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Posts published in “Northwest”

The Wal-Mart flow

National in scope, but you can see the effects in the Northwest too: Take a look at this flowing map showing the growth, store by store and year by year, of Wal-Mart since its founding.

WalMart

Wal-Mart in 2007

Easy to forget now that this is a relatively recent phenomenon, that the Northwest had no Wal-Marts at all until the 90s, and how much ore heavily populated with them is the east rather than the west. But see if it doesn't give you creeps just the same.

Metrics for fall 2010

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

Ronald Reagan famously asked people in 1980 whether they thought they were better off than four years before; the prevailing answer was negative, and challenger Reagan won. Four years later he asked (at least implicitly) the same thing, and the prevailing mood was more positive; and as an incumbent he won again.

This isn't specifically Northwest in nature, but in an interview with Time magazine incoming President Barack Obama offered a more specific scorecard of his own. It might be useful in evaluating the crowd now moving into power, as the next set of mid-term elections arrive in 2010 - a set of marks Northwest candidates too might be held to. This was Obama's take:

On [domestic] policy, have we helped this economy recover from what is the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Have we instituted financial regulations and rules of the road that assure this kind of crisis doesn't occur again? Have we created jobs that pay well and allow families to support themselves? Have we made significant progress on reducing the cost of health care and expanding coverage? Have we begun what will probably be a decade-long project to shift America to a new energy economy? Have we begun what may be an even longer project of revitalizing our public-school systems so we can compete in the 21st century? That's on the domestic front.

On foreign policy, have we closed down Guantánamo in a responsible way, put a clear end to torture and restored a balance between the demands of our security and our Constitution? Have we rebuilt alliances around the world effectively? Have I drawn down U.S. troops out of Iraq, and have we strengthened our approach in Afghanistan — not just militarily but also diplomatically and in terms of development? And have we been able to reinvigorate international institutions to deal with transnational threats, like climate change, that we can't solve on our own?

And outside of specific policy measures, two years from now, I want the American people to be able to say, "Government's not perfect; there are some things Obama does that get on my nerves. But you know what? I feel like the government's working for me. I feel like it's accountable. I feel like it's transparent. I feel that I am well informed about what government actions are being taken. I feel that this is a President and an Administration that admits when it makes mistakes and adapts itself to new information, that believes in making decisions based on facts and on science as opposed to what is politically expedient." Those are some of the intangibles that I hope people two years from now can claim.

Snow all over

This is hard winter in the Northwest. Minus 6 at Burns today. At our headquarters, the backstreets were snow-covered from early morning on; the highways were worn down, but looking treacherous.

We were lucky. Spokane was buried under two feet of snow - to the point that simply moving around at all became a questionable thing. Most of North Idaho was hardly better off. And the snow storms, while not especially fierce, are beginning to feel never-ending.

Here a couple of snow pictures from around the region, from Chiloquin (about a half-hour north of Klamath Falls) and from inside Seattle, where this kind of snow isn't such a commonplace matter.

snow at Chiloquin

Snow at Chiloquin/Joanne Lipsiea

And at Seattle . . .

snow at Seattle

Snow at Seattle/Nancy Kool

Grid 2.0

grid

Kachinas/Linda Watkins

READING The comparisons between this period and the onset of the New Deal are probably overstretched, but some specific counterparts are arising - take for example what you might call Grid 2.0.

The old version (1.0) was the massive damming of the Columbia River, the immense hydropower project that transformed the Northwest. Now, there may be something new. From an Associated Press piece just out: "there’s talk of another major public works project for the Northwest, one that would deliver green wind power to the Interstate 5 corridor and, by some estimates, help create 50,000 jobs."

In theory, it could plug into the current Bonneville Power system and then expand it, dramatically. And the amounts could be substantial; already, as the article notes, enough wind power is being produced to power two Seattles, and twice as much capacity is in the pipeline.

Before and after

READING In scanning through some of Joel Connelly's recent columns (for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) and running across this side-note, which seemed useful for a spotlight here as a new presidential administration starts to work through its plans for social policy. Connelly is writing here about the approaches used in Vancouver, British Columbia . . .

