Writings and observations

In Hailey

Streetside in Hailey

Lunching in bustling Hailey, after struggling with the heavy midday – not even rush hour – traffic on Main Street, we were startling to read this in the Idaho Mountain Express:

“Business for Ketchum retailers during the past winter was not nearly as bad as rumor would have it, a non-scientific survey by the Mountain Express indicates.”

Business down? Well, you certainly wouldn’t say so comprehensively. But so far this decade Ketchum has been losing retailers, at least, a net of 13 from 2001 to 2006.

Apparently last winter was reputed to be poor for business; and also apparently, that depends on which retailer you are. Nothing especially notable in that. But the story went on to describe many of the structural economic changes in the Ketchum area, including a decline in motel and overnight traffic and a great increase in condominiums, which seems to have diminished trade for many retailers. And retailers are concluding some new things. A Hailey bookseller who shuttered that business recently concluded that, after the opening and then closing of five sucessive booksellers in Hailey over the last quarter-century, maybe Hailey just won’t support a book store. Why is less immediately clear, but offers some interesting grounds for speculation.

A tucked-away, seemingly routine story, but well-worth examination.

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Not sure why it needs to take so long – the deal was cut in 2003, the provisions met for a while now – but the Nez Perce Snake River deal has now been signed.

It’s a major agreement, and one of the more significant developments in Idaho so far in this decade. It is, as much as anything else, a shift away from what might have been: A big, bitter lawsuit that could have seriously upended much of the state of Idaho, and/or the Nez Perce tribe. Today, both can call that a bullet averted.

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Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Two strains have been running in the first few months of Idaho Representative Bill Sali‘s tenure in Congress. On one hand, to a degree, he has positioned himself as simply another member of the conservative Republican Idaho delegation, alongside Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and House member Mike Simpson. He’s had regular lunches with Simpson, patching up a contentious relationship from years past, and he’s had his place in statements “from the delegation.”

He hasn’t, yet, done much that seems likely to hurt him among the operating majority of 1st district voters, and there haven’t been any wild explosions from afar (that we’ve seen reported).

But there is a growing body of votes marking him as different from the other three, and it’s starting to become noticed. The national satiric web site Jesus’ General posted a sort of open latter to Sali as one “of only seven to oppose helping torture victims, one of twenty who is willing to defund science, and one of a very few who supports enhancing our oceans with chemicals and our leisure time with cockfighting and dogfighting.”

Yes, these have been documented, in part due to the watchfulness of the Mountain Goat Report blog, which has been tracking his votes. Its most recent post concerns the Torture Victims Relief Act of 2007, which passed the House 418-7, Sali being among the minority.

Sali’s hasn’t posted his reasons for the vote on his web site. One of his supporters, though, does take on the subject:

The anti-Sali socialist over at The Mountain Goat Report is trying to claim that Rep. Sali’s vote against the so-called “Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act” is a bad thing, or that the fact that he is one of only seven brave Congressmen to stand up to Pelosi is somehow wrong. The fact is that no one goes around torturing people just for the fun of it, and these people who have been tortured probably did something to deserve it. It’s just like liberals to try to throw money at so-called “victims” who should be taking responsibility for their choices instead of whining for government handouts.

This – because we suspect the attitude is broader than one blogger, regardless whether it matches’ Sali’s own take – calls out for some error correction.

That Mountain Goat is a Sali critic seems clear enough; “socialist” is not, and constitutes only simple(minded) name-calling. MG never actually says the opposition vote was a bad thing; instead simply offering the official summary of the bill, and letting us draw the (easy) inference for ourselves. Why the seven opposition voters are de facto “brave” is unexplained; were they supposed to be afraid of being stalked by torture victims? The reference to “stand up to Pelosi” is pro forma but ridiculous. In voting against the bill, Sali was voting in opposition to not only Pelosi, but also the official position of the House Republican caucus, and against Craig, Crapo and Simpson. If money was being thrown, it was being thrown not only by “liberals” but by nearly all other members of the House Republican caucus, including Idaho’s delegation.

