As of 8 pst.

Some thoughts on this – coming at just about the time President Obama seems to be nailing down 270+ to win a second term – as the numbers come in int he next little bit.

Update 8:17 p.m. Okay, I’ll go ahead and say it: With Colorado and Iowa called by major media, if the west coast (including Idaho) goes as expected, Obama has been re-elected. Whatever Ohio, Virginia and Florida do.

BTW, on the Huffington Post electoral map, that site just declared Obama as the winner with 275 (so far) electoral votes – kicked over the line by the addition of Oregon’s seven electoral votes, just added to the blue column.

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Our ballots

Those of us in places where we are mailed ballots and then just drop them off – most often not mailed but rather deposited in mailbox-like drop boxes – don’t get that little charge from someone calling out at their voting places that “John Doe has voted!” There are downsides to the mail process.

They’re easily outweighed by the good, since we can vote in a quiet, calm atmosphere, check or doublecheck what we need to, take our time, and send off the ballots when ready.

As in our household we’re doing today, at the Carlton City Hall drop box, after having received the ballots in the mail yesterday.

For those who have the option, as people in Oregon and Washington do, early voting actually has a political effect, if you’re mostly supporting one party’s candidates, and the campaigns have some reason to know or suspect it (as is often the case). From here to “election day” – really deadline day, two weeks hence, in these parts – the parties will be frantically going after their supporters, making sure that all of their people have cast ballots. When they see in the county records that your ballot has been received, they quit worrying about you and move on to others who haven’t voted yet.

So voting early (and no, no, not often) has the effect of diminishing the political communications headed your way, and helps the campaigns you support move on to focus on others who weren’t quite so prompt, or who may not vote at all without an extra nudge.

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Really striking how the two major newspapers in the Northwest, the Seattle Times and the Portland Oregonian, have landed on flatly opposite sides on the marijuana legalization initiatives in their respective states – the Times in favor (with four editorials, no less), the Oregonian against.

The Oregonian editorial staff would be quick to note (and accurately) that the two measures are not the same. Washington’s could be considered cleaner, a more direct and conventional legalize, regulate and tax approach, while Oregon’s goes further – almost wrapping pot in the flag and founding fathers (it is true that George Washington and others of the time grew hemp), and putting regulation in the hands of a board dominated by the newly legal industry.

Talk about having the economic advantages baked in.

What the Times writers seemed to get, though, that the Oregonian’s did, is this: The details aren’t what’s important. These initiatives aren’t important in the usual way, the way initiatives on taxes and so many other things are important. In those cases, details are important because those measures if passed will go into effect as is.

Not so in the case of these initiatives. Growing, selling and possessing marijuana is illegal under federal law, and that won’t change even if both initiatives (and those in other states) pass. Voters in a state can’t overturn federal law by initiative, or any other way.

The initiatives are important, rather, as indicators of popular decision-making. If they crash and burn, elected officials who by rote have been for decades imposing fierce penalties on marijuana-related activities will get the message that their approach is acceptable to the voters. A defeat for the initiatives would be a vote for the status quo – which, if you like it, would be the way to go. If you think pot law ought to be shake up, maybe moved toward a legalize/regulate/tax regime, then a yes vote will tend to move things in that direction.

Imagine the reaction in Congress and in the new presidential administration if on one hand all the marijuana initiatives failed? Or if they passed? There would be some rattling effect either way. If they pass, there’s a good chance similar measures would pass in more states in another couple of years, and possibly more a couple of years after that. Changes in the federal law, a brick wall at present, would start to crack severely after that.

That’s what this is about. These initiatives are a form of message-sending more than they’re anything else. If Oregon actually tried, for example, to implement its new initiative, with a free open market in marijuana, the feds would be unlikely to stand by. The details of the initiative – the industry-dominated regulatory board and much of the rest of it – would either never see the light of day, or never see daylight more than once.

The Times seems clearer about that than the Oregonian, which in its editorials seems to have been dancing around the core question of whether legalization is the way to go. It’s a fair policy question. It’s also the one that makes more sense to address than the phantoms which are never likely to become real.

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Pulling together the weather report this afternoon for the Weekly Digests I was struck by how the weather in so many places around the Northwest is dominated by smoke from wildfires.

Not west of the Cascades – it did not figure in any of those weather reports.