The city has embarked on a treatment-based, not punishment-based, drug strategy. The head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration flew in to lecture a business lunch on dangers of the city's plans for a "safe injection center."

The Yanks' drug czar was, thankfully, ignored.

Vancouver has experienced a steep decline in deaths from heroin overdoses and other illegal drugs. British Columbia had 396 drug deaths in 1998, 191 in Vancouver. The figures so far this year are 133 provincewide, and just 30 deaths in the city.

Bailing

REPORT The proposed auto bailout doesn't seem to be something members of Congress are on their own volition highlighting, unless it's a vote against.

From Idaho Representative Mike Simpson: "Fundamental restructuring is necessary for the Big Three domestic auto companies to be competitive and relevant in the future, and on December 2, they presented to Congress their plans for restructuring and stated that without a large amount of government financial assistance they would not survive through the end of the year. While the plans included laudable goals, too few details were provided as to how the companies will actually achieve the restructuring and the savings they have promised. . . . Instead, Congressman Simpson supports the GOP Alternative for the Auto Industry, which allows the Big Three to become competitive again without risking taxpayer dollars. Under the GOP Plan, which provides temporary government insurance instead of a taxpayer-funded bailout, the Big Three must lock in the restructuring they have promised in a matter of weeks, not months or years."

On the flip side (from a backer of bicycles as an auto alternative), Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer said "I voted to support H.R.7321, the Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act, having determined that it was the best compromise given the current circumstances. Importantly, these loans provide strong taxpayer protections, making it more likely that the funds will be returned. Given the number of jobs directly at stake and the opportunity to point the auto industry in a better direction, I found reaching a compromise on this issue was necessary."

The vote was 237-170, with Democrats supplying all but 32 of the aye votes. All of the northwest Republicans voted no, and all the region's Democrats voted yes (except Oregon's Darlene Hooley, who did not vote).

We might note here, with caveats, a poll conducted (in Idaho, by Greg Smith Associates) late last week on the auto industry bailout. That poll was about an earlier package, not the most recent. But the views were clear, and probably transferrable:

"Respondents were read and asked the following: 'As you may know, Congress is considering giving about 35 billion dollars in emergency loans to help or bail out Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. From what you know, are you for or against this relief or bailout package by the United States government?' In response, 74% of Idahoans are opposed to this Federal assistance, with only 22% in favor. Opposition is strongest in North Idaho (80%), although opposition is at 70% or greater throughout Idaho. Shortly before this polling effort, CNN/Opinion Research asked people nationally about this subject, and found 61% in opposition to relieving or bailing out the Big Three automakers. . . .

"When asked, 'If the U.S. Government does in fact provide this emergency aid to these automakers, do you feel that the effort would help the United States economy?', only 39% of Idahoans feel that relief or a bailout would help the nation’s economy, with fully 52% not believing the effort would be of help."

UPDATE Maybe the Senate was bearing some of this in mind. This evening it rejected the current $14 billion plan, on a 52-35 (procedural) vote.

Northwest bailout bucks

Sterling Bank

Sterling Bank

Wondering where exactly that mass of financial bailout money is going? The online journalists at ProPublica have some answers, and Northwesterners may be surprised, maybe troubled, by some of them.

Their research finds that as of midday today, $242.02 billion has been designated to 129 financial institutions around the country, to buy senior preferred shares of the various companies. Eight of them are based in the Northwest, six in Washington state, one each in Oregon and Idaho. They are (in order of size): Sterling Financial Corp in Spokane (WA), $303 million; Umpqua in Portland (OR), $214.2 million; Washington Federal in Seattle (WA), $200 million; Banner Corp in Walla Walla (WA), $124 million; Columbia Banking System in Tacoma (WA), $76.9 million; Cascade Financial Corp in Everett (WA), $39 million; Intermountain Community Bancorp in Sandpoint (ID), $27 million; Heritage Financial in Olympia (WA), $24 million.

Unlike the federal bank takeovers, this is a voluntary program, and banks (or banking companies) apply to participate - to sell shares of stock.

