Thursday, March 26, 2015

Idaho Leg votes to kills historic horse race machines, possibly kills horse racing

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 4:38 PM

Greyhound Park Event Center manager Doug Okuniewicz testifies in a March 11 hearing on "historical horse racing."
  • Greyhound Park Event Center manager Doug Okuniewicz testifies in a March 11 hearing on "historical horse racing."

Today, the Idaho House of Representatives voted 49-21 to send a bill to the governor repealing the law that legalized "historical horse race" machines. 

By the end, Greyhound Park Event Center manager Doug Okuniewicz, after arguing that Idaho's "historical horse racing" machines were significantly different than casino slot machines, shifted tactics. 

Okuniewicz began arguing that the machines were so similar to the "tribal gaming" slot-style bingo machines on the Idaho's American Indian reservations, as for the state's ban on imitation slot-machines to apply to both types. 

“We’re either both OK or we’re both wrong,” he said. “The spinning reels have absolutely nothing to do with the game outcome. They’re simply there for entertainment.... The way our games work is in some respects, almost identical."

Tribal gaming, run by sovereign nations, are regulated through an entirely different set of regulations, such as the Indian Gaming Act and the state gaming contracts with the state, laid out in Idaho code. 

But ultimately, the opposition to historical horse racing was pretty overwhelming. Many legislators felt duped when they approved them in 2013. "What was represented to them then was not clearly what was represented now," Rep. Melissa Wintrow said in the hearing. 

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On Bergdahl, Rep. Raúl Labrador straddles a wide partisan divide

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 1:09 PM

Bowe Bergdahl, formerly of Hailey, Idaho, has become a lightning rod for conservative critics. But not for Rep. Raúl Labrador.
  • Bowe Bergdahl, formerly of Hailey, Idaho, has become a lightning rod for conservative critics. But not for Rep. Raúl Labrador.

Typically, the return of an American soldier from enemy captivity doesn't become a bitter partisan issue. 

But the tale of Bowe Bergdahl, former Hailey, Idaho, resident, is not a typical one. From the moment the terms of his release came out – five Taliban prisoners for one American soldier – the tone shifted dramatically. Complaints that Congress hadn’t been involved in the decision, criticism from fellow soldiers, and the recent decision by the Army to charge him with desertion and misbehavior in front of the enemy has created a serious divide.

Liberals are arguing that America’s commitment to its troops should be absolute, that it doesn’t matter how he fell into the hands of the enemy, we have a duty to bring them home. They point to the agony of his grieving family. And they show his brutal, stream-of-consciousness letter Bergdahl wrote detailing his captivity. He was kept in a cage, shackled, and in the dark, his hands oozing pus, and starved.

“During the five years, I unsuccessfully tried to escape approximately 12 times,” Bergdahl writes. To liberals, he’s already suffered enough.

But conservatives are furious. They feel Bergdahl betrayed his unit by deserting it, and blame him for the deaths of six of his fellow soldiers. Despite comments by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter (a former Marine) and a military defense attorney suggesting that his captivity could count as “time served,” some conservatives pilloried even raising the question as biased idiocy.

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Washington fire chiefs to railroad company: We want more info on oil trains

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 11:15 AM

As we wrote in last week’s paper, the Washington State Legislature is currently considering two competing bills meant to address the safety concerns presented by the influx of oil trains passing through Washington in recent years. Spokane, which is the only urban center these trains pass through on their way to western Washington, faces particular risks if one these trains were to derail and explode.

Each bill would require varying degrees of transparency for rail companies that transport oil through the state so that first-responders would be better prepared in the event of a disaster.

The Washington Fire Chiefs, an association representing fire-fighting agencies across the state, isn’t waiting for a bill to become law and has directly asked BNSF, a rail company that moves large amounts of oil across the state every day, for more information.

The letter (obtained by OilCheckNW and shared with the Inlander) signed by Wayne Senter, the executive director of WFC, to BNSF cites several recent derailments of oil trains, including an infamous derailment in 2013 in Lac-Megantic, Canada, that killed 47 people. The letter also mentions how in July of last year, three tanker cars derailed at a rail yard under Seattle’s Magnolia Bridge, which could have been disastrous.

“ The WFC is well aware that even if an infinite amount of foam was available, we can only provide defensive firefighting,” reads the letter, which goes on to state:
Normally we would be able to assess the hazard through right-to-know and other public documents; however, your industry has sought and gained exemptions to these sunshine laws. This exemption does not mean that your industry is exempt from taking reasonable steps to ensure catastrophic incidents do not occur. To that end, we are specifically requesting access to your information on what the US DOT calls High Hazard Flammable Trains operating most frequently with “unit trains” averaging 100 rail cars each, as well as on “manifest trains” with 10-20 cars of these cargoes that travel through the state of Washington. 
In the letter, WCF requests from BNSF the following:

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MB: Bergdahl charged with desertion, German plane crash intentional?

