Thursday, May 29, 2014

What made this economic recovery in Washington State different than the early 1990s and 2000s?

 In both the early 1990s and early 2000s, Washington State lagged the country in economic recovery. At least in terms of unemployment. But, you can see the curve of dipping unemployment this time around, Washington State matched or beat the jobless rate dip, especially in the past two years. So, what was different this time around? Some folks (a year ago) pointed out that our trade dependent nature would benefit the state, allowing us to lead the nation out of recession. But, wasn't this true in the 1990s and 2000s. Boeing and other trade dependent industries (natural resources, shipping, farming) still dominated then too right? Either way, the employment recovery looked different this time around. I'm curious why.

Monday, May 26, 2014

On Memorial Day, memorialize the Puget Sound War

February 1861
After the treaties were signed around here, settling outstanding tribal land claims, and legally opening settlement in our region, we went to war. The terms of the treaties didn't match up with the expectations of the tribes. The small non-native communities contracted into bunkhouses. Hundreds formed units to both defend their farms and towns and to seek out Indians to kill.

Eventually, the Puget Sound War petered out, Indian leaders were tried, hung and murdered.

But, most importantly to the civil leaders here, we had spent money. Someone needed to pay.

The debate over the war debt of the Puget Sound War is an interesting one that gets to the nature of our early settlement here.

If it was a war, then Indian leaders like Leschi should not have been hung for murder in the years after the conflict. You can't commit murder if you're a soldier in a war.

Also, if it was a war, roving bands of whites should not have spent the years following the war looking for Indians to kill, carrying writs from local courts. Certain judges apparently thought the Puget Sound War wasn't a war, or else there wouldn't be murderers. Just veterans.

But, the instructions given to our congressional delegate Issac Stevens (who as governor led the war effort) in the late 1850s was to get federal repayment for our war debts. It was a war.

The Senate acknowledged the existence of a war, when they eventually passed $3 million appropriate in 1861. Obviously, that money was needed for another war.

Its funny that that war, had a similar post war debate. Should the leader of the confederacy be tried? Was the Civil War a real war? If they were leaders of a real nation, then of course not. You can't put a national executive on trial for leading his country in war. But, if they were merely terrorist leaders, taking charge illegally of a portion of a whole country, then of course, put them on trial.

Obviously, if we zero in on the case of Jefferson Davis (the President of the apparent Confederate States) we see a lot of nuance. If he's on trial, what happens if the federal government gets a bad result? He's found innocent? The constitutionality of secession is secured? In the end, it was better to just release him and leave the questions unanswered.

But, because Jefferson Davis didn't join Leschi at the gallows, the Civil War was a war. Leschi was the Indian symbol to white Americans of the tribal cause. He was hung because there were enough people in charge in the territory that couldn't fathom him being anything other than a murderer. But, in their own split minds, they saw their service as soldiers. So, they sent Stevens to congress to get money for war debts.

It wasn't until 1875 that the federal government really got around to putting the war stamp on the Puget Sound War, when they spent a much smaller sum ($50,000) to put the war debts to bed.

We really did have a war it. It was asymmetrical. It wasn't pretty. We don't have battlefield sites, instead we have gallows and blockhouse sites. And, for years people here and far away didn't agree it really existed.

And, ten years ago, during the trial in which the historical court exonerated Leschi, lawyers asked Captain Paul Robson why the U.S. Army thought Leschi shouldn't have been hung. Because, we don't hang soldiers.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Thurston County PUD, local internet, net neutrality and the next fight

A little while back a group of citizens took on Puget Sound Energy to bring power to the people. Literally, they wanted to have our local public utility district, which up to now is limited to providing water to a small portion of the county, into the electricity business.

They lost. Big.

Despite a horrific record of bringing the county back online after a winter storm months before, the public electricity drive was outspent and lost at the polls. I voted yes. I like the idea of public power.

But, the entire time I thought that maybe they were fighting the last campaign. Seriously, public power is an old issue.

What is the next issue that is like what electricity was in the 1930s through the 1950s? The internet.

Right now, we're seeing internet service providers show why there's a massive difference between the values corporations bring, compared to government. Or, businesses that are required to support the public trust.

Net neutrality, providing equal access to all data, not discriminating based on the content providers ability to pay, is like the electrical access issue of the 1930s. And, watching the tiered internet we now seeing created, the public in Washington State can seem to provide their own home grown version of net neutrality.

Public utility districts have been able to for years get into the broadband business. Right now they can become wholesale providers to local companies that provide their own retail plugins. This isn't ideal, but at least it gets us part of the way there. I would assume that local PUDs could write net neutrality into their contracts. Or, if a certain bill passed, PUDs could get directly into the retail business and ensure net neutrality.

There seems to be a lot of room in this discussion. Maybe even the cities could join with the PUD:

Still, the city of Edmonds was forced to seek a state attorney general’s opinion in 2003 to offer broadband as a public service. In response to Rep. Jeff Morris of the 40th District, the attorney general said “First-class and code cities and charter counties may offer telecommunications services to their residents to the extent not specifically barred by state statute.”

