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Posts published in “Northwest”

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."

NW: Dams and college

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1SALMON/ENVIRONMENT Perspective on the salmon debate from Rocky Barker/Idaho Statesman noting that the impending change in the Northwest's congressional delegation, combined with the change of presidential administrations, may mean an entirely new approach for salmon. Even before January: He points to this week's dam removal agreement on the Klamath River as "a major shift in the government's position on dams in the West."

Let's unpack that just a bit, expanding the view. The Washington congressional delegation hasn't changed, but there are critical changes in the other two. In Oregon, Republican Senator Gordon Smith is being replaced by Democrat Jeff Merkley, who is considerably greener; in the House 5th district, where one Democrat replaces another, newcomer Kurt Schrader is likely to be a bit more green-oriented than Darlene Hooley. In Idaho's Senate delegation, Republican Jim Risch replaces Republican Larry Craig, but the change could be significant; Craig presented himself as almost always flatly opposed to environmental proposals, while Risch turned out to be as green as most Democrats on the environment during his months as governor. (That probably will give Senator Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson a big assist in developing their environmental efforts in the Owyhee Canyonlands and White Clouds area, respectively.) And, there's the change from the 1st House district from Republican Bill Sali to Democrat Walt Minnick, who has been active in environmental groups.

Put it together, and what was a fairly close balance on environmental issues now tilts decisively green in the Northwest delegation. And that's before you get to the impact of the Obama Administration.

2VOTE COUNTS And still they're counting votes in Washington. And especially in Pierce County, where they've been trying out both traditional and ranked-choice ballots. Earlier deadlines for ballot delivery could help.

3POWELLS REMAKE Book people will have opinions, without a doubt, about the new exterior at Powell's City of Books - the flagship - in downtown Portland.

4COLLEGE ENROLLMENT For the first time in more than a decade, Oregon threw some serious money at its higher education institutions. And now (in the Oregonian, but reflected in other papers around the state as well): ". . . the state's universities hired faculty, increased pay, improved student services, stepped up recruitment and built and renovated classrooms and labs. In addition, Oregon more than doubled the money for college grants this year and launched a statewide campaign to tell students and their parents about it. The message worked: More than 15,430 students in Oregon public universities received $33.8 million in state grants this fall, more than twice last year's numbers. The economy also is a factor, because more students seek higher education when jobs are harder to find."

NW: Bailout shifts and flooding

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FRONTED The federal economic bailout shift is a dominant national story (Oregonian, Spokane Spokesman-Review, Eugene Register-Guard, Idaho Statesman, others). . . . Boise fronts the impending bankruptcy of the owner of the city's largest shopping mall, but the story generally gets modest media attention (though many regional malls are owned by the company in question) . . .

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1One of the biggest pieces of concrete environmental news in the Northwest this year: An agreement, apparently on the verge of final signoffs, for tearing out four substantial dams on the Klamath River. But, be it noted, it would not happen for several years, and several steps beyond the major signoffs are needed.

2A new historical exhibit on the Ku Klux Klan in Washington state (in the 1920s) is being released. Check out the pictures the Seattle Times has posted. Oregon's unfortunate history with the Klan is better known; this exhibit fills in some gaps.

3Libraries probably are going to have to find some new approach for offering rental DVDs, especially popular movies. The Tri-City Herald writes about what amounts to much more than just a rash of thefts: "Library records show that so far in 2008, Pasco's library has had 437 DVDs 'assumed stolen,' Cox said. The Kennewick branch has had 89 thefts and Keewaydin Park has lost about 20, he said."

4They're having civic fun aplenty in St. Anthony, Idaho. The mayor there has quit, after (according to some people present) saying some of his city's residents are "stupid" and all of them can "go to hell." There's also a recall effort on, which may be a related factor. (Story is behind a pay wall, but part of it is available on newseum.)

5Wednesday's flooding in western Washington gets a useful review in the Everett Herald, worth the read because recent history suggests that the Northwest hasn't seen in this season the last of this kind of weather behavior. See also the Seattle Times on this.

NW: The econ crash continues

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FRONTED Lots of veterans day aftermath, around the region (the Lewiston Tribune stands out). The economy and portgage foreclosures (Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman Review, Oregonian, Idaho Statesman), decline in gas prices (Seattle Times, Salem Statesman-Journal, Nampa Idaho Press Tribune . . . . State budget cuts planned in Idaho (Idaho Falls Post Register, Nampa Idaho Press Tribune)

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1Good news for Washington Republicans? To an extent, anyway: This year's election at least seems to indicate a bottoming out, an end to the free fall, that has been consistent through the last decade's worth of elections. Republicans defeated a well-established Democratic state senator on the west side (Marilyn Rasmussen) and seem likely (the final votes aren't yet in) to pick up a seat or two in the state House. No massive gains, and only minor dents to the mass Democratic majorities, but an end to the slippage. A good overview of current status in the Tacoma News Tribune/Olympian.

2Sounds as if the owner of a whole bunch of Northwest shopping malls is headed for bankruptcy. General Growth Properties Inc. was the buyer of the already-massive Rouse company in 2004, and now its debts will balloon to billions next year. Policy suggestion: In the future, companies have to be split up before they become too big to fail - or so big their failure drags millions of other people down with them . . .

