Thursday, May 20, 2010

Older Idahoans Mad at Pols

Posted By on Thu, May 20, 2010 at 10:06 AM

An e-mail survey returned by 531 AARP of Idaho members shows a low level of confidence for Idaho's elected leaders from the 50+ population of the state.

About 85 percent of respondents said they had low confidence in state lawmakers to deal with the problems facing the state, chief among them, the budget. AARP members are also concerned about the state's new "conscience law" for healthcare workers and want parts of it repealed, specifically the part that allows medical personnel to deny end-of-life wishes of patients.

Older Idahoans also want more controls on large special interest political contributions—55 percent of respondents agreed with this.

And a near-majority of respondents want to know where candidates stand on restoring cuts to public education. The AARP also found strong interest in term limits and a desire to solve Idaho's doctor shortage.

Click on graph to read the survey results.
  • AARP Idaho
  • Click on graph to read the survey results.

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trying Out the Tracks

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 4:12 PM

When I woke up this morning did I think I was going to be riding on a restored passenger train to the middle of the desert or report on speeches at the Boise Depot? I’d never been on a train nor to the Depot. But, it all seems to be in the day’s work of a Boise Weekly intern.

My assignment: head out to the Boise Depot to cover a public announcement for plans to study a new railroad freight facility in Southeast Boise. I knew very little about railroads, but being the precocious and perhaps naïve intern, I took on the task. I spent the next hour and half researching the facts and reading what other area sources had reported on.

At noon today, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter signed a letter of intent with Boise Valley Railroad to explore the possibility for a new freight facility south of the Boise Airport. The new facility, which would increase railroad efficiency, would be a transload and intermodal facility meaning it would have the ability to move freight from truck to rail and vice versa. The city was also going to take the occasion to announce a new agreement with Boise Valley Railroad to become the provider of service for the city’s 18.2 miles of city-owned rail. BVRR is a subsidiary of Watco Companies, which operates 19 other railroads in 18 states.

BVRR crew welcomes maiden voyage.
  • Rachel Krause
  • BVRR crew welcomes maiden voyage.

With a camera, notepad, and a voice recorder in tow, I drove up to the Boise Depot. After managing to snag what appeared to be the last available parking spot, I found myself thrown right into an interview with Mayor Dave Bieter, alongside a reporter for KTVB-Channel 7, where I had the chance to ask the mayor to explain the details of the plan.

“The prospect for the future is a letter of intent with BVRR to build a transload facility, “ Bieter said. “That is a service that is not available in Idaho anywhere. We’re signing a letter of intent to explore the opportunity aggressively in hopes of making it a reality in the near future.”

I wanted to know what this meant for commuter rail. Was this another step toward mass transit?

“It is always something we are interested in. We’ve already approached the issue with BVRR, and this kind of relationship helps give us momentum to be able to accommodate that, we hope, in the near future,” Bieter said. “If you have a relationship and the freight is working well then you can accommodate passengers within this kind of relationship.”

During the next few months, the city will be working with BVRR to create a joint feasibility study to determine demand for the project. Details of actual costs of the study remain unclear, but city spokesman Adam Park estimates it to cost in the “low tens of thousands.”

Bieter also touched on the new agreement with BVRR, which will provide freight transport service from city-owned rail to the main Union Pacific line, which skirts the city to the south. Using funds obtained from leasing city-owned rail to Union Pacific, improvements and maintenance to the rails will be offered. A major aspect of those upgrades would provide local locomotive manufacturer, MotivePower, which is the leading provider of passenger locomotives in North America, with a testing range for its trains.

In a speech to a Depot ballroom packed with businessmen and women, lawmakers, and members of the press, Motive Power vice president Mark Warner explained his hopes for growth within the company.

“MotivePower is the leading provider of passenger locomotives in North America,” Warner said. “Nearly 50 percent of locomotives that are in commuter service today came through our shops here in Boise. It is our goal to increase that percentage to 70 percent in the next 5 years. “

MotivePower also hopes to increase the top speeds of its trains from 102 mph to 150 mph.

