Writings and observations

The blog tracker Technorati has a new tool we may find useful in the months ahead, charts showing the number of references in blog posts to a specific name or word.

Here, for example, is the measure of mentions of “Bill Sali” – the Idaho representative – in blogs over the last six months.

Posts that contain Bill Sali per day for the last 180 days.
Technorati Chart
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You might have thought that as election season moved on and the summer doldrums approached, that references to Sali (and other politicians) would have diminished. Not so; in fact, they seem to be rising.

What about other Northwesterners? What’s the pattern for, say, Oregon Senator Gordon Smith?

Bigger, more sweeping, but similar in dynamic:

Posts that contain Gordon Smith per day for the last 180 days.
Technorati Chart
Get your own chart!

But some follow ore expected patterns. Moving to the statehouse level, let’s check the pattern for Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp, a figure well known in that state’s politics but not so much elsewhere.

Posts that contain Frank Chopp per day for the last 180 days.
Technorati Chart
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This tracks remarkably closely to the periods of high interest and activity in the Washington Legislature.

We’ll be revisiting this useful tool.

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We’ve suggested in the past that candidates who receive questionnaires from ideological groups probably are not well served in answering the questions on them: The questions are usually designed to frame ideas and issues according to the thought processes of the group, while the candidates may think of those issues differently. An answer, yes or no, from a candidate can amount to putting words in the candidate’s mouth.

So, a candidate who does answer can be assumed to look at these questions much as the organization does.

So we’ll be interested to know who winds up responding to the new Idaho Values Alliance questionnaire for applicants for the Idaho Supreme Court.

Here are the questions. For the first 20, respondents are asked if they agree or disagree with the statement; the last few questions are multiple-choice.

1. The Founders of the state of Idaho were grateful to God for our freedom.

2. All men have an inalienable right to enjoy and defend both life and liberty.

3. All men have an inalienable right to acquire, possess, and protect property.

4. All political power is inherent in the people, not the courts.

5. The exercise and enjoyment of religious faith and worship should be forever guaranteed.

6. Liberty of conscience should not be construed to excuse acts of licentiousness.

7. Bigamy and polygamy should be forever prohibited in the state of Idaho.

8. Idahoans should have the right to freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, but are responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

9. Idaho’s constitution permits capital punishment.

10. The people, not just the militia, should have the right to keep and bear arms.

11. Idaho law should not impose licensure, registration or special taxes on the ownership of firearms or ammunition.

12. Idaho law should not permit the confiscation of firearms, except those actually used in the commission of a felony.

13. The right of eminent domain should be permitted for any use necessary to the complete development of the material resources of the state.

14. Property qualifications should be allowed for school elections and elections creating indebtedness.

15. Unless the constitution expressly directs or permits, the judicial department should not exercise the powers properly belonging to the legislative and executive departments.

16. Casino gambling is contrary to public policy and should be strictly prohibited, including electronic and electromechanical imitation and simulation of all forms of casino gambling.

17. The first concern of all good government should be the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home.

18. The legislature should further all well directed efforts to promote temperance and morality.

19. All political subdivisions in Idaho should be prohibited from recognizing any domestic legal union other than a marriage between a man and a woman.

20. The governor should have the power to disapprove of any item or items of any bill making appropriations of money embracing distinct items.

21. Which one of the current or recent U.S. Supreme Court Justices most reflects your judicial philosophy? (Ginsburg, O’Connor, Kennedy, Scalia, Other)

22. Rate your judicial philosophy on a scale of 1-10 when approaching the constitution, with “living document” being a 1 and “strict constructionist” being a 10.

23. Which of the following former U.S. Presidents best represents your political philosophy? (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Other)

So, who will answer?

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Much of what we routinely see as the downside of the wired world – spam and the like – is nuisance but manageable. Not all on line threats are so easy to deal with.

That’s the point made by Aaron Turner, a cybersecurity strategist for the Idaho National Laboratories, which has plenty to keep secure. Writing in CSO Magazine (a trade publication for security people), he says about his local experience:

“The Departments of Energy and Homeland Security have funded 12 separate control system security reviews, during which Idaho National Labs (INL) experts have found that all of the evaluated systems suffer from high-impact security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by a low-skill-level attacker, using techniques that do not require physical access to systems. In reviewing the design and implementation of these control systems, the INL team discovered that in currently deployed systems, enhanced security controls cannot easily be implemented while still assuring basic system functionality.”

And: “With computer attackers constantly looking for new targets, they will follow the path of least resistance, which could lead them to the control systems that underlie our infrastructure.”

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Minidoka Internment Camp

Minidoka internment camp/National Park Service

You could call it the final indignity, if it come to pass. Which it may, cattle feedlot applications in the Magic Valley having the pull they have. But maybe not.

The location of this issue is the Hunt area north of Eden, Idaho, which is east of Jerome, near the middle of the Magic Valley. This is where, during World War II, a camp was built to house Americans of Japanese ancestry, citizens who were uprooted from their homes and packed off to the desert. It now is the site of the Minidoka Internment National Monument, a memorial to one of the sadder incidents in our national life, and an invitation to think more wisely in the future.

So going there would be a good thing for Americans to do. But Big Sky Farms LLP is proposing to launch a powerful disincentive to visitors: A cattle feed lot which would service more than 13,000 head of cattle. That many head of cattle will create smell, and the smell is almost certain to drift regularly across the mile and a half separating the feed lot and the memorial.

Other neighbors have issue with the feed lot, too. (Is there anyone who would want one across the street?) But the memorial ought to have a special call here: A national facility intended to redress with some dignity a wrong done to some of the people of this country, possibly being done in – as a tourist attraction – by cow excrement. We’ll check back on this.

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liquorIs the purchase of liquor something that can’t be planned for? We long have scoffed at the laws that ban some liquor sales on election day – would people really be unable to buy their stock prior to, and get sloshed on election day regardless? Well, maybe.

Just as Idaho’s largest county (Ada) is preparing to join about half of the state’s other counties in allowing liquor store sales on Sundays, the other two Northwest states are reviewing their own experience, and finding an apparently enlarged marketplace. You might suspect that allowing Sunday sales would do little to sell more liquor – knowing the stores are closed on Sundays, wouldn’t you just buy ahead on Saturday? But evidently not everything is thinking ahead to do that.

The Seattle Times is reporting today on the Washington experience since, two years ago, the state opened liquor sales on Sundays. The business has, it turns out, grown tremendously. When the change occurred, state officials were figuring sales might increase by close to $10 million a year as a result; our thought at the time was that they were being a little optimistic. Turns out not: According to the Times, “Instead, Sunday sales have exceeded projections by nearly 60 percent and now the State Liquor Control Board expects $15.1 million will be collected on Sundays during the current biennium, which ends June 30.”

That’s no aberration. Oregon allowed some Sunday sales about three years ago, and sales overall have risen variously between 9.2% and 19.6%. Pennsylvania, which took similar action about the same time, reported a similar experience.

Maybe, some things you just can’t plan for.

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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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