The malls (in the Northwest only, and according to General's web site)? In Washingto: Alderwood at Lynnwood; Spokane Valley Mall at Spokane; Bellis Fair at Bellingham; Three Rivers Mall at Kelso; NorthTown Mall at Spokane; Westlake Center at Seattle; SouthShore Mall at Aberdeen. In Oregon: Clackamas Town Center at Happy Valley; Rogue Valley Mall at Medford; Gateway Mall at Springfield; Salem Center at Salem; Pioneer Place at Portland. In Idaho: Boise Towne Square at Boise; Pine Ridge Mall at Pocatello; Grand Teton Mall at Idaho Falls; Silver Lake Mall at Coeur d’ Alene. Betcha didn't realize they were all owned by the same megacorp, did you?

3A thoughtfully-written piece on the effect of wind-power on the lives and economy of windswept Sherman County, in the Oregonian.

4At Wapato, a detailed story of the founding of a homeless shelter, in an are where, come darkfall, the homeless have been head heading out to sleep in weed patches.

5A quick post, but worth a review, on internet lobbying, at Horse's Ass. This is probably an unproductive area generally for the disclosure commission, and Goldy's point here is one of many likely to get made . . .

NW: Veterans and a presidential visit

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FRONTED The Obama/Bush visit was major everywhere, along with demand for Obama inauguration tickets . . . Veterans Day (Oregonian, Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman Review, Tacoma News Tribune, Idaho Statesman, Eugene Register Guard, Kitsap Sun, Klamath Falls Herald and News, Moscow Daily News, and others . . . In Oregon, Governor Ted Kulongoski's transportation proposal was top regional news.

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1We have suggested for years that private prisons are trouble waiting to happen. Or maybe not waiting - catch this from the Associated Press in Boise: "Documents from the Idaho Department of Correction obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request show that from September 2007 to September 2008, there were 123 offender-on-offender assaults at the prison, which is operated by Correction Corp. of America near Boise. That compares with 42 assaults during the same period at the Idaho State Correctional Institute and 31 assaults at the Idaho Maximum Security Institute. Half all inmate assaults at prisons statewide last year occurred at ICC . . ."

2Brookings, on the far southwest coast of Oregon just north of California, turns out to be a major destination of retired veterans. A useful sociological take in the Oregonian; losses at Starbucks dominate the Seattle papers; elsewhere around Washington, a Gregoire stimulus proposal (mirroring Kulongoski's) gets attention.

3Rural economic development proposals centered around the idea of high tech as a location-severed device have sometimes seemed a little wishful. But not always. Check out this large and high-end development - a massive Amazon.com operation - way out in the small desert/farm community of Boardman.

4Not the headlines a church wants, about the kicking-out of homeless people from church property. But what was their option? Quote from the Corvallis News Gazette: “The thing I feel bad about (is) there’s just no place to send them. There’s no place where they’re really welcome to be.”

5We interviewed new Idaho Representative Walt Minnick yesterday; that was one of a number of interviews by him during the day. Here's a report on another, in the Spokane Spokesman-Review, covering some similar and some different ground.

NW: Changing admins and meds, and more

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FRONTED Economic slump highlighted in shopping patterns and services for children in the Idaho Statesman, in automaker strategic decisions in the Idaho Falls Post Register, ... The Obama transition 9especially his prospective quick regulatory changes) makes an appearance on most front pages regonally; and the medical announcement of statins to advance-treat heart disease and stroke comes in for some front attention too (see Seattle Times, Spokane, Bend, Olympia, Yankima and Everett) . . .

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1The myth of high school athletics is that talent and determination are the key ingredients for wins; the current Oregonian series on recent track records of winning v. losing teams, roughly matching rich v. poor districts or localities, puts an effective closure to that. The series (started Sunday, continuing today) brings the theory of school funding to a concrete level.

2A bit out of region, but if presidential politics is of interest you'll want to check out the first major interview by the Anchorage Daily News with Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, since her VP run . . .

3The search of a community slogan seldom fails to provide merriment. Such as that of Port Orchard, where the Kitsap Sun's print edition (though not online) has the headline: "Gateway to Gorst? Nah." (Of course, you have to have been to Gorst to fully appreciate the point . . .)

4On the Dennis Mansfield blog, a conversation between Mansfield and his daughter about politics, his activism past and present, and more of note. A significant read for anyone interested in Idaho.

5A Democratic legislator elected from Bend? In truth, it came close to happening in 2006, but this year it actually did, as attorney Judy Stiegler defeated incumbent Republican Chuck Burley. A profile worth reading in the Bend Bulletin.

NW: Post-election, and the economy

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Note: Today we're launching what we expect to be regular - as regular as we can make it - feature here, outlining what the region's newspapers see as the top news, then running through some of the best read we encountered during the day, from news organizations and wherever else. Let us know what you think.

FRONTED Moving beyond the election, while looking ahead to Obama Administration decisions and options (see the Spokesman Review front page), many of the papers reflect on whither Republicans now (the Oregonian, the Seattle Times in Washington) . . . The Idaho Statesman previews Veterans Day . . . a string of bankruptcy and diminished economy stories . . . overall, more light and feature oriented (Olympian, Kitsap) than just before the election ...

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1Sharp reflections on how the very close and very high-profile (regionally) election for mayor of Eugene says a lot about a city more closely divided than many - those who mistakenly buy the granola stereotypes - typically realize. In the Register-Guard.

2A birds-eye view of the bankruptcy picture in the region (especially but not limited to the Inland Empire) at the Spokane Spokesman-Review.

3Reactions on Washington's new death with dignity law, with some insight into how the skeptics in the medical community plan to deal with it (there are opt-out provisions) in the Tacoma News Tribune.

4At the Lewiston Tribune, an apparently technical piece (see via newseum) by Kathy Hedberg on no- or low-tillage farming, but with broader implications for the farm and rural economy.

5David Reinhard's going-away column at the Oregonian, in the middle of which he tells a good story on himself.