Saturday, December 22, 2007

Quotes for Your Soul & Merry Christmas!

In this edition:

Information Clearing House Freedom Quotes

Merry Christmas From John Lennon & Yoko Ono

Struggling National Symbol Wonders What We Have Become
(© Christopher Christie)

When one is overcome with “outrage fatigue,” it is sometimes helpful, or at least validating, to embrace the thoughts of those who came before. A good source of those thoughts is a news service such as Information Clearing House, which provides worthy quotes with every issue.

Please read the most recent offering:
Information Clearing House Newsletter
News You Won't Find On CNN


"It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising their sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and an usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin." -- James Monroe (1758-1831), 5th US President Source: First Inaugural Address, 1817

"Under every government the dernier [Fr. last, or final] resort of the people, is an appeal to the sword; whether to defend themselves against the open attacks of a foreign enemy, or to check the insidious encroachments of domestic foes. Whenever a people... entrust the defence of their country to a regular, standing army, composed of mercenaries, the power of that country will remain under the direction of the most wealthy citizens." -- A Framer - Anonymous 'framer' of the US Constitution Source: Independent Gazetteer, January 29, 1791

"He is free who lives as he wishes to live; who is neither subject to compulsion nor to hindrance, nor to force; whose movements to action are not impeded, whose desires attain their purpose, and who does not fall into that which he would avoid." -- Epictetus (ca 55-135 A.D.) Greek philospher Source: Discourses, ca 100 A.D.

"The only freedom deserving the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." -- John Stuart Mill - (1806-1873) English philosopher and economist Source: On Liberty, 1859

"Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." -John Maynard Keynes, British economist

And from yesterday's edition:

"It belongs to human nature to hate those you have injured." Tacitus

The Eagle Cap Wilderness and Baker County In Winter
(© Christopher Christie)

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Some Steve Earle Lyrics:

Ashes to Ashes (dust to dust)

There was blood on their hands and a plague on the land
They drew a line in the sand and made their last stand
They said "God made us in his image
And it's in God that we trust"
When asked about the men that had died by their hands
They said "ashes to ashes and dust to dust"

Now, nobody lives forever
Nothin' stands the test of time
Oh, you heard 'em say "never say never"
But it's always best to keep it in mind
That every tower ever built tumbles
No matter how strong, no matter how tall
Someday even great walls will crumble
And every idol ever raised falls
And someday even man's best laid plans
Will lie twisted and covered in rust
When we've done all that we can but it slipped through our hands
And it's ashes to ashes and dust to dust

Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)

Look at ya
Yeah, take a look in the mirror now tell me what you see
Another satisfied customer in the front of the line for the American dream
I remember when we was both out on the boulevard
Talkin' revolution and singin' the blues
Nowadays it's letters to the editor and cheatin' on our taxes
Is the best that we can do
Come on

Look around
There's doctors down on Wall Street
Sharpenin' their scalpels and tryin' to cut a deal
Meanwhile, back at the hospital
We got accountants playin' God and countin' out the pills
Yeah, I know, that sucks that your HMO
Ain't doin' what you thought it would do
But everybody's gotta die sometime and we can't save everybody
It's the best that we can do

Four score and a hundred and fifty years ago
Our forefathers made us equal as long as we can pay
Yeah, well maybe that wasn't exactly what they was thinkin'
Version six-point-oh of the American way
. . . .
Yeah, I realize that ain't exactly democratic, but it's either them or us and
And it's the best we can do

Yeah, passionately conservative
It's the best we can do

Conservatively passionate
It's the best we can do

Meanwhile they’re still thinkin’ Hey--
Lets go blow up Iraq—I mean North Korea
I mean Syria, I mean Texas. . . .

Thursday, December 13, 2007

TNR Humane? - Wolf Reintroduction - Youchoose on Youtube

In this issue:

-Trap-Neuter-Release Program
-Resisting Delisting ~ Idaho's Wolves & Livestock's Influence - video
-Youchoose at Youtube

Is TNR A Humane Solution to the Feral Cat Problem?
Four years ago, I was a volunteer at a county animal shelter. It was a pretty unpleasant experience in many ways, but I enjoyed working with the abandoned, or otherwise abused pets. It was pleasing to find out that pitbulls can have a loving and endearing spirit, and it was satisfying to see a local person leave with a purring kitten or tail-wagging dog. I was truly saddened to find out why the fellow with the flatbed truck came in every two weeks to get those big black barrels out back. If, after a few weeks, an animal didn’t get a home, it ended up in one of the black barrels. It is a hard reality, that even as an adult, I didn’t want to face.

In recent times there has been a fairly successful effort to demonize those who favor time-tested methods of feral cat control. They have been relegated to the political and social sidelines by the “compassionately correct,” who have placed control of feral cats under the bureaucratized, “nanny state” government and NGO umbrella of so-called “humane” treatment. In that vein, over the last year or more there have been several articles in the local papers about our feral cat problem and the trap-neuter-release program (TNR). The last article that I am aware of that even hinted there might be any problem with feeding strays, or with TNR in general, was an August 2006 Herald article by Alex Pahunas, but no article that I am aware of, made a real effort to let readers know about the many negative aspects of TNR or about the debate that has been simmering for several years. In the last few weeks, there were two articles and two editorials promoting successes of the program. Both editorials suggested that the City Council was wrong to deny continued funding for the program, and one seemed to think that TNR was a humane solution, while implying that nothing less than Sainthood would do for the lead proponents of the program.

Feral Cat on Successful Hunt (

My reaction to the problem is that it is better than nothing, not particularly humane, and that it is not the best solution or the wisest use of resources. While it likely will reduce feral cat populations in the long run, it ignores a primary source of the problem: pet cats that are not neutered or spayed. It also ignores other important issues that are discussed below, not the least of which are deleterious effects on songbird populations and the problems released feral cats pose to taxpayers and other residents who are not particularly infatuated with them.

Most definitions of the word “humane” have to do with showing compassion, kindness and mercy towards other humans or animals. Some people have a pretty short list of the animals, or even humans, they have compassion and concern for. They can see themselves and others as humane if they refuse to euthanize cats, even if domestic and feral cats kill millions of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles every year, and even if some of these same people support American policies that have killed millions of innocent civilians around the globe. It is that kind of moral and ethical flexibility that makes life a breeze for some, and a bad dream for others.

Local proponents have promoted TNR as both humane and legal. Many studies over the last decade have questioned whether it is either, and I would add that it is not the most efficient use of taxpayer or other dollars.

While proponents claim that spaying or neutering feral cats and releasing them back into the wild is more humane than traditional methods involving euthanasia, opponents (yes, there are many), point out that the life of a feral cat can be a bit torturous, especially in Baker County during winter. The lives of feral cats are much shorter than those of house cats (as much as three times shorter) for good reason. Besides the difficulty of finding adequate shelter, their living conditions subject them to suffering and miserable deaths from accidents with vehicles, attacks by other animals (including humans, dogs, and other cats), poisoning, disease and possible starvation. Is subjecting cats to a dangerous, painful and marginal existence really humane?

Feral Cats Lead A Torturous Existence
( photo)

Cats are not only more likely to be victims of feline disease in the wild, they also spread diseases to other animals and humans. The list is long, but includes such favorites as rabies, toxoplasmosis, cat scratch fever and worms. Is unnecessarily maintaining a large reservoir of these diseases in the feral cat population, from where they can be spread to humans, pet cats, or other animals, a wise and humane policy?

Cats, like most predators, evolved to become efficient killers. Even well fed cats can’t control their instinct to kill when confronted with their natural small animal prey—like that hummingbird whose return you had been patiently waiting for.

Rufous Hummingbirds migrate to Baker City (© Christopher Christie)

Cats are thought to have played an important part in the extinction of 30 species of birds worldwide. Each pet cat is estimated to kill about 32 small animals per year and feral cats, which may number as many as 60 million in the U.S., are thought to kill far more than that. It is estimated that cats kill hundreds of millions of songbirds and over a billion other animals in the U. S. every year. Granted, some of those animals are introduced pests like the house sparrow and starling, which do a good deal of damage themselves, but many are not. Some are neotropical migrants like hummingbirds and warblers, who already have enough troubles surviving in our over-populated, bruised and battered world. Unlike the house sparrow, neotropicals are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and other victims may be covered by other wildlife protection laws as well. Is enabling the slaughter of birds and other animals by feral cats through the TNR program really humane?

Feral Cats kill millions of birds annually
(Australian Government photo)

There are other problems caused by uncared for cats as well. Some of you may have experienced the unmitigated joy of unknowingly stepping in an unplanned cat box, which previously had been your mulched parking area, before you walk into the house. Others of you may have been welcomed by the delightfully perfumed scent of a large male cat who sprayed down your shed after commandeering it for living quarters. Protecting other small pets and young farm animals from feral cats can also become a vexing problem.


Arguments are made and studies are cited for both sides with regard to the effectiveness of the programs in reducing feral cat populations. In the absence of definitive studies, logic tells us that euthanasia, in combination with spay-neuter programs and education, is at least as effective as TNR, and it addresses a host of other problems associated with feral cats that TNR does not. Feral cat advocates and animal “rights” activists have deluged the internet with half-baked opinions and studies of the issue, but emotional appeals are more often to be found than facts.

Obviously, the math for a reduction in the cat population per spayed female remains the same whether the cat has been spayed or euthanized, so both methods are beneficial in that respect. Both programs will reduce the population of feral cats over time, but TNR has more uncontrollable variables than euthanasia. For example, TNR depends in part on people who are able and willing to feed feral cat colonies. When feeders, who are often elderly, become ill, die, or simply can no longer bear the costs, cats may starve or disperse. Cats, being smarter than some may assume, also become wary of traps, which makes it difficult to bring them in again for the additional vaccinations which are required for humane treatment and disease control. On the other hand, those with a feral cat problem are motivated to do something about it, and when they trap an animal for euthanasia, it won’t have another chance to outwit someone else who is defending their property from feline offences. An added bonus is that these people don’t bill the city or county for their work. One thing is certain; euthanized cats don’t breed, spray your shed, yowl outside your window at night, or kill your favorite hummingbird at the feeder.

