Opinion • The Chronicle • May 15, 2013
Federal agencies abusing authority When you turn on your television news or open your newspaper, you expect to find an impartial account of the events unfolding in your neighborhood, state and nation. That non-biased approach to news is the product of protecting a freedom of the press. But what if government agencies were allowed to intimidate news agencies, their editors and reporters. Such is a case that came to light this past week. According to the Associated Press, the federal Justice Department – under the direction of President Obama appointee Attorney General Eric Holder – secretly obtained two months of telephone records of the organization’s editors and reporters. The AP’s President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the action a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into news gathering. “We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news,” Pruitt wrote in a letter to the Justice Department. We wholeheartedly agree. Pruitt has demanded the return of the telephone records and destruction of all copies. We believe Holder and the Obama Administration should act promptly to do as Pruitt says. And we’d go further to suggest any Justice Department employees involved in the harassment of the press should be removed from their respective jobs. Call it what you want, but when government snoops in newsroom offices for information on who reporters and editors talk to, telephone numbers and more, it’s pure intimidation. Unfortunately for residents, intimidation seems to be the name of the game under the Obama Administration. Just last week, the Internal Revenue Service admitted that it had used key words such as “Tea Party” and “patriot” to search for and flag non-profit groups. Confirmation of two such major abuses of power in less than a week should be a warning to all U.S. citizens that the Constitution is under attack by the very people we rely on to uphold it. But when government has become so aggressive its officials believe they can, it’s time to change the rules, and most likely the officials interpreting them. We cannot allow our government to operate so nonchalantly out of constitutional bounds.
Pet projects wasted time For entirely different reasons, Republicans and Democrats alike have their own ever-growing lists of complaints about government. But the common thread uniting members of both parties is the accusation politicians have lost touch with their constituencies. The state Legislature seems to be doing very little to counteract that perception as it kicked off its special session Monday. State politicians continue to bicker and wrangle over a budget of more than $30 billion, money that will directly affect each and every taxpayer. Garrett For “regular” Rudolph people, establishing a budget and living within it is an absolute necessity. For government, both at the state and national levels, it seems budgeting is never a priority until the absolute deadline — or more often than not, it seems — beyond the deadline. Rather than establishing a budget, lawmakers seems to have devoted energy to pet projects and measures with zero effect on the vast majority of residents. Here are a few of the “highlights” of the 2013 Legislative session that took precedence over the budget: • We’ve gotten rid of those pesky general equivalency diplomas in favor of politically correct high school equivalency certificates. • Christmas tree licensing has been extended. • The criteria for beer and wine tasting endorsement for grocery stores has changed. • Intoxicated minors now can receive immunity from prosecution. • Lawmakers addressed the proper disposal of legal amounts of marijuana left at retail stores. • The volume of spirits being sold per day to a customer of a craft distillery was increased. • Seattle Sounders and Seattle Seahawks license plates have been created. • Beer and wine sampling is now allowed at farmers markets. • To top it off, House Bill 2056 corrects “the definition of THC concentration as adopted by Initiative Measure No. 502 to avoid an implication that conversion, by combustion, of tetrahydrocannabinol acid into delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol is not part of the THC content that differentiates marijuana from hemp.” I have absolutely no idea what that means. But I am 100 percent sure it cannot be as important as finalizing a budget.
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Garrett Rudolph is the managing editor of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at email@example.com.
Utility needs ratepayer oversight It seems like only yesterday that the Okanogan County Public Utility District said it had to raise rates in order to stay solvent. In reality, that was about four years ago. At the time, three years of consecutive rate increases were proposed to get the utility back on safe financial footing. A new rate structure helped mask the true costs of the increase. Utility customers cried foul as the general manager and utility employees got hefty raises while losing ratepayer money. But utility officials, led by General Manager John Grubich, assuaged our fears, telling us the rate hikes would stabilize the district. So, imagine my surprise when the utility district announced two weeks ago that its consultant believes it should raise rates 26 percent more — 13 percent each of the next two years. Am I the only one who’s counting? Where is the outrage over a proposal that would leave our electric bills a minimum of 45.5 percent higher than they were
on the hot seat Roger Harnack in 2010? I, for one, believe the utility needs to discharge the consultant, renegotiate union contract rates and demand a healthy reduction in administrative salaries. But taking those steps alone won’t balance a budget that’s already expected to be over budget by more than $4 million this year. Utility Commissioner Steve Houston said the utility’s governing board was “kind of shocked” by the need for a rate increase. Really, Steve? Nobody associated with the utility should be shocked. And neither should ratepayers. Shame on all of us for being caught off guard. Shame on all of use for not holding the utility
district accountable for the way our money is being spent. It would appear that utility commissioners and ratepayers (including me) are asleep at the wheel, again. Nothing has changed since the election. Raises continue unabated due to the terms of contracts. The district is throwing money handover-fist at Enloe Dam. Then there are the lawsuits over rights of way. Don’t forget the tremendous cost of purchasing wind farm power that won’t be necessary here for decades to come. Why in the world would we think the utility was fiscally solvent? Let’s face it. The utility district has only one new voice aboard a ship that has been taking on water for years. That voice alone isn’t likely to be heard over the pounding fiscal waves washing atop the deck. Getting the utility district back on financial track is going to take a major restructuring. We ratepayers are going to have to demand employee and manager
