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Posts published in December 2018

How not to celebrate Christmas

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The Christmas season is based in religious practice but has other meanings as well. President Calvin Coolidge called it “a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.” Clergyman Thomas Monson suggested, “Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others.”

We do see this around us, and we can rejoice in it. But Christmas brings out not only our better angels but sometimes our darker selves.

Welcome to Christmas at West Hayden Estates, in rural Kootenai County, where Christmas season has brought anger, death threats, lawsuits, donkeys, gun-packing and lights. Very bright lights.

The full story of the low-grade fever that has gripped this subdivision is very well recounted in a recent edition of the Inlander newspaper. There’s not nearly enough space here to tell it all, but in summary:

In 2014 an attorney named Jeremy Morris, who is very enthusiastic about Christmas, lived at Hayden. His Christmas decoration of his house that year -- and in subsequent years -- involved lots of light bulbs; many more than in most houses, reportedly as many as 200,000. (This is Las Vegas casino level.) He also planned some associated activities, holding a lighting event with seasonal food and drink and more, at least partly as a fundraiser for local charities. About a thousand families said they would come to visit and, the Inlander noted, he expanded the show a bit: “He called up a woman who owned a camel, recruited kids at Lakeland High School to sing Christmas songs and marshaled an army of volunteers from his church, Candlelight Christian Fellowship, to help out.” Attendees evidently enjoyed it and the charities wound up with good contributions.

At least some neighbors were unhappy, though, about the bright lights, the sound, the crowds and what is described as a traffic jam in the neighborhood. When Hayden city noted that permits were needed for some of his activities, Morris decided to find another location.

This, outside of Hayden city, is at his new house in West Hayden Estates, where the local power is not a city but a homeowners’ association. Informed in advance by Morris of his plans - which he was describing also as his ministry - the HOA expressed some concerns, mirroring some of those of his former neighbors, in addition to violations of the neighborhood covenants. There was also this line in one document (which the writer probably would dearly love to retract): “I am somewhat hesitant in bringing up the fact that some of our residents are non-Christians or of another faith, and I don't even want to think of the problems that could bring up."

And of a sudden this became not just a matter of neighborhood comfort and aesthetics, but one of War on Christianity and War on Christmas. Since we’re talking here about rural Kootenai County, I shouldn’t need to emphasize how unlikely it is that any neighborhood in that area would want to engage in such a war. But the story line quickly became irresistible, nationally.

Before long, the Morris homestead became ground central for all kinds of fierce emotions and activities. And threats; people were talking, darkly, about all the guns they were packing. Weeks prior to the famous sit-in at the Malheur wildlife refuge in Oregon, members of the Three Percenters showed up to offer support for Morris. Morris told one federal judge that a neighbor “threatened to murder me in front of my family, threatened in explicit detail about things that could be done."

Yes, judge, because of course this thing has been all over the court system. It may continue there for a while.

Somewhere in all this, do we still have room for:

Merry Christmas. Peace on earth, good will toward men. And neighbors, too.

Suicide in Idaho

schmidt

A man I knew well and considered a friend killed himself this last week. The feelings that wash over us survivors might mirror the feelings of the victim: anger, sadness, despair, failure. I will admit to all those. I imagine someone close to you has killed themselves. I am sorry. It sounds so inadequate, doesn’t it? What else can we offer?

Like any painful issue, if we are not willing to look at it, talk about it, try to understand and respond, then it will stay with us. We might get better at hiding the pain, denying the pain, but it’s still there. And if our best response after honest reflection is prayer, then let us pray. I will join in the prayer.

Let me offer some numbers for this moment of reflection. Idaho has consistently been in the top ten in states for rate of death by suicide; 8th nationally in 2016. The rate of death by suicide for Idahoans is over 50% above the national average. In Idaho, suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 15-34. Teen suicide rates are higher than our overall suicide rates. Did you know the highest rate of suicide is in men over 80?

But numbers don’t tell a story, do they? I got my share of stories as a county coroner. Suicides, like homicides or any “unnatural” death got the time and attention (and tax dollars) of this lowly public servant. I will admit to a pretty libertarian viewpoint toward suicide early in my career. We are all going to die. So what if someone makes the choice? I did not see it as a mortal sin, but then I was not brought up in that faith. But so many of the deaths I struggled to come to peace with, beyond the mere investigation; I changed my view.

