Electric cars, Electoral College, recession

Green meters

Five cars, a small three-wheeled truck and a motorcycle are now parking for free in downtown Boise about a month after the city's new zero-emission vehicle parking ordinance went into effect.

The new city law allows zero-emission cars to park at city meters for free, as long as they display a $10 permit.

"It's my firm belief that government needs to set the example," said city parking chief John Eichmann.

Eichmann said the city realizes that only a few Boise drivers have fully electric cars, but that one day there may be thousands of them out there. When citydesk pointed out that could put him out of a job, Eichmann said it would all work out in the long run.

"I'd rather save the environment," he said.

Owners of zero-emission vehicles (no, your Prius does not count), must fill out a form and then have a special emissions inspection.

"The main thing the guys will inspect it for is that the darn thing doesn't have a tailpipe," Eichmann said, remarking that some of the cars he's seen have a plug where the gas cap used to be.

One of these novelty drivers is Greg Otero, a founder of the Boise Green Expo, who drives a modified 1994 Toyota Tercel around town.

Otero said he gets 40 miles to a charge and a top speed of 47 mph. And now he does not have to pay for street parking downtown.

"It's a symbolic gesture just to kind of show the community, look at this, people are building cars that don't use any gas, so if people can do it, the car companies can do it," Otero said.

Most of the zero-emission vehicles registered in Boise are retrofits like Otero's, but some factory models are available, including the Zap and soon the luxury Tesla Roadster. California has pushed for more zero-emission vehicles since 1990, with little response from the auto industry, and more recently expanded incentives to hybrid electric cars and trucks as well.

Boise electric car drivers don't get a total free ride; they may park for free but are still held to the time limits displayed on meters. Overstay your welcome and you may find yourself taking an unnecessary trip in a gas guzzling cab out to the impound lot to recover your tin can.

Idaho casts four votes for McCain-Palin

In 1964, Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter voted for Barry Goldwater for president, his first time voting and a choice he recalls with pride.

"First time I ever got to vote," Otter told a crowd of students before presiding over the state meeting of the Electoral College on Dec. 15. "That was one of the best votes I ever made."

Goldwater lost big to Lyndon B. Johnson, winning only 38.5 percent of the popular vote and only 52 electoral votes.

Fast forward 44 years and Idaho's four Republican electors—Darlene Bramon, Ben Doty, John Erickson and Melinda Smyser—cast their votes for John McCain and Sarah Palin, who did a bit better than Goldwater-Miller with 45.7 percent of the popular vote and 173 electoral votes.

Otter lectured the assembled students—classes from Centennial High School and from Boise's STEP program, a high school continuation course for older students with disabilities—on the sensibility of the Electoral College: "There was never a shot fired, there was never a death caused by a peaceful transition of government," he said.

Six copies of Idaho's Electoral College certificates were signed and will be sent to Vice President Dick Cheney, the U.S. National Archives, the Idaho Secretary of State's Office and to Idaho's U.S. District Court Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill. Congress will officially count the electoral votes prior to Barack Obama's inauguration next month.

Outside the Borah Building, while the votes were being cast, a small crowd gathered to celebrate Idaho's Constitution Day and read a proclamation that Otter had signed.

In the audience, a Ron Paulite on a BMX bike, Pro-Life (a former U.S. Senate candidate who offered to bring more strawberries by the BW office next spring), and two guys in wigs dressed up like Ben Franklin and Patrick Henry held forth on the infallibility of the U.S. Constitution.

As for Otter's 1964 vote for Goldwater, a candidate who would have fit in well at the Constitution Day event on the Post Office steps, even without a wig: That was the last year that Idaho's presidential vote went to a Democrat.

ICE detainee marries

Juan Manuel Diaz-Juarez had his day in court earlier this month. But the night prior, Diaz had his day at the altar.

Diaz is one of 16 Mexican men who immigration officers arrested Dec. 4 during a raid on a Nampa factory. Arrested for unspecified immigration violations, Diaz and the other men were then charged with crimes ranging from holding counterfeit green cards, misuse of Social Security numbers and illegal entry into the United States. Diaz went before federal judge Mikel H. Williams at the U.S. District Court in Boise for an initial appearance on Dec. 10. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 10, 2009.

Most of the other suspects pled to a single misdemeanor and were returned to immigration officials for deportation proceedings.

But the night before his court appearance, Diaz's fiancee, Veronica Mason, visited him at the Ada County Jail and brought along a retired Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Ed Keener.

"I did what was necessary, and it doesn't matter where you get married," Mason said. "We're both very happy."

Mason met Diaz online a year and a half ago and moved from Mountain Home to Nampa to be near him. On Dec. 4, Immigration and Customs Officials arrested Diaz during an immigration raid at Idaho Truss in Nampa.

The wedding ceremony, the first jailhouse union Keener has performed, took place by telephone, through a thick glass window.

"I blew him a kiss," Mason said. "We'll get plenty of kisses in later."

Idaho budget sucks

State economist Mike Ferguson delivered a 45-minute slide show lecture on declining economic fortunes in Idaho and across the nation to the state's television, radio and print media recently.

His message: "From the standpoint of the economy, what we're going to be experiencing is pain."

To prove it, Ferguson delivered a series of charts showing lines that rose, rose, rose, leveled out, rose, and then glissaded steeply below zero in the past few months.

The charts, he said, demonstrate that 1) Idaho's economy is faced with unprecedented economic volatility; 2) after 20 years of spectacular growth, Idaho has the most rapid decline in economic progress in the nation; and 3) that Idaho is one of the hardest hit states so far during the current national recession.

But don't get your hopes up for a bailout from the president-elect or the new Congress, Idaho.

Ferguson's economic model already includes an assumption that the Feds will dole out some $550 billion in economic aid to the states next year.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008, 4,211 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,397 in combat and 814 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 30,879.

In the last week, no U.S. soldiers died but one Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at Pres. George W. Bush.

Since Bush declared "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, 4,061 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 89,881 and 98,133.


COST OF IRAQ WAR: $580,054,132,043


—Nathaniel Hoffman's dispatches from

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