"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Guilt by association runs rampant in campaign season, and too often people with thin connections get used as a club to wallop some candidate or other.

Sometimes, though, the connection is strong enough that the tie is legitimate. In the 2004 gubernatorial race, the Building Industry Association of Washington as tight as could be with Republican candidate Dino Rossi, to the point of running point on his post-election battles over vote counting.

So we’re paying attention when Rossi’s campaign drops mention of his speaking at a BIAW luncheon last week, after being introduced by the group’s leader as a “candidate who believes as BIAW believes.”

That, of course, opened the door: What does the group believe? Said one opinion aarticle in the groups’s publication (see page 8): “Hitler’s Nazi Party: They Were Eco-Extremists” – and yes, the language in it follows suit: “Knowing my parallel would illicit screams of protest—how politically incorrect of me to mention Hitler and Nazis in the same breath as
DOE or the environmental lobby—I explored the actual connection between environmental extremism and Hitler’s Nazi party. . . So, much like Stalin and Hitler were divided on how to best go about their socialistic schemes, environmentalists are also divided over how to best go about their socialistic scheme of controlling human development—either by burning houses down
with Molotov cocktails, or slowly squeezing the life out of it through extensive, Soviet-esque micromanagement.” Quite a view of the world; it drew a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League.

And, of course, elsewhere, such quotables as saying Governor Christine Gregoire is a “heartless, power-hungry she-wolf who would eat her own young to get ahead” whose backers are “witches.”

In politics, best to be careful who you get close to.

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Ever considered living way out there, out in – no, we won’t say the middle of nowhere – in a really low-population place? Far from the crowds? Really far?

Check out the piece on Paulina today in the Bend Bulletin, and you can start to imagine what it’s like (if not necessarily yourself doing it). Nearest substantial community: Prineville, about an hour away. (It’s way up in the Ochoco Mountains on the Beaver River.) If that gives you the itch to learn more, check out the community’s web site (technically, the local store’s, but there’s not much difference).

(We are based in a small town, Carlton. But there are close to 2,000 people in it; it’s about six miles from a city of 30,000; and an hour from Portland. Small, rural, but not remote. Paulina is remote . . .)

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Those of us who can as easily take or leave the nearby presence of a major league sports team haven’t had much reason to fully internalize the business-model realities of having one in place. But, thanks to the Seattle Sonics trial (over who properly has ownership of the team), we’re getting a great insight into that. For those of us simply interested in the phenomenon, this whole bloodbath has turned into an excellent education.

Specific case in point is a lawyer-client document, just released in the course of the trial, which is one of the best pieces of reading we’ve seen on the business model and strategic considerations of obtaining and running a major league franchise. Some pieces of it may be taken as a little scandalous, and certainly it does gray out the formerly clear-cut spin of Seattle hometown advocates as the good guys and the “Oklahomans” – the current Sonics owners – as the black hats. The new document comes from the city/hometowner side, and it is quite blunt. Cynical? You might say so, but we’d just call it realistic.

You get some of that from the Powerpoint’s headline: “Why a Poisoned Well Affords a Unique Opportunity.”

If you want to run a major league sports team (and really, how many tens of millions of people have thought about it?), the report says, there are three key considerations: “Scarcity: they are hard to come by; Economics: They are hard to operate properly; Reputation: They are hard on the owner’s reputation.” All three seem at first counterintuitive; pause for a moment, and all three make sense.

Few regional franchises are ever available; the attorneys note that “for example, big four franchises have been available for sale in the Seattle market 11 times in their combined 100 years of operation.” Only about half of the NBA franchises operate at a profit at any one time (sounds like a bad business to get into if money is the objective). And: “Few sports team owners are loved (or even just not reviled) by the local community. Franchises can be seen as ‘rich boy toys,’ subsidized by [the] public.”

There’s much more, much of the rest being Seattle-specific. This is a highly recommended read.

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One of the posers about Idaho tax auditor Stan Howland‘s report on tax commission practices – that it was in essence letting many large corporations get away without paying taxes they should be paying – has been this: Would it be ignored by the policymakers in Idaho government, or would it lead to a serious inquiry?

