Archive for May, 2009

May 31 2009

Doing its thing

Published by under Oregon

Jeff Kropf

Lost in a lot of the discussion about the merits of the often large-scale pieces of legislation the Oregon Legislature has been working on – and there is some real scale, and a lot of that scale is monetary – is another point: This has been turning into a steadily productive session. Piece by piece, major slices of legislation have been produced, voted on and – in major cases – passed. If you don’t like the legislation, this may not be such a good thing. But this has been a productive session, one of the most productive (along with 2007) over the last few decades.

They kicked off with a massive stimulus program (the value of which we have yet to assess, but which was a big effort). And the legislation has kept on coming. A big transportation bill, and a big health care bill (involving tens of thousands of people covered), major change in taxation, all in recent days. And a string of prospectively tricky pieces of legislation (workplace religious freedom, for instance) handled smoothly. You get the impression of a large factory, with few or no production slowdowns.

They’re talking in terms of a wrapup by the end of June, which would make it one of the shortest in recent years. (2007 ended on June 28, but you have to go back to 1995 to find an earlier close.) A few years ago, the idea of this level of productivity with so few hangups would have been almost inconceivable. Worth noting.

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May 30 2009

The other Wyden health bill

Published by under Oregon

While the battle rages over who provides health insurance and how it’s funded (check out the dueling ads to the right), the senator caught up in this particular battle – Oregon’s Ron Wyden – is also working on another health care bill that may be just as significant but has gotten a lot less attention. We didn’t even register it had been introduced until wandering through the Wyden press releases for this month.

This particular measure is the “Empowering Medicare Patient Choices Act” (S 1133), introduced in the Senate (in standard bipartisan fashion) by Wyden and New Hampshire Senator Judd Gregg, and in the House by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer. Getting at its significance requires stepping back a moment to consider why health care is so expensive and why so many dollars in our economy are being swallowed by it.

The truth is, there isn’t any one reason to account for it. Many of the best-known prospective culprits – the greedy insurance companies, malpractice, high drug costs, archaic paper records – are without doubt real culprits that do add cost, but the biggest problem seems to be more systemic and directly involved in health care itself: Massive overtreatment.

Jeff Kropf

A terrific book we strongly recommend everyone read (seriously, and right now) is Overtreated by Shannon Brownlee, which makes a totally convincing case that “Each year, our medical system delivers an enormous amount of care that does nothing to improve our health or lengthen our lives. Between 20 and 30 cents on every health care dollar we spend goes towards useless treatments and hospitalizations, towards CT scans we don’t need, towards ineffective surgeries—towards care that not only does nothing to improve our health, but that we wouldn’t want if we understood how dangerous it can be.” A great piece in the current New Yorker (“The Cost Conundrum,” by physician Atul Gawande) makes a similar case and expands on why much of this is happening, and argues: “Americans like to believe that, with most things, more is better. But research suggests that where medicine is concerned it may actually be worse.” And much of this actually can be mapped, because Medicare costs are tracked by county, and in some counties the costs are massively higher than in others, with no improvement (and sometimes diminishment) of outcomes.

Then there’s the decades of study at the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care, which this year reports: “Huge inefficiencies in the U.S. health care system are hamstringing the nation’s ability to expand access to care, according to a new analysis of Medicare spending by researchers of the Dartmouth Atlas Project, published February 26, 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine. Many experts have blamed the growth in spending on advances in medical technology. But the differences in growth rates across regions show that advancing technology is only part of the explanation. Patients in high-cost regions have access to the same technology as those in low-cost regions, and those in low-cost regions are not deprived of needed care. On the contrary, the researchers note that care is often better in low-cost areas.”

The new measure, S. 1133, is aimed most directly just at Medicare, but the principles in it could easily be extended – and might be, with national exposure – through much of the rest of the health care system. (The Dartmouth Atlas people have endorsed it.) What it does, according to Wyden:

“The bill seeks to open up avenues for conversation between physicians and patients so that patients fully understand their treatment options when there is more than one clinically appropriate treatment. Doctors would be reimbursed for the extra time spent counseling patients. . . . The legislation creates a three-step phase-in of patient decision aids which are informational videos and other educational materials about the patient’s treatment options into the Medicare program. Phase I is a three-year period allowing ‘early adopting’ providers to participate in the pilot, providing data and serving as Shared Decision Making Resource Centers. Phase II is a three-year period during which providers will be eligible to receive reimbursement for the use of certified patient decision aids. The final stage requires providers to use patient decision aids for certain conditions as a standard of practice.”