The many older men (some my age) failing in their strength, their independence who chose to end their lives, I could somewhat accept, though I could hear the pain and suffering in their loved ones.

The ones who had struggled with addiction or depression, sometimes were not a surprise to their family. But I could clearly hear the sense of failure, their sadness, their shared despair at the loss.

But the young deaths, sometimes impetuous, fueled by anger or lubricated with substances or an impetuous nature left me very burdened. And I am sure their families still struggle.

I have come to believe suicide, like homicide deserves our attention, our investment as a society. Not all violent deaths can be prevented. But if we cannot prevent all, should we give up on preventing some? If we as neighbors, as fellow citizens are not willing to even make such a commitment, what does that say about us, the survivors?

I am proud that Idaho has made this commitment. You taxpayers invested in this, with the legislatures and the governor’s approval. In 2016 a small investment was made to coordinate existing suicide prevention programs, to educate youth, to support the statewide hotline, and advance public awareness. Like all investments, we need to pay attention to the wisdom of each dollar spent. But it’s about time we did something. There is so much to do.
 

Crystal ball justice

jones

In 1907, Congress enacted legislation to deny entry into the U.S. of “persons likely to become a public charge.” The idea was to prevent immigration of people who would be drawing upon public assistance.

The “public charge” legislation is still the law of the land and has worked fairly well to conserve public resources. At the same time, America has admitted millions of immigrants who have contributed mightily to building this great country. The Trump administration is now proposing to substantially expand the definition of what constitutes a public charge so as to clamp down on legal immigration into the U.S.

Since 1999, potential immigrants have had to show that they are not likely to need long-term institutional care or become “primarily dependent” on “public cash assistance” programs. In fiscal year 2017, the State Department found 3,237 immigrant visa applicants to be ineligible on public charge grounds--slightly less than one percent of the 332,003 ineligibility findings that year.

Under a new rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, the government would deny green cards and visas, not on whether people have ever used any public benefit but, on whether it is possible that they might at some time in the future. The rule would expand the programs considered to be public benefits to food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and Medicare Part D subsidies.

In the past, the public charge exclusion was applied to those who used the benefits and were not able to support themselves without the benefits. The new rule would deny legal status to persons who might at some time legally apply for a little help to get through a rough spot. The rule does not take into account the extent to which an immigrant family is supporting itself.

It should be noted that those who immigrate to this country are people much like our ancestors - driven by a desire to make good and provide a better life for their children. They are not slackers or welfare bums. Our recently departed president, George H.W. Bush, referred to immigrants from south of the border as, “good people, strong people.” Many of them are more than willing to do the back-breaking work that home-grown Americans refuse to do.

The new public charge rule is intended to deny legal status to many more immigrants - people who could fill some of the many jobs in Idaho and across the country that are currently begging for reliable help.

And, it should not be forgotten that immigrants set up businesses at twice the rate of U.S. citizens. They build America and create jobs, like Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani and Sanjay Mehrotra of Micron.

The new rule essentially amounts to administrative legislating. It is the responsibility of Congress to set the rules for immigration, not unelected bureaucrats. The current understanding of “public charge” has been in effect since 1999 and been observed by Congresses and Presidents of both parties. If there is need for a change, let Congress do it.

The proposed rule will lead to arbitrary classification of those seeking entry into our country. The fate of applicants will be in the hands of bureaucrats who will have to guess whether the people will ever need even a short-term bit of help with food or medical care expenses at some time in the future. If so, they are out of here. To reduce the chances of arbitrary action, it might help if the President would furnish crystal balls to the immigration screeners.

Jim Jones’ previous columns can be found at www.JJCommonTater.com.

Other duties as assigned

rainey

As a Republic, we’re living in dangerous times. Unlike the past, when wars defined the danger, we’re at war with ourselves. And, it seems at moments, much of the rest of the world.

Divisions, tribalism, racism, anti-Semitism, far right and far left hate mongers, sexism, laws based on lies, ignorance and political self-service being enacted in state-after-state. Our federal judiciary is being filled with wholly unqualified but politically expedient nominees, mass media outlets spewing flat out lies and fictitious “stories” passed off as “news.”