Legal issues

As mentioned previously, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes killing neotropical birds and other migratory birds, like hummers, unlawful. There are questions as to whether it is legal to release captured feral cats back into feral status when one knows that these cats will subsequently be responsible for killing migratory birds. Corporations have been convicted for allowing the release of polluting substances that have resulted in the deaths of these birds, so it is not far-fetched to imagine convictions for releasing feral cats back into the community when it is clear that they will resume killing birds, including birds protected by law. The same applies to animals protected by other laws as well.

Additionally there exist applicable Oregon State laws in Title 16, Chapter 167, that protect animals from cruelty, abuse and abandonment. There are questions as to whether persons who maintain cat colonies are providing “minimum care,” which is defined as “care sufficient to preserve the health and well-being of an animal,” including food, water, housing, and veterinary care.

Also, those who release feral cats back into the community may be guilty of animal “abuse,” which is defined to be when a “person intentionally, knowingly or recklessly . . . Causes serious physical injury to an animal; or . . . Cruelly causes the death of an animal.” Intentionally releasing a feral cat, that is known to be an indiscriminate serial killer of dozens of birds and other small animals every year , could easily be interpreted as animal abuse.

Another State law, 167.340, the animal abandonment statute, also states that “A person commits the crime of animal abandonment if the person intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence leaves a domesticated animal at a location without providing for the animal's continued care.” It is not clear weather some or all feral cats may be defined as domesticated animals.

I do not necessarily agree with all these State laws, but the question I, and others, have is whether or not TNR is in compliance with them.

Costs of TNR Versus Euthanasia

One 2004 study by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that euthanasia was more effective than TNR for managing feral cats. Feral cat activists have tried to shoot down that study by complaining it didn’t factor in cost and public opinion.

One of the efforts tried to show that euthanasia is incredibly expensive by using figures from large cities with established animal shelters, but the study didn’t provide apples to apples comparisons. For euthanasia, they included costs to pick up, house, and dispose of an animal, but they then forgot to include trap, release and other costs when comparing the euthanasia cost to the cost for TNR. In Baker City’s case, the papers report that Baker City vets charge $60 to $70 to spay and between $35 and $45 to neuter. In Baker City, euthanasia fees for cats run between $20.00 to $40.00, and some charge a $10 disposal charge. Animal Clinic at 10th and Campbell, charges a flat $20.00. You do the math. While veterinarians no doubt appreciate the TNR program for a number of altruistic reasons, it should also be noted that it serves their economic interest. There is no doubt though that they could support a lower cost euthanasia program, coupled with a low-cost, donor and City supported spay-neuter program, and so could city taxpayers.

If government would just trust the judgment of the people affected by marauding feral cats, instead of telling them how they must deal with the problem, the cost of a remedy would drop like a rock.

No study that I am aware of has factored in the environmental costs for the slaughter of birds and other small animals into the TNR program, nor have they included costs for feeding and all the necessary vaccinations. Surely no community nuisance costs have been included in TNR comparisons for the time residents spend alleviating the damage done by male cats spraying in once pleasant places (neutered cats still spray), or for deodorizing and vet bills when one’s dog gets in a tangle with a “humane” person’s recently released furry feral friend. These are obviously not costs that would be incurred by a euthanasia program after a feral cat is initially trapped.

Public opinion, may, or may not, be a problem. If the papers would do their job and make the public aware of the pros and cons of each possible solution, then community supported euthanasia, in combination with spay-neuter programs, might not be such a hard sell. This is especially so in a region where hunters abound, and where people are not particularly squeamish about controlling pestiferous animal populations through lethal means. Even with our local media’s one-sided approach, Bakerites may already have serious questions about TNR, and about using their tax dollars in a way that ignores so many problems associated with released feral cats.


We all know that ignoring the problem of feral cats won’t make them go away. Recognizing that the TNR program is seriously flawed is obviously not enough. Other programs, that don’t carry the deleterious side effects of TNR, can and should be implemented. The City still needs to deal with feral cats and they can help in several ways.

• The City should contract with one or more local vets for publicly available, inexpensive, spay-neuter and euthanasia services.
• Let citizens take care of the problem without harassment by law enforcement, and irrational feral cat and animal rights advocates by allowing those affected to deal with or bring in strays that are causing problems where they live.
• The City should step forward and fund a low-cost spay-neuter program for low income residents. Animal advocates could do their part by donating to the City’s program and finding grants to support it.
• Begin a continuing education program informing people about irresponsible breeding, keeping cats inside, and the low-cost alternatives available to them.
• If necessary, the city should begin licensing cats, just as they do dogs, and include financial incentives for spay-neutering.

Cats Can Live Happily Indoors

Private donor financed TNR is fine, but the most low cost and humane solution would be to initially let affected citizens solve their own feral cat problem. Taking feral cats to the local vets for euthanasia, rather that spay-neuter and release, will accomplish a part of the population control objectives. That, coupled with owner education and a city financed spay/neuter program to help financially strapped pet owners, will begin to alleviate the problem. Asking cat owners in the city to keep their cats inside would also help prevent breeding, the killing of small animals, and damage to neighboring property. Those who allow their pets to reproduce without a reasonable and realistic plan for finding decent homes for the offspring should not be tolerated. The licensing of domestic cats, as is done with dogs, along with similar financial incentives, such as licensing discounts for owner-initiated spay/neutering, should be used if the first steps don’t bring the necessary results. Licensing cats would also make it easy to know whether a cat is the pet of a legally responsible owner. One thing is for sure--TNR is only an effective and “humane” solution for those whose concern for abandoned cats is far greater than their compassion for other animals or their concern for the community’s health, tranquility, and welfare.

Nobody wants to perpetuate the black barrels I spoke of earlier. Nor do citizens want to be put in the position of having to defend themselves and their animal friends from feral cats and the problems they bring. We don’t want to decide whether it is more humane to kill birds than cats, and through the knowledge gained by education, the help of low-cost, community supported spay/neuter/euthanasia programs, and licensing if necessary, we won’t have to. With a sensible policy, choosing between being humane to cats or humane to other critters, shouldn’t be a problem.

Related articles:


Cats and Birds: Keeping Cats Indoors

Kill the Cat That Kills the Bird?


Resisting Delisting ~ Idaho's Wolves & Livestock's Influence
This video provides a pretty good window into the mentality of the "shoot, shovel, and shut up" crowd.


What do the Candidates Really Think?

Tired of trying to figure out what the candidates think about issues you care about?


This was mentioned as a good source by a media watchdog on last Friday's Bill Moyers program on PBS.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mortgage Meltdown--Who Is Responsible?

Many thoughtful observers and economists saw the inevitable burst of the housing bubble a few years ago. A few have even been able to explain why & how it happened. It appears to be yet another of capitalism's predictable periodic fleecings (Think savings and loan scandal, for example), where wealthy insiders bleed hopeful (greedy?) investors dry, bring the financial system to near collapse, and then get their friends in government to make sure there are no consequences and that the taxpayer bails everyone, or at least the responsible parties, out.

"As chief of Goldman Sachs, Paulson was involved, to degrees as yet unrevealed, in the mortgage securitization process during the halcyon days of mortgage fraud from 2004 to 2006.

Paulson became the U.S. Treasury secretary on July 10, 2006, after the extent of the debacle was coming into focus for those in the know. Goldman Sachs achieved recent accolades in the markets for having bet heavily against the housing market, while Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Bear Sterns, Merrill Lynch and others got hammered for failing to time the end of the credit bubble."
"It is truly amazing that right now everyone in the country is deferring to Paulson and the heads of Countrywide, JPMorgan, Bank of America and others as the best group to work out a solution to this problem. No one is talking about the fact that these people created the problem and profited to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars from it."

From the San Francisco Chronicle
Interest rate 'freeze' - the real story is fraud
Bankers pay lip service to families while scurrying to avert suits, prison

Sean Olender
Sunday, December 9, 2007

New proposals to ease our great mortgage meltdown keep rolling in. First the Treasury Department urged the creation of a new fund that would buy risky mortgage bonds as a tactic to hide what those bonds were really worth. (Not much.) Then the idea was to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to buy the risky loans, even if it was clear that U.S. taxpayers would eventually be stuck with the bill. But that plan went south after Fannie suffered a new accounting scandal, and Freddie's existing loan losses shot up more than expected.

Now, just unveiled Thursday, comes the "freeze," the brainchild of Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. It sounds good: For five years, mortgage lenders will freeze interest rates on a limited number of "teaser" subprime loans. Other homeowners facing foreclosure will be offered assistance from the Federal Housing Administration.

But unfortunately, the "freeze" is just another fraud - and like the other bailout proposals, it has nothing to do with U.S. house prices, with "working families," keeping people in their homes or any of that nonsense.

The sole goal of the freeze is to prevent owners of mortgage-backed securities, many of them foreigners, from suing U.S. banks and forcing them to buy back worthless mortgage securities at face value - right now almost 10 times their market worth.

The ticking time bomb in the U.S. banking system is not resetting subprime mortgage rates. The real problem is the contractual ability of investors in mortgage bonds to require banks to buy back the loans at face value if there was fraud in the origination process.

And, to be sure, fraud is everywhere. It's in the loan application documents, and it's in the appraisals. There are e-mails and memos floating around showing that many people in banks, investment banks and appraisal companies - all the way up to senior management - knew about it.

I can hear the hum of shredders working overtime, and maybe that is the new "hot" industry to invest in. There are lots of people who would like to muzzle subpoena-happy New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to buy time and make this all go away. Cuomo is just inches from getting what he needs to start putting a lot of people in prison. I bet some people are trying right now to make him an offer "he can't refuse."

Despite Thursday's ballyhooed new deal with mortgage lenders, does anyone really think that it can ultimately stop fraud lawsuits by mortgage bond investors, many of them spread out across the globe?

The catastrophic consequences of bond investors forcing originators to buy back loans at face value are beyond the current media discussion. The loans at issue dwarf the capital available at the largest U.S. banks combined, and investor lawsuits would raise stunning liability sufficient to cause even the largest U.S. banks to fail, resulting in massive taxpayer-funded bailouts of Fannie and Freddie, and even FDIC.

The problem isn't just subprime loans. It is the entire mortgage market. As home prices fall, defaults will rise sharply - period. And so will the patience of mortgage bondholders. Different classes of mortgage bonds from various risk pools are owned by different central banks, funds, pensions and investors all over the world. Even your pension or 401(k) might have some of these bonds in it.

Perhaps some U.S. government department can make veiled threats to foreign countries to suggest they will suffer unpleasant consequences if their largest holders (central banks and investment funds) don't go along with the plan, but how could it be possible to strong-arm everyone?