But in the National Weather Service reports (which I use), the weather reports for the Boise, Idaho Falls and Pocatello areas were dominated by their image you see on this post, signalling heavy smoke. Likewise Yakima, Bend the Ketchum/Sun Valley area, and Lewiston. Idaho seems much the hardest hit overall, with eastern Washington seeing some severe spots.

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It’s not exactly obscure since the Oregonian made a picture from it today’s page one centerpiece, but you really should check out the paper’s new photo essay on the Columbia River.

Those of us who have often traveled across much of its distance (especially, in my case, the Portland/Tri-cities stretch) will not in recognition at a number of the shots and place them easily – the startling tree farm near Boardman, for example. But there’s a lot more, and many of the shots taken from mid-river will give you a perspective you’ve never seen before.

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You may have seen the maps showing how the red and blue fare on votes and campaign contributions. But have you checked out the Amazon.com map on political book sales?

It may not be especially illuminating at any single moment, especially when a few hot new titles might push things in one direction or another. But over time, it could provide some insight into how political books match up with local politics.

You’ll notice, for example, that while Republican-leaning books are leading generally in the Northwest (as in most of the country) at the moment, that Idaho (buying 64% red to 36% blue) is much more so than Washington or Oregon (both 54% red/46% blue).

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Back in the 19th century, most political journalism was overtly partisan – newspapers specifically called themselves Republican or Democratic (less often, independent), aligning themselves with one of the parties in news coverage as well as editorial comment. In the 20th century, as the number of newspapers shrank and the business model called for reaching most of the population – to pull in broad-based advertising – political reporting changed, recast in ways that would (or at least was intended to) more fairly represent the news and views of both parties. “Objective” would not be the right word for it, but done well, it could be a generally fair and neutral reportage.

Are we moving back away from that, toward more overtly partisan coverage – two sets of coverage, two sets of reality, one each to match your inclinations?

A new article on AlterNet highlights the Idaho Reporter, a web-based news organization tightly linked to conservative groups (and specifically a subsidiary of one Idaho lobbying group). The article, by Joe Strupp, goes into the background and associations of the site and the way it is part of a growing development of ideologically-based news coverage. Such groups are a growing force in statehouses around the country; conservative news agencies associated with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity have been expanding rapidly around the country.

Meanwhile, as the article noted, “A 2009 American Journalism Review study found that 355 newspaper reporters and editors were covering state capitols full time, a 30 percent decrease at the time from 524 in 2003.” The decrease may be even larger than that in the Northwest’s statehouses. Will ideological coverage reach a point where it starts to drown out conventional nonpartisan coverage?

The Idaho Reporter (and its parent, the Idaho Freedom Foundation) may take issue with the description of its product as ideologically-driven, but its website describes it specifically as “your source for uniquely watchdog and free-market oriented coverage.” That’s a fair enough indicator for what they’re about. But what do the benefactors of this widespread, national effort expect will be the result? And what other ideological perspectives will get the money to launch effort to promote any other ideas – or does it matter if, down the road, the only one we get is this one?

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rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

The other day, someone said to me “The 2012 national election is going to see a housecleaning in Washington. We’re going to put a bunch of those freeloaders and nuts out of work!” I nodded and changed the subject. That was preferable to starting an argument.
Ain’t gonna happen. Not now. Not ever. Under our current system of voting, it’s just flat not gonna happen!

Sometime ago, I used this space to describe the “good guy-bad guy” syndrome and the effect it has keeping incumbents – no matter how looney or undeserving – in our national congress. Now, the Gallup polling organization has reaffirmed that theory in spades! Again.

The latest finding is the anti-incumbent attitude among likely voters is the highest it’s been in 19 years. That time period is important for purposes of comparison because, 19 years ago, there was a Republican wave that put the GOP in charge of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years and sat ol’ Newt in the Speaker’s chair. From which he was subsequently forced to resign by his own party for numerous ethical and legal violations. But that’s several other stories for several another times.

Gallup’s latest sampling of voters found 76% – 76% – believe most members of congress deserve to be fired. Posthaste. That’s the highest point of dissatisfaction since – wait for it – 19 years ago. As for the 20% who’d keep the same bunch, that’s the lowest percentage since – you know.

Among Republicans, a surprising 75% believe a clean sweep is due. Democrats agree by 68%. But Independents want to clean house by more than 80%! All those are new highs.