These and more demonstrations of outrageous national conduct are threatening our freedoms, our place in world societies, our relationships with other nations and even with each other. Add in the most repeatedly proven self-dealing serial liar and least qualified president in our long history. All of this portends a future - at least a short-term future - of anger, fear, resentment and great difficulty effectively governing with such dangers.

Fearful? Yes. Dangerous? Yes. Pleasing to our enemies? Yes. All of that and more.

So, we’ve turned to a federal prosecutor. A Marine veteran with a political and judicial histories that are truly outstanding. We’ve given him the task of sorting out the criminals, crimes, lies, double-dealing, treacheries and illegal conduct that have been the sources of much of these dangers. We’ve assigned him and his team the job of rooting out perpetrators and reporting to our Congress and to us his evidence-based findings.

At about the 18 month point of his work, the investigation seems only about at the mid-point. Starting with some low-level actors and a couple dozen Russians, there have already been subpoenas, evidence of criminal activity, confessions and a few prison sentences. Enough evidence proving the digging must continue.

The most recent “crooks de jure” are Roger Stone and several of his sycophants. These hangers-on in the netherworld of the national Republican Party are really the dregs of the political “barrel.” If you look at their backgrounds - one low-level patronage job after another over the years - it’s not hard to see why they find themselves staring into the face of some jail time.

All of them - “without portfolio” - have accomplished or contributed nothing. But, they’ve made a good living trying to associate themselves with people in power. They’ve bragged about their “importance” and their “access” to political folks in high office. Stone, in particular, became a right-wing media “darling” with claims of being a “mover-and-shaker.” His bragging included Wikileaks connections, his links with Russians and his access to “halls of power” in Congress and the White House.

Now, with little evidence they ever accomplished anything of importance, Stone and company have talked - bragged - themselves into the criminal “stew” in the crucible of the Muller investigation. Their years of touting false claims of exaggerated importance may, finally, put them in little rooms where the sunshine is seen only through the bars.

The longer the Muller investigation goes, it appears we may have asked him to do something else - something even more important than just rooting out political criminal activity. “Other duties as assigned” as it were. We seem to have tasked him to clean up the mess - to “cleanse” the system of liars, cheats, double-dealers, self-servers, crooked politicians and the treachery in the White House.

If Muller’s report is published before January, it’ll likely hit the Speaker’s desk with a loud “thud” followed by silence. But, if it comes after that, there will certainly be impeachment action in that same House. Then, the next step would be in the Senate where a trial is required by law.

Would the Senate, where everything is controlled by Republicans, hold that trial? That’s far from certain. Odds at the moment, probably 50-50. Whether action would follow would most likely hinge on who’s identified by Mueller as guilty of wrongdoing, what that wrongdoing was, what damage has been done, what that damage consists of and whether there are a lot of “co-conspirator #1" citations.

The Roger Stones of the world are just grist left on the mill floor. Their only use in what Muller is doing is to be rungs on the ladder to the next level of proven criminality.

There will be a report. A conclusion. A document of evidence detailing the cancer in our recent political history. It will go to Congress. But, it will also go to us. The affected. We must access it, read it carefully and thoroughly digest the details for ourselves.

Whether Congress will act is still an open question. But, as a society, we must act on the results. We cannot allow that document to be relegated to some musty shelf in the Library of Congress.

We did a little housecleaning in November. Muller’s work could prove a very useful voter’s guide for voters for years to come. And more cleaning.
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – December 10

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for December 10. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The Idaho Legislature's organizational session last week ended with little change in floor leadership but lots of shifts in committee chairs, even among the legislators who had one last term and are returning. The preceding taxpayers association session included an unusually strong warning of the prospect of a recession coming at some point in the months ahead.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on December 7 approved an agreement to keep most steelhead seasons open, but steelhead fishing in two areas will close effective 11:59 p.m. December 7.

Bipartisan legislation led by Senators Jim Risch and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to protect Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed salmon and steelhead from extinction has passed the Senate without objection.

The Bonneville Power Administration on December 6 released its initial wholesale power and transmission rates proposal for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The rates proposal includes significant program cost reductions and supports a multi-year grid modernization initiative to maximize the capacity of the federal power and transmission systems and improve grid efficiency.