What would be prudent and logical is for the banks that sold this toxic waste to buy it back and for a lot of people to go to prison. If they knew about the fraud, they should have to buy the bonds back. The time to look into this is before the shredders have worked their magic - not five years from now.

Those selling the "freeze" have suggested that mortgage-backed securities investors will benefit because they lose more with rising foreclosures. But with fast-depreciating collateral, the last thing investors in mortgage bonds ought to do is put off foreclosures. Rate freezes are at best a tool for delaying the inevitable foreclosures when even the most optimistic forecasters expect home prices to fall. In October, Goldman Sachs issued a report forecasting an incredible 35 to 40 percent drop in California home prices in the coming few years. To minimize losses, a mortgage bondholder would obviously be better off foreclosing on a home before prices plunge.

The goal of the freeze may be to delay bond investors from suing by putting off the big foreclosure wave for several years. But it may also be to stop bond investors from suing. If the investors agreed to loan modifications with the "real" wage and asset information from refinancing borrowers, mortgage originators and bundlers would have an excuse once the foreclosure occurred. They could say, "Fraud? What fraud?! You knew the borrower's real income and asset information later when he refinanced!"

The key is to refinance borrowers whose current loans involved fraud in the origination process. And I assure you it was a minority of borrowers whose loans didn't involve fraud.

The government is trying to accomplish wide-scale refinancing by tricking bond investors, or by tricking U.S. taxpayers. Guess who will foot the bill now that the FHA is entering the fray?

Ultimately, the people in these secret Paulson meetings were probably less worried about saving the mortgage market than with saving themselves. Some might be looking at prison time.

As chief of Goldman Sachs, Paulson was involved, to degrees as yet unrevealed, in the mortgage securitization process during the halcyon days of mortgage fraud from 2004 to 2006.

Paulson became the U.S. Treasury secretary on July 10, 2006, after the extent of the debacle was coming into focus for those in the know. Goldman Sachs achieved recent accolades in the markets for having bet heavily against the housing market, while Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Bear Sterns, Merrill Lynch and others got hammered for failing to time the end of the credit bubble.

Goldman Sachs is the only major investment bank in the United States that has emerged as yet unscathed from this debacle. The success of its strategy must have resulted from fairly substantial bets against housing, mortgage banking and related industries, which also means that Goldman Sachs saw this coming at the same time they were bundling and selling these loans.

If a mortgage bond investor sues Goldman Sachs to force the institution to buy back loans, could Paulson be forced to testify as to whether Goldman Sachs knew or had reason to know about fraud in the origination process of the loans it was bundling?

It is truly amazing that right now everyone in the country is deferring to Paulson and the heads of Countrywide, JPMorgan, Bank of America and others as the best group to work out a solution to this problem. No one is talking about the fact that these people created the problem and profited to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars from it.

I suspect that such a group first sat down and tried to figure out how to protect their financial interests and avoid criminal liability. And then when they agreed on the plan, they decided to sell it as "helping working families stay in their homes." That's why these meetings were secret, and reporters and the public weren't invited.

The next time that Paulson is before the Senate Finance Committee, instead of asking, "How much money do you think we should give your banking buddies?" I'd like to see New York Sen. Chuck Schumer ask him what he knew about this staggering fraud at the time he was chief of Goldman Sachs.

The Goldman report in October suggests that rampant investor demand is to blame for origination fraud - even though these investors were misled by high credit ratings from bond rating agencies being paid billions by the U.S. investment banks, like Goldman, that were selling the bundled mortgages.

This logic is like saying shoppers seeking bargain-priced soup encourage the grocery store owner to steal it. I mean, we're talking about criminal fraud here. We are on the cusp of a mammoth financial crisis, and the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury are trying to limit the liability of their banking friends under the guise of trying to help borrowers. At stake is nothing short of the continued existence of the U.S. banking system.

Sean Olender is a San Mateo attorney.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Iran & Correction to Yesterday's Post

The post below has been corrected to include the ever-popular "Death to the Rodents" picture from the 1920 Yearbook of Agriculture. It appears above the black-footed ferret in the article about wolves.

Also, good column on Iran, Israel and the U.S. by Justin Raimondo at

Iran: Why Won't We Take Yes For An Answer?
Israel's amen corner tries to spin the NIE report

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Wolves, Prison Labor, NPR

Once again, I am experiencing difficulties posting. I can get the images up, but can't control formatting, like placement of captions. I hope you can center the captions in your mind and imagine the topic titles in bold print, etc. Formatting is definitely not as I had planned and I'll work on it. Sorry, out of my immediate control. -- Chris


Gray Wolf (Canis lupis) [USF&WS Photo]

I enjoyed the Herald Tuesday’s article by Jayson Jacoby on the dispersal of wolves into North East Oregon. It was gratifying to see it as it helps confirm my sighting of a pair of wolves near Lick Creek (Wallowa County) in August of this year. I reported the sighting to the Fish & Wildlife Service that month, but apparently they were unable to independently confirm it. Good that the snow held the tracks found by a local rancher, hopefully not one of the “shoot, shovel, and shut-up” up crowd, so that wolves could be confirmed this year. We should be relieved that the wolf has finally come home. I look forward to hearing their howls in the coming years but predator persecution has a long history in America, and in Eastern Oregon in particular (2 of 4 recent wolf migrants have been shot). Hopefully the State and Federal government will take their responsibilities seriously and protect the wolves from those who have vowed to stop their reintroduction here.

In America, the practice of predator persecution by the agricultural “producer” community has its roots in the insecurity of an expanding agrarian pioneer population dating back to the arrival of Europeans on this continent during the 1600’s. It has since spread to the hunting industrial complex, which has concerns that it will reduce numbers of “game” species, like elk and deer, which in turn could reduce the number of tags allowed and licenses sold. This could lower income to the State hunting bureaucracy, to gun shops and ammunition dealers, and ultimately to local communities who depend on the flush of hunter dollars in the fall. (On the other hand, it might bring the curious into the area hoping to view or hear wolves.)

Bounties on wolves were offered as early as 1630 in the Massachusetts Colony, at which time, some 250,00 or more wolves roamed America’s wild lands. By about 1700, wolves had been eliminated from the Eastern United States. According to the Wild Rockies Alliance, “Professional ‘wolfers’ working for the livestock industry laid out strychnine-poisoned meat lines up to 150 miles long. Wolves were shot, poisoned, trapped, clubbed, set on fire and inoculated with mange, a painful and often fatal skin disease caused by mites.” The persecution reached its apex in the late 1800’s and into the early years of the last century, by which time it is estimated that some 55,000 wolves a year were being executed. Between 1918 and 1920, over 128,500 wolves were slaughtered in the Western U. S.

A palpable hatred for both predators and other “varmints” is revealed in articles printed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Year Book for 1920, where classics like “Hunting Down Stock Killers” and “Death To The Rodents” can be found.

Some quotes:

“Uncle Sam, tired of a drain on his resources of from $20,000,000 to $30,000,000 every year through the slaughter [slaughter is to be reserved for humans alone] of domestic stock by predatory animals, now keeps constantly in the field a force of hunters who are instructed to wipe out these nonproducers. In their place, and safe from their depredations, it is the aim to populate the range country [I.e., primarily public lands] with flocks and herds….”
. . . .
“Losses of live stock from ravages of predatory animals are among the most spectacular and exasperating of those suffered by the stockman. Disease may decimate his flocks and herds, or drought or wintry storms may result in the starvation or death of numbers of valuable animals. None of these disasters, however, arouses such resentment and determination to settle the score as arises in the heart of the ranchman when wolves or other stock destroyers enter corrals or operate on the open range [public lands], maiming and killing his cattle or other domestic stock.”
. . . .
“Men with keen insight into animal psychology and the ways and motives of wild creatures had sought out improved methods of luring them to destruction when their presence was detrimental to the live-stock business.”
. . . .
“Careful field studies of the abundance, habits, and relationship of predatory animals to the live-stock industry had been made by the Biological Survey of the United States Department of Agriculture for many years.”

. . . .
“. . . the death of the Custer wolf was hailed with delight by stockmen throughout the region where the depredations had occurred, and has added to the impetus to a movement for cooperation with the Department in order to meet more adequately the needs of the live-stock industry.”

“Evidence that Uncle Sam’s Hunters Get results”

In another part of the article titled “’Getting’ the Chief Offenders,” a caption, under a photo of trapped coyotes and wolves, and of a “hunter” spreading poisoned baits, states: “Trapped coyote—more than 250,000 of his ilk have been accounted for [killed] in five years by Federal and cooperating hunters.” [Emphasis added]

It is clear from these attitudes that the American people are expected to sacrifice their public ecosystems, and all the species there-in, (not to mention their tax dollars flowing to the U.S.D.A predator control efforts, Forest Service, and Bureau of Land Management) to the economic interests of ranchers. In practice, that is exactly what has occurred. Like every thing else in our corrupt American “democracy,” the theft of our public lands and ecosystems has been financed by the economic power of special interest groups like the various Cattlemen’s Associations. This is accomplished through their financial contributions to members of Congress, especially in districts where extractive industries and ranchers have large landholdings with the significant economic and social power that those holdings bring.

And it is not just native predators who suffer. Prairie dogs and other important rodents have suffered as well. As the picture above illustrates, prairie dogs, and those who depend on them, like the black-footed ferret, have been the targets of the stockman’s jihad. Hawks and many other species depend upon the availability of a prey base, which consists largely of rodents, for their survival.

Black-Footed Ferret [USF&WS Photo]

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog [USF&WS Photo]

Swainson’s Hawk [Photo © Christopher Christie]

My question, and that of many in the environmental community, is why should ranchers or hunters have control over which of our native predators should be allowed to have access to their historic habitat on our public lands? The wolf has an important role in maintaining the health of our public ecosystems. If public lands ranchers insist on putting their livestock in a situation where they will naturally become prey, then that is their problem. Our lands should not be managed for the benefit of ranchers and hunters, our lands should be managed for the benefit of native ecosystems and the services they provide for all of the American people.
[For old letter on predator control see:

Prison Labor and U.S. Timber Company

The Record Courier and Brian Addison first broke the story of U.S. Timber’s attempt to get prisoner workers from the Powder River Correctional facility on November 22. The Herald followed up with another article yesterday, December 5th. The later story stated that the Baker County Economic Development Council has endorsed a plan for U.S. Timber to hire the workers at very near the minimum wage for a 6 month period, after which the relationship would be re-evaluated.

