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Time has come for all the year-end lists (we here too are making some lists, checking them twice), but some are more striking than others.

Consider for example the Seattle Times list of 20 stories on its web site which were most-read (or at least most-viewed) during 2005.

Number 1 on the list: "Enumclaw-area animal-sex case investigated." Number 3: "Trespassing charged in horse-sex case." Number 6: "Videotapes show bestiality, Enumclaw police say." Number 14: "Details we can't quite comprehend" (a Nicole Brodeur column about the Enumclaw case). Number 19: "Charge filed in connection with man who died having horse sex."

That's five out of 20: Far outweighing any other topic.

Home for the homeless?

The Dignity Village encampment in Northeast Portland has long been an unusual development, and it may become even more unusual - one of the most provocative places associated with the homeless anywhere in the country.

Dignity Village, photo by portland ground

Five years and 11 days ago a group of homeless people set up camp at the location, called Camp Dignity at first, later Dignity Village. (The photos here are from the portland ground website.)

The group's website (!) leads with a credo: "We came out of the doorways of Portland's streets, out from under the bridges, from under the bushes of public parks, we came openly with nothing and no longer a need to hide as Portland's inhumane and Draconian camping ban had just been overturned on two constitutional grounds. We came armed with a vision of a better future for ourselves and for all of Portland, a vision of a green, sustainable urban village where we can live in peace and improve not only the condition of our own lives but the quality of life in Portland in general. We came in from the cold of a December day and we refuse to go back to the way things were."

To be homeless may often be equated with being helpless. But not in this case. (more…)

Suburban centers

Call it a demographic trend, this one led, slightly, by Idaho.

For a long time Idaho, Washington and Oregon have had some population characteristics in common: a large central city (Boise, Seattle, Portland) with the pair of next largest cities spread out a little bit (Pocatello and Idaho Falls; Tacoma and Spokane; Eugene and Salem) and closely matched in population and sometimes exchanging ranking, well below the level of the lead city. These patterns have held for decades.

We're now seeing some adjustment - new trends. (more…)

… for now

The Idaho headline today - that Albertsons will not sell itself off and will remain a company, headquartered in Boise - will no doubt be cheered widely. And for good reason, considering the alternative: Albertsons staying in Boise is undoubtedly a good thing for Idaho.

Still, Boiseans would be wise not to invest too much emotion in the pronouncement from CEO Larry Johnston. They should remember that the corporation came to the brink of selling itself, pulling back only at the last moments. Whatever pressures led the firm's leaders to consider the selloff over a period of months have not gone away; in fact, Albertsons stock dropped hard after word that the sell deal had failed.

Johnston's comment was that "It is business as usual." Okay. And good.

For now.

Back to school

Back in 2001 one of the most striking legal decisions of the year came from 4th District Judge Deborah Bail when she bluntly - even fiercly - blasted the Idaho Legislature for what she said was its failure to properly fund the state's public schools.

schoolThe case was old even then, rolling back and forth through the court system for more than a decade already; and more than four more years has passed since then, before a state supreme court ruling. The question of whether the state has properly funded public schools has been the state's high court five times now - a stunning unwillingness, up to now, to make a clear decision.

Today, though, it made that decision, and it was the same one Bail made years ago. (She was explicitly upheld.) It was a clear decision: Four of the five voting members were in full agreement, and the one partial dissenter - Justice Jim Jones - disagreed with only a few parts of the majority finding.

That decision will set the Idaho Legislature, arriving for the 2006 session in less than three weeks, on its ear - and likely evolving into a corps of angry wasps.

The decision was awfully long in coming, but it is abundantly clear now. (more…)

A careful contestant

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has an easy, relaxed manner, but if you watch his actions and especially his voting record, you get the sense of a careful careful man who picks his battles with pinpoint precision.

Gordon SmithHe has a difficult path to walk. At home, he has to remain acceptable to his Oregon audience, which in recent years has elected only him among Republican candidates to a statewide position. That is in large part because he presents the image of a moderate guy, definitely not a Democrat but - apparently at least - to the left of most of the Republican majority in the Senate. (Obviously his close ties to Democrat Ron Wyden, whose role is less complex, helps.) In Washington, there is that conservative majority to deal with: He could could lose all clout in the Senate if he veers too far from it. It's a complex task, and Smith appears to have honed his calculus well.

So sometimes he splits the difference, but not randomly.

He disappointed a number of environmentalist Oregonians, for example, when he finally announced this week he would vote for a defense appropriation bill that included a provision allowing oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, after years of opposing the oil drilling. When the vote came, however, the oil drilling proposal failed in the Senate by four votes. Did Smith wait to announce his position until after he knew how the vote would come out, knowing his own would not be needed - and then be counted as standing with his caucus leaders?

He might deny it. But it wouldn't be surprising. The man knows how to pick his battles.

You guv wishes you a

Just how phony and how minor is this invented controversy over the lack of recoginition of Christmas (as opposed to "Season's Greetings", "Happy Holidays" or "Xmas"?)

This phony: The top elected officials of our states, the governors, aren't playing into it. Given an an easy, no-lose opportunity to play into the popular side of a controversy (if there really were one), they have punted in the easiest place possible: Their official Christmas cards.

We know this because the news organization stateline.org collected all 50 of the messages on those cards, minus the few guvs who don't do cards. Only a few even used to C-word; none reallyplayed it up. From the Northwest:

Idaho: Governor Dirk Kempthorne: "May the spirit of this holiday season fill your heart with love, peace and serenity. Wishing you many blessings for the New Year."

Oregon: Governor Ted Kulongoski: "PEACE - Paz, Paix, Pace, Frieden, Mir, Shalom, Heiwa, Salam, Heping"

Washington: Governor Christine Gregoire: "Happy Holidays from the Gregoires - Mike, Chris, Courtney and Michelle"

Almost there, and gone

I was discussing earlier today with a Boise journalist the nature of the upcoming Idaho legislative session. Along the topics hashed was that the idea that, in some contrast to last session, this session might be a little less business-oriented - business dominated.

AlbertsonsThe prompt for that thought was the pressure for change in the property tax, a push coming mainly from residential property owners who have argued (accurately) that they have been paying an ever-larger chunk of the property tax bill - an ever-larger chunk of the tax bill, period. (Last week, this subject came up over coffee with a business advocate, who said he hoped this wouldn't lead to a shift of property taxes on to businesses. To my inquiry about the steady shift, over the last generation, of property taxes away from business and on to residential taxpayers, and whether that might be redressed or corrected, he had no answer.)

Another piece of news, however, might underscore some of this session too: The impending news of the sale of Albertsons. (more…)

Its a gas, gas, gas

What would you think of building a couple of big new gas-fired power plants on the east side of your town?

Hold that thought. The Idaho Statesman's online poll asks tht question of Boiseans. The results, as of our check this morning: By a 60%-40% margin, nearly 500 self-selected Boiseans favor the plants ...