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Posts published in September 2008

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 . . .

Junk

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 . . .

A little extra effort

Roger Goodman

Roger Goodman

Washington state Representative Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, pretty clearly is guilty of what he was charged with: Posting (or, the posting by staffers) of press releases from his office on his legislative web site during campaign season.

The board's description: "A legislator's use of legislative press releases, prepared with the facilities of the House of Representatives, through the posting of those releases on his campaign web site is a violation of RCW 42.52.180 - use of public resources to assist a campaign." Goodman stipulated to the violation, the board said.

The releases have been removed, and we haven't seen them. So we can't really judge a key point - legally irrelevant but logically of concern: Were these news releases relevant to regular legislative or constituent business, or were they aimed at campaign benefit? They apparently were a legal violation either way, but if they reflected general legislative business, this kind of violation, maybe, shouldn't be.

The Olympia Dispatch blog (of the Tri-City Herald) quotes one board member, Representative Jamie Pedersen (who was onthe minority side in the decision), D-Seattle, this way: "Once prepared, press releases drafted for legislators are public records under the Public Records Act and should be broadly available to the general public, even (or especially) in the context of campaigns. There is no question that a member of the public who made a public records request for those press releases would be entitled to receive a copy of the releases and the state would expend resources in the form of staff time to make those available. Here a legislator’s campaign, at its expense and no additional expense to the state, proposes to make public records more broadly available to the voters to help them make an informed decision at the next election.”

It seems a generally reasonable point. A number of state web sites (Oregon is another like this) are awfully restrictive on what lawmakers can post; Washington legislators of both parties have been snared by what seem like over-restrictive rules. There's good reason for taking care that taxpayer funds aren't being used in support of campaigns, but there should be some way of allowing legislators to do part of what they're supposed to do - communicate with the public - during the whole course of their terms.

Standards of proof

Just how politically dangerous are the allegations that Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith's frozen food company has employed many illegal immigrant workers isn't totally clear. The charges - in a lengthy article in Willamette Week - that his company has disgorged pollution probably changed few votes. Possibly, the question about the workers is different, since a substantial part of Smith's base is strongly, emotionally, anti-illegal immigrant, and we've already seen some angry responses from that quarter.

That the Smith campaign takes it very seriously could be gauged from the fact that a press release pushing back against the charges is posted on the Smith campaign web site. A non-dangerous allegation probably wouldn't merit that response.

Smith's official response runs this way: “Today’s Willamette Week article is false. It is wholly comprised of unsubstantiated and ridiculous allegations from a liberal tabloid whose purpose is to advance a left-wing agenda rather than the truth. Smith Frozen Foods has fully complied with all laws related to the employment of workers and no amount of speculation or second-hand rumors from disgruntled parties can change that. Willamette Week got one thing right in the story – Smith Frozen Foods has never been fined for employing illegal immigrants.”

The core of the response is that the "offers literally ZERO evidence of the claim .", but that is problematic. Smith is right that WW didn't prove the allegation in the sense that they could win a criminal conviction in court with what they had. But to say there was no evidence is simply wrong.

Read the article, and you'll find item after item - from workers who talk about illegals, to the accountant who does taxes for illegal in the area - which do effectively make the case, and it adds up to a highly substantial case. Not ironclad, not conclusive, but strong.

From a political standpoint, that may be enough. Any driving around the Tri-Cities/Walla Walla/Pendleton region can't help but notice the high Hispanic population and the large number of workers in businesses where illegal workers often are found. Ask someone in that region - or even well outside it - about the probability that illegal workers were employed at a random food production plant in the area, and you'll probably draw a general assumption that some of them are.

The WW article, politically, amounts to confirmatory evidence of what a lot of people probably have assumed anyway, and it makes it highly public at the worst possible time for Smith.

Indicating mindset

As of a month ago, if you work for the state of Idaho and become seriously ill - enough that you're placed on disability status - the state would keep your job open for you for six months. As of August 24, by order of the state Division of Human Resources (which reports to Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter) that amount of time is cut roughly in half, to 12 weeks.

The point here isn't where along a time line that disability period should run. It's to draw attention to two quotes, from a Spokane Spokesman-Review article, about the policy, and what its most important effects may be.

The chair of the state Senate committee that deals with state employees, Senator John Andreason, R-Boise: "I have people calling me telling me how difficult it is holding onto their highly qualified employees now. With this kind of a change it’s going to become more difficult.”

From Alex Neiwirth, of the Idaho Association of Government Employees Local 687: “Who wants to be the person that tells someone, ‘OK, well, good luck, I hope your cancer treatment goes well, but your job’s not going to be here if it takes you more than three months’?”

Neither perspective invalid, but representing quite a difference in the way you look at things.

Your tutor from India, in India

Here's an outsourcing story that may interest parents sending their kids, as it were, to Washington Virtual Academies and the Idaho Virtual Academy (BTW, compare their website designs): They evidently have been tutored, and their papers checked, not by American educators, but by residents of Bangalore, India.