According to Jennifer Watkins at City Hall, the development council consists of chairman Craig Ward (a local farmer from the where’s my subsidy crowd), vice-chair Mike Rudi (from the its all about business people Chamber of Commerce crowd), Steve Brocato (with dual membership in both the where’s my subsidy crowd and the I’m in charge of my overall plan crowd) Fred Warner (from the County Commission and the go along to get along crowd), and Terry Schumacher (with dual membership in the its all about business people Chamber of Commerce crowd and the do as I say, not as I do crowd).

So our Economic Development Council has endorsed a plan for U.S. Timber to hire workers at near the minimum wage.

You may remember a time, a decade or so ago, when the use of prison labor in private industry was frowned upon in America—when we bitterly complained about China’s practice of using prison labor to make products exported to the US. It none-the-less has a long American history, going back at least to the early 1800’s when private industry would get their greedy hands on prisoners and literally work them to death. Even though it may look bad to the semi-civilized, it does kind of fit in with the sort of parochial, pre-modern, company-town, muddling towards medieval feel of North East Oregon, and the practice should be a sound addition as the eighth cornerstone of the development council’s economic development plan for Baker County. And what better way to market Baker City than to be known as the town that provides prison labor to private industry? Even if there aren’t enough prisoners to go around, the practice should help keep prevailing wages and benefits at rock bottom, which may have the effect of attracting some really sharp (as in cut-throat), no-nonsense, and otherwise intriguing business people to our little part of paradise.

And what better firm to start the practice than U.S. Timber? What with illegals getting harder and harder to find, and more dangerous to keep, a captive pool of local laborers coerced into pulling the green chain is just what the doctor ordered. With the US leading the world in an ever-expanding number of the incarcerated, prisoners might just outnumber the undocumented in a decade or so. Plus, there are some real economic advantages to using captive labor, including no vacation or sick pay, and even more attractive, no health or unemployment insurance to worry about. It is a brilliant and strategic business decision that should position U.S. Timber to be in the forefront of the prison labor boom-times ahead.

The aspect slow-growth advocates might like is that it should retard economic growth because these workers already have housing at the correctional facility, they don’t drive cars to go shopping, and traffic won’t be an issue. Growth might also be slowed significantly when the word gets out that we are becoming a prison labor center—it just might keep the namby-pamby, progressive riff-raff out, who knows.

Now I know there are those of you who object to the whole sordid prison labor thing, but look at the alternative. As hinted at by Commissioner Warner, if U.S Timber wants to attract a steady, loyal work force, they’d have to offer a living wage and benefits package that would motivate workers to pull the green chain, and what kind of American employer would want to do that?

NPR Democratic Candidates' Debate (12/04/07)

You’d think a question as important as the following might cause NPR, the darlings of the so-called “progressives” in our country, to give all candidates a chance to answer it. But no, they don’t, because NPR is not about progressive politics, it is about giving its listeners the feel-good impression of thoughtless, and most importantly, no cost, progressive politics. They are simply another elitist propaganda machine in the service of the upper and middle classes, which ultimately serves the social status quo. Same for PBS.

From the transcript:

<< SIEGEL: Well, this question comes from a listener. It's political science professor Chris Pence) of Marion, Indiana.
PROF. CHRIS PENCE (MARION, INDIANA): (From tape.) American diplomatic history books recount the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, and will likely discuss the Bush Doctrine. When future historians write of your administration's foreign policy pursuits, what will be noted as your doctrine and the vision you cast for U.S. diplomatic relations?
SIEGEL: Time for a couple of you at least. Senator Clinton, what do you think the Clinton Doctrine will be?
SEN. CLINTON: Blah, blah, blah….
SIEGEL: Thank you, Senator Clinton.
The Edwards Doctrine.
MR. EDWARDS: Blah, blah, blah….
SIEGEL: And Senator Biden, the Biden Doctrine.
SEN. BIDEN: Blah, blah, blah….
SIEGEL: Senator Obama, the short version of the Obama Doctrine.
SEN. OBAMA: Blah, blah, blah….
SIEGEL: And we will continue our debate from Des Moines in just a minute. This is special coverage from NPR News.
MICHELE NORRIS: From NPR News and Iowa Public Radio, we're back with our debate among the Democratic presidential candidates.
I'm Michele Norris.
SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel.
INSKEEP: And I'm Steve Inskeep.
We're broadcasting from Des Moines, Iowa, and in this part of the debate, we're going to focus on a changing China and its effects here at home. >>

Good to hear, once again, who the all important moderators are. But tell me, what was the Kucinich, Gravel, Dodd & etc. doctrine?

We’ll never know if NPR has anything to do with it. But I’ll tell you. . .
In Kucinich’s case it is the Peace Doctrine.

My tally of the debate’s substantive exchanges, offered to my sampling of 3 candidates by the NPR moderators shows the following:
Clinton 15 or 16 exchanges
Kucinich 10 exchanges
Gravel 6 exchanges

God knows what Gravel really thinks, but NPR might not want you to know.

The debate was just one example of NPR’s penchant for shutting down real progressives and independents. More importantly is NPR’s bias with regard to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. There was no question explicitly addressing the most important problem affecting our foreign policy, which is the unqualified support by American leadership of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands by the colonial and religious state of Israel--the problem that stirs up these "rag-head terrorists."

Former Senator Mike Gravel attempted to address the issue when responding to questions about the threat of Iran and the wisdom of designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a “terrorist” organization:

<< MR. GRAVEL: There is no evidence. There is no evidence, and they've produced none. Our military has no evidence and they've not produced any.
But let's — I want to touch something that they're all [the other candidates] giving license to, that there's something wrong with Iran supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. These are two elected organizations, and — and why can't they give support to those organizations? Israel doesn't want it, so why do they buy hook, line and sinker that they can't give aid to Hamas and Hezbollah? We give unlimited aid to Israel. These people are fighting for their rights.
SIEGEL: You believe —
MR. GRAVEL: Is there something wrong with that?
SIEGEL: We'll come back to your points in a moment. >>

But Siegel never came back to give Gravel a chance to elaborate, because that’s his job—to make sure that NPR listeners don’t get the ideas and information they need to accurately understand our destructive Middle East foreign policy and the apartheid Jewish state of Israel. Siegel and NPR feel a need to protect Israel, even if it means victimizing millions of Palestinians, other Arabs and Persians, with spin that characterizes them not as the freedom fighters they are, but as blood-thirsty, crazed demons and “terrorists.” The Muslim resistance to illegal occupations and war crimes by Israel and the US must not be understood to be the legitimate defensive activity that it is, it must be seen as unreasonable criminal activity warranting imperial wars of destruction and/or occupation. The same of course for Iran’s peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy. That’s why little attention is given to the fact that Iran has a legal right under the Article IV of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, while the rogue nation of Israel didn’t even sign the treaty and is widely acknowledged to have more than 200 nukes. Our hypocrisy deepens when you examine our treatment of India. India also has nuclear weapons and is not a signatory to the treaty. Yet, in violation of Article III of the treaty, Congress approved the sale of civilian nuclear technology to India. See also:

For more on NPR’s outrageous bias on Palestine see:

For more on NPR’s not so progressive bias, see:

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting notes that:

<< little evidence has ever been presented for a left bias at NPR, and FAIR’s latest study gives it no support. Looking at partisan sources—including government officials, party officials, campaign workers and consultants—Republicans outnumbered Democrats by more than 3 to 2 (61 percent to 38 percent). A majority of Republican sources when the GOP controls the White House and Congress may not be surprising, but Republicans held a similar though slightly smaller edge (57 percent to 42 percent) in 1993, when Clinton was president and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. And a lively race for the Democratic presidential nomination was beginning to heat up at the time of the 2003 study.

Partisans from outside the two major parties were almost nowhere to be seen, with the exception of four Libertarian Party representatives who appeared in a single story (Morning Edition , 6/26/03).

Republicans not only had a substantial partisan edge, individual Republicans were NPR ’s most popular sources overall, taking the top seven spots in frequency of appearance. George Bush led all sources for the month with 36 appearances, followed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (8) and Sen. Pat Roberts (6). Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Secretary of State Colin Powell, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and Iraq proconsul Paul Bremer all tied with five appearances each.

Senators Edward Kennedy, Jay Rockefeller and Max Baucus were the most frequently heard Democrats, each appearing four times. No nongovernmental source appeared more than three times. With the exception of Secretary of State Powell, all of the top 10 most frequently appearing sources were white male government officials. >>

NPR is still offering up “experts” like Richard Perle, Kenneth Pollack, et. al., and other discredited spokesmen who were cheerleaders for the war in Iraq. They also regularly produce pro-Israel reporters like Linda Gradstein and partisan Zionists like Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross in their ongoing efforts to confuse listeners about Palestine. Even FAIR itself, rarely offers a balanced perspective on the situation in Palestine.

For more on NPR’s coverage of the Palestinian situation, see:

Little has changed since the article was produced—if anything, reporting about Palestine and Iran on NPR has only become worse.

A study on PBS news content came to similar conclusions.
or simply search the archives for several articles.

For more on the corruption of US Middle East foreign policy see:
Mearsheimer and Walt’s original article on the Israel Lobby at the London Review of Books:

or, buy their new book--
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
By Mearsheimer and Walt, $17.16 at
Billy Bragg and Wilco-- "The Unwelcome Guest"
By Woodie Guthrie

Friday, November 16, 2007

Agricultural Subsidies--Who Is Paying The Price?

(Google is currently not accepting images so we'll have to settle for text only on this one.)

In reading the Baker City Herald over the last year, you may have noticed all the concern, adulation and general gratuitous genuflection given to our neo-feudal lords, the agricultural aristocracy, or “producers,” as they like to be called. (Some like to be referred to “irrigators,” a special form of “producer” lucky enough to have water rights.)

I guess the insinuation is that the rest of us, who engage in some form of labor or another, just don’t produce much. Teachers and parents may help produce an educated citizen, health care and social service workers may team up to produce healthy human beings, brick layers, roofers and carpenters may produce homes and cities, etc., but following the practice of the new commercial form of “branding,” the word “producer” has been unofficially expropriated by the Ag community in the rural West. Can a copyright of the word be far off?

