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Posts published in June 2008

Fine tuning on religion

The outlines of the Northwest on religion are clear enough. In most of southern Idaho and in patches of eastern Oregon and Washington, Mormons are dominant. The Seattle and Portland metro areas are relatively secular. Evangelicals are strong in many of the suburban areas. And so forth.

The latest study out of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life doesn't break down below state levels, but it goes beyond the labels and tags: Almost uniquely, it goes after specific beliefs and actions.

Washington, Oregon and Idaho vary more or less under this type of lens generally as you'd expect they would. But the differences are enlightening anyway.

Some of the numbers seem a little unexpected out of context; among adherents generally, evangelical Christians (26% nationally) account for 25% in Washington and 30% in Oregon, but just 22% in Idaho; but you have to bear in mind that Mormons are counted separately from them, and they are estimated at 23% in Idaho, but 5% in Oregon and just 2% in Washington. Add the two (which makes sense, since despite their theological differences they have many social policy similarities) and you get 27% in Washington, 35% in Oregon and 45% in Idaho. A picture emerges.

(Add to this: The percentage of Roman Catholics is higher in Idaho, at 18%, than in Washington's 16% or Oregon's 14%. ) (more…)

Double-quote

Afine catch by the excellent Idaho Radio News blog, on what executives of two major Northwest daily newpapers had to say after news last week that the corporation which owns them both, the McClatchy Company, had marked its papers for major cutbacks.

Tri-City Herald editor Rufus M. Friday: “We have more readers today than ever before — for our newspaper, our website and our specialty products. That’s our most important measure of success for the future.”

Boise Idaho Statesman editor Mi-Ai Parrish: “We have more readers today than ever before - for our newspaper, our Web site and our niche products. That’s our most important measure of success for the future.”

As a commenter noted dryly, "Complete coincidence."

Careful with your friends

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.

The virtues of Paulina

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 . . .)

Seattle’s pot & kettle

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.

Action, possibly?

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.

Number 17

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."

Sonics v. No Sonics

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 . . .

Boeing rebound

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]
objectives.”

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?

The Paul-McKague connection

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.)