 78,000 people.

Boise minister Jon Brown noted in a newspaper guest opinion, “In a nutshell, we are leaving $178 million of federal money on the table, and pay out state money for inadequate health care for the distressed. And who pays for this? You and me in poorly directed tax money, and part of our federal taxes. But the low-income, poorly educated, and especially the 6,700 white Idaho citizens, pay with their lives.” The legislature has been resistant so far; whether they hold out again in 2016 may be one of the big fights of the session.

One more quick note. A year ago I highlighted a half-dozen topics as prospective important stories for 2015. Most of them were – Boulder-White Clouds, health care consolidation, developments in Boise’s downtown core, changes in education policy and battles over storage of nuclear waste. (The sixth I highlighted as “new adjudications,” which weren’t a big story, though water and water rights certainly were.)

Note here how many of those stories will still bleed into 2016. How many of those 2016 stories will carry over into the year after that?