Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in January 2016

First take/gun tax

Interesting Daily Beast article today on Seattle's new gun tax - a tax on gun and ammo sales, effective just about a week ago after it survived not long before a court challenge.

Many types of gun-related legislation on a local level runs into a buzz saw of legal problems, in Washington (and many other states) notably the state law (pushed through by the NRA) that local governments cannot regulate guns in any way. Taxes are a different matter, not subject to that kind of rule.

The taxes are not so large as to be intended to curtail gun or ammo purchases. They amount to $25 on each gun sold, two cents per round of .22 caliber ammo, five cents per round for other rounds.

They would provide money for research on gun violence, something Seattle has done on its own hook in the past but hasn't been followed up.

In some ways this isn't a huge deal. But as part of a series of national indicators that policy on guns actually may be amenable to some significant change, maybe it is. - rs (photo/Michael Saechang)

Someone’s going to die

raineylogo1

There’s a time bomb ticking in our western states that’s going to blow one of these first days. And Americans are going to die. Whether it’ll be a gun-happy citizen out to prove some sort of perverted loyalty to the old Constitution, or a lawman who’s finally pushed into a corner, depends on who shoots first. And who shoots last.

The latest Oregon standoff is near our eastern border - about 30 miles outside of Burns in Harney county - one of the largest such jurisdictions in the nation at some 10,000 acres but only about 7,500 people. From beautiful to desolate, it’s remote by all definitions. Can be hot like the fires of Hell in the summer - frozen as the arctic in the winter. Conservative by the traditional definition of that word - not by the standard use today which too often equates to craziness.

Some 200 people have taken control of a federal BLM site 30 miles out of town. Several brick buildings and a few trees. Men, women and children in the compound. Along with enough guns and bullets to take over a small country. The occupants - some with past criminal convictions - have vowed to stay “40 years” or more. While claiming peaceful intentions, they say they’ll shoot if fired upon.

The pretext for the outlaw’s illegal activity was to come to Oregon to defend two ranchers they believed were being persecuted by the court system. Under appropriate law - and as a result of a legal conviction for their crime - the father and son were not being “persecuted” and have peacefully turned themselves in to serve their sentences. So, it would seem the armed interlopers should go home. Right? Not hardly.

Even the Harney County sheriff now says that whole “protect the innocent” claim was B.S. and the intent of the occupiers is - and has been from the start - to confront government. They’re using social media to loudly urge like-minded government haters to come to Oregon, join the movement and make the BLM compound their rallying point for a national offensive to attack government at all levels.

Two of the loudest voices in the compound are those of two sons of Nevada criminal Clive Bundy. Bundy was the focus of an armed confrontation two years ago in which feds backed down even though he’d been convicted of not paying over $1 million he owed the BLM for past grazing on federal lands. Our lands. Our money. Yours and mine.

Both Bundy boys have served time on convictions for this and that. They are what they are - small time criminals with experience in our judicial system. When the NY Times did a well-researched story on the first Bundy confrontation, it found many gun toters on-site had previous criminal and mental problems. Some were actively wanted by the law. It can reasonably be assumed the same situation exists in Harney County - likely with some of the same offenders.

This is at least the third such confrontation forced by armed outsiders in Oregon in the last year. The other two ended with the law backing down and occupiers doing high 5's for “whupping those damned feds again.” In my opinion, the Harney county situation must not end the same way. These people must be stopped. There. Now.

While I don’t want to see anyone killed in or outside the compound, there are ways to bring this illegal occupation to a head - and to an end. First, use existing technology to block cell phone use. No communications in or out not controlled by law enforcement. Isolate those bastards in every possible way. Second, cut electricity. All of it. Temperatures there this week will be about 30 degrees during the day and low 20's and teens at night. Third, cut the water. All of it. Nothing like backed-up toilets and no bathing for making very close quarters uninhabitable.

Shortly, based on my own survival training, I believe three things will happen. First, parents will want to get their children out. Let ‘em out. Second, the occupiers will start arguing among themselves. Not all are hardcore or there because this is the most important thing in their lives. Maybe for the Bundy boys, but not all. They’ll want out. Let ‘em out. Arrest ‘em. Third, just sit tight with guns holstered. Outlast ‘em. They’ll either start a fight the law can win or they’ll give up. I’d bet on surrender.

There should be no concessions. None. Haul their criminal butts off to the Harney County jail. Try each one on whatever charges are appropriate. Jail time for those convicted. Which should mean all.

A basic precept of our national freedoms is that we are “a nation of laws.” While administration of those laws should be done with compassion and tempered by situations at hand, we cannot - must not - allow roaming bands of armed citizens to go unchallenged when they decide to ignore our laws. Laws all of us are expected to obey. Some large American cities are being faced with the same situation. Large groups - armed or not - are flaunting the legal process we must maintain.

Citizens of Harney County have not flocked to support these criminals. News reports and social media are filled with demands that law enforcement at all levels end this occupation and punish all those involved. Get ‘em out!

One more thing. To the media. All media. The people illegally inside that federal compound are not militia. Not in thought, word or deed. The occupiers may call themselves that. But the rest of us - starting with the media - must not. They are defending nothing. They are offending many.

These are armed criminals whose activities border on insurgency. We have laws aplenty to deal with insurgency. If action isn’t taken to stop these folks, they’ll keep coming back again and again. This is the largest collection of them law enforcement has encountered. If they aren’t met with the full force of the law this time, the next “incident” will be larger and more dangerous. And maybe not in such a remote location where they can be confronted as easily.

