"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)

This was totally predictable – we predicted it here – but it is still apt to come as a shock: Home sales in Seattle are off 41% from last year, and house prices are dropping fast too, with western median prices off by a quarter.

Prices were shooting up far higher and faster than all but a sliver of people could afford. How could the end result of that bubble be anything other than what we’re seeing now?

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Oregon Washington

Stem cell research would seem to be an odd topic for the Washington governor’s race – more a national issue than a state subject. But it evidently has some resonance. It has become such a hot topic that the state’s largest newspaper is asking a gubernatorial candidate not to discuss it.

It launched in a major way a few weeks ago with a campaign by Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire, who is arguing that her opponent, Republican Dino Rossi, opposes stem cell research, which she supports. Rossi says he does not oppose the research; the basis for her flat contention hasn’t been entirely clear.

The ads are clear enough, though, as are the press releases on the subject, one released as recently as yesterday.

Rossi has shot back that he does in fact support stem cell research, and noted (unrebutted) that Gregoire’s administation hasn’t put any money into stem cell research. (She argues that a research fund has been established, and stem-cell related requests are in the pipeline.)

Yesterday the Seattle Times editorialized, “Enough of stem cells. The job of governor has nothing to do with stem cells. Gov. Christine Gregoire should use her re-election money to talk about things the governor actually does, starting with budgets and taxes. She should end the TV ads of people who fret that Dino Rossi is standing between them and medical salvation.”

To which Goldy at Horse’s Ass responded, “The governor’s stem cell ads are without a doubt the most evocative and effective of the campaign, and the Times damn well knows it. That’s why they chose to use their bully pulpit to try to bully her into pulling the spots. I mean, could they be any more obvious?”

All of this sounds like a form of code combat – “stem cell research” standing in for something else, maybe something too difficult to go after directly. That may be suggested by the final bullet point in Gregoire’s press release yesterday: “Gov. Gregoire is a supporter of science-based research. Republican Dino Rossi is willing to let his personal beliefs stand in the way of scientific research.”

That’s probably a little closer to where the battle here really resides.

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Our view has been, for some years, that state attorneys general probably should be appointed, rather than elected. The reason has been that professional skills are key in the case of AGs, to a lesser degree than – as would be the case with a governor or legislator – pollicy judgment.

However, since reading this enlightening dispatch from Alaska showing just how damaging an appointed AG can be, that position is formally reversed. Elect ’em. Absolutely.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

This is the sort of thing you’d think would have been left behind years ago . . . but unfortunately not . . .

At George Fox University in Newberg, someone (students presumably) set up an image of presidential candidate Barack Obama, hanging in effigy. Fox is a Quaker school, and its religious influence has led the community toward both conservatism and nonviolence and anti-war strains. Someone evidently didn’t quite get the latter parts of the message.

University President Robin Baker apparently did, though, remarking of the incident: “Yesterday was not a good example of what it means to follow Jesus.”

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One of our campaign season tenets is that polls should be
addressed with caution, the results of any single poll be given only limited weight. As we’ve seen periodically this year, the best take on what a poll says (and remember, at best it’s a snapshot, not a prediction) tends to come when a group of polls are bunched together, and their results looked at en masse. Even then, an outlier sometimes hits the mark closer.

So consider Idaho’s 1st district and the two recent polls there. Last week we noted the results of a Daily Kos Research 2000 poll conducted September 17-18, showing Republican Representative Bill Sali at 46% and Democratic challenger Walt Minnick at 35%. We noted it largely because there were other readings from Idaho too, providing context.

Today the Minnick campaign released its own Harstad Strategic poll, conducted September 9-11, giving Sali 38% and Minnick 43%. The results are different enough that you have a hard time seeing how both can be on target – unless, if they are, there’s the suggestion from the timing the pollsters were in the field that Sali has gained and Minnick diminished, rapidly. Not that any reason for that comes to mind. (We have, in fact, been hearing some growing chatter – anecdotal, of course – that Minnick’s chances have seemed to be improving. It is as noted anecdotal.)

Occam’s Razor suggests this: Polls are rough shots, and best taken as raw estimates, especially one by one. Maybe if we get a slew of polls in the Idaho 1st, a sharper focus will emerge.

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Color us among the skeptics of the Bush Administration Wall Street bailout proposal – but not just this site: Most of the Northwest, and not just one side of the political fence, either. If they were selling stock in skepticism, we’d buy.