The Idaho Department of Lands concluded a 21-month review of historic endowment trust land sales to determine whether sales exceeded constitutional provisions limiting how many acres may be sold to one individual, company or corporation.

The next phase of the Lewiston Orchards Water Exchange and Title Transfer project, construction of a second well (pictured), is underway with the purchase of land and city permitting complete. In July, the Lewiston Orchards Irrigation District procured land located just east of the first well site as the home for the second well and secured final city permits in October. With land purchase and permitting complete, contractor solicitation and selection can commence leading to construction.

Former Idaho Department of Correction correctional officer Richard McCollough, 37, of Boise, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, U.S. Attorney Bart M. Davis said on December 6.

State regulators will hold a telephonic public hearing on December 11 regarding the proposed transfer of eight customers from Rocky Mountain Power to Idaho Falls Power in eastern Idaho.

IMAGE An image of the fish that was the center of passive controversy during the last week. (photo/Bureau of Land Management)
 

Locking out Idaho

johnson

In 2017, nearly 335,000 Idahoans owned a hunting and/or fishing license. The Idaho sportsman’s “caucus,” while hardly ever speaking with one voice on anything, arguably represents the largest special interest group in the state. All those hunters and fisher people should be increasingly up in arms about a trend that portends ill for public access to increasingly large swaths of Idaho and the West.

The brewing controversy has come into sharp relief with gates that have gone up at a long open public road just north of the Bogus Basin ski area and east of Horseshoe Bend in Boise County. The road, apparently built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, has long provided public access for hunting and hiking on property once owned by Boise Cascade Corp., and Potlatch. As the Idaho Statesman reported recently, “The gated stretch of road has been privately owned but publicly accessible for decades. It provides access to neighboring public lands and a network of secondary roads.”

The current owners, the hard-right billionaire Wilks brothers of Cisco, Texas, put up the gates a while back and dug trenches to prevent bypassing the closure. The U.S. Forest Service, which has long maintained the road, has received plenty of complaints. Similar activity took place in Adams County last year and only stopped after the Forest Service pushed back.

The Texans are notoriously tight-lipped about what they’re really up to, but a safe guess would be that they intend to monetize their Western holdings by selling multimillion dollar “ranches” and private hunting compounds. The weekend hunter, the family camping trip and good neighborly Idaho values will be the losers.

The Wilks’ ownership is now close to 200,000 acres in Idaho, much of it in southern Idaho and it’s land with a contentious history. One-time Idaho governor and eventually assassinated martyr Frank Steunenberg controversially bought up some of this same land in the early 1900s to create the Barber Lumber Company, a predecessor of Boise Cascade. Steunenberg received help in that endeavor from a crafty lawyer by the name of William Borah, who was eventually acquitted of charges that he had abetted fraud in the timber acquisition.

When Boise Cascade later acquired the same land, the big timber company managed it well for the most part and, understanding Idaho custom and culture, facilitated public access. Texans apparently have a different ethic.

Idaho law prevents the kind of road closures the Wilks have precipitated in Boise County, but the law offers only a criminal penalty, which means Boise County — a big county with a tiny population where they change prosecuting attorneys like the rest of us change socks — will have to find the resources to challenge the closure. Don’t hold your breath. The county will need specific and aggressive state help.

“Counties are strapped for resources, especially rural counties where these violations are happening,” says Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. Brooks’ group discovered the deed that documents that the Boise Ridge Road should remain open in perpetuity. But his group can’t sue because there is no civil penalty in Idaho law.

“Choosing to derail county budgets to prosecute billionaires over access issues, while burdened with more heinous crimes, is not financially practical,” Brooks says. “It’s time we give citizens legal recourse to enforce public access.”

Or how about this: Soon-to-be Gov. Brad Little, who knows the Boise front like the inside of the Statehouse, could order his Fish and Game Department to aid the county and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden could put some staff on the issue. They would be on the right side of Idaho sportsmen and women, and would send a big message to rich out-of-staters who represent a growing threat to public access across the West.