Some reporters asked that question, but the initial indicators were uneven. Reports today, though, suggest that a point man on this is emerging: State Senator Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, who is himself an accountant.

And a commission response is supposed to be out on Monday. When we see it, we’ll link to it.

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Today’s national “House line” on most competitive U.S. House seats – no, actually, seats most likely to turn over in party control – by the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza ranks the Washington state 8th district at number 17 nationally. Considering that the trend line is showing a likelihood of 20+ seats turning this year from Republican to Democratic, that puts Washington 8 on the edge.

We started this year figuring Republican incumbent Dave Reichert had an edge, albeit a small one, heading into the rematch with Democrat Darcy Burner – such rematches fall short more often than not. But we’ve seen little this year to ramp up Reichert’s odds and quite a bit (money, national mood, better reviews among them) to improve Burner’s. Last time Cillizza reviewed this race, he slotted it at number 19; now it’s up two.

Cillizza’s take: “Every Republican strategist we talk to insists on the one hand that Rep. Dave Reichert is the only GOPer who could possibly hold this Seattle-area seat but on the other acknowledges that Reichert’s time may be up. Barack Obama at the top of the national ticket is bad news for Reichert, as the Democrats’ presidential candidate will roll up the vote in metropolitan Seattle. Darcy Burner, who took 49 percent of the vote in 2006 against Reichert, is, by all accounts, an improved candidate. The political environment is everything in this district. If Obama wins big in the 8th, he is likely to carry Burner along with him.”

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Would your life be appreciably different if the Seattle Sonics were no longer in Seattle? (You’d think that would depend on whether you’re an active fan or not . . .)

The question has been asked by a pollster, the results emerged in legal action today, and here they are (for the Seattle metro area) for the question of whether you’re better or worse off if the Sonics leave: No difference 58%, 31% worse, 7% better, and 4% didn’t know.

The Sonics’ fan base again is . . .

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The General Accounting Office decision today recommending a revistation of the Air Force decision not to buy its fleet of air tankers from Boeing (but from Northrop Grumman instead) doesn’t end the battle; the tenor of initial coverage suggests that it does, but it doesn’t.

But it is enough, and more than enough, to change the political tenor of the situation. And not in a direction that will help Arizona Senator John McCain – a backer of the Northrop decision – nor those candidates running under his banner.

From the GAO:

The GAO decision should not be read to reflect a view as to the merits of the firms’ respective aircraft. Judgments about which offeror will most successfully meet governmental needs are largely reserved for the procuring agencies, subject only to such statutory and regulatory requirements as full and open competition and fairness to potential offerors. The GAO bid protest process examines whether procuring agencies have complied with those requirements.

Specifically, GAO sustained the protest for the following reasons:

1. The Air Force, in making the award decision, did not assess the relative merits of the proposals in accordance with the evaluation criteria identified in the solicitation, which provided for a relative order of importance for the various technical requirements. The agency also did not take into account the fact that Boeing offered to satisfy more non-mandatory technical “requirements” than Northrop Grumman, even though the solicitation expressly requested offerors to satisfy as many of these technical “requirements” as possible.

2. The Air Force’s use as a key discriminator that Northrop Grumman proposed to exceed a key performance parameter objective relating to aerial refueling to a greater degree than Boeing violated the solicitation’s evaluation provision that “no consideration will be provided for exceeding [key performance parameter]

3. The protest record did not demonstrate the reasonableness of the Air Force’s determination that Northrop Grumman’s proposed aerial refueling tanker could
refuel all current Air Force fixed-wing tanker-compatible receiver aircraft in
accordance with current Air Force procedures, as required by the solicitation.

4. The Air Force conducted misleading and unequal discussions with Boeing, by
informing Boeing that it had fully satisfied a key performance parameter objective relating to operational utility, but later determined that Boeing had only partially met this objective, without advising Boeing of this change in the agency’s assessment and while continuing to conduct discussions with Northrop Grumman relating to its satisfaction of the same key performance parameter objective.

