After an extended but inspired adolescence, billionaire Paul Allen has decided to emulate his Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and remake the face of Northwest philanthropy. Allen's just-announced multimillion-dollar gift could represent a flash of eelymosynary maturity or simply a predictable evolution. In this case, it's a graybeard (or soon-to-be graybeard) fixed on gray matter, a natural extension of Allen's intense curiosity about all-things brain science.
"Allen on Wednesday announced $300 million in funding for an ambitious project to unravel the workings of an organ that has been studied for more than a century, yet remains largely a black box. The gift to the Seattle-based Allen Institute for Brain Science is the local billionaire's largest single philanthropic donation," the Seattle Times' Sandi Doughton writes.
Allen plaudits are pouring in, even from sometime critics. In this morning's Crosscut, Ted Van Dyk writes, "Millions of American families have been touched by brain or other neurological disorders. Such disorders often are regarded as progressive and, ultimately, irreversible. Yet recent research has shown the brain to be far more adaptive and resilient than originally thought. Allen's effort is by far the most important and pathfinding in its field."
It doesn't take a brain scientist to understand that "creative accounting" is one way to unscramble Olympia's budget imbroglio (the alternative to a kick-the-can strategy is to make tough revenue decisions, but that's not especially fun.) Citing State Treasurer Jim McIntire, the News Tribune's Jordan Schrader writes, "As described by McIntire’s office and others, the proposal would keep sales-tax revenue collected on behalf of cities and counties in the state’s general fund longer. That could free up $238 million for spending elsewhere."
While revised accounting invites skepticism, there may be, unlike Oakland, some there there. Schrader quotes seasoned Olympia hand and assistant state treasurer Wolfgang Opitz. "It’s a permanent process change, not a one-time change. We don’t put it in the 'gimmick' category," Optitz said. Good, so why not marry the accounting approach to other reforms such as sunsetting industry-specific tax breaks?
Good news: The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed on August 26, 1920, giving women the vote, even in the Western hinterland (In fact, the West was in the vanguard of the Suffragist movement. Washington women won the vote back in November, 1910.) The sway of women voters likely informed the Idaho state House's decision to backpedal on a Senate bill that, the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey writes, "mandates that women seeking abortions have an ultrasound to determine whether or not there is a fetal heartbeat, and, if so, the heart rate. Also, gestational age must be determined by a physician before an abortion."
Election-year politics clearly played a role in the bill's demise. As Popkey notes, "House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said the bill isn’t dead, but neither has another hearing or caucus been scheduled."
The Seattle School Board has given a tenuous thumbs up to Teach for America, the program that assigns recent college grads to teach in low-performing schools. For some activists and union members, the Teach for America partnership has become a lightning rod. Are these green teachers adequately trained and is the program cost effective? As the Seattle Times' Brian Rosenthal writes, "The concerns culminated in the effort to cancel the partnership. But the move, led by two new board members, fell one vote short."
Wednesday night's vote revealed the political fissures within the school board. The freshmen upstarts are pushing against the old-school reformers (or vice-versa.) It looks like a low-key dress rehearsal for battles yet to come.
Lastly, forget fossil fuels or hydro, the next big thing is wind power. The real variable is infrastructure and capacity. So much wind, so little storage. As Earthfix's Courtney Flatt reports, "Strong winds generated 4,000 megawatts onto the Bonneville Power Administration's transmission grid on a single day this month. That’s as much as four nuclear power plants. This spike comes at a time when the Pacific Northwest grid already has an abundance of power. That’s because rivers are running high as the snow melts."
Seattle Times "Paul Allen gives $300 million to fund brain research"
The News Tribune, "Budget proposal offers $238 million; could it break logjam?"
Idaho Statesman, "Re-election anxieties stall ultrasound bill"
Seattle Times, "Seattle School Board votes to keep Teach for America"
EarthFix, "BPA Wind Power Sets new Record"