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2015 at 9:56 AM


Idaho Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was charged yesterday with desertion and misbehavior in front of enemies — he could face life in prison. (Spokesman-Review) 

A man who broke into and robbed Chaps restaurant last month has been arrested. Christopher Cannata has a long criminal past, with 31 felony convictions. (KXLY) 

EWU Eagles' national scoring leader Tyler Harvey plans to look into his NBA options before deciding whether to return for his senior season. (Inlander)


An investigation into the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 suggests the co-pilot may have intentionally crashed the plane. (CNN)

A rare bipartisan bill that would bring major changes to Medicare — including paying doctors based on their performance — could add more than $140 billion to the federal budget deficit over the coming decades. (New York Times)

The former home of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza has been demolished. (CNN)
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

"Pranksters" run plastic wrap across I-90 in Idaho

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 4:55 PM

April first came a bit early this year.

Shoshone County deputies are looking for the "pranksters" responsible for stretching plastic wrap across a stretch of Interstate-90 in Wallace, Idaho, about an hour and 20 minutes east of Spokane. 

Deputies and Idaho State Police were called to the Shiplett overpass on I-90 a little after midnight March 22. Vehicles had been running into bands of plastic wrap anchored to the bases of the overpass, says Sargent David Kale of the Shoshone County Sheriff's Office. At least one windshield shattered after smacking into the noxious plastic.

The hooligans were at it again the following night, when they were spotted by members of the Idaho Transportation Department. They fled in a car before law enforcement could arrive, and the only description ITD could give was "dark clothes" and "flashlights."

"This is serious enough that if a motorcycle goes through, there's the potential of a fatality," Sargent Kale says. "We're working on some leads now."  
And we'll update this post when we know more. 
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MB: Superfund grain elevators, cheese + ketchup, new Ford car prevents speeding

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 9:48 AM


The EPA wants a grain elevator in Freeman, south of Spokane, to be named a Superfund site because of a toxic pesticide leaching into groundwater. (Spokesman-Review)

Idaho's Schoolnet instructional management system is a bigger failure than anyone thought. (Inlander)

A driver crashed her SUV into the Apple Tree Inn at Division and Hawthorne. (KXLY)

A women yesterday thought to have been suffering from a drug overdose but who had actually been shot has died from her injuries. (Spokesman-Review)


Two police officers, one in California and one in Wisconsin, were shot and killed yesterday as they responded to incidents. (CNN)

Cheese and ketchup unite in a mega-merger of Heinz and Kraft. (Washington Post)

Ford is introducing a new car that would prevent drivers from speeding. (CNN)

Boko Haram is still abducting women and children in Nigeria — the latest incident includes more than 400 people. (Wall Street Journal)

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Scathing report confirms what a disaster Idaho’s Schoolnet is

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 11:21 AM

Mike Nelson, the Coeur d’Alene school district's director of curriculum and assessment, says Schoolnet has long been a source of frustration for Idaho schools. - YOUNG KWAK PHOTO
  • Young Kwak photo
  • Mike Nelson, the Coeur d’Alene school district's director of curriculum and assessment, says Schoolnet has long been a source of frustration for Idaho schools.

Last year, the Inlander took a look at Schoolnet, Idaho’s statewide “instructional management system” that was intended to allow schools to seamlessly share tests, lesson plans and student data across the state. But in reality, teachers reported, it was glitch-prone, poorly organized and excruciatingly slow.

"It became too slow for us to use," said Mike Nelson, the Coeur d’Alene School District's director of curriculum and assessment. “If you were going to offer your own test, a 20-minute test would probably take you up to two hours or three hours to create."

Even worse, it produced flagrantly inaccurate information.

This a week, a report from the state’s Office of Performance Evaluations laid out just how much the system had failed. From the very beginning, it’s pretty brutal:

This evaluation report concludes that poor management, poor decisions, and poor system functionality compounded themselves and prevented the goals for a statewide instructional management system from being realized. The net result is that the project has sunk costs of about $61 million, and the Department of Education and the Legislature are left with few options to consider when deciding the future of the program.

To anyone following the issue, the dismal grade is not surprising. But this report digs deeper, explaining the problems went beyond technical difficulties, and began long before a vendor was even selected. Much of the blame is laid at the feet of Idaho Department of Education, which appeared to have ignored concerns raised, from the start, by multiple groups. Grant funding proposals received dismal scores, highlighting “unrealistic or overly ambitious goals” and “a lack of detail, evidence, discussion, or comprehensive information about implementation of its proposals.”