Before going further, we should point out two excellent online posts that helped shape our thinking on this. One (becoming increasingly renowned even in mass media – Steve Duin in the Oregonian touted it today) was posted on the Daily Kos site, and called “Three Times is Enemy Action” – a review of how the financial markets got to this point. The second, lesser known, was written by New York Times reporter David Cay Johnston, who has done some of the best writing about federal tax policy in recent years: His piece is aimed at journalists, chiding them for not doing basic homework on the financial situation and strong suggesting that the economic problems, while quite real, are not as imminent a crisis as many news reports have suggested. Both posts are highly, highly recommended.

The Northwest seems to be alert to the reasons for skepticism.

Oregon Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio has had some sharp quotes on the subject, and a well-crafted statement on his web site. He points out that for many months, through all kinds of negative events, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said the economic was sound, but “Then Thursday night he has a closed door meeting with congressional leadership and he says, if we don’t do a bailout plan tomorrow, the economy is going to collapse. Wait a minute. This guy has been consistently wrong and out of touch or he’s been lying to Congress and the American people about how sound our fundamentals are. Now he wants us to trust him with the keys of the treasury and no restrictions on how he would spend the money in his next bailout. He is compromised in my opinion because of his relationship with Goldman Sachs and Wall Street not with Main Street America. My small banks are not clamoring for this. They are still making loans.”

Increasingly, Northwest Democrats seem to be positioning themselves along these lines. (Note the post below on Washington’s Jim McDermott.)

There’s a voice from the left. And on the right? In the Northwest (or elsewhere), you don’t go much further right in Congress than Idaho Republican Bill Sali. Here’s his take, according to a news report today: “says President Bush’s plan to rescue the nation’s financial industry ignores the deeper troubles facing the nation’s economy, lacks public support and gives too much authority to top administration officials in charge of the plan. Sali, a conservative Republican from western Idaho, acknowledges he has yet to formalize his own counterproposal or find another he can support instead. But Sali says his biggest problem with the Bush Administration’s $700 billion bailout proposal is its failure to deal with the nation’s ailing economy.”

Not everyone is on board with the DeFazios and Salis; Idaho’s other Republican representative, Mike Simpson, actually blasted Sali for not jumping on board the bailout train: “What’s his answer, to let the economy go down?” There is, of course, another course: Pause long enough to consider what actually will work and what won’t, what caused the current problems and find ways to fix them, rather than simply jump on cue.

Sali’s office said that response from constituents has been overwhelmingly critical of the bailout. It often happens that responses in congressional offices that responses tend to back positions of the incumbent, but in this case we’d suspect the popular view is very much as Sali’s office describes it: Highly skeptical of the bailout proposal as it now is structured.

On either side of the Cascades, either side of the partisan divide. Unity may be approaching.

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There will be a lot said this week and beyond about the mega-financial bailout, but little of it will be more instantly quotable – or more pungent – than what Washington Democratic Representative Jim McDermott had to say today.

The stunner key quote, at the end: “This is the third time we’ve done it with this bunch. First the war – that didn’t get paid for. Then the tax cuts. That didn’t get paid for. And now King Henry takes over to distribute 700 billion dollars. He’s going to be there for four months. And in four months he will make deals and then he’ll go out and he’ll be able to catch a pass he threw to himself.”

The way Washington works, how many people will lightly dismiss the allegation?

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Today’s column by Bill Virgin of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer makes an excellent point about the dysfunction in our economy through the experience of a company that isn’t dysfunctional: SafeCo Insurance.

SafeCo has been a solidly-performing, profitable corporation (and in the process, saving many of its customers a lot of money) for a long time. Earlier this month, it was swallowed by Liberty Mutual Group, a bigger insurance company. It did not sell out, however, because it was failing, and not that it was a tiny fish getting squashed by mega-market forces: It was the 16th largest insurer in the country. That’s not chump change.

Virgin: “Guess who was No. 1 on that same list, with revenues 18 times those of Safeco’s? Yup — American International Group, the insurance company you and I as taxpayers just bailed out. Which gets us to the point about the connection between the Safeco story and the current financial fiasco. AIG was deemed worthy of federal intervention because it had grown so huge, its tendrils attaching it to so many parts of the global economy that allowing it to fail would have pulled down a lot of other walls along with it. Had Safeco been in similar straits, would the other Washington have even noticed, much less roused itself to get involved?”

Virgin’s column is headed, “Will we miss the mid-sized companies?” In answer: Yeah, we will, unless we restructure our business environment to make something other than gigantism once again an acceptable business model.