contracts be reduced. We are going to have to demand to see the raw costs of resurrecting the Enloe Dam power plant versus mothball costs. And we are going to have to demand an end to spending money on Nine Canyons Wind Farm. But we can’t stop there, we’ll need to see the raw costs of all the utility projects. And if we truly want to right the utility district ship before it sinks, we’re going to have to be very active in financial oversight of the utility. We have to be ready to change the leadership course if the utility doesn’t get its costs under control. If we are not ready to take those initial steps, then we better be willing to pay substantially more to power our homes. But since I haven’t heard much outcry on the rate increase proposal, maybe we’ve already decided ... and I didn’t get the memo. Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congress moves fast, if it wants to Air travelers received a bit of good news recently: A bill to put air traffic controllers back to work whisked through the House and Senate and flew into the White House for President Obama’s signature. Why the quick action? Millions of constituents were outraged with how the Federal Aviation Administration handled a 4 percent budget cut mandated by the sequester. Instead of focusing on nonessential personnel, the FAA furloughed 10 percent of its 15,000 air traffic controllers each day, causing more than 40,000 flight delays and 1,900 canceled flights, according to FlightStats.com. Interestingly, the D.C.-area airports that serve members of Congress were exempt — a pure coincidence, testified one FAA official. Nevertheless, Congress felt the heat from angry voters, and some experienced those delays first-hand when they traveled outside Washington, D.C. The fast action reminded me of a similar circumstance in 1973 when I was a congressional aide. The Washington Redskins games at RFK Stadium
Guest Column Don Brunell
consistently sold out. People actually put their Redskins season tickets in their wills. At the time, the political atmosphere in D.C. was as acrimonious as it is today. President Richard Nixon was under siege with the Watergate scandal and Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Nevertheless, they managed to agree on one issue of importance to everyone: football. Nixon wanted the National Football League to lift its television blackout of home games. Members of Congress wanted the same. The president sent word to NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle that, if he would lift the ban for playoff games, he would veto legislation allowing the telecast of home games sold out 72 hours in advance.
Rozelle resisted. It was a huge mistake. In just three days, the House of Representatives approved legislation lifting the TV blackout by a vote of 336 to 37. The Senate concurred by voice vote just 27 minutes later. “President Nixon signed the bill the next day, then repaired to Camp David to watch his beloved Redskins beat San Diego on a telecast from Washington that the measure, now Public Law 93-107, had made possible,” Sports Illustrated reported. The point is, Congress and the president can make things happen quickly when they want to. They need to act quickly now, because our nation is facing massive debt and the looming train wreck that is Obamacare. Our national debt is approaching $17 trillion and increasing by $3.82 billion a day. That means each of us owes $53,400 on our national credit card bill. And the problem is growing worse. President Obama’s 2014 budget would leave the nation with a $744 billion budget deficit, despite entitlement cuts and tax hikes.
The president would raise taxes more than $800 billion over a decade. That doesn’t include skyrocketing health care costs associated with Obamacare — a law that fully implements in just eight months. An additional 30 million Americans are expected to be covered under Obamacare, and the latest estimate from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says the program will cost $1.8 trillion over 10 years. In January, the Internal Revenue Service estimated the cheapest plan for a family of four will cost $20,000 per year. Taxpayers will subsidize those who cannot afford to the coverage. Our struggling economy, crushing debt and the mounting costs of Obamacare are vastly more important than an NFL television blackout. It’s time for politicians in Washington, D. C. to stop their bickering and finger pointing and act quickly. Don C. Brunell is the president of the Association of Washington Business. For more, log onto www.awb.org.
From our readers Many support the dog park in Omak I am responding to concerns about the dog park in Omak. Now let’s look at the positive side. The dog park was put into the Omak Comprehensive Park plans, open for public review and comment before approved by the City Council. No city funds or taxes will be used to build and maintain the dog park. The only funds being used will be donated funds and materials from those who support the dog park. We are planning a dog club that will plan events like obedience classes or clinics at the dog park in the future. We are planning a swim for dogs at the Omak Pool after it closes for the year. The dog park is being built for one major reason. To offer an offleash area for dog owners to unleash their dogs legally for a run, to socialize, service to our family of canines to learn, enjoy at no cost to anyone who does not
dog park. Any dog can be trained. They are part of our families and we do not discriminate against breed and breeding. Join us or not, it’s your choice. But the voice of many that live in Omak say, “It makes great sense.” Lew Goebel Omak
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want to donate or be involved. Rules will be posted, including no children under 16 in the dog park without an adult. This dog park is supported by a majority of the population. The dog park committee, which I chair, is made up of good, responsible people, making sure we do this right and safe — though
we have always invited anyone who would like to learn more of our plans, or to make suggestions to come join us. We usually meet at City Hall on the fourth Wednesday of each month. I have only heard from a handful that have no interest and one person against it, but hundreds in support of the small
The Chronicle accepts letters to the editor of 250 words or less. Letters must bear the signature and hometown of the writer and a daytime telephone number. Letters with multiple signatures or sent to multiple publications will not be considered. Letters may not include personal attacks or thank you messages. Letters are subject to editing. Publication does not imply agreement or endorsement by The Chronicle. Letters may be mailed to The OmakOkanogan County Chronicle, Attn. : Letter to the Editor, P.O. Box 553, Omak, WA 98841; dropped off at The Chronicle office, 618 Okoma Drive, Omak; faxed to 509-8265819, or e-mailed to news@omak chronicle.com.