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Posts published in November 2017

Will the small town survive?

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I happen to live in a small town, population about 2,000; one which is not gentrifying - in the way a Ketchum or a Driggs has - but is prospering.

That puts it in a minority position.

A century ago, about three out of five Americans lived in rural places; now about one of five does. Agriculture that provided work for about half of Americans back then now employs around one in fifty. Back then, basic service businesses from drug stores and hardware shops to movie theaters were out of reach if they were 10 miles away; now they’re a short or moderate drive at two or three times that distance. And economies of scale allow for lower prices and faster and more specialized service in larger rather than smaller population centers.

The state Department of Labor population report from May found that 30 of Idaho’s 200 cities lost population in the last decade and 20 more were unchanged. These communities are relatively small and rural.

Anyone who’s been around a small town in Idaho probably can recall when businesses like those I just described, and a bunch of others, were right there on Main Street. Now, in many small towns, not a lot is left beyond a small grocery, a service station and a few other service businesses.

No one really wants it that way. But is there an alternative?

A great article just out from High Country News (at http://www.hcn.org/articles/state-of-change-why-save-the-small-town) tackles that question, focusing on the rural town of Questa, New Mexico, where nearly all the mining jobs that once sustained the town are gone, and nothing seems to be moving in to replace them. The question becoming: What’s next for Questa, a future as a ghost town … or something else?

The article quoted Bruce Weber, director of the Rural Studies Program at Oregon State University, as saying, “Some of the smaller towns will disappear, because they aren’t needed anymore. Cities will continue to grow faster than rural places because there are economic advantages to being in places that are densely populated.”

But the situation is not hopeless.

The HCN article also points out, for example, “Simply put, the argument goes like this: This country will always need food and energy. As long as rural places supply the land where food grows and energy is produced, communities will need to exist to support the people working there. In other words, even if some agricultural or energy communities shrink, they can’t all go away.”

There’s that, but other options may be available too. Those enhanced communications and transportation capabilities that pulled economic life blood out of many small towns could replenish them. Affordable housing is another small-town advantage; cities like Boise increasingly are reporting a serious lack of housing for lower income levels. My little town has internet links as good a those of most metro areas, which means I need not be in the middle of a metro to stay in touch. (The work I do every day now could not have been done in this town a generation ago.)

Those improved transportation links can also cut in both directions: People in rural areas don’t have to be far away, in a meaningful sense, from top-level goods and services.

Solutions sometimes can be found on the flip side of a problem. So it may be for small communities.

Critical but insufficient

richardson

Like many, I am pleased to learn that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has filed initial charges in his investigation. Mueller’s assignment is broad, and it is likely that the indictments announced today are the first of many, though we may not learn of others for some time. Given his long history of exemplary conduct, both as a former U.S. Attorney and past director of the FBI, I have great confidence that Mueller will proceed apace, cutting square corners, and doing his job efficiently and with absolute integrity.

That said I have two notes of caution.

The first pertains to the seemingly complete absorption of the national media and social media with the filing of charges against Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. While these indictments certainly warrant the “Breaking News!” treatment, they should not distract our focus from other major stories - for instance the GOP's insistence on fast-tracking an irresponsible tax plan that would blow up the deficit, balloon the national debt, and shred our fragile safety net. We cannot succumb to the temptation to discuss only the newest, shiniest object in the room.

The second note of caution pertains to what we can – and cannot – hope to achieve through the criminal justice process. Mueller's efforts cannot address all of the problems relating to Russia's interference with our election. While his investigation is absolutely necessary, he is constrained to address only past criminal activity. Our nation must continue to look to Congress to reveal all wrongdoing and to ensure that it never happens again.

The Senate Committees on Judiciary and Intelligence must continue, and complete, their oversight investigations. They cannot use the initial indictments - and the many more that will likely come - to delay or distract them from their own responsibilities.

The House Intelligence Committee has seemed dysfunctional from the outset, but it too has a role to play – if only it can rise to the occasion.