There’s also the matter of the bill’s primary sponsor: A Republican, Christopher Smith of New Jersey. Said the Republican representative, ““The agony and suffering endured by victims of torture leave lifelong physical, emotional and psychological scars. However, proper treatment can help torture victims overcome these effects and lead normal, productive lives within their families and communities. We can—and must—continue to support programs that mitigate the long-term effects of torture.”

What’s a lot more troubling about this post is: “The fact is that no one goes around torturing people just for the fun of it, and these people who have been tortured probably did something to deserve it.” Stalin’s apologists, or those of King George III, could not have put it better. The American Revolution, not to mention the many expansions of freedom and justice in this country since then, was fought in large part in direct opposition to just such attitudes. There’s simply no way to square this line of thinking with anything we’ve come to know as freedom, justice or democracy.

We can’t and won’t attribute it here personally to Sali, of course. But it does seem emblematic of where some of his strongest supporters are pushing him. And so far, he has not given them much cause for disappointment.

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Meridian School DistrictThe high cost of growth is essayed in a new post at the Boise Guardian, by way of pointing out that Meridian residents will choose, on May 15, whether to approve a new school bond.

Write Mike Hawk points out that the district is

asking us to pony up a $30 million dollar bond to build four new schools, purchase twenty school buses and other items essential to the education of the children.

New schools will be built right in the middle of new subdivisions—full of kids— and older schools are cast to the back of the line for funds. A little known fact is that Lake Hazel Elementary is still on septic and the system has failed in the past two years. Past bonds didn’t fix the problem—that money went to growth.

Meridian’s City Council has taken initial steps to charge higher impact fees for roads that facilitate growth. Schools need the same authority. We should not be forced to subsidize the development community. We can take little comfort knowing the Zone 2 representative is a real estate agent.

The growth is real enough. The Meridian district’s web page says “Once again this year, the district has experienced unprecedented growth in student enrollment, with more than 1,700 new students enrolling at the start of this school year. Since November, enrollment has increased by an additional 400 students.”

Comments on the bond range across varied ground, from residents saying they haven’t been notified of the proposal (parents and school personnel, of course, have been) to the ongoing cost that Meridian’s wild, unrestrained growth has engendered.

Another commenter: “Voting for the last school bond was so much fun we can continue to do it year after year. M3, the behemoth developer our of Arizona, that Eagle is wooing to build in the foothills, will provide land for FOUR–yes 4–schools that they’ll expect Meridian School District to build, and Dry Creek Ranch has proposed TWO elementaries, and one combined Middle & High School. Again, they’ll provide the land, but taxpayers must pay for the buildings. One guess as to who gets to pay for it.”

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In a more normal cycle, Robert Vasquez wouldn’t have even entered the race for U.S. Senate this early. As it is, he’s not only been in but now, also, out.

He was quoted as saying: “We have been unable to meet the funding goals, which are required to run a viable campaign. I cannot in good conscience continue to raise funds, without the viable chance to run a winning campaign.”

Okay. (Though his web site doesn’t yet make reference to the withdrawal.)

We’ll note here too the flurry in the last couple of days about Boise City Council member Alan Shealey, a Republican, making reference to entering the race. He may be well advised to consider the hurdles much as Vasquez has.

Meantime, incumbent Republican Larry Craig will let everyone know his plans in due course.

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Norm Semanko
Norm Semanko

Toward the middle of today’s guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman by Norm Semanko, who leads the Idaho Water Users Association, was this bit of deliberate non-provocation:

Idaho’s Prior Appropriation Doctrine, embraced in its constitution and statutes, has worked well for Idaho for over 100 years. Augmented by additional water supplies including storage reservoirs, it has provided certainty and stability during times of shortage for farmers, cities and businesses alike.

The governor’s water summit was not a referendum on whether to change Idaho’s longstanding set of water laws. There will be no constitutional convention or other revamping of Idaho’s water laws.

The guest opinion was a statement of support for Governor Butch Otter’s recent water summit at Burley, which did not result in any immediate resolutions but did, as Semanko notes, have the virtue of bringing many of the players face to face. The fact that such a meeting might have real usefulness (and why followup meetings probably would be a good idea) is testament to Idaho’s gradually growing difficulties with effectively managing its water supply.