Since selling their fracking and oil field services company to the government of Singapore in 2011, the Wilks brothers, huge contributors to Republican causes in Texas, have been buying up the West. According to Forbes magazine, the brothers have bought more than 672,000 acres of land in five different states, including Idaho.

The Wilks boys, according to the Dallas Morning News, are big supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and have spent at least $6 million on Texas political races in the past two election cycles. They are also very involved, according to the Texas Tribune, in a host of Tea Party, anti-abortion and anti-gay rights efforts. There is no clear evidence that they’ve been playing financially in Idaho races, but stay tuned.

In Montana, where the brothers own nearly 360,000 acres, they have been trying to engineer a huge land swap with the Bureau of Land Management, have been in protracted fights with longtime ranchers over water rights, have sparked squabbles over hunting access and have spent heavily in support of Republican candidates. Earlier this year, the Wilks brothers were part of a not-very-transparent group that engineered a controversial re-write of Idaho’s trespass law, a sloppy and rushed process that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter complicated when he wimped out and allowed the legislation to become law without his signature.

The Montana situation is politically instructive. The Wilks’ oil leases with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale became an issue in Rosendale’s race this year against Democrat Jon Tester, as did the Republican’s shifting stands on access issues. By contrast, Tester is co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsman Caucus and has made access to hunting and fishing a cornerstone of his Montana message. Tester won his recent Senate election in a state that President Donald Trump carried by more than 20 points. Montana, like Idaho, is a very conservative state, but also a place where public access to hunt and fish is a very big deal.

The politics of resisting billionaire private landowners shutting off historic public access should be a no-brainer, even for conservative Idaho Republicans. Forcing a couple of high rolling Texans to take down a gate in Boise County would be a good place for Idaho’s political leaders to start to draw their own line.

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

Too eager

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You can’t read thoughts, but you do have to wonder if someone at Alta Mesa is thinking this:

We didn’t think they’d respond this way, because on the front end they gave us no reason to think they would.

Cast your memory back to early in this millennium and the enthusiastic response from many people in Idaho, and so many state officials, to the prospect of serious oil and gas production in Idaho.

For decades oil and gas development in Idaho was slight, and even now it’s not enormous; modest in size and largely limited to one corner of the state. But it got serious in 2005 when a private firm began leasing mineral rights in the Payette County and the nearby area, and started exploration wells, which showed enough promise to warrant continued research.

The big player has been Alta Mesa Company, a Texas-based organization whose spokesman in 2014 referred to Idaho’s “very friendly climate and environment for doing the work.” That same year Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter called the prospect of more drilling “very exciting.” During a tour of the facilities he also said, “This is a long-term investment that will not only benefit the companies doing it but also the state of Idaho.” (The next year Otter was rated at a perfect 100 percent by the Independent Petroleum Association of America.)

With all that in mind, Idaho’s laws on oil and gas drilling were changed several times in the last decade, and the commission governing oil and gas spun off from its old role as an alter ego of the state land board and into a free-standing commission. The Idaho severance tax rate is especially low, and the royalty rate is the same as oil-friendly Alaska’s. What’s not for an oil or gas company to like?

Moving forward to late 2018, the picture surrounding Idaho gas and oil extraction looks a little different.

In late November, Idaho regulators settled with Alta Mesa, which now has hundreds of oil and gas leases in southwestern Idaho, on a variety of issues.

A few samples show the tenor. In September the state required Alta Mesa to pay overdue royalties and provide other required information. It followed up weeks later with another warning that if the materials weren’t provided by late January, the state “may terminate the leases and begin eviction proceedings.” In October the state sent a violation notice to Alta Mesa for failing to get state approval for working on a well. Also that month, the state subpoenaed the company for other records.

This is the same state government that only a few years earlier went out of its way to encourage the development.

These issues seemed to reach a settlement by the end of November. But the state is far from alone in its concerns about the development.

Back in August a federal district judge held that, as one news story put it, “Idaho officials violated the U.S. Constitution by forcing several landowners to sell their natural gas and oil to a Texas company without giving them a meaningful way to fight the state’s decision.”

And yes, there have been landowner protests which have begun to change the political climate surrounding their activities.

Economic developments no less than political are Newtonian: For every action, an equal and opposite reaction. Sometimes they take awhile to develop, but eventually develop they do.
 