After listening to a series of speeches Bieter, Watco officials and MotivePower, the crowd filtered outside to the railroad platform where a vintage passenger train painted in the fashion of an Idaho license plate idled. How quaint.

Potential site for new freight facility south of Boise.
  • Rachel Krause
  • Potential site for new freight facility south of Boise.

As soon as the ribbon was cut in honor of the new agreement with BVRR, people with the appropriate passes were able to board the train, which would travel to the potential site located southeast of town, in the middle of sagebrush terrain, next to a Winco regional distribution center. I don’t think there was room for another single individual on that train, as news crews fumbled around with clunky camera equipment and VIP members lounged in overstuffed leather chairs. With a jerk, the train started, causing me to stumble, nearly knocking down some of the framed railroad photos adorning the burgundy painted walls.

As I enjoyed my first train ride, I spotted John Brown, CEO of Watco Companies, and snagged him for a quick interview. Brown described the benefits of the plan for MotivePower.

“We haven’t had sheer length of track to be able to let them test at a higher speed,” Brown said. “So what we’ll do is work with them and City of Boise on this agreement to maintain a certain segment of track for higher speed tests.”

As the train jerked again, we came to our stop: the potential site for the new facility. I peered out the window to see nothing but sagebrush as far as the eye could see. There was certainly enough room for the new facility.

City spokesman Adam Park said the new facility would help make this area of Boise an “industrial corridor.” Everyone on the train appeared visibly excited for these potential plans, but it appears all will have to wait until final results of the study are reached before they will know if this “industrial corridor” will become a desert oasis or if it is simply a mirage.

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Top 10 Things for Sarah Palin to do in Boise

Posted By on Wed, May 19, 2010 at 3:07 PM

What's a Tea Partier to do?

First the Tea Party Express endorses Democrat Walt Minnick in the First Congressional District, for standing by his word and voting conservatively. Then Tea Party Boise settles some internal dispute and decides to make one endorsement in the First CD: Republican Raul Labrador.

And on Friday, Tea Party mascot Sarah Palin is coming to Boise to stump for First Congressional District candidate Vaughn Ward. Oh, it's so confusing. And why is Harley Brown not getting any Tea Love?

Well, Citydesk does not want Palin to be confused. She is, after all, an Idaho native. And luckily, Friday is a busy summer day in Boise. So here are 10 things Palin should do while she's in town:

Rammells Dino
  • Rammell's Dino
1. Ride Rex Rammell's dinosaur. (Alternately, there is always the mechanical bull at Dirty Little Roddy's.)
2. Picket the Boise Bike Week Block Party with "Drill, Baby, Drill" placard.
3. Try to get 50 free Idaho potato pins from the Idaho Potato Commission (technically only current Idaho residents are eligible for the pins, but maybe they'll grandfather her in).
4. Go see Starfucker at Neurolux ($10 at the door).
5. Buy a 2010 Idaho Sportsman's Package and a wolf tag from Fish and Game ... just in case there is a wolf at the Starfucker show.
6. Go to Cabela's and look at a big, stuffed moose.
7. Update her Facebook page with something like "Sarah Palin likes Boise Weekly's Top 10 Things to do in Boise list. I'm going to do them all!"
8. Go tubing on the Boise River. (We know it's freezing, but she doesn't.)
9. Discuss with Vaughn Ward which GOP Young Guns have the best talking points and what kind of pen is best for writing crib notes on palms.
10. Wink.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

FOX News Officially Steps into Activism

Posted By on Tue, May 11, 2010 at 1:23 PM

Just in case anyone out there still thinks FOX News is a news organization and not an tool of the hard right, or that Wikipedia is infallible: FOX News has claimed responsibility for inciting and orchestrating a purge of content on Wikipedia that they found objectionable. Namely, porn.

From a FOX News article....