Now, back to the “good guy-bad guy” thing. Most of us have a target or two in congress we call “bad guys” and we’d like to see them gone. My list starts with two-thirds of the Texas delegation and expands nationally from there.

Then there are the “good guys.” We never seem to have enough of them. Those are the ones swimming upstream against the current tide of ideology, ignorance and self-service fouling up our congress. Good guys in both parties. Showing up for work and even getting some things done. We want more of them. We NEED more of them.

Problem is, as this new Gallup sampling points out, though most answering the questions said a majority of current members should be thrown out, 53% said that didn’t apply to their own guy who they felt was doing a great job. In other words, “My guy’s the good guy and your guy’s the bad guy. I want to keep mine but I want to get rid of yours.”

Therein lies the reason we won’t get rid of the “bad guys.” Oh, there might be some shifts in party numbers one way or the other. Maybe even a different party in the majority in one house or the other. Or both. But many “bad guys” have been there for 30 years or more, surviving previous voter efforts to clean up the place. They hang on like a stubborn bathtub ring.

So, while we out here in the hinterlands can’t expect a new wave of sanity and cooperation to overcome congress in January, 2013, it’s worth noting what happened in 2010. We had a 63-seat change in the U.S. House from Democrat to Republican. And at that time voters were less unhappy than they are now. Less mad.

Does anti-incumbency work for Democrats or against them? Does anti-incumbency threaten more Republicans or help them? What effect will the disastrous U.S. Supreme Court decision (Citizens United) allowing unlimited and anonymous hundreds of millions of dollars loose in the political system have on the process? Questions without answers. For now.

But some things we do know. There’ll be no “housecleaning” to use a friend’s word. There’ll be no exorcizing of the “bad guys” en masse. While there may be less ideology and dogma, there’ll be no great shift to immediate action to solve our national ills. Getting rid of deadwood doesn’t automatically mean replacements will be any swifter or surer to act.

Maybe the best we can hope for is a few more good guys taking the place of some of the bad guys. My good guys, of course.

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Americans for Prosperity – a group founded (inter-shell) by the hard-right Koch brothers, and highly active in support of Tea Party activities – has released its list of approval and disdain of members of Congress.

Whatever your view, it can be considered indicative: You may consider an A or an F from these guys a badge of honor, but it does give you a realistic idea of who the new hard right really likes and really doesn’t, and in relative terms. There are no low-graded Republicans, or high-graded Democrats.

Here’s the Northwest results (from their results page):

A+ – Representative Raul Labrador, R-Idaho (the only Northwesterner with a “lifetime” A+, though the fact that he’s in his first term helps some); Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

A – Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho

B – Representative Doc Hastings, R-Washington; Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington; Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington.

C – Representative Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; Representative Greg Walden, R-Oregon; Representative Dave Reichert, R-Washington.

D – Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington; Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington; Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon; Representative Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon; Representative Rick Larsen, D-Washington.

F – Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Representative Norm Dicks, D-Washington; Representative Jim McDermott, D-Washington; Representative Adam Smith, D-Washington; Former Oregon Representative David Wu.

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A few words for the organizers of Occupy in Portland, and other locations where people are trying to take over spaces without end in sight … from someone sympathetic with the core messages they’re trying to convey:

Adopt as action the name of another organization of similar mind. Move On.

Occupy started out well, and powerfully, and it has already succeeded in what at least should have been its initial goals. The object was to change the conversation about what the nation’s core problems are, to a discussion about the power of great wealth, inequality and the resulting threat to democracy. After weeks of deliberate avoidance by national news media and others, attention was finally gotten. And the scope of action made clear that this was not just about a street crowd in downtown New York. When crowds in places from major metro centers to places like Mosier, Oregon – and there are only a small and scattered number of houses in Mosier – began joining in, a corner of some sort has been turned.

It started as a march, then an occupation, and a few other events have occurred. What needs to happen next for Occupy is to, well, move on.

It needs not to go away, but to evolve.

For a matter of days, maybe as long as two or three weeks, the presence of the protesters in Chapman and Lownsdale Square parks in downtown Portland added to the message, gave it a center, made it more powerful. Over the last week, maybe two, though, the encampment has distracted from it – inevitably. Occupy Portland became about a group of people camping in downtown Portland. The story became its governance, its gradually growing clashes with police (after a highly cooperative beginning) – up to more than 50 arrests today. And the arrival of people whose interest had little to do with promoting the message the original protesters were so passionate about.