Not an ultimate solution, but a thoroughly useful start. One of the most useful things to do with cut medical cost while encouraging beneficial outcomes, which is the prerequisite for doing anything else.

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May 29 2009

What could go wrong?

Published by under Oregon

One of the tricky parts of legislating is the element of light prognostication it entails: Trying to imagine what the actual effects of a piece of legislation could be, where the land mines might lie.

Congress didn’t do that when it passed the Real ID Act in 2005; it contains so many potential problems that not only have 23 states approved anti-RID measures, and not only is there a Homeland Security (please, change the name of that department) secretary in opposition to the measure, but every state has asked for an extension for participating (even though it supposedly went into effect a little over a year ago). (The department’s own description is also on line.)

The Oregon Legislature now has passed Senate Bill 536, sponsored by Senator Rick Metsger, D-Welches, that at least would stop the effort until there’s money from the federal government to help pay for it.

Some of the best-known provisions relate to the pass of paperwork intended to be associated with drivers licenses. The Oregonian notes Metsger’s comments that “Oregon has already taken steps to secure state driver’s licenses. But, Metsger says, other Real ID provisions are expensive or threaten Oregonians’ privacy. For example, he said, Real ID would allow agencies to electronically scan and share copies of original identity documents – such as birth certificates, passports, and Social Security cards in a shared database.”

Oh?

As a commenter to that story pondered: “now what could possibly go wrong here . . .”

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May 29 2009

Pay and solicitations

Published by under Oregon

Still another suggestion about why high executive pay – even when it doesn’t fall into the mega-range you see in so many larger corporations – isn’t a good idea.

From Oregon Media Insiders:

I was going to make a contribution to Oregon Public Broadcasting this year, but after reading their tax return I realized that they would use most of the proceeds from the spring radio drive to pay the salary of their CEO.

According to its latest federal tax return (available at opb.org/insideopb), OPB paid its CEO Steve Bass $296,000 with a $34,000 retirement contribution. To compare, according to its most recent tax return NPR paid then CEO Kenneth Stern $354,334 plus an additional $72,723 retirement contribution.

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May 28 2009

Cranking up on candidate filing

Published by under Washington

Next week, we see who file for local government offices up for election this year (and legislative spots that need filling). Next week is candidate filing time.

A few points of interest, as Secretary of State Sam Reed‘s office points out:

For the second time since the U.S. Supreme Court last year upheld the Top 2 Primary system adopted by citizen initiative in 2004, the Declaration of Candidacy form will allow candidates to self-describe their political preference, but this will not mean that the person is nominated by or supported by a party.

The form candidates submit will allow up to 16 characters to provide the name of the party a candidate prefers. Candidates cannot include profanity or imply or state that they are nominated or endorsed by a political party or that a party approves of or associates with them.

The regulations don’t rule out candidates trying to wedge in additional information about themselves, such as “Anti-war Dem” or “Pro-life G.O.P”, “Evans Republican” or “Jackson Democrat.” But Reed, the state’s chief elections officer, said he hopes candidates will simply list the actual name of a political party and not try to cram in personal or political information.

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May 28 2009

Words of candidate wisdom

Published by under Washington

Learned the hard way.

Scanning a where-is-he-now article (Seattle Times, May 4) about two-time Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi – the hook was a new job he’s taking back in his old field of real estate – a quote jumped out.

Rossi said he’s “unplugged” from political activities, and gave indications he’s planning to tend to business rather than politics for some time to come. Occasionally, he said, he fields a call or visit from someone (Republicans presumably) thinking of running for office, seeking his counsel.

Rossi: “I try to find out why they’re running. I tell them the only reason to run is to be in the right place at the right time to do some public good. I tell them if you want to see your name in the newspaper, I can guarantee you it’ll be surrounded by words that you don’t like.”

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May 27 2009

Kitzhaber in?

Published by under Oregon

The idea of John Kitzhaber once again seeking the job he once seemed to argue was undoable – governing Oregon – just simply hasn’t seemed like a starter. He could have run for the U.S. Senate in 2002 or 2008, but passed; considered a run for governor in 2006 but passed. Why should the idea of a run in 2010 be taken seriously now?