5. The Air Force unreasonably determined that Northrop Grumman’s refusal to
agree to a specific solicitation requirement that it plan and support the agency to
achieve initial organic depot-level maintenance within two years after delivery of the first full-rate production aircraft was an “administrative oversight,” and improperly made award, despite this clear exception to a material solicitation requirement.

6. The Air Force’s evaluation of military construction costs in calculating the
offerors’ most probable life cycle costs for their proposed aircraft was unreasonable, where the agency during the protest conceded that it made a number of errors in evaluation that, when corrected, result in Boeing displacing Northrop Grumman as the offeror with the lowest most probable life cycle cost; where the evaluation did not account for the offerors’ specific proposals; and where the calculation of military construction costs based on a notional (hypothetical) plan was not reasonably supported.

As noted, the GAO isn’t specifically recommending that Boeing get the award, and it can’t even force the Air Force to rerun the process. But it stands as an important statement that something went seriously wrong in the original Air Force selection process.

You can get the sense of where some of this is headed by checking out Washington Senator Patty Murray‘s statement today. In part: “It is Congress’ job to determine whether major defense purchases meet the needs of our warfighter and deserve taxpayer funding. The Pentagon must both justify its decision and address the flawed process that led to today’s ruling. We need answers before handing billions of American defense dollars to a subsidized, foreign company focused on dismantling the American aerospace industry.”

Expect revisitation of the statements by Boeing partisans about how McCain was directly involved in the decision, aftermath from his efforts against a 2004 Boeing contract and change in defense rules on bidding that were also opposed by Northrop.

McCain had helped block a contract with Boeing in 2004 and pressed the Pentagon in 2006 to change bidding rules opposed by Northrop Grumman and Airbus.

Of course, McCain was almost sure to lose Washington state (and Oregon) anyway. But this could have larger effects. Could it cause him serious trouble as well even in Kansas, where Boeing has mass operations at Wichita?

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The results are subtle enough that they don’t jump out in a casual look. But someone who knows stats at the site Interstices has worked it out: A strong relationship between support for the former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, and for Idaho state Senator Shirley McKague.

From Interstices: “The raw votes by precinct correlate more closely than the percent of vote. And given that total votes cast in each race were very close (about 120 more votes in the Legislative race than the Presidential Primary, which is counterintuitive), it seems fair to compare the raw vote totals head to head as in the above scatterplot. . . . Using that r-square can mean — in effect, without a big stretch — that three of every four Ron Paul voters also supported McKague.” (Visit their site for the charts.)

This feels implicitly about right. And without running the stats in a detailed way, you can see it generally in a review of the 14 precincts in legislative district 20, where McKague (appointed to the Senate in the last term, but a long-time House member) was challenged by Representative Mark Snodgrass. McKague is a hard-core anti-government ideologue, formerly of the John Birch Society; Snodgrass would be considered conservative by conventional Idaho definitions, but also amenable to working on such things as air quality and transportation and education needs.

Of the 14 precincts, Snodgrass won two (43 and 48) and tied in a third (135); John McCain beat Paul by about 3-1 in all three, somewhat better than he did in most of the district. The margins varied enough that a detailed statistical analysis was about the only way to tease out a clear connection.

Interstices: “There may be a chicken and egg question going on here, whether the Ron Paul vote can first and then the voters continued to work down the ballot and voted in the Legislative races, or was it the Legislative race that brought out voters and they happened to have a Ron Paul affinity, or perhaps do not care for McCain?” We’d suggest the answer is simpler: The voters who were there for one simply found elements to support in the other, not that one is responsible for the other.

And we’re tempted by this thought too: That, given the myriad differences between a Paul and a McKague, what you’re really seeing here is a reaction against “mainstream” Republicans at this point – be those like McCain or like centrist Idaho conservatives.

(Hat Tip to Kevin Reichert at the Idaho Statesman, who also posted on this.)

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Another sign of circling the drain? The main indicator of trouble times for newspapers has been stagnant (or declining) circulation and declines in advertising, both critical. But maybe we should look too at the printing plants.