My ex is getting married

schmidt

It was front page news in my town that a family practice clinic was being purchased by the local hospital. Before I reflect on this, you need to know I was once a partner in the clinic but left over 10 years ago. Similarly, I was on staff, on the board and chief of medical staff at the hospital that is purchasing my ex-clinic. So, my reflections could be biased by my prior experience.

The stated reasons for the change in relationship are that both parties will benefit. The clinic has had a hard time recruiting new doctors and they see the new hospital ownership as a way to help this. The hospital sees the move as a way to be bigger: “A deeper bench…We’ll have about 650 employees…” Neither of these reasons hold water, but they reflect the dismal situation we have come to in our health care environment.

First, bigger is not always better for the consumer. Bigger bargaining power may allow the hospital/clinic more leverage to bargain higher payment from insurers. Then our insurance rates go up. Just four years ago the US District Attorney and the Idaho Attorney General sued to unwind a larger hospital purchase of a much larger medical clinic in the Treasure Valley on the grounds it was anti-competitive. The court upheld the suit and the clinic purchase was nullified.

Second, the only way the hospital can help recruit and retain primary care physicians is to shift some revenue to pay primary care doctors more. Think about the high-paid physicians the hospital supports now. Radiologists (who make three times what a family doc does) have hospital-funded scanners and hospital-paid technicians to do the scans. Surgeons (who make 3-4 times what a family doc does) have hospital-paid operating rooms and nurses to help them perform their well-paid surgeries. Is the hospital going to somehow pay the specialists less so the family docs can make more? Or will the nurses earn less? Or will health care costs just go up as they have?

What we pay for in health care is the problem, and maybe this consolidation will address this, though neither executive cited this as a goal. If we don’t start paying for value in health care and move away from paying for procedures, we will just keep having more procedures, more things done, and we will not be healthier. Did you know this is the third year in a row that US life expectancy has decreased, despite ever increasing health care expenditures?

I hope our local hospital shares this vision for adding value to our community instead of promoting more procedures. But here’s the pudding. The hospital dropped two community services, hospice and an adult day health program, because they didn’t “make money”. But they now have a full-time marketing director and development director, as well as bill boards all around town touting their care. They maintain a “critical access” designation while they spend money to drum up business. Does this make our community healthier? I’m sure it bumps their revenue.

So, the clinic purchase may benefit both entities, as any good business deal should. But will it make our community any healthier, make health care more accessible, affordable and appropriate? I hope so.
 

Speed

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Every so often, I have need to travel across Oregon, and that's a long way.

The Portland to Ontario stretch of Interstate 84, alone, is about 375 miles. At 65 miles an hour, that's a drive of five and three-quarter hours (at speed limit, non-stop). At 70 miles an hour, you can shave a half-hour off that. Not massive, but it adds enough. It can make a difference.

For decades speed limits on Oregon roads famously were lower than almost anywhere in the west; cross the border into California or Nevada or Idaho or Washington, and you could instantly speed up. That also means plenty of drivers passing through those states probably speed right through Oregon, too.

More recently speeds have risen, not by a lot but somewhat. Beginning in March 2016 most interstate speeds east of the Cascades went from 65 to 70 miles an hour, and some highways in very lightly populated area - much of Highway 97, for example - went from 55 to 65.

The increases were resisted for a long time by safety advocates concerned that higher speeds could lead to more fatalities.

Maybe they have. The Eastern Oregonian at Pendleton reported this week that in the months after the speed increase in 2016, fatalities along the affected roads did increase, noticeably. (The story then went into some of the grisly details, of course.)

However, it also noted that the fatalities dropped in 2017, while inching up again this year.

So what do we draw from this?

First, the numbers of fatalities were still not large, and amounted to a small sample size. They added up to 11 crashes on those hundreds of miles of affected roads, including massive stretches of busy interstates. The numbers were small enough that drawing serious conclusions about the effect of the change in speed limits - just five miles an hour on the freeways - would be problematic.

Second, the decrease in the number of fatalities in the second year suggests that maybe there wasn't much of an effect or, if there was, that people were adjusting to it.

It's something worth continuing to watch. But there's not enough here to draw many conclusions.