A new piece by the Oregonian‘s Jeff Mapes suggests the outline of a case for taking it seriously. It says (on occasion of the unveiling of his picture at the Statehouse) that he’s thinking about running. Fine; he was thinking about running all those other times, too. But there are a few new factors.

He would likely have a Democratic legislature to work with, rather than the Republican one he fought with the whole time he was governor. He has been pushing his ideas on medical reform, but visibility has been intermittent, and as governor he could go much further to make things happen. His personal circumstances have changed.

What hasn’t, probably, is how formidable he would be if he does run. There’s no overwhelming favorite in the field right now, and Kitzhaber (whose polling numbers remain excellent and campaign skills remain sterling) would enter as the formidable frontrunner and likely next governor.

But be wary of placing any bets just yet.

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May 27 2009

Spider to fly

Published by under Washington

Jan Drago

Jan Drago

You sorta get the feeling that the Greg Nickels forces have been preparing for this. In Crosscut, the headline was, “The Mayor ‘welcomes’ Jan Drago to the campaign,” and you get the sense of a puzzle piece calculatedly falling into place. Even though this means he now actually has not a possible serious opponent, but a real one.

The Seattle mayor should, by rights, be in trouble. His polling borders on horrendous; the Seattle Times reported a couple of weeks ago that Drago is positioned to win by 21 points. Drago is no unknown; she’s been on the council since she was first elected in 1993, longer than anyone else now on it.

And there are some structural reasons for thinking Drago might pull it off, including a primary contest which may favor her kind supporters.

But there’s also no sense here that Nickles, twice elected (and the first time after two close and tough contests) is on the run. From Crosscut: “It’s clear that Mayor Greg Nickels’ political Swat team is trying to cut Drago down early in the campaign, before she can get much momentum. There’s a press release a day touting Nickels’ achievements in his most vulnerable areas: getting stimulus funds, getting favors from Olympia, the pesky snowstorm. The media is peppered with pointed questions to ask Drago: about her absenteeism (code for getting too old), her Nickels-like voting record. Nickels is playing a tough Hillary to Drago’s Obama-like message of consensus. It’s meant to rattle her (she is eminently rattleable) and to freeze Nickels’ supporters from any thought of defection.”

A challenger to a veteran incumbent ordinarily has to play one of two cards: Either make the case that a very different policy direction is needed (not useful here, because Nickels and Drago aren’t far apart) or hammer the incumbent as too bad to keep in place (which would upend the consensus style Drago likes and which has helped her in the past). She has strategic options available, but they’re apt to be unpalatable, and Nickles’ people seem to have assessed as much.

Her problem, in other words, seems to be strategic more than anything else. It may be solvable. Should be fascinating to see how she tries to do it.

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May 27 2009

A mega-OR transport project

Published by under Oregon

Major transportation projects were hard to come by in Idaho this legislative session, but easier in Washington (see Alaskan Way and the 520). And now Oregon seems to be about to set in motion a truly enormous effort of its own. The House today voted 38-22 in favor, enough to win support for the revenue-raising components (which need 60% support in each chamber). Since the odds in favor probably are better in the Senate than they were in the House, and since Governor Ted Kulongoski has backed the plan, it looks close to done.

That doesn’t mean there’s no controversy, and it comes from both left and right. On the left, there’s concern both about the structure of the spending (exact projects and amounts are laid out) and concern that not enough is going for mass transit. On the right, there’s concern about the hundreds of millions of dollars involved and the substantial increases in taxes and fees – a six-cent gas tax increase, substantial car registration fee increases and more.

But it seems to be slipping through with less angst than you might think. And less than in either Washington or Idaho. How good a thing that is, may depend on where you sit.

From our point of view . . . we’d be pleased to see the new Newberg-Dundee bypass (on Highway 99) put in place; the new bill funds a third of the expensive effort. That stretch of wine country road, smack between Portland and some of the most popular coast areas, can turn into a parking lot at times. The bypass – bypassing most of the cities of Newberg and Dundee – could help. And turned dirt within the next few years could be considered, locally, as miraculous.

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May 27 2009

Risch and the Middle East

Published by under Idaho

Sometimes new jobs will throw a different light on people. For a political career going back decades, Idaho’s Jim Risch has been involved with state issues, and the international scene just hasn’t been part of what we’ve seen from him, publicly anyway. There wasn’t much call.