The message has gotten left behind. Not totally obscured – a lot of the national conversation really has changed – but the Occupy Encampments are no longer adding to the message, or spreading it. As any organization, however intentionally unorganized, will do, its top priority eventually becomes itself.

That suggests a solution to the problem: Do other things.

Find other ways to get attention. Stage other events (peaceably and legally – there’s plenty of room for action within the law). Do more marches. Keep the focus, above all, on the message.

The primary Occupy organizers seem to want that, at least as demonstrated by their determination to avoid a leadership hierarchy and a series of spokesmen.

If they’re really serious about it, their next move is clear: Break up the encampment, and schedule another activity in, say, a couple of weeks.

Otherwise, their message is almost sure to be trampled underfoot.

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For a second year, the Northwest seems to have mostly avoided the large wildfires that were such a plague only a few years ago.

The weather has to have a lot to do with it: The heavy rains earlier this year, substantial snowpacks and the summer that didn’t really get underway until around Independence Day. Washington has been unusually lucky, with only a few substantial fires, mainly in the northeast. Oregon and Idaho have done nearly as well, though the fires circling Bend early last month were fierce enough to send their smoke across the Cascades. And Idaho has had some significant blazes, though of moderate size and generally well off from human habitation (many in remote areas in the region near Salmon).

Current federal wildfire mapping indicates four fires in Idaho, two in Oregon, none in Washington.

Some of this was luck, though. An Oregonian article out today notes that a massive area of the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southwest Oregon (around the Klamath Falls area) has been hit by pine beetles which have damaged immense stands of trees across 300,000 acres. “Foresters and firefighters held their breath when lightning storms swept through in August, sparking numerous fires but sparing the Fremont-Winema,” the paper said.

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Put the phrases “free market”, “less regulation” and “environmental sustainability” together in the same concept … well, it’s not that they can’t work together, but you don’t see it a lot. But here’s a case that can easily bridge the divide.

It comes from the Sightline Institute at Seattle, with the unlikely subject of taxis. Taxi cabs, it turns out, are a “sustainable” type of business, partly because they provide the means for people to use cars and other vehicles less. “Plentiful, affordable taxis facilitate greener urban travel. They help families shed second cars, ride transit more often, and walk to work on could-be-rainy days. They fill gaps in transit systems and provide a fallback in case of unexpected events,” Sightline said.

taxi

It turns out out too that Seattle and Portland are, relative among the nation’s larger metro areas (with large taxi fleets), over-regulating them – diminishing their numbers and use, increasing the cost of using them, and harming sustainability.

More specifically:

In the Northwest’s largest cities, however, local ordinances enforced by taxi boards suppress the entry of new cabs onto the streets. They impose arcane and ultimately farcical management principles reminiscent of Soviet planning. Imagine teams of pizza regulators pawing through discarded receipts and pizza boxes to determine whether demand for pizza delivery markets are “oversaturated,” and you won’t be far from the truth. Restricting taxicab licenses undermines passengers’ mobility, local economies, and—by encouraging driving—our natural heritage; uncapping cabs would allow market competition to bolster all three.

As shown in the figure above, at present, the Northwest’s largest cities have fewer cabs per capita, and higher fares, than many US cities. Seattle’s 1.4 cabs per 1,000 residents is twice Portland’s 0.7, and well above Vancouver’s 1 cab per 1,000. But all our cities lag. Washington, DC, has more than 12 cabs per 1,000 residents; Las Vegas has almost 6; and San Francisco has 2. Meanwhile, the cost of a typical, five-mile trip is $16.50 in Portland, $17.25 in Seattle, and $21.57 in Vancouver. Washington, DC’s typical fare is just $11.50.

Consider the efforts of Portland’s Transportation Board of Review, which has the power to issue new taxi licenses but is also charged by city law with monitoring “market saturation factors.” It is supposed to avoid market oversaturation, something every other market—from pizza delivery to home remodeling—manages to do just fine on its own, without benefit of a board. In Portland, the rules actually require applicants to prove that a new taxi license is needed. Imagine if Pizza Hut had to demonstrate to the Pizza Delivery Board that it needs another driver for the Super Bowl.

That’s not an argument that holds up on every regulated business, the markets-are-flawless crowd notwithstanding. But Sightline makes a good case for it in the case of taxis. And it’d be interesting to see counterpart studies elsewhere.

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