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Posts published in July 2009

The Wal-Mart shift



The Wal-Mart store which has served the Lewiston-Clarkston area is undergoing a move, from Lewiston on the Idaho side of the Snake River to Clarkston on the Washington, and shifting from a standard store to a larger supercenter. The new Clarkston facility opens sometime later this month; the Lewiston store will close after an overlap of a month or so.

The departure from Lewiston will result, naturally, in a loss of tax revenue in Nez Perce County, which has county officials concerned.

None of which is an unusual development, except maybe for the shuttle across state lines. But a slice of commentary in the Right Mind blog seems to cry out for response:

"I can’t figure this out. The progressive-liberals say that when Wal-Mart comes to town, jobs disappear. But now they are saying that when Wal-Mart leaves town, jobs disappear. Sounds like global warming to me: everything bad is caused by it."

Okay, let's break this down.

Some businesses add to the size of a local economy - the big paper mill at Lewiston, for example. Others operate within the size and structure of a location's overall economy: Few retail or local service businesses make the economy larger. In a place like Lewiston-Clarkston, there are a limited number of retail dollars available to spend. Add new retail to the mix and you're not expanding the number of dollars available for retail spending, you're just slicing the pie thinner. That is why when a giant like Wal-Mart comes to town, a number of smaller businesses are likely to shut down, because the revenues and the margins become too thin for them to continue to operate.

If Wal-Mart leaves a town (not something that has happened in a lot of places), that effect theoretically should over time reverse itself: Smaller businesses should arise to fill the gap. But that's not relevant to Lewiston-Clarkston, which is one economic community; the new store will serve the same population as the old one did. And because it is adding new grocery and other facilities, the effect may turn out to be the shutdown of some local grocery-related business. Lewiston-Clarkston will not, after all, have any more dollars available for spending on groceries after the supercenter opens than it does now.

The tax dollars paid by Wal-Mart will still be paid, only on the Washington side of the line - no massive change there, except for which county gets the money. But perhaps Right Mind has an answer to why this corporation, which according to so much conservative theory ought to be driven so heavily in its decisions by tax rates, should move from lower-tax Idaho to higher-tax Washington. Unless, perhaps, taxes are not after all the only consideration driving business location decisions . . .

Inside at a nervous time

Imagine coming to work knowing that this is Black Thursday, the day layoffs hit at your workplace, only no one knows, yet, who or how many. What would that be like?

For anyone not personally familiar with the dynamic, a page at Oregon Media Central will give you the whole eerie feel, from inside the newsroom of the Salem Statesman-Journal. (The news seemed to be, six employee losses plant-wide, but some of the information was uncertain, and there may have been more.

Updates continued all day, reporting on the scene, up to a little over an hour ago. The first one, at 9:30 a.m., started this way:

It doesn't seem to have started here yet but is nearly sure to be this morning. The pub's office is dark right now. Everyone keeps scanning the newsroom to see who is leaving; some gallows humor. Definitely more fake chuckling than usual. Also, more all-black ensembles.

I think a lot of people are following Gannett blog or the #blackthursday tag on Twitter via cell. I know I am.

Rex Rammell’s America

We just finished watching (on DVD) the John Adams miniseries. It won a lot of awards; it gets here a recommendation to watch. As a drama, it was flawed in structure, rambling (determined to rope in all the key elements of Adams' adult life) and a little unfocused, but the history is mostly accurate, and the people and setting are a lot like what it must have been like: Difficult, messy, contentious and very human.

It turns out to be locally pertinent viewing. This morning an e-version of a new book out by Idaho Republican (this time around, and at the moment) gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, A Nation Divided: The War for America's Soul (available via his web site), and quite a bit of it reaches back to that time. Sort of.

Here's one summation, near the start of the book:

In the beginning there were socialists and capitalists. The socialists said “let us force our neighbors to be charitable that all mankind may be equal.” The capitalists said “let us give our neighbors freedom that they may choose to be charitable for charity freely given is true charity.” But the socialists disagreed that man could ever rise to be charitable; he must be forced. The capitalists disagreed. And henceforth the war for freedom began.
And men made themselves kings and rulers. And despotism and tyranny abounded. And man lost his freedom. And the capitalists fought back as blood covered the earth. And the great Father who sits on his throne in the heavens watched and wept as man fought for his freedom. But man was not worthy of freedom. And more blood covered the earth. Then a righteous people arose and the Father said it is time for man to be free. And the people fought against the King and the Father sent his angels. And the people won their freedom. And the people knew they must bind the ambitions of men. So they assembled their wisest and counseled together and asked the Father to help them create a Constitution. But men’s thirst for power continued. And the Constitution was argued and its meaning distorted. And men began again to lose their freedom…

To say that passage is representative of the whole book (upwards of a quarter of it is given to texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and an essay by Ezra Taft Benson; a lot of it goes to quotes) would be unfair, but it does indicate where Rammell is going. Here's the way Rammell closes his take on America's past, present and future:

"…And the capitalists fought back for their freedom and vowed to save the Constitution. And God was on their side. And the armies of socialism led by Satan began to fear. And good men and women rallied to the cause. And the Constitution’s original meaning was accepted. And America reset her course. And she returned to her glory. And freedom and happiness were once again found in America!"