The summit wasn’t, as Semanko says, “a referendum on whether to change Idaho’s longstanding set of water laws.” But left unsaid was this question: Should that be considered? Should, for example, the prior appropriation doctrine (first in time, first in right) be tossed in favor of some other principle?

That would mean thinking outside of long-standing tradition. But some of the emerging water issues are non-traditional, too. Some large-scale careful consideration might be in order.

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Rebuffed for a decade or so by residents determinedly opposed, Wal-Mart has finally made its way into Twin Falls, winning a key city council vote on Monday. It will be Idaho store 22.

About a couple of dozen residents, mainly from the North Pointe Ranch and Los Lagos subdivisions, still were there in opposition. Said one: “You have about worn me down. We hope your conscience will let you vote for what Wal-Mart wants because after all you need to respect the integrity of neighbors and the lovely homes that are there.”

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The Northwest’s newsrooms, taken wholly, are fitfully represented in the blogosphere, but the editorial pages do seem to be moving a bit ahead.

The latest to run this route is Spokane Spokesman Review, which this month started the Matter of Opinion blog fed by members of the editorial page staff (which can include the paper’s editor and publisher). Two of them additionally have blogs of their own (D.F. Oliveria’s Huckleberries Online being a very regular stop for us).

Neither the Seattle Times nor Post Intelligencer, both of which run a number of blogs (including a good political blog by each), seems to have an editorial page blog, although the Tacoma News Tribune has one. And there’s an editor’s blog at the Yakima Herald-Republic.

The Portland Oregonian has had one too for some time now. The Salem Statesman Journal has an editor’s blog, as does the Medford Mail Tribune, but the Eugene Register Guard doesn’t.

We found interesting that the first blog (that we know of) emanating from the Boise Idaho Statesman was by the paper’s editorial page editor, Kevin Richert. (It too is a frequent stop.) Not many others so far in Idaho, though. Opinion pieces often do show up on the Idaho State Journal politics blog. There are some preliminary blogging efforts at the revamped Lewiston Tribune web site. The only public blog at the Idaho Falls Post Register has to do with its new press.

Our guess is that a couple of years from now, there will be more.

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cigarettesThe excellent recent book Illicit by Moises Naim offers a startling overview of a big piece of the global economy little noticed (because it deliberately keeps its head down) – the trade in illegal, contraband or counterfeit goods and services. The longtime editor of Foreign Policy magazine at one point offers this description:

“Since the early 1990s, global illicit trade has embarked on a great mutation. It is the same mutation as that of international terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad – or for that matter, of activists for the global good like the environmental movement or the World Social Forum. All have moved away from fixed hierarchies and toward decentralized networks; away from controlling leaders and toward multiple, losely-linked, dispersed agents and cells; away from rigid lines of control and toward constantly shifting transactions as opportunities dictate.”

A point to bear in mind, reviewing the announcement last week of a settlement in the great Northwest cigarette smuggling case, now, evidently, mostly settled in advance of trial.

It was a large case, brought in 2003 and worked steadily since in the old-fashioned way, getting participants to roll over on others. If you think cigarettes are a minor deal as crime goes, ask yourself how many crimes would cost taxpayers (in this case in Washington state) as much as $56 million in tax revenue, which federal officials estimate was the case here.

We’d have been highly interested to see all the details a trial might have unearthed, but we’ll settle for the moment for the reports in the plea agreement papers. (The Spokesman-Review has posted three of them on its web site.)

The conspiracy was pegged on two points of cigarette tax law: Buyers of cigarettes sold on Indian reservations aren’t assessed state taxes; and, Washington has some of the the highest cigarette taxes in the country. If you’re sitting on the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation at Plummer, Idaho, a few miles from the border, opportunity could seem to be yodeling at you.