Lacey, Olympia and Tumwater have all laid fiber optics in city-owned conduits covering varying proportions of each jurisdiction, which they use primarily for internal data and communications. And all three cities share access with the state Department of Transportation.

By extending fiber optic networks throughout the metro area, the three cities could open their infrastructure to private companies and, in turn, provide equitable Internet access to families wanting to Skype with loved ones across the country, or download a movie on family night.
One last way local governments could ensure equal access would be through free public wifi. The Kitsap PUD has already deployed local free wifi in Poulsbo. Wifi is also a way to get around the direct access to the public barrier PUDs have experienced:
...the state legislature erected barriers that derailed the full project by revoking PUD authority to offer direct retail services. To this day, public utility districts are required to wholesale access, which rarely creates enough revenue to justify the initial cost of building networks. Community leaders knew that wholesale-only models carry more risk because they split an already tight revenue stream. With the change in state law, the community re-evaluated the fiber network plan.

Rather than abandon the plan, Poulsbo and the PUD adjusted it to use the existing fiber assets. They created the wireless mesh pilot project that went live in Poulsbo in November 2012. They funded the project with a Local Improvement District (LID) loan from the State of Washington. LID works with specific geographic areas; the neighbors in an area collaborate to form each district. The City heads up the project by handling the design, financing, and construction of the improvements, selling bonds for financing. The property owners in the geographic area payback the bonds through special assessments over 10 or 20 years.
From what I can tell from meeting minutes from last year, the Thurston PUD has been looking into broadband. No recent updates though.

I think the PUD should go back out and try to expand their services beyond water. I think they should work with the cities, build broadband and start putting up wifi antennas. The next find isn't power, the next fight is information. The internet is a basic right, it should be a public resource, it should be fair and the Thurston PUD can help that happen. 

Read more here:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What was going on in Olympia 30 years ago?

Local arts activists lobbied for and built the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

Local athletic boosters brought arguably the largest sporting event ever to Olympia.

Local political activists changed the government at city hall.

The first part of the 1980s was a big time in Olympia. Things were happening, people were getting things done. But, why?

I might just be cherry picking historical events, pointing to them and saying "hey look, something was different here," so correct me if I'm wrong. But, it really does seem that those years in the early 1980s were a time when things changed around here.

One simple reason could have been the influx of new residents in Thurston County. If you look at Olympia's population alone, the early 1980s was a time of steady growth. But, in broader Thurston County, population took off in the 1970s.

This population increase must have had an impact on our local culture. I wouldn't assume a fundamental change, but certainly making people and organizations more active, more open to change and new projects.

Now, I'm just spit-balling, but I'd assume that a bunch of these new residents came to take state jobs. I've read that state government (during the Dan Evans administration) expanded greatly in the 1970s, taking on more roles. And, because of a 1950s era lawsuit, much of this growth took place in Thurston County.

These are mostly notes to a new inquiry. But, if someone were to write a new history of Thurston County, focusing on the 1970s and 80s might be a nice time to highlight.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Want to watch some good sports this summer, but don't want to travel (far) or spend any (or much) money?

Here I am, with your answers!

You don't need to spend a lot or go very far to enjoy sports around Olympia. Not the best, but still pretty good competition isn't very far off.

1. Your first stop is the Capital Stage Race. Or, just the most exciting stage, the Capital Criterium, a time trial like bike race around the capitol campus. This is a lightly attended event, but includes the best pro and semi-pro road racers in the region.

I specifically enjoy the criterium race. There's a kids  race before the very best of the racers get going. Plus, the light crowds mean there are plenty of great places on the campus to watch.

2. Did you know Olympia has its own semi-pro baseball league? Well, they play out in Lacey, but the Puget Sound Collegiate League collects some of the best community and four year college players from across the west coast.

If you want to  catch the best of the best of this league, try to catch the Thurston County Senators. This team is a league all star team. They travel to tournaments after the bulk of league play, but they also are also taking on some other regional semi-pro teams, like the Kitsap Blue Jackets.

3. I can't personally suggest the Thurston County Mayhem, but they're a semi-pro football team and they're kicking off at the end of this week.

4. Now, of an organization I wish was closer, but they really aren't all that far away, South Sound FC is putting a team in the new Evergreen Premier League. They're playing just outside of Thurston County in Lakewood, but at one point their indoor team played in Tumwater. So, they have some Olympia-area roots.

There's no Olympia semi-pro soccer to speak of, so if you did support one team, South Sound FC would be the one.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

This is your history

To struggle to protect treaty rights has been heavy on my mind this week. It is worth pointing out how long this struggle actually is.

This letter to the Puget Sound Courier (Steilacoom's paper) is a pointed attack at Governor Stevens during the Puget Sound War. The anonymous writer points out that the execution of the war and the removal of Indians to internment camps violated the terms of the treaties that were just signed. Like newspapers of that era, the Courier was picking sides in a political battle against Gov. Stevens.