The parent company of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is rapidly purging thousands of explicit pornographic images from its websites as it prepares to announce a new policy regarding sexually explicit content in response to reporting by

The move came as was in the process of asking dozens of companies that have donated to Wikimedia Foundation—the umbrella group behind Wikimedia Commons and its Wiki projects, including Wikipedia—if they were aware of the extent of graphic and sexually explicit content on the sites.

The threat of public shaming through inferring guilt by association has long been a political tactic, seen often within electoral politics, as well as with boycott lists for companies that support Planned Parenthood.

After the kerfuffle began, Jimmy Wales, the president of the Wikimedia Foundation, had this to say about it in a note posted to the site.

Wikimedia Commons admins who wish to remove from the project all images that are of little or no educational value but which appeal solely to prurient interests have my full support. This includes immediate deletion of all pornographic images. We should keep educational images about sexuality—mere nudity is not pornography—but as with all our projects, editorial quality judgments must be made and will be made—appropriately and in good taste.

Comedian Lenny Bruce, who was tried repeatedly for obscenity over the content of his act, was found guilty on the basis that his work also held no redeeming or educational value, and that it appealed solely to the prurient interest. The offending joke, slightly abbreviated (and not available on Wikipedia):

"Did you read about the the two schoolteachers who were busted for homosexuality? ... What came out at the trial is that they're good teachers. And do you know how long it takes to make a good teacher? l'll tell you something else. There wasn't one incident reported where a kid came home and said we had five minutes of geography, five minutes of cocksucking.''

Seeing as how that's an important piece of legal and cultural history, as well as an obvious social critique that was found in a court of law to appeal solely to the prurient interest—Wikipedia's new apparent guideline for unacceptable—it's enough to make one wonder what the educational value of censorship is or why anyone still takes FOX seriously as a news outlet.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Where Citydesk is Ensnared in a Permitting Nightmare of his Own Making

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2010 at 4:49 PM

At most decent newspapers, any reporter who gets a DUI will show up on the front page the next day. Well this is not quite as bad, but I came home last week to a "NOTICE OF VIOLATION" from the City of Boise. Zoning Enforcement Officer Michael Garner noted that I had constructed a "strange metal fence" without obtaining a fence permit.

He's right; I should have obtained the $13.50 fence permit before constructing my fence post and hog panel trellis around my urban front yard garden. I do feel like the city has a right to regulate fences in city limits, though I didn't anticipate that my fence needed regulation when I was building it.

So I went into City Hall this afternoon to pay up, but then the clerk noted that I was in a historic district and thus would need a Certificate of Appropriateness in lieu of the fence permit. That's $26, by the way, and a 7-page application. Also, standard wooden fences have been pre-deemed appropriate here, but hog paneling is generally considered inappropriate, according to Matt Halitsky, who staffs the city's Historic Preservation Commission and who patiently answered my questions, though he partially obscured his profile behind a partition as we spoke.

So, being the open, honest citizen that I am, I asked about the front yard urban garden referenced above which the suspect fence/trellis complements in a 1950s Ranch meets actual ranch style that I spent the winter designing in my head.

In fact, front yard gardens in historic preservation districts are frowned upon, but I'd have to fill out the app to be sure, Halitsky responded.

Thats not a bad fence, right? Thats not even a fence, its a trellis.
  • That's not a bad fence, right? That's not even a fence, it's a trellis.

So now my minor fence permit violation has turned into a full scale question of appropriateness, calling into question the viability of the garden that is to be my life's work this summer.

The clerk assured me that a neighbor complained about it ... zoning enforcement does not just drive around looking for violations like this, she assured me. Well, first of all, I wish that neighbor would just come talk to me.

But second of all, what about all this shit I've been writing about the city embracing urban agriculture, which, I might point out, is by definition historic and preservationist.

I think I'll fill out the paperwork and see this through as an experiment in being an adult. Just don't tread on my baby arugula, Mr. Boise Commie Man, OK.

