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Posts published in March 2007

A home place, by reputation

Years ago, in the woods and hills north of Coeur d'Alene, the white supremacist group Aryan Nations had a substantial compound which served as its base of operations. They became well known in the area and nationally.

The compound was razed in the aftermath of an adverse legal case, and the group's leader died not long after. Those developments were cheered on by the overwhelming majority of people in the area who were sickened by the reputation their place had gotten. Now, they hoped, it could be wiped clean.

May not be that easy. The mid-Panhandle area seems now to have some meaning for some of these people, and a group of them - less visible than before, but present nonetheless - seems determined to hang in.

Last Thursday, according to an Associated Press story, "four men in their 20s started shouting Aryan Nations slogans during Tony Stewart's speech at the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene. His speech was about the Nazi movement in northern Idaho and how it was defeated."

Defeated, but not wiped out, apparently. Don Robinson, an FBI agent at Coeur d'Alene, was quoted as saying, "We're very concerned about the presence of these groups in the area and it's a priority. These remaining factions are trying to establish relevance."

That sounds right. But it raises the uneasy question of what they may try to do next to "establish relevance."

Official English: A question

Now that the bill (Senate Bill 1172) declaring English the official language of Idaho has passed the Senate 20-15, and appears ready to clear the House more easily, and seems unlikely to be vetoed, we have a question:

What will be the new state motto, now that the Latin phrase "Esto Perpetua" will no longer be eligible?

Suggestions will be welcome in the comments section.

DeFazio, out or not?

Peter DeFazio
Peter DeFazio

Does "out" not necessarily mean not out? From where we sit, we'll assume that Representative Peter DeFazio meant what he said when he said he doesn't plan to challenge Oregon Senator Gordon Smith next year.

Still, we'll admit to being hooked by this item this morning on the MyDD blog:

"I've just heard a report on the radio that the DSCC is offering Representative Peter DeFazio (OR-04) support of up to $5,000,000 if he runs against Senator Gordon Smith. Although DeFazio has said before that he will not run, apparently he is still considering it. I've heard that the DSCC has given him a deadline to decide- a deadline that is approaching soon."

Certainly DeFazio would be a formidable challenger, if he ran.

We'll post when we pick up something from the DeFazio camp.

Skimming the cream

Legislators trying to cope with the perverse health care marketplace are kept jumping: New problems with the system keep arising almost constantly.

This evening the Washington Senate passed Senate Bill 5398, floor sponsored by Senator Chris Marr, D-Spokane, which takes a swing at one of the newer ones. The case was compelling enough that even though it calls for a new arena of regulation, a new license, all but two Republicans along with the Democrats voted in favor (the vote was 42-2).

The licensed would be "specialty hospitals," a brand new kind of health critter, which specialize in certain limited types of treatment. The concern, as Marr put it, is that these facilities would serve only the most profitable cases - that they'd be "cherry picking," leaving community hospitals with a larger share of the less profitable, or unprofitable, cases. (There are also concerns about the relationships some physicians may have with these hospitals, and the referrals they may give.)

It's simple market logic.

The Washington State Hospital Association is among the backers of the bill. It seems well poised for passage.

Call me

Aquick note on a couple of things observed this evening from the gallery at the Washington Senate (still meeting today into the evening, as we understand it likely will into this weekend) . . .

A larger portion of people than we've ever noticed elsewhere, wearing those oblong small-seashell phone devices, hooked over their ears. (Most of those we saw weren't twentysomethings, either.) Didn't notice offhand any legislators wearing them, but a number of staffers seemed to be plugged into the grid.

Which lent a certain irony to the one piece of paper readily readable from the gallery on a number of senator's desks - a half-dozen at least. It was the familiar bumper sticker "Hang Up & Drive," signifying that a number of legislators haven't given up on banning cell phones for drivers.

Write your own punch line.

Blob o’mercury

The difficulty of controlling the explosive costs of medicine by half-steps came clear this morning in the Oregon House Health Policy & Public Affairs Committee, which was hearing testimony on a simple - one page! - bill that on its surface would seem to provide for modest cost reduction and avoidance of fraud. And maybe it would. But as an insurance company lobbyist (yeah, that's right) pointed out, the matter is more difficult than that.

The measure is Senate Bill 651, sponsored by Senator Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and co-sponsored with 14 other senators (of both parties) and two representatives. Its summary states its point clearly: It requires insurers to "make check for payment for health care services payable jointly to provider of health care services and enrollee if provider has not contracted with enrollee's health benefit plan to provide health care services."

At present, checks from insurers cut to pay for medical services often are made out to the patient; the idea is that the patient will then sign it over to the doctor or other provider, such as an imaging clinic. Many do. Quite a few others do not, instead either holding the check for a long time - what's the incentive to hurry? - or in quite a few cases, cashing it and never paying the provider. Thereby, in the end, driving up the cost of business, and so the cost of medical care.

The bill, which is backed by a number of medical providers (notably clinics), would make the check jointly payable so it could be sent straight from the insurer to the provider. Which seems to, maybe does, make good general sense.

But as so often in these things, there's a catch.


Chat tonight

Our weekly reminder, that our regular Wednesday chat is on for tonight at 6 pm Pacific, 7 pm Mountain, accessible off this page. (Scroll down to the right to the “nickname” box, enter your name, click the button, and you’re in.) It lasts about an hour; feel free to jump in or out any time.

So far we've had enjoyable discussions with an eclectic group of people. Greg Smith, a co-founder, should be back on board this evening. Along with, well, who knows who.

Former Idaho journalists (update)

We've had a bunch of reaction to the former Idaho journalists list (accessible through a page on the subject), and because of a slug of additional information, it's be expanded by almost half again.

And if you have more suggestions/updates/corrections/clarifications/whatever, pass them on and we'll update again.

A door-opening decision

Anderson Ranch Dam reservoir
Anderson Ranch Dam reservoir

The decision by the Idaho Supreme Court in the groundwater v. surface water case - American Falls v. Idaho Department of Water Resources - awaited for so many months with such trepidation, turned out to be an anticlimax.

And a good deal more limited in immediate application than a lot of people probably figured.

The case was set up as a showdown between the older (senior) water right holders, who had rights on the main surface water sources in southern Idaho, and the newer (junior) groundwater pumpers. The lower court decision, by Judge Barry Wood (a former presiding judge over the Snake River Basin Adjudication), was taken to have sided mostly with the surface water users, and the Supreme Court ruling, which overturned Wood's core conclusions, was thought to side mostly with the ground water people.

But it's a lot more convoluted than that, and the key participants in the case generally, on both sides, seem to have been wise enough to withhold their celebrations.

The decision more simply means that the state's established process for determining the relationship between surface and ground water, and the approach to regulating it, can go forward . . . to the extent it is able.

The decision offers plenty of room for interpretation and legal challenges of various sorts. And in some underlying ways, it was less a reversal of the Wood decision than some might think. If you doubt that, take a look at pages 7 and 8 of the decision, in which the justices (in an unusual gesture) said they appreciated much of Wood's logic, and added, "While this opinion does not reach those same conclusions, we nevertheless accept large parts of the district judge’s analysis and attempt to use his analysis to clarify our interpretation of the CM Rules."

More to come.