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Posts published in September 2008

Bailout, in the region

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.

WA GOV: Blogging the bam-bam

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.) (more…)

Endorsements away

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.

The Palin exception

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.

Medical anti-trust

Unsure what to make of this as yet, but it feels highly interesting: Word that the federal Department of Justice is looking into questions of whether Idaho physicians have run afoul of antitrust law - colluding improperly.

The Boise Idaho Statesman is reporting: "The investigation involves unnamed orthopedic surgeons and the Idaho Industrial Commission, according to a Sept. 11 memo from the Idaho Medical Association to its physician members that was obtained by the Idaho Statesman. The commission pays doctors to treat patients as part of its worker's compensation program."

The article seems to suggest the investigation grew out of a payment-level dispute with Blue Cross of Idaho earlier this year. But we'll be intrigued to see where this goes.

Real money

The Washington state revenue picture had been darkening for a while, but news today makes it positively rough: An additional $529 million that the state now is expected not be receiving.

That's just one element of the shortfall, of course: The shortfall now is expected to hit $3.2 billion. Put in context: The state budget overall is a little over ten times that, so Washington has lost a tenth of its revenue.

Next legislative session may be the most difficult in Olympia in close to a decade.

LNG thumbs down

Bradwood LNG

Bradood LNG

Not that there was any great doubt about local attitudes on this, but the politically-minded now have statistics to go along with the general observation: On the Oregon coast, people do not want liquid natural case developments.

The measure came in Clatsop County (the Astoria area), where the votes are being counted tonight on a referendum. As the Astorian describes the measure, voters are asked "to change an ordinance to conditionally allow cable and pipelines to cross open spaces, parks and recreation areas. If the measure fails, cable and pipelines will only be allowed on land zoned for open space, parks and recreation if they serve an approved use, such as a golf course."

Not all votes are in, but presently the referendum is failing 32.7%-67.3%. You can take that as an expression of attitude.

Presidential numbers

Best, we maintain generally, to bother will polling sparingly and then cautiously, especially in the telling of individual polls. Best of all to remember what many pollsters say of their own product: They're snapshots in time.

So it is with the current and relatively new polls in Washington and Oregon, which over recent months have polled Democrat Barack Obama typically leading Republican John McCain by double digits, sometimes substantially so. Some of those high leads, simply, seemed too much: These states overall are blue, but not by all that much. They lean clearly in one direction, but not by so much that they're foregone conclusions.

Similarly, we wonder if some of the recent polls - like one in Washington released last Friday from Rasmussen Reports putting Obama's lead at 2% - aren't swinging a little hard in the other direction. What would have made for such massive changes?

Our sense is that reality is likely somewhere in the middle, Obama wins in both states but by margins well shy of, say, the winning margin McCain can reasonably expect in Idaho.

Or, as Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian suggests, If the candidates aren't scheduling a lot of face time in Washington and Oregon (and they don't seem to be) there's probably a reason for that. And, "put it another way, if Obama loses Oregon and Washington, I think the electoral college won't even be close."

Pending, of course, ongoing changes in a political season already well stocked with shifts - nationally strong for Obama a couple of months ago, a shift toward McCain post-convention, another course change in recent days . . .


WaMu Center

WaMu Center

The nation's largest savings and loan, Washington Mutual of Seattle, used to be known for the slogan, "Friend of the Family," which it recent tried to update to, "Simpler Banking, More Smiles." But that it had held to either one: The phrase used in association with it in Wall Street now is, "Junk."

It has been a stunning fall. Only a year ago, WaMu (its preferred designation for all purposes other than formal - as if there was something wrong with spelling out something sounding relatively human, like "Washington Mutual") had 336 home loan office and about 12,000 employees. If our count of the subsequent cutbacks is right, then almost all of those home loan offices are now gone, along with close to half of those 2007 jobs.

Today, Standard & Poor's investment ratings downgraded WaMu to BBB-, three steps under the standard investment grades - just about as low as they go. Bloomberg's financial reports say that the S&L "had its credit rating cut to junk by Standard & Poor's because of the deteriorating housing market."

You could probably say that, at least compared to Lehmann Brothers and Merrill Lynch, WaMu is still standing, and S&P at least didn't indicate a collapse is imminent. But it's not standing steadily, and that has big implications for the Northwest.

Shutting down oversight

If you want to tape a phone conversation in Oregon, the basic rule (bear in mind here that your scribe is not a lawyer, so this is not legal counsel) is that you need the permission of at least one party to the conversation to do it. The law (see here, under the section .540) is a little more complicated than that, but this is the core principle. And it applies generally to making an electronic record of a "communication".

Now consider this, from the Portland Mercury blog: "Independent videographer Joe Anybody has filed a tort claim with the city of Portland seeking just $100 in damages, but more importantly, he feels, to get the cops to change their policy on people videoing their actions. Joe, whose real name is Mike Tabor, had his camcorder confiscated by cops on March 27, after he recorded an arrest. The cops appear to still think they have the right to seize a camera from anybody video recording their actions . . ."

You'd think that someone interacting with government officials would have the right to record those interactions. Tabor's attorney does: "Sanctioning people under ORS 165.540 for recording stops and arrests is a violation of the First Amendment because it prevents people from recording a matter of public concern and communicating that information to others. A person who witnesses a stop or arrest will be far less able to express what they have seen and heard to others if they are deprived of the option to make a video recording and show the events to others."

As you may have guessed, suit has been filed on all this by Tabor. Consider the broader implications if a court winds up deciding he's wrong . . .