These schools, like a number of other virtuals around the country, rely heavily on a company called K12 Inc., based in Virginia, for large chunks of its professional work - curriculum and much of the educator assistance students get. On August 25, a blogger in Arizona (where another of the K12 virtuals is located) posted something interesting: "In the fall of 2006, AZVA began sending papers from middle school students to India to be "marked." K12 Inc., the parent company of AZVA, contracted with Socratic Learning, Inc., a company based in Plano, Texas. The actual work was completed by Tutors Worldwide (TWWI). According to TWWI's Who we are page: 'Incepted in January 2004 as a fully owned subsidiary of Socratic Learning Inc.(USA), we are among the first companies in India to provide online educational support in English Language Arts, Science and Math to educational districts, schools and the student community worldwide.'"

David Safier, the blogger (and a retired English teacher), goes on: "AZVA [the Arizona virtual] didn't inform parents that their children's papers were being sent to India. When the first assignment was returned, some parents noticed that their children were being referred to in the comments using the wrong gender and that the language used in some of the comments didn't sound like it was written by a U.S. resident. The parents used an electronic communications platform provided by AZVA to complain among themselves about the outsourcing of papers. Then some of them complained to AZVA. AZVA gave parents some kind of assurances that the papers would no longer be sent to India.However, middle school papers continued to be sent to India for the entire 2006-2007 school year, then high school papers were sent during the 2007-2008 school year."

Of relevance to the Northwest, those schools whose work was outsourced across the close include the Idaho and Washington virtuals.

K12 has taken issue some parts of Safier's post, but the outsourcing of the education work evidently is undisputed. (The biggest point at issue seems to be exactly what information about the students, in addition to their actual work, was or wasn't sent to India.) The outsourcing has been noted in national education journals and apparently was ended after Safier's post got attention.

Education Week also notes this: "K12’s recent experiment with outsourcing to India is not the only example of an education company using the expertise of people in other countries. At least one other company has enlisted personnel based overseas for educational support. Smarthinking Inc., which helps colleges, universities, and some K-12 schools connect students with tutoring services in a variety of academic subjects through the Internet, employs tutors living in Canada, Chile, India, the Philippines, and South Africa, according to Burck Smith, the chief executive officer and co-founder of the Washington-based company."

(Hat tip to our Idaho correspondent who follows education issues closely.)

Debating here

Video clips are certainly no rarity on blogs (we embed them from time to time), but a live streaming video of a debate is something new. We'll give it a try.

[embed removed]

This is, or will be if it works right, a debate between two candidates for the Senate in Idaho, Democrat Larry LaRocco and Independent Rex Rammell. (Republican Jim Risch was invited but declined.) Occurring at Sandpoint, it is scheduled to run an hour starting at 5 p.m. Pacific, 6 p.m. Mountain. The embed code was sent out by the LaRocco campaign.

We'll see how it works (and, oh yeah, how the candidates do).

AFTERWORD It worked out pretty well. If we spot similar debate embed opportunities in the weeks ahead, we'll try posting them too.

What “except life of the mother” means

Back on the Sarah Palin track, but not just that - this is a question pertinent to her views, but not necessarily only hers.

On the subject of abortion, Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president (by which you also have to say, possible future president) has famously said that were her daughter raped and impregnated, "I would choose life" - taken as a statement that she would not allow her underage daughter to have an abortion. Elsewhere, "In an Eagle Forum Alaska questionnaire filled out during the 2006 gubernatorial race, Palin again stated that she is against abortion unless a doctor determined that a mother's life would end due to the pregnancy." Earlier, "In 2002, when she was running for lieutenant governor, Palin sent an e-mail to the anti-abortion Alaska Right to Life Board saying she was as 'pro-life as any candidate can be' and has 'adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion.'" Presumably, then, she is contending that such abortions, with one limited causal exception, should be against the law; if she does, there should presumably be a penalty - incarceration, fine, or something - for violating that law. (We have to say "presumably" because the small matter of exactly what should or shouldn't be legal and what the penalties for violation should be is fudged over, unaddressed, on the dozen or so pro-life websites we checked today.)

That in hand, consider this bulletin (sorry, no available link) today from the Idaho Falls Post Register:

A St. Anthony man has pleaded guilty to raping and impregnating his girlfriend's 10-year-old daughter. Guadalupe Gutierrez-Juarez entered the plea today as part of a deal with Fremont County prosecutors. In exchange for pleading guilty to one felony count of rape, prosecutors dropped two other rape charges. Gutierrez-Juarez and Isabel Chasarez were arrested earlier this year after the victim gave birth at a local hospital.

A question Charles Gibson might consider asking Palin: What should the legal penalty imposed on that 10-year-old girl - incarceration or otherwise - have been had she wanted/been allowed not to bring that rapist's child to term?