But, the letter also marks the beginning of the treaty rights struggle that continued, sometimes in secret, through to today.

...let it be remembered that the Indian Department in Washignton territory, negogiated a treaty, forwarded it to Washington city for ratification, received that ratification, and violated, all within the short space of a year.

I wrote about one episode in Oyster Light (here's just that chapter), in which the Boldt Decision almost happened 50 years early when a young Olympia lawyer joined a coordinated legal effort to try treaty rights in court.

The treaty rights struggle, the tense relationship between these governments and our communities, goes back throughout our history. Its is impossible to understand the history of our region without thinking hard about it.

To that end, I would highly suggest the Katie Gale. I've read a lot of pieces, books and essays about treaty rights, tribal history and natural resources management. And, obviously Cecelia Svinth Carpenter is the original gold standard.

But, Katie Gale takes a perpendicular track to other things I've read. It tracks the life of of a women literally of the first post-treaty Indian generation. She was raised knowing only the world Scorpion described the launch of.

The book can sometimes slog down into details that don't move the narrative forward. We set the scene so long, it seems like we're taking in the scenery rather than listening to a story. But, those details really only remind us that our history is really complicated.

And, it is very local. This all happened right here. Someone who was central to these stories walked the same place you walked. Scorpion, Issac Stevens and Katie Gale have all been on the same streets as you.

Monday, May 05, 2014

All the Arts Walk and Process you can take (olyblogosphere for May 5, 2014)

1. Recycled Art at Arts Walk? You want to know more? Ruby Reusable has the scoop! Big Surprise? Not really.

2. Despite the rain and short procession, everyone hit the procession. Its like a post-modern Olympia homecoming. Mojourner was kind enough to post up some shots here.


3. Over at Calavara, the man gives us an Arts Walk Post-Op.

4.  The Amicus Curia blog gives us some deep thoughts on the trouble that may be causing the short procession this year. Just not enough support from the city:
The Procession was considerably shorter than it has been previously. Whether this is due to there being fewer species than in years past or the failure of negotiations between Eli (the core organizer behind the Procession) and the City of Olympia administration is uncertain. Eli refused to place the City’s logo on any/all posters for the procession–insisting the event would remain non-commercial as always. The City’s administrators, in turn, withdrew the normal annual funding they’d previously contributed, drew a procedural distinction between the Procession and Art Walk, even though the former draws far more people downtown by an order of one or two magnitudes, and now mandates the organizers go through the City’s expensive cumbersome permit process, unlike what’s the consideration given Art Walk by the municipality. In short, the reduced funding and additional expense placed on the organizers has created a shortfall. The workshop space, utilities, supplies, and high permit fees now imposed by the City have set some high hurdles to be cleared. It’s not at all certain they can be.

Eli has given almost 20 years to the Procession. He feels it’s time for him to hang it up after two decades though he doesn’t appear to have groomed a successor.

Olympia may come to regret its passing. In fact, Eli is counting on just that to bridge the impasse. The benefits the business community and the municipality derive from the Procession are obvious despite the extra expense of police overtime and street cleanup.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

How I was wrong about the history of Capitol Lake

One little detail. But, I can admit when I'm wrong. Here's one passage in a history I wrote of the formation of Capitol Lake:
Depending on the source, one of two things then happened. Either the state capitol committee rejected a lake altogether or they accepted the Olmsted’s earlier limited version.

In the late 20s, Wilder and White and the Olmsted firm participated in a back and forth over the landscaping plan, with the state capitol committee in the middle. In one telling, the result was that all waterfront improvements (including Capitol Lake) were written out of the landscaping plan (Johnston, 91).

According to another Capitol Campus historian, Mark Epstein, Capitol Lake was retained in the 1920s landscaping plan, but in the form of Olmsted’s modest saltwater tidal pond rather than an aggressively dammed estuary (Epstein, 67).

Also, ten years after he first proposed it, damming the Deschutes apparently was not in the front of Carlyon’s mind. As Wilder, White and the Olmsted firm debated landscaping plans that could have included a lake, Carlyon wrote an essay about the vision and construction of the capitol group. Lacking from the essay is a single mention of a lake (Carylon, 1928).

Even though it was rejected in 1916 and was an afterthought in Carlyon’s mind by 1928, the lake project did not go away.
This passage had to do with the late 1920s when the capitol builders were putting the finishing touches on the original capitol group. It was also just about 10 years before the successful (and locally originated) effort to build Capitol Lake.

From what I  found in a 1929 Seattle Times piece, I wasn't totally correct:

A small difference I suppose. But, a big enough difference to add another sentence to that section in the piece I linked to above. It was a proposed lake. It had been proposed in 1911 as part of a locally funded package of civic improvements. Again in 1915 by local politicians as a solution to transportation problems. It was also proposed in 1897 as a grand freshwater port scheme:

It was proposed a lot, but it wasn't the centerpiece of a grand plan for the capitol campus. It was an old idea by 1911 that had been kicked around and recycled several times in various forms of urban renewal and natural resources destruction.