Writings and observations

Representative Peter DeFazio on cuts, in the U.S. House budget, to emergency early-detection services (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for example, in the case of tsunamis).

So often, this kind of rhetoric doesn’t relate to real-world risks. In this case the risks are real and apparent; you have only to look on the other side of the Pacific to see them (in a nation generally better-prepared for disaster than we are).

These services are there for reasons. Ignore those, and reap the consequences.

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Broadband in the Northwest

A fascinating online tool is out for checking where broadband service is available, and what types and what speeds.

Developed by the National Telecommications and Information Agency, the National Broadband Map shows where broadband is and isn’t available. (By land-based services, anyway; satellite is obviously available in many more places.)

In the Northwest, you see what you generally expect to see, with maybe a little stronger lines through the outskirts of the Portland metro area, and in eastern Washington. But you can drill down to the street level. Want to find out exactly what’s available where you live? Here’s how.

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We’ve long thought that the people who dismiss the idea of nuclear power as a realistic energy source are being too dismissive. If you can resolve reasonable safety issues, ensure that the operation is price effective (not an obscene cost per kilowatt-hour) and get clear-eyed about the waste issues, it should be a realistic option, at least in some places and circumstances. And advances in technology suggest those issues shouldn’t be insurmountable. The political could be harder.

Maybe much harder after Friday’s tsunami. News of partial and possibly further meltdown of a nuclear operation in Japan, resulting from an earthquake the likes of which the Northwest could see somewhere in the future, is likely to shake up the nuclear debate in big ways.

Headlines like “200,000 evacuated as N-crisis escalates” in the Seattle Times won’t make the pro-nuclear advocates’ job much easier.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

This column has been running for a year and it’s appropriate to update a few issues I dissected during that time.

ITEM: They never go back to Pocatello.

Former Democratic First District Congressman Walt Minnick demonstrated anew this old saying about politicians once they leave office. After auditioning for a post with the Obama Administration as comptroller of the currency, Minnick and his partners formed – you guessed it – a lobbying firm called The Majority Group.

While barred by law from any direct contact with his former colleagues for one year, there is nothing that prohibits Minnick from directing others on whose ear to bend and arm to twist. As a former member of the House, he still has floor access privileges to boot.

Minnick’s mid-February move followed by only a few days the announcement by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) official Steve Israel that he would be forming an alumni association of the many former “Blue Dog” Democrats defeated in the last election by Republicans who may try to retake their old seats.

The thought is to stick together, try to influence the House Democratic caucus, share polling and fund-raising information to the extent the law allows, bank on the Republicans over-reaching and charge back.

Minnick did not return calls to his new office nor an e-mail request, thus leaving some obvious questions unanswered. Is he planning for a rematch? Most folks doubt it, but those bitten by the bug never say never. Is his wife, “A.K.” (a former tv newscaster and former Democratic state chair) and their children taking up permanent residency inside the Beltway? Will there be a business tie between Minnick’s new firm and the alumni association? Is there a particular market they will target? Does the firm already have a contract with the DCCC? Time will tell.

Don’t be harsh on Walt. He joins a large group of former Idaho elected officials and staff who once they tasted the D.C. power elixir cannot remove themselves. That list includes former Senators Steve Symms and Larry Craig, former Senate Sergeant of Arms Greg Casey, former Agriculture Under Secretary Mark Rey, and former Idaho Congressmen Orval Hansen and George Hansen, to name only a few.

ITEM: Congressman Mike Simpson reinserts provision on primacy of state water rights for non-navigable waters.

Kudos to Idaho’s Second District congressman for using his new position as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment to reinsert language into a resolution that would prohibit the EPA from using tax dollars to try to remove from the Clean Waters Act language restricting EPA’s authority only to “navigable waters” in a state.

Anyone who cares about the primacy of state water rights and state management of groundwater and non-navigable waters should recognize the threat posed by this naked federal power grab by an agency increasingly operating as a law unto itself. State water rights are critical to the arsenal of arms folks in the Silver Valley can utilize to combat EPA’s attempt to cram a 50-year, $1.8 billion plan for unnecessary extension of clean-up efforts there.

The continuing reluctance of Gov. Butch Otter to support Simpson and state water rights is most puzzling.

ITEM: Sen. Mike Crapo finally introduces legislation to limit presidential authority to create national monuments. As first reported in this column last summer, Crapo introduced a Senate version and California Congressman Devin Nunes a House counterpart of a bill severely limiting the authority of presidents to set aside public lands for higher and better uses under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Presidents of both parties, starting with Theodore Roosevelt through Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have used this law often when a recalcitrant Congress refuses to enact needed legislation to protect some of the many special places on public lands. It has become an important bargaining tool for proponents of more protection as a means of forging compromises because national monuments are far more restrictive than wilderness or national recreation area designations.

