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Posts published in February 2007

Smith, scattered

Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith

We remarked after Oregon Senator Gordon Smith's December 7 speech on Iraq - which had a very anti-Bush policy tone to it, and which dropped the word "criminal" - that it didn't scan, didn't cohere, didn't add up to anything specific in particular. That's in considerable contrast to the mass of reviewers who ran with Smith's tone and declared him an anti-Bush Republican.

The speech was nothing of the kind. It may have been an attempt at nuance, it may have been simply confusing, but it was not a declaration of on which side of the Iraq ramparts he stood.

Which is why, after his recent talk of supporting a resolution (the bi-partisan one, crafted by Virginia Republican Senator John Warner) critical of the administration's Iraq policy, we are unsurprised that he wound up today voting for a filibuster to oppose even discussing it. (The other filibusterers, almost all Republicans, not only included Idaho Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo - no great surprise, since they'd not been central to the resolution discussions - but also - wait for it - Warner, whose proposal ostensibly it was.)

The degree of fallout always depends, of course, on the extent to which people pay attention, and we'll find out about that in the next few days. But it could be considerable: This vote could do Smith a great deal of damage in 2008. For all meaningful purposes, the vote for a filibuster (as Smith's was, and which Senator Ron Wyden opposed) was a vote in favor of, an endorsement of, President George Bush's escalation of American troop levels in Iraq.

Democratic blogs from Loaded Orygun to the national Daily Kos have brought up the four-day-old quote in an Associated Press story (that ran widely across the state) saying: "Smith's spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said the senator 'has been helping forge a middle ground in the Senate, and he believes this resolution sends a strong and responsible message that the status quo in Iraq is unacceptable.'” So why, one might ask, vote against even debating it?

Leading Kos to opine, "Smith is a coward and a puppet of Mitch McConnel and George Bush and the extreme right-wing of the GOP." And a bunch of commenters to that post, quite a few of them from Oregon, unleashing anti-Smith vitriol well beyond what we've seen before.

Facing election from a state that really doesn't much like either President Bush or the Iraq war, Gordon Smith has entered dangerous territory.

NUANCING A comment on Blue Oregon's piece about this adds transcript from a recent interview of Smith by Portland conservative talker Lars Larson. Toward the end of the interview, the point was put with precision:

Larson: Just so I understand, you don’t oppose sending the additional troops in, but you don’t believe it is going to do what the President believes it will do?

Smith: That’s correct. I mean, I would not do it…uh, I don’t think it gets him where…see, to really fight an insurgency, you have to take the entire city of Baghdad and make it a Green Zone. That takes a lot more than 160,000 of our folks. That takes more like a half a million. That’s my guess…

One wonders how many troops it would take to secure Iraq. Not to mention why Smith supports (or will not stand in the way of) something he believes will not work.

At their word

DOMA is constitutional because the legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not, in the legislature’s view, further these purposes.
- Washington Supreme Court, majority opinion p. 6, Anderson v. King County (2006)

Okay. If the Supreme Court's interpretation is correct, then the initiative proposed by the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance should pass muster, if it can pass the voters. It does already have initial approval from the secretary of state's office.

Despite what you might think, this DOMA is not a supporter of the other DOMA - the state Defense of Marriage Act of 1998, upheld for constitutionality by the Washington Supreme Court (in the opinion producing the excerpt above). Quite the contrary, and it makes an emphatic point in response.

For the sake of argument, it argues, let's take the court's logic seriously - that the point of marriage is procreation, and this is a legitimate concern of the state. It draws out the implication in three proposed initiatives. (They need a large number of valid signatures to qualify for ballot status; their ability to get them may turn on just how much the voters of Washington embrace irony.) The first of them, I-957, is the most striking.

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Blogging classes in Tacoma

Newspapers are moving at different rates in embracing the online world, and using different tactics. In the Northwest, the Spokane Spokesman-Review may have gone farther in integrating its staff with blogging than any other regional paper. Now the Tacoma News Tribune is trying something at a different angle.

It relates to some extent to the Oregonian's OregonLive neighborhood blogging, but the News Tribune seems to intend to integrate even more the staff and local writer connection. They have sought out local people to blog from and about their neighborhoods, and on Thursday held a "blogger class" to run through how this will work, what the standards are, and so on. (The class appears to be a prerequisite to blogging directly.) Credentials for logging in were passed out the next day.

Another step in the coming evolution.

Please lock me away

prisoner image from old bookIdaho Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, was a little startled by the factoid, and he surely wasn't alone: In 2006, some 88 prisoners in the Idaho system said they weren't interested in parole, and would rather stay behind bars.

The item came up Thursday at the budget hearing for the Pardons & Parole Commission, as long-time Director Olivia Craven was delivering the facts and figure about her agency. As the Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell quotes, Cameron, seemed a little baffled: “Explain that to me . . . Are they just enjoying their life in prison so much?”

We followed up and today asked Craven about the refusniks, and she had but limited explanations for what sounds a little odd. She said that over the next year, she plans to pull together more detailed information about this subgroup. But a rough early conclusion or two might be hazarded.

A little background here.

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When the levee breaks

We tend to think of levees in the context of Louisiana and the gulf states, barriers for low-lying land against high-rising water. But the western states have a lot of levees, and there are even a bunch of them in the Northwest. And it turns out that a bunch of them are in trouble.

Reaction to a Freedom of Information Act request from several news organizations, the Army Corps of Engineers has released a list of 122 levees around the country that fail in its maintnance ratings. More specifically, that means "An unacceptable maintenance rating means a levee has one or more deficient conditions that can reasonably be foreseen to prevent the project from functioning as designed. Examples of maintenance deficiencies include: animal burrows, erosion, tree growth, movement of floodwalls or faulty culvert conditions."

Overwhelmingly, they're in western states. California accounts for the single largest share. But Washington has a long list, concentrated between the Seattle/Bellevue area to the west and the Cascades to the east. From the looks of the Corps report, this is a serious hazard for parts of that country . . . parts of that fast-growing country.

As though that region didn't have enough infrastructure worries.

The levee issues in Oregon and Idaho, by contrast, are much lighter. But they should give a little pause to people in the Astoria area; several waterways are noted as endangered in that area.

LIST On the list below, the two names are for the overall Corps project, and the specific segment within it.

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Family definitions

What is a family, and who should be legally considered to be a part of it? The question reaches farther than we usually think.

Consider this description of a proposed rule change in an unlikely place, the Department of Consumer & Business Services, Building Codes Division:

"This proposed rule expands the exemption from electrical license requirements for electrical installations on a person’s residential or farm property. The rule adds 'spouse' and 'domestic partner' to the definition of an owner’s immediate family for the purpose of qualifying for the exemption."

A simple problem of logic

housesSeems odd that more people don't seem to spot the logical - economic - problem inherent in this bit of information, from a lead story in today's Seattle Times.

The nut graph, referring to King County: "A typical household would have had to bring in 46 percent more income in 2005 to afford a median house, a huge leap from 2004, according to an annual report released Wednesday."

Put another way. The median income in King County in 2005 was $60,500. Based on usual household economics (the normal rule of thumb that you can reasonably spend up to about 30% of your income on housing), that means the median affordable house would cost $228,100.

But in 2005, as it turns out, the median priced house in King County was tagged at $332,000.

Which would be affordable if the median income were $88,400, but, of course, it isn't - isn't close. How does this compute?

Once again we ask: How are people able to afford so many very high-priced houses? And isn't a housing price correction overdue?