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Private Prison Lawsuit to Proceed

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2010 at 1:26 PM

A class action lawsuit filed on behalf of inmates at the privately-run Idaho Correctional Center will proceed, a federal judge ruled recently, and a hearing has been set for 3 p.m., May 26, in federal court in Boise.

The ACLU lawsuit builds on another case, filed last year by plaintiff and former-ICC inmate Marlin Riggs, who alleged, while representing himself, that "prison gang members at the Idaho Correctional Center had threatened and assaulted him, that prison officials failed to protect him, and that he was denied medical treatment for 15 days after his injury," according to the judge. Riggs' case was consolidated with a handful of others brought by fellow inmates alleging "failure to protect." The bulk of those were dismissed, with a finding that the inmates had not sought redress through the prison administrative process first.

Idaho Correctional Center
  • Nathaniel Hoffman
  • Idaho Correctional Center

That's when the ACLU picked up Riggs' case and refiled, seeking class action status.

Corrections Corporation of America, which runs ICC, Idaho's largest prison, argued that the amended complaint should be thrown out, in part because Riggs is no longer at ICC and cannot represent the "class" of plaintiffs. Also, CCA claimed, expanding Riggs' specific case into a larger class action was never authorized by the court. CCA (represented locally by Naylor and Hales, PC), wrote:

"This Court should not allow the class to piggyback their class claims onto Riggs’s original complaint because Riggs lacks standing to represent the class. Allowing Riggs’s complaint to proceed as a class action will cause further problems because it will arguably expand the scope of relevant discovery on the class’s claims. It will also prejudice the CCA Defendants at trial where the jury will only decide liability on Riggs’s claims, but still hear evidence relating to the class allegations."

The Idaho Department of Correction agreed with the company and signed onto CCA's brief. But Judge B. Lynn Winmill rejected the arguments, writing: "Because neither the CCA nor the IDOC Defendants have shown current or imminent prejudice from going forward with the Amended Complaint, the Motion to Strike will be denied. The Motion to Strike [Motion] to Certify Class will likewise be denied."

The hearing at the end of the month will consider certification of class action status.

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International Committee for the Red Cross Seeks Contact with Bowe Bergdahl

Posted By on Wed, May 5, 2010 at 12:38 PM

Bows for Bowe, along Capital Boulevard in Boise.
  • Bows for Bowe, along Capital Boulevard in Boise.
Last week we wrote about the status of Bowe Bergdahl, a U.S. soldier who has been held by a Taliban-affiliated group for nearly a year. Bergdahl is not technically a prisoner of war, though some of his supporters consider him a POW.

The Army has officially classified Bergdahl as missing/captured, which is defined as:

Missing/Captured — A casualty status applicable to a person who is not at his or her duty location and is determined to have been seized as the result of action of an unfriendly military or paramilitary force in a foreign country.

POW status, as defined in both international law and U.S. military manuals, requires that a soldier, “while engaged in combat under orders of his or her government, is captured by an enemy’s armed forces.” There are various versions of Bergdahl’s capture our there, including that he walked off base of his own volition, or the account given in the first video released after his capture in which he says he fell behind while on patrol.

Whatever the nature of his capture, the International Committee of the Red Cross has been working through contacts in Afghanistan to check in on Bergdahl.

“We’re continuing to try to get access to him,” said Bernard Barrett, a Washington, D.C.-based spokesman with the ICRC who spoke to Boise Weekly this week.

The ICRC is a neutral, international organization that helps ensure that international laws of war are followed. Barrett said the group does not get involved in negotiations over exchanges, though it may agree to pass messages back and forth for two parties.

“When there is a decision to release someone then if the two sides want us to get involved in the actual physical handoff then that’s something that we do fairly frequently,” he said.

The organization meets with a half a million prisoners every year to assess their conditions, but makes no judgment on their guilt nor advocates for their release.

“We’re concerned only with conditions of their detention,” Barrett said.

Barrett said the ICRC is in touch with Bergdahl’s family in Hailey and would report to them if they had a chance to visit with Bergdahl or confirm his condition.

Bergdahl turned 24 years old in the last month.

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