Some feel Simpson’s 10-year process of negotiating an acceptable compromise to create the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness will only become a reality if President Obama designates it a national monument. Congress would then undo that by passing Simpson’s bill.

Even if Crapo’s bill were to get to Obama’s desk, it is guaranteed a veto. It’s pure political posturing.

ITEM: Sen. Crapo and The Gang of Six.

The senator deserves kudos for his “Profile in Courage” action in joining five other colleagues in support of the Bowles-Simpson Commission’s set of recommendations to address the nation’s deficit crisis through a combination of entitlement reforms, spending reductions and tax increases. – Chris Carlson

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The impending demise of the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding the ability of gay Americans to serve their country ably, along with the discarding of the military’s ban on women serving in combat, has led to some interesting conversations around the Carlson kitchen table.

We have four members of the United States Marine Corps in our extended family: a cousin, who is a retired colonel; a son, who is a captain on active duty; and two nephews, who are corporals in infantry units.

Those policies were doomed because they flew in the face of the best thing the military has going for it: the last bastion of true meritocracy in our society. In all branches of the service, how one performs, not who you know or where you were educated or how wealthy your family may be, determines promotion.

Hiding one’s sexual orientation inevitably invites a form of below -the-radar discrimination that impact adversely a gay officer’s ability to advance fairly in competition with straight Marines. Likewise, most Marine advancement is premised in on an ability to lead, especially in combat. Restricting women from leading in combat zones discriminates against fair advancement.

It was inevitable that policies running counter to the principles of meritocracy, as they did, were destined to be tossed.

Understanding the context in the evolution of these issues helped me to place such outcomes in an historical framework.

First, one has to grasp the sea-change that occurred when the U.S. military went from draft-dependent to the all-volunteer in 1973. This was a politically driven decision in the aftermath of the Vietnam debacle.

In order to attract volunteers, the military had to offer better pay and more benefits. And, being a meritocracy, this inevitably opened up more opportunities for women and minorities to gain their slice of the American Dream.

Keep in mind also the known inequity of the casualty rates in Vietnam. Because the draft snagged more low-income and less-educated men, a disproportionate number of those killed and wounded in the Vietnam conflict were African-Americans and/or poor whites from rural America. There weren’t that many children of affluent families or members of Congress who were lost.

Much to the surprise of many, the all-volunteer force took off and thrived. Congress, in the meantime, continued to provide decent funding levels, as well as wage increases in excess of the cost-of-living index.

Another consequence of this was a concomitant improvement not just in the regular military, now peopled with folks who wanted to be there, but also in the quality of those serving in the reserves and National Guard.

As in any other profession, statistics say that 10 to 15 percent of the workforce could have a homosexual orientation. The military command’s way of dealing with it was to advance the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy which the brass felt still would enable the military to maintain morale and discipline. Experience has largely shown this to be true.

By repealing this policy (but wisely giving the military six months to implement), Congress and the President are signaling our readiness to have gays openly serve and that previous concerns regarding morale and discipline no longer exist.

In dropping the ban on women being in and leading units in combat zones, the military also is acknowledging the changing character of warfare. There is no longer a line on the map signaling “the front.” Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate that the combat zone is all around one. Women have shown they can perform as well as men in that situation.

More challenging though may be the moral issue homosexuality poses for many. The Uniform Code of Military Justice calls it a crime. (It will now be rewritten.) Many religious traditions treat it as deviancy and see homosexual conduct as sinful. Changing these religious-based attitudes will probably prove to be the longer-term challenge.

For now, the military will carry out the orders of its civilian command structure. One suspects true acceptance and understanding will come with time and the advent of a younger generation of leaders raised in a more tolerant and accepting environment.

Preserving the last bastion of meritocracy is the winner.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Some readers may recognize that line from an old Peter, Paul and Mary song that continues, “the rich would live and the poor would die.” Unfortunately, there’s too much truth to it: Wealth does allow the rich to live longer than those who do not have sufficient money, not to mention what’s left of the increasingly squeezed middle class.

“Income inequality” is a phrase news media and politicians alike want to avoid. They duck phrases deploring language that elicits thoughts of “class warfare.” The stark fact is income disparity, the difference between the super rich and the average worker, is at its greatest chasm in history (with the possible exception of 1928).