Helping to inculcate a reverence for these “producers.” was a long series of front page articles in the Herald this summer with titles of “Ranchers say grazing plan falls well short,” “State issues drought emergency,” “Area’s ranchers wrangle with confusing changes,” “Ranchers say relief falls short,” and “Relief finally arrives for ranchers.”

Two such articles, lumped under the giant banner “Paying The Price,” appeared on the front page in early August. They heaped sympathy on the plight of our poor ranchers facing yet another year of drought. The paper devoted over a page and one half out of 12 pages to the effects of this year's drought on ranchers and the choice they faced of either cutting herds or buying expensive hay and cutting their income to the bone.

One useful piece of information to be found in the article was a quote from rancher Clair Pickard of Keating: “We’re no different than cattle dogs—basically we’re unemployable.” You’ve got to respect Mr. Pickard’s honesty. I don’t know if Mr. Pickard is a public lands rancher or not, but what public lands ranchers know how to do is to get the cows on the allotment in late spring or early summer and attempt to get them all back in the fall. Not exactly a high skill specialty.

The front page also informed us that “The driest summer in more than 80 years has stunted the hay crop. Now ranchers are stuck with the bill.” Or are they?

Upon closer inspection, it appears that taxpayers are helping ranchers, farmers, and other “producers” with their bills. In an article titled “Cash cow farm bill is a full plate in Congress,” last Sunday’s Oregonian explained that the farm bill being considered in Congress this week “As written . . . would cost $950 for each of the 303 million people in the United States.”

According to the Environmental Working Group (See ),
in the 11 year period from 1995 to 2005, 585 “producers” in Baker County received about $13.1 million in subsidies. Most of the money went to the top 40 recipients who received amounts ranging from $85,000 to $613,000 over the 11 year period. The top 20 recipients (3.4% of recipients) received $4.7 million, almost 36% of the total payout, and the top 40 recipients (6.8% % of recipients) received $6.95 million, over half (53%) of total subsidies. 321 recipients, 55% of recipients, received less than $5,000 each in subsidies during the period.

A plethora of complicated and confusing programs exists to bail out “producers” when they suffer losses from unsustainable herd sizes or crop failures. There is at least one program that even pays them not to “produce.” That’s the Conservation Reserve Program ($1.8 billion in 2006) which pays land owners not to farm or graze some of their land, i.e., “to retire highly erodible and other environmentally sensitive cropland and pasture.” I gather from the program summary that giving them your tax dollars keeps them from using land that shouldn’t be used in the first place and allegedly creates wildlife habitat (quite often for non-native huntable wildlife like pheasants). I suppose the main reason for this program, which is also cited by the summary, is that “The program also assists farmers by providing a dependable source of income.” Hmmm, I wonder if I can get the government to pay me not to raise my chickens or to pay me to plant those trees and shrubs I’ve been wanting so as to provide winter berries for birds? I could sure use a dependable source of income!

Also, as mentioned in Herald articles, millions are available from the Emergency Conservation Program which “provides emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and for carrying out emergency water conservation measures in periods of severe drought.”

Other special considerations, such as Livestock Assistance Grants and low interest loans, follow from declarations of “drought emergencies” and natural disaster pronouncements. But “producers” benefit from more than just disaster and conservation subsidies—they also receive millions in commodity subsidies for crops like wheat and potatoes and from various crop insurance schemes, one of which, called Pasture, Rangeland, Forage insurance, is reported to provide a sizeable return to “producers” over time (Herald, 8/28/07). Much of the County road budget is used to maintain roads used primarily by “producers,” including some that are little more than long driveways to a “producer’s” home. Then there are many State programs, from OSU’s $5 million budget for Statewide Public Services, including the Extension Service, the Agricultural Experiment Station, and the Forest Research Laboratory, to State funding of juniper eradication, all of which benefit “producers.” And don’t forget the thousands spent by governmental agencies locally to “produce” all those dead coyotes by aerial gunning from helicopters—a really misguided and futile effort to control predation on privately held livestock.

Another hidden flow of dollars from local city dwellers and others to “producers” is the $280,000 or so that the folks in the Baker Valley Vector Control District pay for mosquito control. Control activity has become increasingly important since the arrival or release of the virulent Israeli strain of West Nile Virus several years ago. Local newspapers have repeatedly given the impression that cleaning out your bird bath and other sources of standing water in the back yard will help solve the problem, but this is quite unlikely. West Nile is carried by the mosquito, Culex tarsalis--AKA, the “irrigation mosquito.” It rarely reproduces in birdbaths, but breeds in huge numbers in the ditches and flood irrigated fields of “producers.” Quoting a paper from South Dakota State University, one of several that are in agreement about the reproductive requirements of the mosquito, ( ): “Culex tarsalis is a dispersive colonizing species in which its larval stages are most frequently found in freshly created aquatic habitats with high primary bacterial, protozoan and invertebrate productivity associated with vegetative decay (Beeha and Mulla, 1995; Fanara and Mulla, 1974). These larvae are often one of the first macroinvertebrates to colonize newly-created, sunlit surface water pools generally surrounded by grasses and annual vegetation. Once productivity has reached its plateau, oviposition decreases. Waters that are highly polluted with organic material are not tolerated, and abundant populations are not generally found in permanent water with fixed depths. Development during these stages is also known to depend strongly on water temperature, food availability and refugia from exposure to physical disturbance and predators. These conditions are most notably associated with irrigated pastures, and for this reason, Cx. tarsalis is often referred to as the irrigation mosquito.”

The studies show that it thrives in new pools of water in close contact with vegetative material and that to get reproduction from artificial sources like barrels or birdbaths, you would need to add topsoil or grass sod vegetation, which is not the normal practice of city dwellers and non-irrigators in the County. No, large numbers of West Nile spreading mosquitos are not caused by your birdbath, they are largely the direct result of the irrigation practices of “producers.” City folk have little to do with the creation of the problem, you just get to offer up your hard-earned money to pay for the currently used solutions. (The effects of the sprays used for control on non-target populations are a subject for a future article.)

Perhaps the Grandmother of subsidies to “producers” comes in the form of property tax relief by way of the Farm Deferral Program. In an effort that is intended to keep farm and timber lands in production, “producers” in the appropriate zones are given extremely low tax rates and pay at only a small fraction of the rate forced on city dwellers and others. This public largesse had little effect on many “producers” who rushed to subdivide and develop their property for other uses in the wake of Oregon's Measure 37. The State’s efforts to preserve farmland became then a simple subsidy for “producer” land speculation.

Finally, there is perhaps the Granddaddy of all subsidies for a single agricultural use—Federal subsidies to public lands ranchers for grazing on U.S. Forest Service (or as I prefer to call the agency: U.S. Feedlot Service) and Bureau of Land Management (Ed Abbey’s Bureau of Livestock and Mining) lands. According to a 2002 study by the Center for Biological Diversity, the public lands grazing program resulted in a direct loss from the U.S. Treasury of $124 million in 2000. This figure is likely becoming larger as the fee is down to $1.35 a month for the rancher to feed a cow and rather large calf—less than it would cost you to feed a pet hamster. As large as this figure is, it is the enormity of the indirect costs that are responsible for the outrageous size of the subsidy. If you include the cost for various support services, mitigation costs for the tremendous amount of grazing damage to riparian areas, imperiled species, etc., as well as lost recreational and other non-commercial opportunities, the study figures the full cost of the Federal public lands grazing program is probably between $500 million and $1 billion annually.

When one takes a careful look at the flow of tax dollars, what ultimately emerges is the picture of a privileged class of wealthy landed aristocrats, who pay proportionately less in property taxes, but who reap a cornucopia of public services and subsidies.

Subsidizing the Gambling Habit

Getting back to the local “drought emergency” and “disaster” issue: Drought is almost the rule, rather than the exception, in the West. Historically, it has occurred on a fairly regular basis. Everyone who lives here, including ranchers and farmers (aka, “producers”) knows it. It is darn near a desert here in the lower elevations of Baker County, so why are so many pretending like drought is a big surprise? It is also pretty darn cold in the winter. Would you pay farmers a subsidy if they were raising bananas and avocados, and the trees suffered a "disastrous" freeze every winter? Drought is a known risk in the west—Why should taxpayers subsidize those who know they will suffer losses because of it? If you know that losses will occur due to the nature of the environment you operate in, then the prudent thing to do is to plan for it, not to go begging when the predictable losses occur.

Just in case you think I am making this up, the following is a summary of some of the available drought data for North East Oregon:

Drought frequency in N.E. Oregon

• Over the 105 year period between 1900 to 2005, drought has been experienced in one out of every 5 years. (21/105)

• Over the same period, severe drought has been experienced in one out of every 8 years. (13/105)

• Over the same period, extreme drought has been experienced in about one out of every 15 years. (7/105)

• 6 out of the last 8 years have ranged from drought or near drought to extreme and exceptional drought, which is similar to the period of drought in the 1930’s.

Supporting data can be found at (Oregon, Region 8).

Because drought is a naturally occurring event that is known to occur with some frequency in North East Oregon, any so-called disaster, or financially uncomfortable impacts due to its occurrence, can be viewed as having occurred due to human negligence. In other words, if you know that you are facing a drought situation every five years on average, you need to plan activities that could be impacted by drought, such as farming or ranching, with that fact in mind. The prudent thing to do would be to keep your herd size near that size which could be economically and sustainably fed during a drought situation and to depend financially only those acres which could be irrigated with the water that could reasonably be expected to be available during dry years. If one tries to maintain acreage or a herd size beyond the prudent maximum, they are rolling the dice and shouldn’t go crying to hard-pressed taxpayers for bail out subsidies on a bet gone bad. Unfortunately, that is what occurs on a regular basis, with pronouncements of so-called disaster relief, and it amounts to many thousands of subsidy dollars in Baker County and the rest of the drought-prone West. If you like to gamble, then do it with your own money. (Alternatively, give up on the idea that only special interests should be bailed out for their irresponsible behavior. Create a society where every one who makes and honest effort is supported.)

