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Oregon Person of 2008: Ted Kulongoski

Ted Kulongoski

Ted Kulongoski

In many places around the country, and west of the Cascades more than most, "green" is all the rage. It's not just the interest groups or the media, but businesses and governments - green is hot. But how much is this green heat generating real change in the way our communities function? And to what extent might it be just fad?

In 2008 Governor Ted Kulongoski set up a framework that could make green uncommonly central in Oregon, from the big picture down to the exercise of daily lives. While there's a rap on him that he's not one of the most charismatic of leaders, and while any number of critics expressed disappointment with him in his first term on environmental matters, what he seems to be setting into place could mark a genuinely big change in Oregon in the next few years.

This is, to be sure, speculative. But in 2008 Kulongoski merged with the trend and tides in greening the state's economy, and was given the political advantages he would logically need to press forward. And almost many kinds of initiatives might be curtailed by weak tax revenues and a tough economy, this won't necessarily fall to that: He has estimated state spending for his proposals at only about $10 million, a figure low enough to slip through. Atop that, he now has a strongly Democratic legislature - the house was only barely just last cycle - and a strongly cooperative congressional delegation for the federal level.

And, crucially, he has a cearl set of proposals that plug neatly into the economic moment.

An Oregonian story put it this way: "If the Legislature approves the plan, Oregon would become a national leader in renewable energy production, electric car use and 'green' building construction, he said. 'How we live, how we move, how we work is going to change.'" (more…)

Two of them spitting mad

Bonner County

Bonner County

One of the macro issues in our system of justice has to do with what we do with all those criminal convicts: Are we really making the smartest, most effective or even the safest choices in locking up so many people at tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer fund each? Sure, some have to be segregated from the rest of us, but is that the only real option available to us?

Question comes to mind in the case of Idaho 1st District Magistrate Justin Julian and convicted stop-sign runner Daniel J. Malone.

Last September, a law officer charged Malone with failing to stop at a stop sign at Larch Street and Ella Avenue in Sandpoint. Malone contested the ticket, saying he wasn't guilty, and on Christmas Even the case went to trial at the Bonner County Courthouse, Julian presiding. Julian found him guilty and imposed a $75 fine.

Malone responded, "bah, humbug," in reference to the season. Then his case over, he left the courtroom, but not by much. He apparently stood outside the courtroom and kept looking at Julian, in "a menacing fashion," Julian said. Exactly what make his stare menacing wasn't completely clear.

Malone's attitude was made clear enough, though by what Julian said happened next: "Once I made direct eye contact with the Defendant, he demonstrated his contempt for the Court by willfully and maliciously expelling a large amount of saliva in the direction of the Court, and onto the carpet of the Courthouse hallway." After which, he left the building and went to his car in the parking lot.

Then the chief bailiff, Mark Johnson, stopped him from leaving and took him back to the courtroom. There, Julian confronted him and (a news report says) told him, "There is no excuse for your disruptive and disgusting behavior. I'm holding you in contempt. You're serving the next two days in jail."

Which he did. Malone was released on Friday, having spent Christmas in jail. (more…)

Idaho Person of 2008: Steve Appleton

Steve Appleton

Steve Appleton

On November 24, an article in the Idaho Statesman raised a question, an unthinkable question: Might Micron Technology move, in whole or in large part, from its home town of Boise?

The article offered concrete evidence for thinking it might: "Days after Micron announced that it would shut its flash-memory production line in Boise and end 1,500 more Treasure Valley jobs, Micron bought a stake in a Taiwanese manufacturer of dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, Micron's principal product. That move was praised by industry analysts, but it led some to conclude that Micron is moving production out of Idaho - and that a long-hoped-for, state-of-the-art fabrication plant might never be built in Boise."

With thousands of employees at stake - still about 7,500 in the Boise area - the future of Micron is a very big deal to Idaho. But there's more to it than just the payroll, significant as it is. It's also the many spinoff businesses that rely on a partnership with Micron, and the people they employ. And more than the tax money and big community participation; Micron is the last of the really large publicly-held corporate giants (Idaho Power's Idacorp may be next largest - and it is at eventual buyout risk), and a major moveout would have a whole string of effects. And all that would be big enough in normal times: In an economic down period like this . . . well, you can hardly blame a lot of people for not wanting to think about it.

Look around at the rest of the high-tech manufacturing world, though, and the question becomes apparent: Why is Micron still here? Already, much of its operations have shifted to lower-cost areas, but for how long?