Yes, many of the wealthy (households with combined annual gross incomes more than $250,000) pay taxes. And, in a society that long ago institutionalized graduated tax rates, they usually pay more than those who earn less. But many of the super rich, the top two-tenths of one percent, don’t pay any taxes.

I once heard a member of the super rich say flat out “only stupid people pay taxes.” They retain attorneys and accountants to find shelters and write-offs to ensure they don’t pay a cent.

Yet they gladly take the protection of the American military in an unsafe world as an entitlement. They still expect their social security check when they “retire.” It makes me more than a little angry.

I mention this because, for all the rhetoric being tossed around regarding the need to repeal the historic passage of Health Care Reform because of problems and unintended consequences, the fundamentals of more government involvement in this gargantuan consumer of much of America’s wealth will remain in place.

Why? Because it is viewed as an equalizer that provides the poor and the stressed middle class more accessibility to more affordable health care and more protection against catastrophic illness that can financially ruin a household in a heartbeat.

The truly wealthy will still be able to afford to go anywhere in the world for the latest treatments for diseases without known cures. But the average citizen will get more relief, especially with such protections against denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

This view of the federal government as an equalizer providing some modicum of protection from predatory companies who prey on the ignorant, the disadvantaged and the poor, and who hide behind the mantra of “let the marketplace decide,” is what lies at the heart of the debate between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

In mid-January I was privileged to speak at the installation ceremony of a good friend who was formally taking the oath of office as the new U.S. attorney for eastern Washington. Mike Ormsby, a one-time business colleague, is one of those rare decent, compassionate, intelligent people who, despite his success, education and hard-earned income, still has a passionate commitment to justice.

Justice is another one of those concepts at the heart of much of the current political debate. Many people, myself included, have a nagging sense that justice is not as blind as it is supposed to be, that the rich are treated more leniently because they can afford the high-priced attorneys skilled at extracting their clients from any kind of legal dilemma.

At Mike’s installation ceremony I concluded by saying:

Lastly, Mike has a real sense of that word “Justice.” He knows that too often wealth can make a difference, that justice is not always blind. Thomas Jefferson once said that the Tree of Liberty from time to time is watered by the blood of patriots. Mike knows that patriot blood is too often shed by the less educated, by the less privileged, the less blessed—-who remain the backbone of Amercia. And he cares. . . .

The next time you hear someone denouncing government, whether local, state or federal, ask yourself who and what stands between you and the legal predators that lurk around us. Ask yourself why you have a better chance at obtaining justice of any kind in this country rather than anywhere else in the world? – Chris Carlson

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Carlson Northwest

In many state legislatures, Idaho for example, a congressional-style seating pattern applies: All the members of one party sit on one side of the chamber, and all the others on the other side. As need arises (as a majority increases), one side may slop over to the other side. (In Idaho, given the massive Republican majorities in Senate and House both, Republicans occupy not only one side of the chamber but also most of the other.)

This is a kind of party separation that probably does have a subtle effect on the way members think of themselves – as people apart.

Oregon doesn’t do it that way. Although the floor leaders from each party have designated seats on either side of the chamber, in the back, the other members of the caucuses are scattered around. Liberal Democrats sit next to conservative Republicans, which doesn’t happen as much on Idaho, or congressional, floors.

So the interest in the idea that’s been floated in D.C. about shuffling Republicans and Democrats in with each other, at least for this evening’s state of the union. There’s been an informal set of discussions in which members double or even triple up, leading to calling it “date night.”

The Hill newspaper has pulled together a partial list.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D) will be seated with Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley (R). Washington’s Maria Cantwell (D) will be in a triple, with Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) and Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor (D). Representative Jay Inslee (D) of Washington’s 1st district, will sit with Representative Charles Bass (R) of New Hampshire.

Not many senators and House members sitting together, though. Some standards just won’t be dropped …

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What follows is a column (previously appearing in the St. Maries Gazette-Record) by Chris Carlson, now living at Medimont, Idaho. He was one of the founders of the Gallatin Group and was from 1989 until last year its representative based at Spokane. His Gallatin bio also notes that he was “a former press secretary to Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Chris directed the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Public Affairs during the governor’s four-year term as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter. Following his position in Washington, D.C., Chris was appointed to the Northwest Power Planning Council by Idaho Governor John V. Evans. In 1984, he became regional vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane.” And he was a journalist before all that. He’ll be contributing occasional columns in this space.

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

We’re all familiar with zealots, true believers who go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention for their cause, hoping the coverage will generate new interest and fresh contributions.