Welfare Ranching, Welfare for the Rich, and the Neo-Feudal Rural Culture

The deference paid to agriculture, the so-called “producers,” can be explained by the fact that they own large tracts of land which have brought them a good deal of economic and political power (not unlike the merchants on Main Street). In addition, they and others have fed myths that portray ranchers and farmers as a more noble and deserving sort of human being, regardless of how they obtained their land and wealth. The consequences of their economic power are predictable in an alleged democracy that is corrupted by those who have money and the power it provides. Their power has allowed them to advocate for laws that maintain their position and transfer wealth to them from the middle classes and poor of our society. (I should clarify here that I am not referring to the small farmer or private land rancher with a few acres, although they too, in some cases, may benefit from the legislation enacted in favor of the wealthy land owners.) Income caps for subsidies are resisted by Congress because of the financial (campaign contributions) power of large farms and ranching operations. Do wheat growers, who now are getting over $10.00 a bushel really need subsidies? The existing situation, including most importantly, the magnification of the myths by our servile media, results in a perception by the public at large that agriculture, and its “producers,” are fully deserving of the subsidies they receive, while other segments of society receiving subsidies of one sort or another are suspect, if not outright cheats and no-accounts.

So who are the local recipients and what are the benefits that they receive? Until recently, these benefits remained hidden behind a wall of secrecy, but due to changes in record keeping and public access, the Environmental Working Group (see for much more info) has been able to establish a database documenting the recipients of these wealth transfers. (I had been intending to disclose these recipients in my blog for the last year, and a recent article in the Oregonian on the subject, as well as prodding by a local activist, has prompted this follow through.)

According to the EWG database, the top 60 recipients in Baker County for the years 1995 -2005 are as follows:

Rank &Recipient Total USDA Subsidies 1995-2005

1 Ward Ranches Baker City, OR 97814 $613,394

2 Blatchford Brothers Baker City, OR 97814 $559,898

3 Leland Hellberg Lowden, WA 99360 $347,615

4 Gary Bloomer Durkee, OR 97905 $321,136

5 Hubbard Ranch Enterprise, OR 97828 $317,879

6 Kerns Rainbow Ranch Inc Haines, OR 97833 $311,507
The owners of Kerns Rainbow Ranch are:

• Fawn A Kerns Haines, OR 97833 2.76 %
• Tom L Kerns Haines, OR 97833 12.77 %
• Tim L Kerns Haines, OR 97833 34.47 %
• Janice L Kerns Haines, OR 97833 34.47 %
• Tim A Kerns Haines, OR 97833 15.53 %

7 Cal Worthington Folsom, CA 95630 $299,239

8 Allen Ranch Inc Haines, OR 97833 $271,244

9 Oliver Wilde Baker City, OR 97814 $241,969

10 Lazy S Over 7 Inc Durkee, OR 97905 $227,742

11 Ducks Unlimited Inc Vancouver, WA 98683 $221,332

NOTE: Over 80 percent of the payments listed for Ducks Unlimited are 'cost share' reimbursements for technical assistance to restore wetlands at many locations on private lands not owned by D.U. The technical assistance is provided to private landowners under contractual arrangement through USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

12 K Diamond Inc Haines, OR 97833 $215,654
The owner of K Diamond Inc is:
L Brent Kerns Haines, OR 97833 100.00 %

13 R John Wirth Baker City, OR 97814 $210,010

14 Freeman Angus Rnch Inc Baker City, OR 97814
15 Clint Wendt Haines, OR 97833
16 Ted W Bloomer Durkee, OR 97905

17 Double J Land & Cattle ✴ Pendleton, OR 97801 $164,103
The owners of Double J Land & Cattle are:

• Pat Juhl
Pendleton, OR 97801 50.00 %
• John T Johnson
Pendleton, OR 97801 50.00 %

18 Bloomer Ranches Inc ✴ Durkee, OR 97905
The owners of Bloomer Ranches Inc. are:
Ted W Bloomer
Durkee, OR 97905 50.00 %
Diane G Bloomer
Durkee, OR 97905 50.00 %

19 Douglas R Stanford North Powder, OR 97867 $154,727

20 Harrell Land & Livestock Ltd ✴ Baker City, OR 97814 $145,968

Valley View Dairy & Ent Inc ✴
Haines, OR 97833
Rohners Dairy Inc ✴
Baker City, OR 97814
Noble Lumber Inc ✴
Beavercreek, OR 97004
Allen Farms Inc ✴
Haines, OR 97833
John Bootsma
Baker City, OR 97814
Bill Loennig
Haines, OR 97833
Daly Creek Ranch LLC ✴
Zephyr Cove, NV 89448
Blatchford Farms Inc ✴
Baker City, OR 97814
Powder River Ranch ✴
Baker City, OR 97814
Jacobs Ranches Inc ✴
Baker City, OR 97814
Dave Blatchford
Baker City, OR 97814
Jack Harris
Huntington, OR 97907
Lindsay Brothers ✴
Shedd, OR 97377
Allen Brothers ✴
Haines, OR 97833
Joel Wendt
Haines, OR 97833
Harrell Hereford Ranch Inc ✴
Baker City, OR 97814
Ted S Bloomer Estate ✴
Durkee, OR 97905
Roger W Smith
Haines, OR 97833
Lois L Mcniece
Baker City, OR 97814
Suzanne M Kindree
North Powder, OR 97867
Stephen J Brocato
Baker City, OR 97814
Maxwell Ranch ✴
Haines, OR 97833
Louis E Marks
North Powder, OR 97867
Patrick Sullivan Dba Sullivan Lan ✴
Hereford, OR 97837
John Randall
Richland, OR 97870
Durbin Creek Ranch ✴
Huntington, OR 97907
Ted S Bloomer
Durkee, OR 97905
Donlon H Gabrielsen
San Rafael, CA 94901
Merlyn L Mcgarry
Baker City, OR 97814
Charles J Conro
Haines, OR 97833
Richard Stephens
Haines, OR 97833
Owen Family Revocable Trust
Durkee, OR 97905
Phillips Ranch Inc
Baker City, OR 97814
William M Mcginn
Haines, OR 97833
Ingram Ranches Inc ✴
Haines, OR 97833
Lee C Wright III
Fruitland, ID 83619
Hay Inc ✴
North Powder, OR 97867
Ssi Land And Cattle Co ✴
, 00000
Richard Murray
Richland, OR 97870
Dorris D Parker
Roseburg, OR 97470

For more complete information on all recipients go to the web site listed above.

Some more findings:

• Total USDA Subsidies from farms/ranches in Baker County, Oregon totaled $13,057,000 from 1995-2005.
• Commodity subsidies in Baker County, Oregon totaled $7.3 million from 1995-2005.
• Conservation payments in Baker County, Oregon totaled $3.5 million from 1995-2005.
• Disaster payments in Baker County, Oregon totaled $2.3 million from 1995-2005.

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Supervisor Tim L. Kerns, and his wife Janice L. Kerns, are listed in the EWG database as owning roughly 69% of Kerns Rainbow Ranch Inc., which the same database says received $311,507 in USDA subsidies during the 1995 to 2005 period. These subsidies included $293,166 in commodity subsidies and $18,341 in “disaster” subsidies. The ranch received no subsidies for conservation. So Tim L. and Janice should have received about 69% of that, or $214,753 over the 11 year period, an average of approximately $19,523 per year in subsidies. A listing of the County land holdings in their name on the Assessor’s office webpage shows that they own in the neighborhood of 2,395 acres, most of which is zoned Exclusive Farm Use and is in farm deferral for tax purposes. They may own other acreage under other business names that I am not aware of. The web site also shows that on a real market value of $3,791,120 ($3.7 million), they pay about $11,911 dollars a year in property taxes (not including any discounts for timely payment) for their listed acreage and assorted homes. So, fortunately for them, the subsidies more than pay for their property taxes each year and leave them a tidy sum to apply towards any State or Federal tax they couldn’t find deductions for.

Also according to County tax records, City manager Steve Brocato owns 148.5 acres in the County (Halfway, as I recall) in addition to his properties in Baker City. He pays annual taxes of 1,340.37 on those acres (about $9.00 per acre.). He has received $83,699 in USDA subsidies during the period from 2002 to 2005. It is not clear whether he also owns an additional 240 acres in the name of BROCATO EXCHANGE WXO61210,LLC with a mailing address of Salem, OR, or if he owns properties receiving subsidies elsewhere. The taxes on those additional 240 acres amount to $916.96. Even if he also controls those properties and the USDA subsidies can be attributed to them, it is clear that the subsidies he receives more than cover all the taxes he might have owed on currently listed farm properties in Baker County during the 4 year period.

The EWG database shows that the president of the Baker County Livestock Association, Curt Martin, of North Powder has received payments of $93,628.38 from 1995 through 2005. According to the Herald, even in the face of all the taxpayer generosity, when referring to current drought relief programs, Martin still mustered up the chutzpah to tell his Oregon representative: “With all due respect, this isn’t going to cut it….” Was he pleading simply for more money, or was this a threat about the level of future campaign contributions?

Relief for the Serfs

I wonder if the Herald and our government entities would be willing to show some concern for county residents who also face emergency or disaster situations. Their problems, as in the case of ranchers, may be due to their own irresponsible behavior, or to events beyond their control. Many people, for example, realize that the instability in the Middle East and speculative trading by Wall Street scammers, both of which were either caused or tolerated by the Bush administration, are responsible for much of the increase in oil prices. Fuel oil prices have more than doubled, and have impacted many low-income residents who rely on fuel oil for heat. Others may have been knocked down when the housing bubble burst. The situation can be a financial disaster for these folks, pushing some over the financial and emotional edge, but I haven’t seen any efforts to address their problems or many others that regular people face, even though the government is regularly bailing out the wealthy, like large “producers” and financial wheeler-dealers. With all due respect, I’ve got to tell you, this isn’t going to cut it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Leading By Example and Maxwell Lake



In the last blog I started a new section with the heading of Homo Hypocriticus. For many years, I have noticed that humans (Homo sapiens), myself included, have a tendency to be hypocrites to one degree or another. So the intention of the new section is to point out examples of what myself or others consider hypocritical and usually unjust behavior by government or others.

In This Article:
Background on New Nuisance and Sidewalk Ordinance Issues
August 14th Council Meeting
Sampling of Properties belonging to Councilors or government officials

My Street in Baker City, Oregon. We don’t have sidewalks and we are fine with that.