We're guessing many of the answers have to do with Steve Appleton. (more…)

The power picture

Recommended reading for today: The Oregonian's perspective piece on the Boardman coal-fired power plant, the major coal plant in the Northwest. The article points out, though, that the plant is only one of quite a few (there are more in Wyoming, Utah and Nevada) that the region relies on for power.

And there was this useful stat worth bearing in mind as the green discussion continues apace next year: While the Northwest's much-touted cheap and clean hydropower produces 40% of the area's juice, coal-fired, pollution issues and all, account for another 40%. The volume is so large that components like wind power, significant as they are, are small in comparison.

Real power restructuring, which probably is going to have to happen eventually, is going to take some hard thinking.

Northwesterners of the year

In the next three days, we'll run posts on our picks for the person of the year in Idaho, Oregon and Washington. A quick word on these first.

They will be along the line of the influential persons lists we did for some years in Idaho, at least in matters of criteria - and but for the fact that we'll be naming just one person.

The idea is not honorary, not necessarily an indication of goodness or of excellent achievement. The idea is to name someone who somehow or another threw a curve into the very recent history of their state, affecting it on a substantial level for good or ill. And someone whose actions were specific to them, not necessarily undertaken by whoever might have been standing in their shoes - someone without whom their state would have been different than it actually is right now. The thing is more an invitation to consider not necessarily what made the big headlines but what mattered in the Northwest over the last year.

Let it be not a conversation ender, but conversation starter.

Deep freeze

While the west of the Cascades sloshes through the meltdown, inland places are still facing snow and more snow.

In Coeur d'Alene, January 1969 set an all-time record for the most snow falling in a single month - 82.4 inches. That record is actually at risk now, what with 66 having fallen so far and a half-foot or more added to that by sometime tomorrow.

Decline at KVI

Jeff Kropf

KVI in Seattle

There's a good argument that for an extended stretch in the 90s and maybe into this decade, the single most influential radio station in the Northwest was KVI-AM, a place that not only had some of Washington's best-known talkers (along with nationals like Rush, of course) but also turned into an activist organization, backing such things as a string of conservative ballot issues. It had political impact.

That seems less so now, and there's an insightful post on why at the Seattle blog BlatherWatch.

Talker Kirby Wilbur is about the last local voice left, and BW suggests that may be over when Wilbur's contract is up next year. Toss all this in the mix when you evaluation the political dynamic in Puget Sound.

Umpqua’s money trail

At least one of the Northwest 10 banks what have gotten federal bailout money has explained what was done with it. And as far as it goes, the explanation sounds reasonable - or at least, in line with what we were all told about the situation originally.

Umpqua Bank at Portland took in $214 million in federal money, second-most among the Northwest banks. The Oregonian reports today that Umpqua "is a healthy, profitable bank. When Umpqua cut the deal with the feds in October, it didn't need money to survive, Umpqua CEO Ray Davis said at the time."

Okay: So what was the point of our giving the money to Umpqua? "Ron Farnsworth, Umpqua executive vice president, said Monday that the Treasury money has enabled the bank to continue making loans. Umpqua originated about $400 million in new loans in the current quarter, about the same as it did in its second and third quarters."

Presumably, the amount would have been less without the infusion, another tap on the economic brake.

The jury still seems out on whether this is doing much good, and at least one economist the Oregonian quotes is highly doubtful. (Members of Congress, having already opened the treasury to these guys, finally, belatedly, seem to be asking some of these questions too.) But at least one bank is providing some explanation for where all those taxpayer bucks are going, and at some some justification for them.

The melt is on

One of the best Christmas presents some of us west of the Cascades could get is a Christmas that's a little less white. Looks now like we're getting it.
We woke up this morning to more - yet more - snowfall. After the last 10 days or so, that was a depressing prospect. But somewhere during a walk around town, the light precip turned to rain, and stayed there.

Day long, the melt has escalated. Out here - west of Portland - a lot of roads, yards and roofs still are white-covered, but the depth is diminished, and the number of non-white surfaces is growing.

Looking forward to a Christmas with passable roads . . .

Books for reading, 08 edition

Some of the reads enjoyed here over the last year, and recommended to you, from Ridenbaugh Press. Let us know what you think - and what else we should be reading . . .