In short, Mueller's investigation is essential, but it is not, in itself, sufficient to the moment. Congress has a great deal more investigative work to do, and we must insist it do it.

Water Digest – November

Water rights weekly report for July 17. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The state of Oklahoma on October 10 approved a major water diversion request by the city of Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City had asked the state for a regular permit to use 115,000 acre feet from the Kiamichi River and Sardis Lake for general municipal uses. The state noted “the application was protested by 85 persons including entities, 25 of whom were recognized as parties at the date of the hearing,” which was held on August 21 to 24.

The state of Oregon positioned itself in late October to reject a proposal from Nestle Water for its plan to bottle water from the Cascade Locks area in the Columbia River Gorge. The proposal for a Nestle water bottling plant would involve an exchange of .5 cfs of spring water, presently being used for a state Department of Fish & Wildlife salmon hatchery, for an equivalent amount of Cascade Locks city groundwater.

In a critical ruling for Wisconsin’s waters, Dane County Circuit Court ordered the DNR to vacate, or invalidate, seven high-capacity well permits and remand one for consideration. Clean Wisconsin sued the DNR in October of 2016, after the agency issued a series of high-capacity well permits that disregarded its own scientific analysis of the impacts the wells would have on neighboring water bodies. The proposed wells would be located primarily in the Central Sands region of Wisconsin, where groundwater depletion is already a serious problem.

After five years of drought, the 2017 water year brought unexpectedly heavy precipitation, ranking second only to 1983 as California’s wettest year for statewide runoff. The dramatic swing in water conditions highlights the need to develop better long-range weather forecasting to cope with the state’s highly variable annual precipitation.

The Bureau of Reclamation has released a Finding of No Significant Impact for Alternative 1 from the Bureau of Land Management’s 2014 Final Environmental Assessment for the Southern Nevada Intertie (Harry Allen to Eldorado 500 kV Transmission) Project.

A new Boise River system feasibility study has been launched to investigate the possibility of increasing surface water storage in the Boise River watershed by raising the height of up to three dams on the Boise River. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Idaho Water Resource Board (IWRB) are working together on options to increase water storage capacity at Arrowrock, Anderson Ranch, and/or Lucky Peak dams.

Competition in the 5th?

carlson

Cathy McMorris Rodgers doesn’t know it yet, but she is in for the fight of her political life to turn aside the challenge from former Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. The former Eastern Washington University professor of economics is smart, tough, tenacious, fearless, hard-working, politically sophisticated, and plays to win.

Recently married and also retired from her position as Chancellor of the WSU-Spokane campus, where she was one of the leaders in bringing a medical school to Spokane, Brown thought her years of public service were at an end. The more she read about the divisive policies being embraced by President Donald Trump, and the more she saw Spokane’s member of Congress, McMorris Rodgers, blindly endorse policies punitive to the middle class and the poor while helping the top 1% accumulate even more wealth, the more she felt the call of continued public service.

Brown believes McMorris Rodgers has got caught up in the national issues swirling around the nation’s capitol and seldom pays attention any more to the needs of the district. She points to the passage of the 2014 Farm Act Reauthorization and contends the Fifth District Congresswoman was AWOL, that she wasn’t a player, and knew next to nothing about proposed changes in farm policy.

She says it is a well known fact that lobbyists for the various ag groups by-passed McMorris Rodgers and instead worked with and through the office of Washington’s senior U.S. senator, Patty Murray.

Brown is quick to point out that she is running on a platform that stresses the successes she has had in bringing people together, forging compromises and producing solutions. She believes she will work harder and listen better than the incumbent.

She knows Democrats will try to make the election a national referendum on President Trump , but she says she is running a positive race related to providing better representation in Congress. She intends to stress ways to expand the economic pie by growing the economy and cites her Ph.D in economics from the University of Colorado as giving her a leg up on economic issues.

She will continue to be a strong advocate for education and for common sense environmental protections, she says, as she has done her entire career.