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From an email received last night from a reader in the region, which maybe suggests that the enforced pause of a weekend may have some salutary effect on dealing with this month’s financial collapse. The trigger for it, of course, is the proposed $700 billion federal bailout.

I cannot believe this bailout. I cannot believe that the Federal Gov again, is spending money without paying for it – homeland security, Iraq War, prescription drugs, $600 rebates and now this. If there is such a huge financial emergency why doesn’t the industry that created the problem come up with a plan to pay for it by a tax on profits; possibly transaction taxes, or other ways I haven’t thought of. . . .

I will bet, that if there was a financial tax being levied, the problem might be of less magnitude – yes still huge – but it has always impressed me how an urgent expenditure becomes a little less urgent when the spender is spending their own money.

This industry is the same one that wanted to help privatize social security. Its greed is disgusting. The failure to pay for this is even more disgusting.

An immediate thought here is, what do the taxpayers get out of it, and who exactly gets the money – a mass of money so enormous as to be almost incomprehensible. It’s been a rule of thumb here that a sudden, massive increase in spending almost always results in a sudden, massive increase in waste, which in this case could mean lining the pockets of the well connected. Our readers’ impulse seems to be: Check this thing out before making such a massive commitment.

And remember that so often it’s the con man who insists that you have to buy right now.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Gregoire and Rossi

Chris Gregoire and Dino Rossi at their first 2008 debate

Some observations from the Chris Gregoire-Dino Rossi gubernatorial debate, in a semi-live-blogged format . . . (Kudos, by the way, to the cooperative effort involving home station KOMO-TV in Seattle that made live broadcast truly statewide, even including airing on KATU-TV in Portland, so the Clark County area and beyond was hit.)

Overriding impression: Lots of attack.

9:03 Rossi opened on the attack, not getting into his own views initially, but hitting with some good material: Unemployment up to 6% higher than when Gregoire took over, and budget deficit. He took after her recent add blasting him on stem cell research: “I support stem cell research …wasn’t true then, isn’t true now. Why is she doing this? She’s trying to distract us ….” He closed with a statement that he has answers for this, but didn’t get into them.

9:05 Gregoire takes after the Bush Administration, which she said Rossi has “embraced and endorsed” – that some of the problems, in other words, are national in scope. She said some of the problems were “on the backs of our children and seniors.” And she said she “inherited my opponent’s $2.2 billion deficit,” citing problems from the budget Rossi (as a state senator) worked on. Plenty of attack here too.

9:08 Gregoire: “When he was in charge of the budget, he actually did raise taxes” Rossi: “Well, now we;re having fun” – he said that at the office there was a pool of how many times she would mention George Bush – the prediction was nine, so she had six more to go. (Gregoire certainly is going after the heavy Rossi-Bush linkage.) She took after her budget levels, saying that if spending were more modest, the deficit wouldn’t be there. And “One party can’t solve this problem by themselves.”

9:11 Gregoire: “I’m saying there is no taxes to be raised . . . Absolute nobody in the legislature is going to be raising taxes.” Rossi: “One hour after she was sworn in” she opened the door to a big tax increase, which she soon proceeded to push for. And, “She didn’t say she want not going to be raising taxes, just that now is not the time to be talking about it” – accurately put.

9:14 Rossi: “It’s sheer incompetence how we got to this point” on transportation. Cited his transportation proposal. A side note here: Rossi does have a nice informal, colloquial way of expressing himself here without losing precision, hitting pretty hard without crossing the line (so far at least). Gregoire cited the transportation effort, more than 160, her administration has completed so far. The big projects (like the Alaskan Way viaduct and the Highway 520 bridge) are, she said, underway; and cited complaints about Rossi’s proposal as a “fantasy and a fairy tale. . . . It has been panned by everybody across the state of Washington.” (Not quite everybody, but widespread to be sure.)

9:22 Rossi: Gregoire has “A very narrow Olympia-centric view of the state.” They did battle over magazine rankings of where Washington stands in favoribility for business development. (Does anyone take these ranking seriously one way or the other?) Rossi: “Nothing’s going to change until you change people in Olympia.” Rossi’s use of rhetoric seems half-channeled from Barack Obama, partially stream-channel by way of this-month John McCain.

9:22 Gregoire doesn’t sound as colloquial as Rossi, but she does come across as concrete and smart. A little halting at times, but she has done a better job, most of the time, of mixing the cases for herself and against Rossi. Rossi’s explication of his case for himself is thin (in his talk, not necessarily elsewhere – he often refers to his web-posted plans), though he is generally thorough and effective on the attack. Both of them speak fast, and crisply.