In Idaho most of the zealotry we experience relates to differing visions regarding future use of natural resources and the wildlife on public lands. Thus, we sometimes see civil disobedience activities by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies or Defenders of Wildlife, protesting wolf hunts, timber sales or mining projects.

While at the Interior department serving as the director of the office of public affairs (1987-1991) I had my epiphany, my revelation about how best to handle the zealots that constantly besieged the agency. The key was to deny them the media coverage they seek.

Shortly after this insight, opportunity to apply it arrived in the form of Mitch Snyder, a self-styled social activist who had taken on the plight of the homeless people in our nation’s capital as his cause. He decided the best way to draw attention to the cause was to stage a sit-in of homeless people in D.C.’s stately Union Station.

Having just arrived home one evening, I received a call from an Interior assistant secretary, who said the Park Service police were reporting that Snyder had led 50 homeless people into Union Station and were conducting a sit-in until arrested and forcibly removed.

He wanted to know what I thought should be done. Once I ascertained they were not blocking the passage of commuters and customers to trains, I told him to direct the Park Police to do nothing until midnight.

Why midnight, he asked. Because, I explained, it was the news media picture of police carrying the homeless to paddy wagons that Snyder wanted and we weren’t going to let him have it.

At midnight, after the late evening news is over, I instructed, have the Park Police “gently” pick up demonstrators and carry them out of the station. No arrests. End of story. And that’s what happened.

Shortly after midnight, however, the assistant secretary called again to say the homeless had promptly lain down in the street in front of the station. The Park Police wanted to know what they should do now.

I said they should do nothing more. The street was the responsibility of the District’s city police, not Interior’s, and it was the city’s problem. Within minutes he was back on the phone saying the Situation Commander for the D.C. police on the scene was asking if we had any advice.

I said they ought to block off the street and leave the homeless there. It was below freezing that night and once they realized they would not be arrested they would leave before the sun rises. And that’s what happened.

Nothing ever appeared in the news media on this incident and there was no bad publicity for the Interior Department.

Fast forward a few years to the first part of this decade. Another opportunity arose for display of the principle in action when the public affairs firm I founded was retained by the president of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) to devise a strategy to counter tree-sitters occupying some of the spectacular Redwoods it owned.

Vexed by the long sit-in held the previous year by “Julia Butterfly,” he was determined not to be held hostage again. He asked for a counter-strategy. Our company’s game plan worked perfectly.

First, we had the client recruit and train several folks who could quickly scramble up the trees, surprise the tree-sitter, truss them up and bring them down n with removal activity happening after midnight long after reporters had gone home. We had each tree-climber wear a helmet with a small mini-camera affixed to it to record the removal and rebut any false claims (which there were) of “brutality.”

Secondly, tree-sitters were informed that by climbing a Redwood they were signing the tree’s death warrant rather than saving the tree. Any tree they scaled and perched in would immediately have a band cut around its base, much as a porcupine does, starting its demise.

The company only had to do it once and the tree-sittings were discontinued.

The key is denying zealots the attention they crave. Without it, they often wither and retreat.

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Carlson Northwest

This site has a feature (we’ll probably be taking it down in a bit) noting where Idaho journalists go when they leave the news media but not the state. The Center for Responsive Politics now has up something similar for members of Congress: Where do they go when they leave office?

They don’t always leave Congress, exactly: Some of them go to work as lobbyists. Others in private businesses, academia or elsewhere.

No listing yet on the Northwest’s most recent ex-members of Congress, Democrats Brian Baird of Washington and Walt Minnick of Idaho. But we’ll be checking back in for what’s reported there.

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The change that didn’t.

From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, the region’s unemployment percentages remained steady-state. It was the kind of solid, stable number that could be a good thing if it were a great deal lower. Every month, the state employment or labor departments in Washington, Oregon and Idaho would report their unemployment numbers. And every month, they would change hardly at all.

In November, Washington’s unemployment rate was 9.2%, exactly the same as the month before.

A couple of weeks ago, from our Oregon Public Affairs Digest: “Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 10.6% in November, essentially unchanged from 10.5% in October. The rate has been between 10.5 and 10.7 percent for the most recent 13 months. Oregon’s unemployment rate was 10.7 percent in November 2009.”

In Idaho, a little more movement up and down, but not much: “Idaho’s rate, a tenth below a recession high of 9.5% in February, remained below the national rate for nine years and two months. The state rate has exceeded the year-earlier rate for 39 straight months. The rate in November 2009 was 9%.”

Sooner or later, it’s gotta change. But it didn’t in 2010.

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