Traditionally, daily newspapers have run their own printing presses; those in joint operating agreements (like the dailies in Seattle) have shared that part of their operation, but they have been the exception. Even most small dailies have had their own presses. But that has begun to change. In Idaho, it changed in-corporation a few years ago when the papers at Pocatello and at Logan, Utah (which are about an hour and a half away from each other) quit their local printing and shared a joint press midway or so between them, at Preston. But those dailies were both owned by the same newspaper group.

Now something different is happening: Competing newspapers (which Pocatello and Logan were not) owned by different corporations are sharing printing plants. Today came word that the largest Idaho newspaper, the Statesman at Boise (owned by McClatchy Newspapers), will no longer have its own printing press, and will not even print in its home town, but will share operations with the Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune (owned by Pioneer Newspapers). Kinda changes the nature of the competition – a little less pure than it was. The same sort of thing has been approved as well in Washington, between the McClatchy Bellingham paper which will be printed at (Pioneer’s) Mount Vernon operation.

Secondarily, there’s another hidden question. Many publications depend on the newspaper presses for their printing, including most weekly newspapers. With this consolidation, will they continue to be able to get their papers printed locally, or even in arms length? And what might that do to journalism as it ripples along?

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Idaho Washington

The TVW network, which is more or less Washington’s very own C-Span (what a great service it is, and an idea co-optable elsewhere), is now living in the age of UTube, and not too comfortably. It has gotten great access to all sorts of governmental, policy and political activities over the years partly with the idea that although the public could see it all, the raw materials couldn’t be transformed into attack ads.

Except that in the age of UTube, that’s becoming an increasingly difficult proposition.

The battle over what can and can’t be excerpted from TVW (which copyrights its material) has been ongoing for a while, and the Horse’s Ass blog has been in the middle of it for a while. Some compromise seems to have been reached. Point here i to draw attention to a useful overview by Richard Roesler at the Spokesman Review, on his blog. Which also provides a useful video link . . .

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The non-establishment and the establishment split the votes at the Idaho Republican convention at Sandpoint. The establishment won more votes, but the outsiders won the big one, for state party chair.

That was where the line seemed drawn most clearly, between the grassroots, represented for purposes of this election by former congressional candidate Norm Semanko, and the downtown establishment crowd, represented by Kirk Sullivan.

From the Spokesman-Review‘s blog: Semanko is “currenlty telling the delegation that they must uphold conservative Republican principles and elect Republicans and get seats back to the U.S. House. Semanko thanked Kirk Sullivan for his years of service and added that he ‘likes Kirk’ and it was about rallying and building a relationship with the grassroots Republicans, not just the establishment.”

At the same time, the establishment won a key vote on open v. closed party primaries, getting the convention floor to stick with open primaries. (What the central committee, the final policy maker for the party, will have to say about that is unclear.) And National Committeeman Blake Hall, challenged by former state Senator Rod Beck (who had been the challenger to Sullivan before Semanko entered that contest), survived, but apparently narrowly.

More evidence at this convention of splintering among Idaho Republicans than since 1990. Not that this is a prescription for 1990-type results (that being the best year Idaho Democrats have seen since 1958), but it does give pause.

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The proposal for Idaho’s police office training organization to contract with Blackwater International (see our earlier post) is apparently on hold at least, and possibly derailed.

This week’s meeting of the Idaho POST (Police Officers Standards and Training) Council led to a tabling of the proposed agreement. There were anti-Blackwater protesters outside the meeting, but more decisive may have been expressions of concern from area law enforcement leaders. Take note of the end of the Spokane Spokesman-Review story on this:

Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson said that was his understanding after speaking to Blackwater representatives. Watson said he was told the center would be built on 300-plus acres between Coeur d’Alene and Worley and the first phase of construction would cost more than $20 million.

The representative “made it very clear it was a military training facility,” Watson said. He suggested Blackwater was trying to attach itself to local law enforcement in an attempt to make it easier to locate in North Idaho.

“As sheriff, I don’t want my officers going to that facility just because of public perception,” Watson said. “Our reputation is important to us. I don’t know if Blackwater did everything that was reported in the media. They’ve now obtained the reputation.”

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