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Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer by Shannon Brownlee (Bloomsbury, 2007). The counter-intuitive title pretty much says it. Yes, the lack of health insurance is an enormous problem; the lack of affordable health care generally is even bigger. But a key part of the problem has to do with some of the reasons that hideously expensive system is so expensive, and it includes a lot of treatment that shouldn't be. This is a subject this space will return to in the months ahead, and health care reform is highly likely to be a major theme of the months ahead; and this investigative book is excellent reading meantime about what should be an important part of all that. A whole lot of what is done in the name of our health isn't making us healthier, and we nationally need to come to grips with that. Soon.

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The Appeal by John Grisham (Delta, 2008). It's one of his legal potboilers (which tend to be not quite as well written as his off-track books), but few books this year hit harder politically. Few overt polemics made the case so well; this is a classic case of using fictional characters to lay out a story that has the full ring of truth, the kind of function that has a long (even honored) history. It may be a thriller, but it's also one of the best political books of the year, and you need look nowhere further than the recent history of the contests for the Washington Supreme Court to see why. Grisham here is angry - he lets no one off the hook, most especially voters who too often don't know enough about what they're doing.

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Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson (Vintage, 1995). Yes, this novel has been around for years, and yes, it's already gotten lots of kudos. But we just got around to it this year, and glad for it. The story is well told, the characters thoughtfully deepened and rounded, but what sticks most are the atmosphere and the feelings. Set in the Northwest (mostly in the San Juan islands), it has a lot to say about this region, without explicitly going there - it has a well-drawn background, but that's not its core subject. Its take on community relations, and how even the islands among our communities are globally linked, are both timeless and timely. This can be one of those books that changes the way you look at the world, and (maybe more than that) your neighbors.

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Have a Nice Doomsday by Nicholas Guyatt (Harper Perennial, 2007). The back cover notes: "50 million Americans have come to believe that the apocalypse will take place in their lifetime." The background of that, and the myriad implications how this country is run, unspool in this book, written with a light touch - it isn't the slash job you might expect. There's humor scattered throughout, and Guyatt's tone is a little bemused (he's no true believer, just a student of those who are), but he plays fair. This book is about a whole large part of the country the traditional mass media rarely treat, and rarely know how. They (and the blogosphere, for that matter) could take a few lessons from Guyatt's approach.

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Lincoln, President-Elect by Harold Holzer (Simon & Schuster, 2008). The subtitle is, "Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-61," and that's what it covers - and argues about. There's been a strain of historical thought, starting contemporaneous with Lincoln, that he mishandled, dealt too loosely, with the secession crisis during the months between his election and inauguration. This book, by a writer of numerous Civil War era histories and researched to intricate detail, makes an excellent case that Lincoln played the few cards available to him far better than most people thought, or still do think. This book, surprisingly timely, might be therapeutic for the currently hyperventilating among us.

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The Conscience of a Liberal by Paul Krugman (WW Norton, 2008). This came out some months before Krugman won the Nobel, and his subject is mostly politics, not economics, though Krugman expertly weaves the two of them, and makes the (academic, without getting abstruse or pedantic) case for how economic and politics have had a direct effect on each other. You needn't agree with everything he says to find the book useful. More than any other of the year (that we've read), this one outlines the world view and the case for the governing just now coming into power, his early 2008 squabbles with Barack Obama notwithstanding. You'll pick up some useful history, some useful economics, a statistics lesson or two, and more along the way.

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Obama: From Promise to Power by David Mendell (Amistad, 2007). The two self-penned Obama books are worth the read (for different reasons), but if you want an informed outsider's take on the man, this is a good option. Mendell was a Chicago Tribune reporter from 1998 to 2004, and covered Obama closely during most of that time; he's familiar with the background, and he knew the man pre-fame. The book dishes little real dirt, although it amply covered almost everything that came out this year about Jeremiah Wright and other Chicago hot spots - none of those came as a surprise to anyone who read this early in the year. But it feels well grounded. There's a little too much self-referential press material in it, and the book ends just before the '08 presidential really kicked in. But this one may stand for a while as a solid backgrounder on the next president.

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1960: LBJ vs. JFK vs. Nixon: The Epic Campaign That Forged Three Presidencies by David Pietrusza (Union Square Press, 2008). This doesn't seem quite like the definitive take on the subject that it might have been, that Theodore White's once seemed to be. But it covers such a mass of detail, full of so many neatly-observed pieces, that it belongs in the upper ranks of campaign books. Reading it this fall, as the presidential campaign hit its mid stages, it seemed especially appropos - the linkages kept popping up. Good history almost always repays reading; you never know where the lessons will reapply.