Hard to say how even to describe something like that. But by way of putting it into context, a viewing of John Adams would be useful.

Comments are welcome.


This looks good, if they can sustain it - always the difficulty.

A group of former reporters for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (journalists not at the online version) have launched a site called InvestigateWest, aimed at offering investigative reporting, with a "focus on stories involving the environment, health and social justice." We'll be checking in regularly on it.

From its launch press release:

Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) to conduct journalism for the public trust, InvestigateWest last week became a founding member of the nonprofit Investigative News Network aligning more than 25 investigative news organizations. Funding strategies, news distribution and administrative costs could be pooled among partners like the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and newer ventures such as the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in Madison.

InvestigateWest has received a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, in-kind contributions from major firms, including the K&L Gates law firm and Point B Solutions Group in Seattle, and donations from individual donors, and is actively fundraising from individuals and foundations. Our journalists are already reporting a number of stories for which we are developing media partnerships and seeking funding. Those interested in making a tax-deductible donation can send donations to InvestigateWest at 600 N. 36th St., Suite 316, Seattle, WA, 98103.

It's hoping for a budget of around $1.3 million; according to the P-I, about $3,000 has come in so far. The intent is to run a major investigation out each month, but the site also has a couple of blogs going for more frequent output.

In theory at least, the web should be a great place for investigative reporting. Even many overtly political sites have done some fine investigative work, leveraging not only electronic newsgathering and fast delivery but also the mass of information that audiences know, but in the past wouldn't have been able or willing to contribute. If it works, it cold be one of the answers people in journalism have been looking for.

It takes time

Does long-term involvement in serious mental health cases make much difference? Intuitively, you might think so, but intuition is often wrong in such cases. Turns out this time that's the way it is.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has released a study about whether ongoing intensity of mental health services helps much, and concludes that it does:

"The findings presented here are not meant to establish the effectiveness of mental health services. Since this analysis does not include adults with similar characteristics who received no public mental health services, we cannot compare outcomes relative to untreated individuals." But with that caveat: "This analysis does indicate that long-term engagement and retention of public mental health consumers may be an important measure for differentiating outcomes. In addition, these results show a significant level of criminal convictions and subsequent hospitalizations for the study cohort. The public costs of serving individuals in these settings should be considered when monitoring and tracking outcomes for public mental health consumers."

Beyond that, the report has some fascinating background about mental health cases in Washington generally.

The sheer numbers were interesting: In 2008, more than 118,000 people (86,000 of them adults) were in the state public mental health system. Only about 2,200 of them were in the state psychiatric hospitals. The study tracked a specific "cohort" of patients, all receiving mental health services in January 2004. That number: 38,668.

Recall is launched

Jeff Kropf

Recall cover sheet

Put aside the lies about the personal relationship (the biggest single Portland story of the year so far), and how would Portlanders assess the term - so far - of Mayor Sam Adams? You'd have to call it something of a mixed bag. The soccer/baseball initiative, one of his major efforts, has turned into a messy and unpredictable slog. The push on the Columbia River bridge has moved a little faster. A variety of smaller individual proposals have move forward. A mixed bag, maybe, but containing enough positive elements that Adams would get a pass, if not high marks, from most Portlanders. He's done the job.

There remains that Beau Breedlove thing, though. It does have ongoing significance in Adams' ability to use his office to push things, or to leverage the city, such as the recent downtown mass transit kickoff attended, apparently, by every higher-level Oregon elected official with an excuse to be there except Adams, who conveniently was on vacation at the moment. (Hiking, no less.)

Today the pieces get put into context with the filing of an Adams recall petition by the Committee to Recall Sam Adams, Jasun Wurster, chief petitioner. Grounds: "We, the citizens of Portland, Oregon, hereby hold Sam Adams accountable for lying to us so that, as Adams explained, he could be elected Mayor of the City of Portland in 2008. Sam Adams is no longer effective in representing Portland as mayor. He has lost the trust of the public and other elected officials essential to the financial support of the City of Portland." It concludes, "Now being fully informed about Sam Adams, the citizens of Portland demand an opportunity to our democratically provided right to recall. This recall provides voters the ability to make an informed choice on who we shall entrust with the management of the City's budget, our future economic growth and reputation as one of the nation's most progressive communities."