Eventually, someone will pull a trigger. Someone will die. If this mess in Burns can be ended peacefully, I’m all for it. But if it takes the full efforts of law enforcement at every level to do it with gunfire, now is the time. And 30 miles out of Burns, Oregon is the place.

First take/Hammonds

While the sit-in crew at the Malheur refuge near Burns has been accomplishing little but generating a rich vein of humor, the underlying case of the Hammonds is another matter, and shouldn't be forgotten in the barely-associated video-friendly events of Harney County.

Scan back through the history of the Hammonds and the Bureau of Land Management, with which they have dealt for decades as land users (for ranching and related purposes), and mostly you see a fairly ordinary run of debates and disputes. They are far from the only people with disagreements over the management of BLM lands and private use of them, and differed mainly in their setting of fires on those lands - to block invasive plant species say the Hammonds, or to cover up for deer poaching say the feds.

Two other things make this case unusual and a cause for wider concern.

One is the use of mandatory minimum sentences, which put a five-year floor on prison time for the Hammonds. The Oregon federal judge who presided over the case and then sentenced them ordered less time, saying five years "shocked the conscience" for the offenses involved; the 9th Circuit didn't particularly argue with that, but said the law is the law and five years is the minimum. This is a good case example of why mandatory minimums are bad policy.

The second - which was what led to the first - is the use of harsh terrorism laws in the Hammonds' case. Those laws, many not well thought through and passed in a panic after 9-11, have been used since in many cases far from their original intent, and whatever the level of the Hammonds' guilt in fire-setting, they certainly are no terrorists.

These cases ought to a basis for revisiting some of these laws. And the Oregonian probably is right too in calling on President Obama to reduce the Hammonds' sentences to something more in line with what they actually did. - rs

A national non-story

petersonlogo1

The New Year begins with the national media taking a non-story and blowing it up into front page stuff in the New York Times and the lead story of CNN. The story concerns a band of armed know-nothings from Nevada who have taken over the visitors center at Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

I have spent a lot of time in that area over the years. We visit there each spring and each fall relishing an area generally without cell phone service and more cattle than people. As a result, I have gotten to know a number of area ranchers and county officials quite well. I also know the area’s history. And, when you put that all together, it is little wonder that Harney County’s local officials and ranchers want nothing to do with these interlopers.

The catalyst for this effort is the sentencing of two local ranchers on a charge of arson for setting range fires on federal land. Just as people in Idaho’s Owyhee desert and Clearwater Valley take the threat of fire very seriously after major fires this past summer, range fires are also a major threat in the high desert area of Harney County. The Miller Homestead fire in that area in 2012 burned 160,000 acres and forced the evacuation of the community of Frenchglen.

The Nevada group says that they are prepared to occupy the facility until federal land in the area is returned to state and local governments. That is the first hint that these folks did no homework before staging their takeover.

In 1876, Dr. Hugh Glenn, a successful California rancher, dispatched one of his employees, Pete French, with 1200 head of cattle to be trailed to Oregon in search of pasture land. French found it in southeastern Oregon. Forming a partnership called the French Glenn Company. Eventually the firm owned over 70,000 acres of land and 45,000 head of cattle. But, just as today there are protesters upset with the federal government, in 1897 there were homesteaders upset with Pete French and his control of so much land. On December 26, 1897, one of those upset homesteaders, Ed Oliver, pulled a gun on French and killed him.

The property was eventually purchased by Swift and Company. By 1935, they determined that it was unprofitable and sold 64,717 acres to the federal government for $675,000. This is now most of the land that makes up the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. The land which, although purchased by the federal government from private owners, the protesters think should be given to state and local governments.

There are a couple of other things the protesters seem to be oblivious to. The first is that even though the land is designated a federal refuge, it has continued to be managed as productive agricultural land. The series of canals and ditches originally developed by Pete French are still used to distribute water throughout the refuge where the huge expanses of natural hay that originally attracted French, continue to grow and are cut and bailed by local ranchers to feed their cattle during the winter.

There are also ranchers who have taken advantage of the flow of tourists that visit the refuge each year. The Jenkins family runs the Round Barn visitors center which has an expansive inventory of books, western wear and other consumer items. They also operate a commercial tour service.

The Thompson family owns and operates the historic Diamond Hotel in the center of the refuge. It is an important supplement to their ranching income and a major attraction for tourists visiting the refuge. And there are other ranching families who have also become part of the areas tourism economy.
But, perhaps most importantly, most residents of Harney County aren’t appreciative of outsiders coming in and trying to run their lives. That applies not only to external governmental forces, but also to out-of-area private citizens, whether they are well intentioned environmentalists or armed protestors occupying federal property.

I’ve spent some memorable evenings sitting with my friend Dan Nichols out at his ranch enjoying a finger or two of single malt Scotch. Nichols is a long-time Harney county commissioner and through him I have had the opportunity to obtain a fairly good understanding of the sensitivities of the ranchers in Harney County.

In the January 4 front page story in the New York Times, he was quoted as saying, “This county isn’t supportive of what’s being done here at all. Once again, it’s a bunch of those who live without the county telling us what we need to do, how we need to be doing it, and the repercussions if we don’t.”

My guess is that if the national media would pack up and go back to the east coast, this group of renegades would quickly dissipate and go back to doing more productive things. And they will. Just wait until they have spent part of a winter in the high desert country of Harney County, Oregon.

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

harrislogo1

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

stapiluslogo1

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?