Now, Risch is in the U.S. Senate and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which might not have seemed the most obvious choice. But he seems to be settling in, and his interchange at a committee meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair shows a grasp of Middle East subtleties and comfort with international politics many Idahoans might not have suspected. (Risch’s appearance comes toward the end of this C-SPAN program.)

A hat tip on this to Nathaniel Hoffman of the Boise Weekly, who was in Washington for the meeting (and appears himself, briefly, at the end of the clip), and has a few more comments on Risch’s time in D.C.

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May 26 2009

The new ghost dance

Published by under Idaho

ghost dance

1890 ghost dance/from Wikipedia

In the early 1890s, military conflicts between the United States and the native populations were largely over, and settled. That doesn’t mean the Indians, mainly situated on reservations by then, were fully accepting of the situation. Around 1890, the teachings of a religious man (then Wovoka, later Jack Wilson) spread through the western tribes. One of its components was a variation on an ancient dance, which came to be known (externally) as the ghost dance. The idea was that if Indians undertook a number of practices and rituals including the dance, white settlement of the west would slow and cease and might reverse, and other good things would come to pass. It didn’t work out. The best-known incident related to the ghost dance activism was the massacre, of 153 Lakota Sioux, at Wounded Knee. Later, the revival effort faded.

This comes up now in metaphor, not involving Indians but rather some of those who displaced them: Significant numbers of western ranchers, whose way of life seems to be, for a variety of reasons, fading. The Idaho Statesman‘s Rocky Barker writes that it was used in a reference point to Idaho legislation this year on bighorn sheep. As a metaphor, the ghost dance seems a powerful image for what’s going on in much of the ranching community – notably the family ranching community, which is caught in ever-diminishing circles.

As Barker points out, all ranchers are not the same, and quite a few are adapting creatively and usefully to changing realities. (We know a few of those.) But they’re not the part of the community who are ghost dancing, and of those, we may see more in the next few years.

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May 26 2009

Tuthill departs

Published by under Idaho

tuthill

David Tuthill

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director David Tuthill said on May 26 that he plans to retire from the department as of the end of June.

He has been director since January 2007; previously, he had led the water management division and for some years before that was the adjudication bureau chief, the IDWR official most directly involved in overseeing work on the SRBA. Tuthill’s departure signals a major development in Idaho water, though what that may mean won’t become clear for a while.

In that capacity, he was central in setting – from the department’s point of view, across the aisle from the SRBA Courts – the pattern for researching and resolving water claims and the state’s review of them. Mont by month, those numbers have dropped dramatically, and the number of basins reviewed increased. The SRBA has some resolution in sight, a situation unknown when Tuthill moved in more than a decade (and three SRBA judges) ago.

Water resource directors in Idaho ordinarily are appointed by the governor (with state Senate confirmation) for four-year terms (roughly matching those of the governor). Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter will appoint a replacement to fill the rest of the term; that appointee will need Senate confirmation in 2010.
From Tuthill’s departure memo: Continue Reading »

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May 25 2009

Rescheduled

Published by under Idaho

One of the peculiarities of Idaho elections, ever since three decades ago primary elections were moved from late summer to late May, is that nearly half the time, primary elections were held the day after Memorial Day. Just when people are most focused on such things as candidates, government and issues. And inclined to undertake another chore, like going to the polls and voting (Idaho being the one northwest state still not moving to mail-in voting, which would make this discussion superfluous).

The Memorial Day part of this, at least, is coming to an end. One of the last two or three bills signed into law after this year’s Idaho legislative session consolidates a number of local elections and moves that May primary date to the third, rather than fourth, Tuesday in the month. Which seems like a logical shift.

And Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review points out that “this year is the last that Idaho will hold elections the day after Memorial Day. That’s because next year there are five Mondays in May – Memorial Day falls on the last Monday, while the Idaho primary election will fall on the fourth Tuesday.”

Now all they need is mail-in . . . eventually . . .

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May 24 2009

Portland hate

Published by under Oregon

Interesting singling-out of Portland in a recent blog post by the economist Paul Krugman:

“As I noted a while back, a lot of anti-environmentalism in America these days is about symbolism. And I think the same thing is true about pro-sprawl commentary. Consider the case of Portland, Oregon. Conservatives really, really hate on Portland; examples here and here. Aside from the tendency to engage in factual errors, the hate seems disproportionate to the cause. But it’s an aesthetic thing: conservatives seem deeply offended by anything that challenges the image of Americans as big men driving big cars.”