Another that should be of regional interest is Wells Fargo - one of the top banking operations in the Northwest - in San Francisco, getting $25 billion. It is in fact one of the biggest dollar recipients, tied for third place overall; first and second go to Citigroup and AIG, respectively. Wells seems on its face a puzzler, since it was praised (and rightly) for avoiding much of the bad-mortgage financial garbage that sank so many others. But Wells is buying Wachovia Corporation, which did make a mass of bad loans, so at least some of that funding is understandable.

But what of the others? Some curious questions start to arise, including the question of how many of these federal stock buys are really needed. At least one Northwest bank CEO says explicitly, in a press release, that his bank didn't need it at all. (more…)

Ski area report card

The group Ski Area Citizens Coalition has out an environmental impact report on ski areas around the west, with some results Northwesterns may find of interest. (See the site for a description of how the scores were arrived at; individual report cards are posted as well.)

There were 10 best and 10 worst lists. Westwide, the best was said to be Aspent Mountain Ski Report. Bogus Basin Mountain Resort near Boise was listed eighth best, and Mount Bachelor Ski Area near Bend was ninth. Both did well on conservation and effective use of existing ski territory.

The worst overall was said to be Copper Mountain Ski Resort in Colorado. But all but two of the other's in the worst 10 were in the northwest: No. 2 Sun Valley Resort near Ketchum, No. 3 Tamarack Resort near McCall, No. 5 Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park near Spokane, No. 7 49 Degree North Resort in Washington, No. 8 White Pass Ski Area in Washington, No. 9 Brundage Mountain Resort near McCall, and No. 10 Crystal Mountain Ski Area in Washington.

Effective use of land - as opposed to grabbing more and more - was a substantial consideration in the rankings. Take a look at this paragraph from their report:

Since the 1978/1979-ski season, skier numbers nationally have increased less than 2% over 23 seasons, or less than 1/10th of 1% per year. Yet many ski area terrain expansions are being undertaken in an effort to attract the limited pool of skier dollars nationwide. Doing so fuels a cycle whereby other ski areas feel pressure to expand in order to retain their market share and/or lure the limited number of skiers from other resorts. Ninety percent of ski areas in the western United States are on public lands administered by the Forest Service. It is not sound public policy for the Forest Service to continue to approve terrain expansions, which feed this cycle encouraging ski area expansions without regard for public recreation needs. In the White River NF for instance, home to ski resort icons such as Vail, Aspen, Breckenridge, and Copper Mountain, skier numbers have increased 28% since 1985, yet skier acreage has more than doubled (a 107% increase).

NW: Looking ahead

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1SUPERBUG AT THE HOSPITAL There have been a few national stories about new unusually dangerous microscopic organisms which have gotten their big boost by way of hospitals, but most of those cases have been on the east coast. The Seattle Times has an outstanding report out today about "MRSA, a drug-resistant germ, [which] lurks in Washington hospitals, carried by patients and staff and fueled by inconsistent infection control. This stubborn germ is spreading here at an alarming rate, but no one has tracked these cases — until now." (And again: Stay out of hospitals if you can . . .)

2WISH LIST What should the Obama Administration do early on? This may be the time to get those preferences in, and the Bend Bulletin has one of the best regional wish-list pieces out so far. Their request includes three items Obama specifically called for in his campaign: "including tens of billions in road and infrastructure investment in an economic stimulus package; extending the tax credits for renewable energy producers for 10 years, rather than one; and fixing the cycle of catastrophic wildfires and underfunded federal agencies that leeches money from popular recreation and environmental programs on an annual basis." (Haven't been able to find a free link yet, unfortunately.)

3THE SWITCHYARD Sometimes obscure government grants can have profound effects, an in the case of a rail switchyard upgrade which would be important both for Roseburg and Coos Bay. Rogue Pundit has a useful followup out.

4HOUSING DEFICIENCIES Lots and lots and lots of new houses were built in the last few years, in the Northwest as elsewhere, but hardly any for lower-income people. In a Eugene Register-Guard general package on the squeeze placed on lower-income people, was this item on lack of affordable housing: "Just about 4,800 affordable housing units and Section 8 low-income housing vouchers are available to the more than 20,000 people in the county who qualified for low-income housing based on the 2000 census, Eugene Urban Services Manager Richie Weinman said. And only about 100 new units of affordable housing are added each year, he said."