Recently, there has been a flurry of articles, an editorial, and one letter in the local papers related to a new initiative by the City Council and City staff to begin enforcing local nuisance and safety ordinances. These include those dealing with sidewalk maintenance, and most of these ordinances have been ignored for years, if not decades. The initiative, announced by City Manager Steve Brocato on August 1st, and reported in local papers, said the city “will get more aggressive in enforcing ordinances that prohibit “nuisances” on their property,” including “weeds, trash and dilapidated vehicles.” (Herald/Jacoby/8-2-07) City Manager Steve Brocato asked residents to turn themselves in as violators by calling the City’s planning director, Evan MacKenzie, by Aug. 31, and the city would work with them. (Ibid.) The Record-Courier reported similarly about “voluntary compliance” on August 9th and said that “A nuisance property is characterized by large amounts of materials not necessary or typical for residential use and not kept within an enclosed structure.” (I thought Baker City was the "Premier Rural Experience.") They also reported that those not approaching the City by August 31 would be subject to fines of $500.00 for each violation they find and an additional $500.00 for each day that the violation is allowed to continue. According to the Record-Courier, “After the grace period, the City will start aggressively pursuing enforcement of nuisance properties.”

Let me say out front that short of real, as opposed to imagined, safety issues and crime problems, including dogs running loose, I generally don’t care what people do with their property. I don’t care if your sidewalk is crumbling or whether you have one or not. I don’t want one and can’t afford one. I moved to the area on the west side of the tracks because it provided opportunities, as well as room, for animals, firewood processing, vehicles, gardens, etc. My house is old and I’m not in to trimming hedges, but the roof is new and the place is fine for me. I could see the condition of properties in my neighborhood and decided I could live with that and, in fact, that it fit in with the way I wanted to live. What other people consider visual nuisances just doesn’t offend me that much. Too me, the way we live in much of Baker City is related to the rural experience that our City is suppose to cherish. If someone is obsessive/compulsive about order and tidiness, then they need to go somewhere else, like north Elm Street, the subdivisions around the golf course, or Portland.

In the past, the policy on ordinance enforcement was to respond to complaints only. For example, the council minutes for Sept. 26, 2006 say “The Police Department normally enforces the [abandoned vehicles] ordinance only in response to complaints from members of the public.” Then in May or June, allegedly due to police overtime issues related to training time, the City decided to hire a new police officer and part-time evidence room clerk. Turns out that the new officer and clerk will enable the community service officer to “look for violations as well” on a full time basis (Herald/Jacoby/8-2-07). The problem I have with this approach is the abruptness of the change from little or no enforcement to what may be “aggressive” enforcement in such an abrupt manner and without any period of public input and discussion.

On August 3, 2007, the Herald printed a letter (the Herald doesn’t print all the letters sent to them even when they comply with all their nit-picky requirements, just the ones they arbitrarily choose to print) from a newbie to Eastern Oregon claiming that “Baker City is the dirtiest town I have ever lived in.” The gentleman had spent 20 years immersed in the spit-and–polish of the US Navy, and perhaps his mother never let him play in the dirt, so now he wants us to change our ways and “clean up Baker City.” It seems that when people come to a new place to live that they always want to make it like the place they came from. Change is fine if is based in actual safety or sustainability issues, but I don’t think people ought to be able to impose their subjective tastes on others. He suggested that “You folks as civic leaders need to get in your cars or better yet, go for a walk and just look around,” but even many of the “civic leaders” pushing this campaign are not from Baker City originally. They are for the most part pretty well off too. Several of our Councilors have rental and other property investments in town. Almost all are business people hoping to attract additional business to Baker City. (Dare I say we are run by a business cabal?) They, like a lot of new people who hale from more urban areas, may have a problem with our “dirty little secret.” The class and economic dimensions of this issue are deliberately obscured and ignored, but they are right under the surface

The Herald followed up with an editorial on August 8th reminding us that we have “blemishes,” and applauding the fact that “Brocato intends to change that.” (Given the light punishment meted out by the City to an actual criminal City employee, I guess the Herald was happy to see him go after somebody.) They decry a situation where residents might have to live next to people who have “water that harbors disease-spreading mosquitoes.” Uh huh. I’ve been waiting for over a year for the Herald to suggest a change in county irrigating practices to lessen our exposure to the dangers of mosquitoes spreading deadly West Nile virus, most of whom come from irrigated fields and sloughs, and not the tires and bird baths in your back yards, but City residents who are subject to the winged onslaught don’t seem to be able to match the political power of ranchers and farmers. Instead of seeing a change in irrigation practices, residents just get to help pay for combating the disease bearing mosquitoes the ranchers and farmers help create. A human life or two now and again isn’t too much to pay to maintain the status quo for agriculture. Besides, we have bigger problems to fight, like that inoperable vehicle in your back yard or your buckled sidewalk.

Finally, on August 13, the day prior to the last City Council meeting, the Herald ran an article entitled “City’s next step: the sidewalks” describing how the City has decided to start enforcing the old sidewalk ordinance which requires homeowners adjacent to dilapidated sidewalks to fix them. A City employee is said to have brought the attention of the City staff to a badly buckled sidewalk on Balm Street. In our "Tree City," many sidewalks become lifted and damaged by tree roots. Some thought that we had gotten used to it. What a convenient coincidence that a City employee brought a bad sidewalk to the attention of the City just when City Attorney Fine was preparing to present his new sidewalk ordinance! Given that there are many instances of buckled and dilapidated sidewalks in town, given the ominous title to the article of “City’s next step,” (Yikes, what is this Council going to do to us next?), and given my knowledge of other inconsistent enforcement, I decided to go to last Tuesday night's Council meeting.

Mayor, Jeff “You’re Out Of Order” Petry,
Checking to see if he had washed behind his ears.

After they blew off Steve Culley’s request to get on the agenda to discuss a $5000 donation in defense of immigration reform, and after another citizen asked for special dispensation for Gentry Ford’s continuing violations of an ordinance, apparently regarding their parking vehicles on the sidewalk, I spoke to the Council about my concerns. (The citizen’s participation section of the meeting is normally given short shrift by the Herald, and this meeting was no exception.)

I told them I had concerns that their recent ordinance enforcement endeavors (crackdown) had the potential to become a class war on the poor as many people in town, who may be in violation, are low-income residents and may lack the resources to respond to the City’s demands. I mean, what with all the publicity and the full-time enforcement officer, they are only going to encourage the Nuisance Nazis, often the well off, to proceed with their vendettas against people who live differently than themselves. It will be like it always has. People make a choice to move to a place where things are not as they like and then they unleash their barrage of complaints. They didn’t have to move in next to a poor person, but they did, and now they want the city to do something about their newly acquired nuisance neighbor. They didn’t have to move into “the dirtiest town,” but they did, and now they are going to help us become decent, civilized human beings by making us live like them. They don’t know that one person’s nuisance is another person’s treasure. They have never been poor, or they don't remember, and they don’t have the experience or imagination to develop the necessary empathy. They are a threat to the poor and others who want to live and let live.

I told the City Council that the Herald’s “next step” headline suggested that there is a plan broader than that which has thus far been discussed publicly and that the citizens of Baker City had a right to know what it is and to have input (early input I would think). Ultimately, it came out that City Attorney David Fine has plans to submit over 12 “modernized” or new ordinances to the City Council in the coming months, so hang onto your hat.

One positive note was that Councilor Bev Calder also believed that the City needed to take a less punitive approach with “fewer sticks and more carrots.”

Finally I asked the City Council to take responsibility for what is happening to us. Many of us had thought that the new City Council would be different, but it now looks like the kinder, gentler new boss, is the same as the old boss, except perhaps worse. Perhaps we need to shorten the terms of Councilors to two years so that we can limit the damage done if they go off on an authoritarian tangent.

Speaking of responsibility, I noted that transferring Council’s traditional responsibility to staff, as happened later in the meeting, had the effect of actually diffusing responsibility and making no one accountable to the public. Later during discussion of the public contracting rules, Councilor Calder worried that the transfer of the Council’s traditional responsibility to staff would leave them with little to do at meetings and could lead to less transparency in local government. I agree.

Finally, discussion turned to the Balm Street sidewalk issue and the new sidewalk ordinance.

One important fact that came to light is that no one could recall the last time they received a complaint about sidewalks. That might have put a damper on all the hoopla about a sidewalk problem, but thankfully the City employee came forward with a complaint to get the ball rolling.

The individual who was being required to fix their sidewalk by the City stated that she felt she was being “made an example of” and “singled out” because the whole street has many areas of dilapidated sidewalks. It seemed like Sam Bass agreed as he noted there were numerous instances of dilapidated sidewalks in town. He said there is a 4-inch drop in the sidewalk right next to the subject property. Further down in this blog will be examples of instances where City officials themselves could have been the example used for broken sidewalks but it might have been too messy to point out their deficiencies. Better pick on people in the low-income section of town. The whole situation is perfect for the powerful to abuse, through selective prosecution, those they dislike or disagree with.

Among other things, Calder thought they the City needs to take a holistic approach to the problem and revisit the whole policy question regarding sidewalks. She thought proceeding with this complaint and with the new sidewalk ordinance being presented by City Attorney Fine was like “putting the cart before the horse.”

Councilor Bryan noted that Boise has a fund which provides up to 25% of the cost for repairing broken-down sidewalks and he was amenable to discussing alternatives, including Baker City allowing residents to remove crumbling sidewalks if they wished. Given that Attorney Fine and others, including myself, see sidewalks, where they exist, as a public asset, perhaps we could agree to have the city help fund all or part of sidewalk repair and maintenance.

Interestingly, given the condition of sidewalks at one of his properties, Steve Brocato said that “if somebody trips . . . we got an issue” and that the new ordinance would “give us … authority to proceed on this before somebody gets hurt.” The Herald reported that he said it is the City's responsibility to make sure dangerous sidewalks get fixed if they are aware of them (paraphrasing Herald/Jacoby/8-15-07).

Councilor Schumacher said that there are more places without sidewalks than with sidewalks. He thought that the “way our whole city looks as far as sidewalks” is “atrocious.” He didn’t think that it was fair that some had to fix sidewalks and others don’t have to put one in. “We have a city-wide problem and we need to say we need sidewalks on all developed streets in the City limits of Baker. I think it is unfair to make someone maintain a sidewalk that they put the expense to put in without saying look, you don’t have a sidewalk, he needs to get one put in. I think that you gotta be fair both ways and there are a lot of places that we should have sidewalks in this town and it’s not right that people go down a sidewalk and then have to walk out in the middle of the street because there is no sidewalk.” Hear that Commissioner Warner? (Commissioner Warner has a curb but no sidewalk.) Please note that Mr. Schumacher’s plan would not require him to install sidewalks at his property on Carter Street or at his property on Vista Heights Drive. He already has one, such as it is, at Crown Courtyard.