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May 23 2009

Partying in a no-party place

Published by under Washington

The already interesting five-way contest for King County executive has been gradually getting more interesting, and takes another step with the reports just out of state Senator Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island – until recently a Republican – hiring a key Republican consultant for his campaign.

This isn’t a primary contest, and the battle for the office isn’t even partisan at all: The office is non-partisan. But political standings are going to be watched closely.

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The latest tv ad for Idaho gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff.

 

Back in Print! Frank Church was one of the leading figures in Idaho history, and one of the most important U.S. senators of the last century. From wilderness to Vietnam to investigating the CIA, Church led on a host of difficult issues. This, the one serious biography of Church originally published in 1994, is back in print by Ridenbaugh Press.
Fighting the Odds: The Life of Senator Frank Church. LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 800 pages. Softcover. $24.95.
See the FIGHTING THE ODDS page.


 
JOURNEY WEST

by Stephen Hartgen
The personal story of the well-known editor, publisher and state legislator's travel west from Maine to Idaho. A well-written account for anyone interested in Idaho, journalism or politics.
JOURNEY WEST: A memoir of journalism and politics, by Stephen Hartgen; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. $15.95, here or at Amazon.com (softcover)

 

 

NEW EDITIONS is the story of the Northwest's 226 general-circulation newspapers and where your newspaper is headed.
New Editions: The Northwest's Newspapers as They Were, Are and Will Be. Steve Bagwell and Randy Stapilus; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 324 pages. Softcover. (e-book ahead). $16.95.
See the NEW EDITIONS page.

How many copies?

 
THE OREGON POLITICAL
FIELD GUIDE 2014

The Field Guide is the reference for the year on Oregon politics - the people, the districts, the votes, the issues. Compiled by a long-time Northwest political writer and a Salem Statesman-Journal political reporter.
OREGON POLITICAL FIELD GUIDE 2014, by Randy Stapilus and Hannah Hoffman; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. $15.95, available right here or through Amazon.com (softcover)

 
 
THE IDAHO POLITICAL
FIELD GUIDE 2014

by Randy Stapilus and Marty Trillhaase is the reference for the year on Idaho Politics - the people, the districts, the votes, the issues. Written by two of Idaho's most veteran politcal observers.
IDAHO POLITICAL FIELD GUIDE 2014, by Randy Stapilus and Marty Trillhaase; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. $15.95, available right here or through Amazon.com (softcover)

 
 
without compromise
WITHOUT COMPROMISE is the story of the Idaho State Police, from barely-functioning motor vehicles and hardly-there roads to computer and biotechnology. Kelly Kast has spent years researching the history and interviewing scores of current and former state police, and has emerged with a detailed and engrossing story of Idaho.
WITHOUT COMPROMISE page.

 

Diamondfield
How many copies?
The Old West saw few murder trials more spectacular or misunderstood than of "Diamondfield" Jack Davis. After years of brushes with the noose, Davis was pardoned - though many continued to believe him guilty. Max Black has spent years researching the Diamondfield saga and found startling new evidence never before uncovered - including the weapon and one of the bullets involved in the crime, and important documents - and now sets out the definitive story. Here too is Black's story - how he found key elements, presumed lost forever, of a fabulous Old West story.
See the DIAMONDFIELD page for more.
 

Medimont Reflections Chris Carlson's Medimont Reflections is a followup on his biography of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. This one expands the view, bringing in Carlson's take on Idaho politics, the Northwest energy planning council, environmental issues and much more. The Idaho Statesman: "a pull-back-the-curtain account of his 40 years as a player in public life in Idaho." Available here: $15.95 plus shipping.
See the Medimont Reflections page  
 
Idaho 100 NOW IN KINDLE
 
Idaho 100, about the 100 most influential people ever in Idaho, by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson is now available. This is the book about to become the talk of the state - who really made Idaho the way it is? NOW AN E-BOOK AVAILABLE THROUGH KINDLE for just $2.99. Or, only $15.95 plus shipping.
 

Idaho 100 by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson. Order the Kindle at Amazon.com. For the print edition, order here or at Amazon.


 

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    ORDER IT HERE or on Amazon.com

    More about this book by Randy Stapilus

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    ORDER IT HERE or on Amazon.com

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    ORDER HERE or Amazon.com

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    ORDER HERE or Amazon.com

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