The plea deal said that “the enterprise engaged in, and its activities affected, interstate commerce. The defendant Louie Mahoney was a central conduit of virtually every aspect of the enterprise’s unlawful activities. Louie Mahoney ran a multi-million dollar a year contraband cigarette trafficking organization headquartered in Plummer, Idaho.” The arrangement was that his partners would load trucks with cartons of cigarettes and haul them to Indian reservations around Washington state, not reporting them (of course) to Washington state officials, and bypassing the tax.

It seems to have been a criminal organization on the old model – fixed places of business, a specific hierarchy and leadership, an established pattern of operations. That probably is part of what allow federal Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives agents to effectively nail it.

The temptation to make illegal profit off the variances in tax rates, however, isn’t going away. If Oregon increases its cigarette taxes to roughly match Washington’s, as it may, the incentives for the regional illicit trade may grow. Which means the federal agents are likely to be busy again, in due course, tracking down Mahoney’s successors. The catch is that, if Naim’s analysis of the global illicit trade is right and if the patterns descend to localities, the next cigarette enterprise may be more diffuse, more ad hoc, less structured.

Tougher to catch.

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courtroomWe know that the constitution says we all have a right to not be required to incriminate ourselves: “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” In some cases, the meaning of that right, and the line-in-sand it draws, are evident enough. In other cases, not so much.

Consider the appeal (formally, a request for writ of certiorari) of the Idaho Attorney General’s office, filed Friday, to the U.S. Supreme Court, from a decision by the Idaho Supreme Court. Here’s the executive summary:

After his conviction and sentence for rape, Krispen Estrada filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Idaho district court, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel in sentencing. The district court determined that Estrada’s counsel in the criminal case had provided deficient performance by failing to advise Estrada about his privilege against self-incrimination in regard to a court-ordered psychosexual evaluation. The court denied the claim, however, reasoning that Estrada was not prejudiced because he would have received the same sentence because the sentencing court could have properly drawn adverse inferences at sentencing, such as lack of remorse, non-amenability to treatment, and risk to the community, if Estrada had refused to participate in the evaluation. The Supreme Court of Idaho reversed the district court’s finding of lack of prejudice, implicitly rejecting the district court’s determination that the sentencing court may properly draw adverse inferences from silence at sentencing, and holding prejudice was shown because the evaluation “played a role” in sentencing. The question presented is:

Other than in finding the facts and circumstances of the offense, may a sentencing court draw adverse inferences from a defendant’s refusal to cooperate in a pre- sentencing evaluation?

Estrada’s offense is certainly heinous, “beating, choking and raping his estranged wife in front of their children,” then holding off police in a seven-hour armed confrontation. But the question of self-incrimination – in this case, allowing an effective inference of guilt from a decision not to speak – is a lot broader than one case.

In Estrada’s case, he was convicted of the crime – through a plea deal – before the issue of psychosexual testing came up. His guilt or innocence was not at issue; the testing was used to help the judge determine whether he would continue to threaten violence to society. The testing indicated that he did, and the judge sentenced accordingly. A lawyer for Estrada said that the attorney previously handling the case should have fought the testing, on grounds that the convict was effectively testifying against himself, if not for purposes of guilt then for purposes of sentencing, which also matters.

In other words: Can your insistence on your rights be held against you?

There are other cases where we do allow something of the sort. If you’re stopped while driving and suspected of driving under the influence, and refuse to take certain tests, your license can be taken away. It’s not an exact analogy, since driving is a licensed and limited activity, not a general right, but something of the point remains similar.

There’s also the position of a judge who has to decide what level of danger a convicted person may pose to society. Should we say that a judge shouldn’t consider all relevant factors in trying to make the best decision – but only some of them?

The whole area is an unclear piece of the law. As the AG’s appeal notes, “The Lower Courts Are Divided Between Those Jurisdictions That Allow No Adverse Inferences At Sentencing, Those That Allow Adverse Inferences At Sentencing Except To Show The Facts Of The Underlying Crime, And Those That Pro-
hibit Adverse Inferences That Increase A Sentence But Allow Adverse Inferences In Denying A Decrease Of The Sentence.”

There’s no perfect answer. This is one of those cases where various rights and responsibilities do seem to come into collision. It ought to be a useful piece of work for the high court to undertake.

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