Well, I’m not a “civic leader,” but I decided to take the advice of the crusading new resident who just retired here and “just look around” a bit to see how bad our nuisance and sidewalk situation has become. Before starting my survey, I went to the Assessor’s property search page at and looked up some of the property addresses of those on the Council and a few of the City staff. I was really surprised at what I saw when I visited some of their properties.

I didn’t visit Gail Duman’s house because she is in a new development with new curbs and sidewalks, and she doesn’t have other properties here except her store on Main, where the sidewalks are kept up. Neither did I look for Sam Bass because I couldn’t be sure where he lived given the records available and I simply don’t have time to locate his home. I think he lives over on my side of town and probably doesn’t have sidewalks but I don’t have a lot to base that guess on.

After passing a well kept rental (?) of Dennis Dorrah’s on 13th Street, I drove on to a home owned by Terry Schumacher at 2790 Carter Street. Someone else is living there. This is what I found:

2790 Carter Street

Note that the street is gravel and that there are no sidewalks or curbs, so I guess Mr. Schumacher doesn’t think they are that important. I counted 12 or so vehicles in various stages of repair in addition to assorted trailers, boats and the like. Any nuisance violations here? As owner of the house, Mr. Schumacher is ultimately responsible for the condition of the property. Where has he been? Contrast this house with a home (just below) he owns on Vista Heights Drive.

Schumacher’s Vista Heights Drive Home

This picture above is of the rough curb cut (and edges to trip on around fire hydrant) on the corner adjacent to Mr. Schumacher’s “Crown Courtyard" bed and breakfast. Is this curb cut convenient for wheel chairs? Could you trip on the walk or edges around the hydrant?

Another home I visited was a rental owned by City Manager Steve Brocato at 1805 3rd. Street.

Steve Brocato's 3rd Street Rental
Sidewalk to left of house is buckled in places

Buckled Sidewalk at City Managers 3rd Street Rental

The displacement measured 6 inches from the bottom of one section to the top of the other or 4 inches from top to top. This is comparable to the buckled sidewalk on Balm Street that the city decided needed to be repaired. There are other problems with this sidewalk as well (pictures on request).

Another area of buckled sidewalks is in one of my favorite blocks: the 1700 block of 4th Street. The trees cause the problem but thats how big, beautiful old trees get along with sidewalks. A city employee passed right by when I was taking the photos but didn’t stop to investigate.

1700 Block of 4th Street

With these problems so close to City Hall, you have to wonder why they reported the problem on Balm Street.

Another problem might be the vacant house and deteriorating sidewalk owned by Councilor Dennis Dorrah on the S.W. corner of 3rd and Campbell.

Empty House on 3rd Street Belonging to Councilor Dorrah

According to the neighbor, this home has been vacant for over 8 years. Note dead lawn and junk on the porch. Another Dorrah’s property at 1116 Resort is well taken care of and has a curb but no sidewalk. Is there a sidewalk in Mr. Dorrah’s future? His property on 13th is also well taken care of and has a gravel street with no curb or sidewalk.

Sidewalk Problems at Dorrah House on 3rd St.

Below is the well kept home of Commissioner Warner. Note the curb, but no sidewalk. If Councilor Shumacher has his way, there will be a sidewalk in Commissioner Warner’s future as well.
Warner Home

Both Baker Garage and Gentry Ford routinely block all or a portion of the sidewalk and parkway at their businesses (Below). Why is this allowed if it is a violation of City ordinance?

Baker Garage: New Cars on Washington Street

The sidewalk below is adjacent to a rental that the Assessor’s office says is owned by District Attorney Matt Shirtcliff at 2845 2nd Street.

Sidewalk that Matt Shirtcliff is responsible for maintaining at 2845 2nd Street

Some Businesses also don’t do such a great job maintaining their sidewalks. The picture below is behind the Geiser Grand Hotel on Resort Street. There are other examples nearby. Oh, and is a dumptster and garbage on the public sidewalk LESS offensive that an inoperable vehicle tucked away on someone’s private property?

Geiser Grand Sidewalk

Mayor Petry, a broker and developer, owns the single family hotel at the end of the long drive in the picture below. No curbs or sidewalks for him to worry about as far as I can see.

Mayor Petry's Home and Drive

Below is the crumbling but serviceable sidewalk at a home owned by Andrew Bryan at 2250 4th Street. Although he voted to accept the first reading of the new sidewalk ordinance, at least Mr. Bryan seems comfortable with addressing the problem through various avenues and rethinking policy rather than simply strict enforcement.

Andrew Bryan’s Sidewalk

And finally, below are pictures of an old unoccupied church/rehab facility at 1620 Valley Street which is owned by Beverly Calder. The two lower front windows are broken, with the glass exposed, and there is an open window on the left side where the plywood is not secured in a way to prevent entry. Is this building an attractive nuisance and do you find its state of disrepair pleasing? I noted a lot of children in the neighborhood, including next door and across the street.

Councilor Calder's Empty Church/Rehab Facility

I personally don't have a problem with most of the situations described above. What is troubling is to see the City begin enforcement proceedings with one of the ordinances they have announced they intend to enforce at the same time that they themselves don't seem to be taking various ordinances seriously enough to apply them to their own situations or to businesses that appear to violate them.

The problem of inconsistency also rears its ugly head in other areas of enforcement. For example, the city received a complaint from someone in the vicinity of the new development on Elm Street that a weeping willow on Grove Street was blocking vision to the north as vehicles approached an intersection from the east. The willow didn’t extend into the street mind you, it just blocked vision up the street as one approached and people would have to slow down, as at any blind intersection. On the basis of this one person’s complaint, he landowner was sent a threatening letter by the City telling the owner to cut the branches so that people could see up the street as they approached. Placing a stop sign at the intersection apparently didn't occur to the City. The cutting was done, and the second time required more or less ruining the aesthetics of the tree. See picture below.

Grove Street Willow
Note lower branches, especially on street side, are whacked off

Compare this situation with the visibility on 1st Street in the downtown historic district where the City has allowed diagonal parking to be instituted. (Below) The vehicles extend far into the street and there is more traffic here than up on Grove.

1st Street Parking Obstructs Vision

Which is worse? To cross 1st Street you have to very carefull edge the nose of the vehicle out into the center of the street all the while hoping that no one is coming down that lane above 15 or so MPH. Why does the City encourage a dangerous obstruction of vision downtown while requiring a residential landowner to alleviate a much less serious situation by mangling a tree that doesn't extend out into the street?

As I wrote previously, I don’t have a problem with the way different groups of people choose to live, but after finishing the tour of properties, the big question in my mind is why is the City coming after us if they haven’t even addressed the problems in their own back yards? Why go out to Balm Street when you could just use the City Manager’s rental as an example? Why criminalize the lifestyles of the poor and low income people? People look for consistency in the application of the law and they deserve equal protection. Lets get that right before we go off persecuting people in what often seems to be an arbitrary and class-based manner.

Maxwell Lake

Maxwell Lake

A lot of people come this area to be close to the Elkhorns and the Eagle Caps, myself included. Little did I know that while you could get to a lake around 7,000 feet with little effort in the Elkhorns, getting there in the Eagle Caps was a whole different matter. Many of the hikes to alpine and sub-alpine lakes in the latter range requires not just that you be in shape (or have a horse), but that you spend a day or three or more backpacking in the wilderness.

Well, I can't tell you how gratified I was to discover two weeks ago that you can hike to one of those beautiful lakes in a few hours and return to your camp or car on the same day. That lake is Maxwell Lake, which sits almost 2500 feet above the trailhead on the Lostine River in Wallowa County.

You can reach the trailhead or the Shady Campground by traveling the Lostine River Road south from the town of Lostine for about 16 miles. The trailhead is on the left and the campground is by the river on the right. The lake is approximately 3.8 miles from the trailhead. The trail is moderate initially because you are going up a steep slope along a series of switchbacks. About two thirds or three fourths of the way up the mountain the trail becomes rougher, deeper, and unfortunately, quite a bit steeper. I took my time and took short breaks or stopped to photograph things at fairly regular intervals, but still did it in 3.5 hours. Experienced hikers who are in good shape could probably do it in 2.5 to 3 hours with no problem. When you arrive at the lake you will be at about 7,750 feet.

My hike was on August 7, but I would recommend mid-July or so for more wildflowers. June if you want the early bloomers. Along the way, the trail alternates between dense forest and open meadows, all on steep slopes, with one stream at the beginning and a few streamlets thereafter. I saw some of the late blooming flowers, deer, Clark’s nutcrackers, chipping sparrows, juncos, other unidentified birds, chipmunks and ground squirrels--not much out of the ordinary really. It was extremely dry so there was no shortage of dust along the way, but the lake was beautiful.

I must finish this blog soon so I will quickly show you just a few of the things I saw. The asters have had their names changed recently, so if you have to know the most recent scientific name, you can look it up ( ). Ok, Ok, I'll give both names.

At the lower elevations especially (around 6500 to 7000 feet) you can find a common aster called Aster foliaceus var. foliaceus (Symphotrichium foliaceum) that is not hairy or glandular, has pink ray flowers, leafy-like involucres, and clasping leaves.

Aster foliaceus

Usually at higher elevations you will encounter Aster integrifolius (Eurbia integrifolia). It differs from the former primarily by having some glandular stems and peduncles with a purplish pink flower. It is usually not as tall either.

Aster integrifolius

Up over 7,o00 feet you will find Hypericum formosun var. nortoniae, or western St. John's wort. A European species of St. John's wort is used to treat depression.

Hypericum formosum var nortoniae

Also at around this elevation you begin to encounter a sure sign of the coming end to summer, Gentiana calycosa, or explorer's gentian. It will be with you all the way to the lake's shore.

Gentiana calycosa

Lastly, among the other flowers you will find, such as Wallowa Indian paintbrush, is a very special member of the Saxifrage family called Parnassia fimbriata, or fringed grass of parnassus.

Parnassia fimbriata

When ever you are able to do this hike, early spring, late fall and winter excepted, and even though it can be physically draining, I am sure that you will not regret or forget it. Be sure to wear boots and appropriate clothing, take some food and water, and stop often to smell the wild flowers and take in the views.

Maxwell Lake