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Posts published in September 2008

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?

Going negative

Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith

The political norm for an incumbent seeking re-election, especially one whose support is based in great part on the fact that people like him, is to stay positive, at least most of the time: Emphasize those things people like about them. Be sparing in the shots taken at the opposition, and mostly just ride over top of them; look bigger than they are.

Which makes the current round of press releases (and more) from the campaign of incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith highly interesting. Already unusual for its attachment in a couple of spots to national Democrats Barack Obama and John Kerry, it's of interest here because of the nearly unbroken stream of releases critical of Democratic opponent Jeff Merkley. Here's the complete list of press releases now noted on the Smith campaign website:

09.01.08 Smith to Merkley: You’re Not in Kansas Anymore
08.28.08 History Channel’s ‘Ax Men’ Endorse Gordon Smith
08.26.08 Jeff Merkley: Slinging Mud, Twisting the Facts
08.25.08 Gordon Smith Releases New TV Ad
08.22.08 Smith Announces Debate Schedule
08.21.08 The Liar, the Switch and the Wardrobe
08.20.08 Merkley Cannibalizes Fellow Democrats
08.14.08 Jeff Merkley: Flat Out Wrong on Seniors
07.30.08 Another Merkley "Plan:" Gas Plan Still Hypocritical, Out of Touch, Stolen

Of course, it's always a candidate's prerogative to go after the opposition, and Smith acknowledges, "It's the strongest headwind I've ever faced." Still, is he doing some damage here to one of his best assets - his likability?

More cuts to the bone

How much longer can this go on before local newspapers have to simply say they're no longer providing anything resembling meaningful news coverage? They're not there yet, and hats off to those in the newsrooms struggling to do the job. But be clear: The job cutbacks are cuts to the core; whatever fat there was, was dispensed with long ago.

Today's news is impending job cuts at three McClatchy newspapers in Washington, the Tacoma News Tribune, the Olympian and the Tri-City Herald. At all three, most newsroom employees are being offered buyout options. That doesn't mean most will be leaving, but word is that if enough don't, substantial layoffs will be next. The size of the newsrooms cuts expected isn't made clear - an ominous thought all by itself.

At Olympia, Publisher John Winn Miller was reported as saying "he thinks The Olympian, which has 180 full- and part-time workers, will survive as an independent news voice in the state capital."

Note the language: He thinks it will survive.

WA: Counties then and now

Not too much should be made of the vote totals out of the August Washington primary, in projecting ahead to possible November results.

Still, the primary offered a head to head matchup of sorts, albeit imperfect, between Democratic Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi. So the question: Now that the votes are counted (takes a while in Washington), how do the results from the November 2004 general election differ from what we saw in August?

Both were close, that's for sure: 2004's was simply a photo finish, and the primary wound up with Gregoire getting 48.3% of the vote and Rossi 46.3% - also very close. But were there any suggestions of where voting patterns may have shifted? Maybe.

In 2004 Gregoire won eight counties: Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, King, Pacific, San Juan, Thurston and Whatcom - all on the west side, with the two major exclusions of the state's second and third largest counties, Pierce and Snohomish, and the other large population base at Kitsap. (We note the list of Gregoire wins because it's the short list: Rossi won many more counties, most of them small, than she did.)

In the August primary, Gregoire got more votes than Rossi in 11 counties: Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Pacific, Pierce, San Juan, Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom. She lost Cowlitz this time, but picked up Island, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish.

For all sorts of reasons not too much should made of this, partly because the margins in a number of the counties were small (in cases like Pierce and Kitsap, almost microscopic). But they do seem to be small pieces of evidence of shift.

Radio Free Salem

When you ask where the mass media - newspapers, radio, television - go from here, if you want content of use and quality, one thought jumps out: Go non-profit. Non-profit newspapers and television are (unless you count public television) essentially onexistent, but there's no reason they couldn't be developed and a useful part of the mix, especially if laws were changed to offer some encouragement.

For the moment, consider the recent growth of nonprofit community radio. There's not a lot of it around, yet, but we are seeing growth in the effort, in most of the larger metros in the Northwest and some smaller places too. (The big godfather of the form probably would be Portland's KBOO.)

The comes up owing to the welcome news out today that clearances have been received for development and airing of Radio Free Salem, a community radio station in Oregon's capital city. Part of the startup agreement is that the station must be on air by mid-2011; its backers anticipate a startup much sooner. The frequency is 88.5 FM.

We look forward to listening in.