She fully expects Republicans to run an independent campaign against her that will try to label her as a liberal, outsider, a sympathizer with the Sandinista movement in Central America many years back, anti-gun rights, pro-abortion and a Hillary Clinton clone.

She’s not worried as she knows facts belie many of these deliberate distortions and knows that once people have the facts in hand their vote will not be fear-driven. She points out that she grew up in a rural Illinois community and that her father taught her the proper use off firearms.

She understands that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion establishing the qualified right of individuals to own firearms at the same time also reinforced the right of government for the common good to restrict firearms from being brought to public gathering places such as schools, courthouses and arenas.

She has no intention to get sucked into debate over divisive social issues but intends to stay focused on economic and service issues.

She feels there are residual good memories of her service as a State Representative and State Senator representing the Third District that will help her. She also knows that Spokane is becoming increasingly a Democratic-leaning community.

She hopes McMorris Rodgers will agree to several debates and joint appearances where she feels her knowledge of the issues will be much better than the incumbent’s and voters will see the kind of difference that will cause them to recognize that it is in their best interest to retire Cathy and elect Lisa.

Open doors

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The raft of sexual harassment charges lately has mattered but it also has been hamstrung, in some ways, by a lack of specifics.

Not that most of us would want to wallow in them. But it's hard to judge what happened, case by case, without knowing more than, in most cases, we do.

Does sexual harassment - at least, as we've defined it (roughly) in recent years - exist? Absolutely. Is it common? It is certainly, at least, not rare. We've seen or heard of enough specifics recently in enough cases to establish that much conclusively. A good number of these cases would be considered harassment or worse by nearly anyone in modern society, and shouldn't be tolerated, and repercussions should be serious.

There's a catch, though: They're not all exactly the same. Is a violent rape exactly the same as a leering come-on - sans any follow-up physical activity - in a hotel room? Both could be considered harassment, neither (in the kinds of contexts we've been hearing about lately, where there's a power imbalance between the people involved) should be tolerated, but the degrees surely are different. How do we address that?

I have no easy or immediate answer. It does however become a pressing matter when action has to be taken.

One answer though in many cases probably is to redress, at least to a degree, the power imbalance that creates many of the problems. Often the real underlying problem (as in the hotel scenario) is the fact that one of the people in the room has a big hammer over the head of the other. Were that not the case, the problem in some cases might be lessened, or (in the absence of an actual physical attack) might go away.

The Weinstein Company did that to its namesake Harvey by removing him from all power positions in the organization and then firing him. That's one way to handle it.

Then there's the case of Jeff Kruse, the Oregon state senator (R-Roseburg) who has been accused of "ongoing workplace issues."

This one is a little more complicated. Kruse was quoted as saying, "I have never done anything that I believe anybody could portray as being sexual. And it's never been my intention and never will be."

That's countered by state Senator Sara Gelser, "another female senator and one other woman who works at the Capitol [who] have reported to legislative officials that Kruse touched them inappropriately. But the exact nature of those three women's complaints has been kept confidential. Gelser said she should not have to spell out exactly what she says transpired in order to be believed."

No, of course she shouldn't have to spell out anatomical detail to be believed. But what is it exactly that Kruse is said to have done, other than that it was "inappropriate"? Where on the scale does it fall? What does that indicate about an appropriate response, or penalty? It's a little difficult for most of us to know how to assess the situation knowing no more than that.

Presumably, Senate President Peter Courtney does have more specific information; he would know at least what legislative staffers have found, likely in detail. And his actions were definitive. He took away Kruse's committee assignments (which as any legislator in Oregon or elsewhere will tell you, is taking away most of their ability to influence legislation). And he did something else of both symbolic and practical effect: He had the door to Kruse's office removed (see the picture), leaving the office permanently open.

That does have the effect of reducing power imbalanced and of diminishing hidden corners where unfortunate incidents may occur. It may in fact, as he suggested, support the idea of keeping the legislature as a safe working space.

It gives us an indicator as to the seriousness of what's happening. But it's still hard to know without knowing more.