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MB: Spokane tests new jobs program, French Alps plane crash, dangerous I-90 prank

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2015 at 9:13 AM


The Spokane Use of Force Commission wants Police Chief Frank Straub to decide if a department "culture audit" is needed. (Spokesman-Review) 

Spokane is one of the three Washington cities chosen to test a new federal program to get chronically unemployed people back to work. (Spokesman-Review)

Shoshone County Sheriff's deputies are looking for the culprits behind a dangerous prank in which plastic cling wrap was stretched over I-90, damaging several cars. (KREM)


A plane with 150 passengers on board has crashed in the foothills of the French Alps, and no survivors are expected. (CNN)

Global warming is causing ocean circulation to slow down, and the consequences could be pretty bad. (Washington Post)

Utah has brought back execution by firing squad, but only if no lethal injection drugs are available. (USA Today)
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Monday, March 23, 2015

MB: Gonzaga in Sweet 16, adopt local, Ted Cruz announces White House run

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 9:58 AM


Gonzaga passes through the first two rounds of the NCAA tourney — next up is a matchup against UCLA on Friday. (Inlander)

As SpokAnimal transfers homeless animals in from outside of the area to fill its shelter, SCRAPS urges the community to adopt local animals to help reduce pet overpopulation in the Inland Northwest. (KXLY)

Catholic Charities of Spokane is planning to build a second transitional housing complex in a vacant downtown lot to match its Father Bach Haven home. (Spokesman-Review)


Republican Senator from Texas Ted Cruz says he'll run for president in 2016. (Huffington Post)

A pregnant Colorado woman was brutally attacked and lost her baby when she went to meet with another woman over a Craigslist ad for maternity clothes. (CNN)

The biggest downside of marijuana legalization? Massive energy consumption. (Washington Post)
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Saturday, March 21, 2015

A former DSP president's assessment of Spokane's economy, "good-old-boy culture"

Posted By on Sat, Mar 21, 2015 at 8:31 AM

Former DSP President Mike Tedesco
  • Former DSP President Mike Tedesco

Back in 2012, Mike Tedesco, for reasons that are still unclear, was fired as president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, something he ended up suing for shortly after.

And for several years, Tedesco largely disappeared from the public eye. But now he's back, with a blog called "Spokane Planner." 

"You know, it’s basically just a hobby," Tedesco says. "I’ve been fascinated with cities since I was a kid. Spokane being the chief most fascinating city among them."

A lot of the content in his longer pieces are drawn from his old college research papers at the University of Idaho and the University of Kansas. Yet the writing is lively, even exploring such dry-sounding topics as Spokane's economy and its slow population growth:
If not for generally favorable regional market forces, Spokane would easily be on par with such prosperous communities as Rochester, New York; Flint, Michigan; Youngstown, Ohio; and Scranton, Pennsylvania. The gods of economics have been charitable, however, and granted us the indispensable virtue of being a regional cosmopolitan and financial market center for a broad international geography. Thus, instead of suffering a fate akin to rustbelt communities of similar size, we’ve managed to glide on the contrails of metropolitan areas that have experienced rapid growth since 1990—Boise, Idaho; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He sees something symbolic in how long it took the city to find its "Near Nature, Near Perfect" slogan.
And now we come full circle back to “Near Nature, Near Perfect.” Dwelling on a simple city slogan may seem trivial but it’s emblematic of a larger challenge that faces the community. The scale of cause and effect accomplishments within Spokane’s political arena has diminished to a point of such insignificance that even fruit as low hanging as changing a slogan takes months of consensus building and, in the end, they still only get it half right and about a decade too late
Most interesting, however, is Tedesco's assessments of the political culture
Of course, as any local will tell you, the financial and political trauma created by the River Park Square fiasco has yet to wane. The transaction wrought such a large degree of paranoia that Average Joe citizens will no doubt compare the next proposed public/private partnership to that of River Park Square and, worst yet, community leaders will no doubt continue to hesitate from entering into the next public/private partnership for fear of being chastised as creating another River Park Square. Thus, the political environment has diminished to such a state that any prospect of attracting significant investments is paralyzed by speculation and fear on both sides.

This comes as no surprise, however, because the puzzle that is Spokane politics is often an irrational one. The allogamy between people, organizations, business and political interests is fluid and often veiled beneath the surface. Veterans of the local political arena, in particular executive level public and quasi-public officials, choose their words wisely because expressing direct opinions that challenge the status quo, however irrational the status quo might be, is dangerous territory that may well end with a termination notice.

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