July 28, 2008

Sat Opinion One WA Editorial Reoundup

By Bill Lee

Longview Daily News, Monday:

Americans are anxious and angry about high gas prices and the ripple effect they're having on the economy. And, as is typical, their anger is directed at the people they elected to prevent or quickly deal with such economic disruptions.

President Bush's polling numbers slumped to a new low in last week's Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Just 28 percent said they approved of the job he was doing. That's about where the late Richard Nixon's numbers were when he resigned the presidency in 1974. But Bush can take heart in the fact Congress fared a good deal worse than him in this latest AP-Ipsos survey. Only 18 percent approved of the job Congress was doing, down a whopping 5 points from last month.

The public's low opinion of Congress' performance should come as no surprise. While there have been no end of speeches and proposals going nowhere, Congress has yet to produce any meaningful course of action on the energy front. Partisan squabbling has led to a kind of legislative gridlock on Capitol Hill. The absence of movement isn't lost on the people back home who are paying $4-plus for a gallon of gas and bracing for the coming winter's big heating bills.

The federal government's seeming inability to address the nation's energy problems this week led a bipartisan group of elder statesmen to issue a public appeal for action, according to Associated Press writer H. Josef Hebert. Twenty-seven former secretaries of state, defense secretaries, energy secretaries, senior White House advisers and senators sent an opinion letter to both presidential candidates and all members of Congress warning that the country is facing "a long-term energy crisis," one that threatens the security and property of future generations.

"We demand more energy and complain about high prices, but we restrict energy exploration and production," the group wrote. "We embrace the promise of energy efficiency, but we are slow to make adjustments in our energy-intensive lifestyles."

The group makes about a dozen recommendations. The letter asks Congress to take aggressive steps to promote energy efficiency, increase the national commitment to nuclear energy, find ways to make coal more environmentally acceptable, expand domestic oil production and strengthen the commitment to renewable energy sources.

These elder statesmen clearly are appealing for what Congress has been dancing around for more than a decade now: a comprehensive energy policy. It's doubtful that lawmakers will do their job and drop their partisan guard to get a new, meaningful policy before the fall elections. But early next year, about the time those high home- heating bills start coming due, November's political survivors will be returning to the Capitol. We suspect they'll return well- motivated by a very clear sense of their constituents' pain and anger.

Shield for storytellers, sources long overdue

The Seattle Times, Tuesday:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says he wants to bring the federal reporter shield law to a vote before the Senate recesses in August. It's about time.

In October, the House overwhelmingly approved the Free Flow of Information Act by a vote of 398-21. But the bill was stalled in the Senate by Republicans citing national-security concerns.

The bill actually is not so much to protect the storytellers as to protect their sources, the people who have important stories to tell about government mischief or corporate scandal.

Bill co-sponsor Washington Sen. Patty Murray is working to move this overdue bill along. Most states have a shield privilege either by law or court ruling -- Washington's passed in 2007. The National Association of Attorneys General, on behalf of 42 of its members, sent a bill to Senate leadership urging a vote.

In recent months, Senate negotiators have reached compromises to give a qualified privilege to journalists to keep their sources confidential in most circumstances. Proposed exceptions would be when information has to do with acts of terrorism or other significant harm to national security, eyewitness observations of a crime and if the information could prevent a death, kidnapping or substantial bodily harm.

The wisdom of the bill is that it would put a judge in charge of determining whether the privilege applies. Now, there is no federal standard for reporter's privilege -- except what is determined by the U.S. Justice Department, which opens the door for all kinds of self-serving political mischief.

The senators should follow the states and, finally, pass this bill.

There's no contest regarding road safety

The Tri-City Herald, Monday:

No matter who's at fault when two wheels collide with four, the guy on the bike gets the worse end of the deal.

Safety always has been an issue. Now there are more bikes on the road, so it's an even bigger concern.

We're not talking about just motorcycles. Scooters are gaining in popularity and so are bicycles.

In the past, bikers and cyclists have been an almost elite breed. They're passionate about their rides and, for the most part, serious about safety. Most of them know what they're doing.

With the rising price of gas, we're seeing a new brand of biker whose top commitment is saving on fuel costs.

We can't fault them for that. However, some of these folks think there is nothing more to the commute than hopping on the bike.

They're wrong and it's a dangerous mistake -- almost always to the detriment of the biker.

Safety on the road is a two-party deal.

One party is the biker. When that's you, take a safety course, even if it's a refresher, and follow the rules. Get the right safety gear. Make sure your bike is well maintained. Be aware of your surroundings.

The other party is the four-wheeled motorist. If that's you, there are only three things you need to do. Pay attention. Pay attention. And pay attention.

We all share the road. Let's do it safely.

After all, you're only saving money if you get where you're going in one piece.

All should prepare now for the fire next time

Wenatchee Daily World, July 19:

When wildfires turn thousands of acres in North Central Washington into soot, they generally start and stay in Chelan and Okanogan counties.

That's where the tall country is, with more forested land available as fuel. Firefighters from a lot of agencies are accustomed to summer summons to higher elevations on National Forest land.

In Douglas County, it's a different story. In recent years, wildfires of any size there have been thankfully few, and have involved scrub land or wheat stubble, not pine trees.

Perhaps that contributed to difficulties in managing the Badger Mountain Fire, which was unusual for both its location and size.

For those directing and coordinating firefighting efforts, channels of communication and access to information may not have been as deeply grooved as they are elsewhere in the region.

We're not in a position to second-guess what resources were deployed where and when during this fire.

High temperatures, high winds and steep terrain make any fire a crapshoot.

It's impossible, really, to "manage" a natural phenomenon like that. You can assume that those in charge tried their best in difficult circumstances to do the right thing with scarce resources.

And we know the folks on the front lines worked long and hard and sometimes perilously to carry out their assignments.

But at a public meeting last week, managers of the fire admitted that they could have made better decisions, that they could stopped this fire earlier.

"We could have been more effective and efficient. There were opportunities missed," Incident Commander Marsh Haskins told more than 200 concerned residents who gathered in Waterville.

That in itself is a refreshing statement. Government agencies generally are loathe to admit to anything other than perfection.

Acknowledging human error opens up an opportunity to do better next time -- it's way more difficult to learn from our mistakes when we refuse to admit them.

Douglas County Commissioner Ken Stanton said the county plans a postmortem on the fire soon.

We hope all involved agencies take part and figure out how to do it better next time. It appears they could benefit by looking at how to improve in communicating with residents, knowing where to find crucial information quickly, and coordinating the efforts of various agencies, remembering that nothing beats local knowledge.

Any criticism of how this fire was handled, though, should be tempered by the reminder that no serious injuries were reported and no homes were lost. We were lucky.

Even in timing, we were lucky. Stanton points out that three weeks from now, wheat fields will be much drier and more likely to accelerate a fire than to slow it, as they helped to do this time.

The vision of a fire that starts near the Columbia and ends up tearing through acres of plateau wheat is something we don't want to see in reality.

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