9:34 Rossi: “The incumbent has made health care less affordable in our state” – referring to regulation and suggesting that competition can do the job: “We should be able to pick a plan.” Gregoire: Noted that prescriptions for seniors and insurance for children have improved somewhat. Neither proposed the kind of systemic change proposals a number of other states (such as Oregon) have pushed. Crying out for resolution: Gregoire repeated over and over and Rossi has opposed embryonic stem cell research, and Rossi has flatly said that’s not true. Is someone going to do a fact check on this?

9:41 Gregoire: Strong hits regarding Rossi’s proposed budget arguing that he would offer early releases for sex offenders and others. Rossi shot back with early releases of violent offenders. Both cite law enforcement endorsements. Gregoire: “What you’ve heard is a bunch of criticism and rhetoric, no plan.”

9:41 Asked about their presidential nominees, Gregoire spoke of Obama in terms of health care proposals, and Rossi saying McCain and Sarah Palin would be reformers. Which led to Gregoire’s rebuttal tying Rossi to Bush: “We need real change in Washington, D.C., and that change is Barack Obama.” Rossi: “Sheer partisanship” – citing Gregoire’s rebuttal – is a key problem.

9:53 Rossi: “She wants to force people out of their cars,” citing prospective tolls as evidence. Gregoire: No, but tolls are the only way to get some of the projects, like the Highway 520 bridge, built.

9:56 Rossi: The incumbent seems to be happy with the way things are going: I think we can do better, “what this is about is changing the culture and direction of state government.” (Matching up to the year.) Gregoire: “I’m one who believes in straight talk.” (Channeling McCain here?) “I’m going to continue to be fiscally responsible . . . We’re sitting on a surplus, we literally have money in the bank . . . He cut 40,000 poor children off health care . . . and yes he did raise taxes.” She wound up more on the attack.

Both did decently, Gregoire probably taking a few points on data, Rossi probably coming across a little better in his presentation. In what’s now looking like a very close race, this first debate doesn’t seem likely to have changed much; we spotted no massive gaffes. Apparently.

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The newspaper endorsement season for the general election is just getting started, and on the early end kicked off effectively with the big one from the Seattle Times: In the presidential, for Democrat Barack Obama.

The key line: “American optimism has been wracked by President George Bush and a previous Republican Congress. If you want change, you do not keep what is essentially the same team in power. You try something different. You vote for the stronger matchup, Obama and Sen. Joseph Biden, a smart and steady hand on foreign policy and other matters.”

We’ll be following the endorsements as they roll.

ALSO Apparently the only other major national paper to endorse in the presidential so far is the New York Post, which went for John McCain, putting the two candidates 1-1 so far.

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There’s pretty consistent polling out now showing approval/disapproval numbers for Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin getting steadily worse by the day; polling for the Daily Kos site (which has been both most detailed and transparent on this) has shown a drop of +17 to -5 (that is, comparing favorable against unfavorable numbers) over the last eight days. The decline is stunning.

Palin appears to remain strong, however, in some places – Alaska, for one (at least to a point), and Idaho, where the John McCain lead over Barack Obama seems to remain at 62%-33%, much stronger (to judge from earlier polling results) than before Palin was added to the ticket, and an unusual result nationally.

The Research 2000 polling for Kos also shows that, while some earlier results in the 1st congressional district had put Democrat Walt Minnick within as few as five points of Republican Bill Sali, the more recent numbers show a broader spread – 46% to 35%. Kos suggests of Palin, “After all, she’s a virtual ideological twin for former ID-01 Representative Helen Chenoweth, and has the potential to reinvigorate Sali’s lagging supporters.” There’s even some physical resemblance (though their speaking styles were different, Chenoweth actually sounding a good deal more genteel).

(If accurate, that result still leaves some growth room for Minnick – it’s not dispositive – but suggests Sali has the better odds.)

The numbers look much rougher for Democrat Larry LaRocco in the Senate race, since the polling puts Republican Jim Risch, the lieutenant governor, at 56%, LaRocco at 33%, and independent Rex Rammell at 3% (suggesting he’s not much catching on – which would seem to be prerequisite to LaRocco’s hopes). Kos again: “LaRocco appears to have topped out his support, while the undecideds from the last poll have moved over en masse to the Republican Risch. Last poll, McCain led 53-37 in this solidly Red state, this time, it’s 62-33. Palin has definitely fired up the wingnut base in Idaho, to the detriment of down-ticket Democrats.”

Our guess is that the margins soften a little in Idaho between here and November. But we don’t see at this point what would change them dramatically.

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