Petition circulation is slated to start tomorrow.

The problem is, now that the world (or as much of it as cares) knows a great deal more about the relationship between Adams and Breedlove, the question becomes: What difference does it make? An attorney general's investigation found no official malfeasance, and only questions (but no useful evidence) of private wrongdoing.

Back in January, there was a stretch when civic fury at Adams boiled over. It seems less heated now. The guess here is that Wurster will have a tough challenge getting the 32,183 valid signatures he needs by October 5.

The Indian health example

Medicare turns up regularly in discussions about federal involvement in health care, and how it should or shouldn't be done, but there's another model out there also deserving of examination right now: The U.S. Indian Health Service, described on its web site as "The Federal Health Program for American Indians and Alaska Natives." You'll look in vain for its role in the bit health care debate. It should be.

Mark Trahant, the former editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (and a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in eastern Idaho), has started writing about just that. He has become a fellow at Kaiser Media, which sponsors in-depth health reporting, and today posts an initial column on the subject which should be a must-read.

The health program has old roots, growing from a mission to sent physicians to work on a smallpox outbreak in 1834. It isn't a perfect system, and even new Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has called it a “historic failure”.

But Trahant argues there's a more solid core underneath the failure. Trahant:

As National Congress of American Indians Vice President Jefferson Keel testified to Congress recently, “The truth is that the IHS system is not so much broken as it is ‘starved.’ Indeed, Dr. Yvette Roubideaux, the agency’s new director, said during her confirmation hearing that the funding shortage is her top concern because IHS has not been able to keep up with its obligations. The General Accountability Office reported last year that because of shortages in budget, personnel and facilities “the IHS rarely provides benefits comparable with complete insurance coverage for the eligible population.” It spends about one-third less per capita than Americans in general and half of what’s spent for the health care of a federal prisoner. Often that means a rationing of care, especially when it means contracting with doctors outside the IHS network.

The federal government accepts a double standard: Any discussion about rationing – or government care – is off the table unless you’re a member of an American Indian tribe or Alaskan Native community with a sort of pre-paid insurance program (many treaties, executive orders and laws were specific in making American Indian health care a United States’ obligation).

But the federal management of its health care network is full of inconsistencies, including the way the government pays itself. Medicare only reimburses IHS or tribal health facilities for 80 percent of the costs; so an already underfunded IHS essentially subsidizes Medicare. According to the National Congress of American Indians fixing this one problem would add $40 million a year to the budget.

This may sound odd, but I think with sufficient resources, the Indian Health Service could be the model for reform. The agency already knows how to control costs and the successful operation of a rural health care network. So much so that many rural non-Indian communities are looking for ways to tap into the system for the general population.

After the longshot, and then


Jana Kemp

On Betsy Russell's (Spokesman-Review) blog, new independent gubernatorial candidate Jana Kemp deals with Issue 1 in this way: "Because the Kentucky Derby winner this year was a 50-1 long shot. Because we have the Boise State Broncos who weren’t supposed to win the Fiesta Bowl. Because we have a president of the United States who wasn’t supposed to make it through the primary process. Long shots can win.”

They do, but they're long shots precisely because it so rarely happens. (The presidential item, it should be noted, wasn't an especially long shot.) But her point is an efficient enough disposal of the difficulty of trying to run as she is, outside a party structure and presumably shoulder to shoulder with Pro-Life (formerly Marvin Richardson), and competing from the outside in somewhat the sense that Rex Rammell is.

There's an important difference, though, which makes Kemp's run more interesting.

Most of these other outsider candidacies have been coming from the right of the mainstream Idaho Republican Party - pretty well to the right, period. Kemp is a different story, because in her one term in the House she was generally considered a moderate among the House Republicans. You get a sense of this from her web page issues section, and statements such as, "my leadership style is to listen, explore, research, analyze, synthesize, and to draw on the people who best know how to solve problems, make innovations, and get done the work that needs to be done." When she lost her House seat in 2006 to Democrat Les Bock, she was part of an unusual (for Idaho) trend of relatively moderate Boise Republicans swept out by Democrats (which in turn helped nudge the House Republican caucus a bit to the right).

Unusually, she can legitimately argue that she's positioned more or less between the two main parties, which isn't where many independents have especially tried to be in recent years in Idaho. That would seem to position her too as a magnet for those Republicans who have seen their party move further to the right than they are.

Kemp appears not to be especially explicit about all that, at least for now. But if she start developing a substantial campaigning presence over the next year-plus, it will be an inevitable component of what she's doing, and maybe an uncomfortable reminder for some Republican candidates.

Hat tip to the Twin Falls Times News blog Capitol Confidential, which first reported the candidacy.

Lewis & Clark + 100, +

air trip

Lewis & Clark by air/airjourney

This would be a great trip for pilots of small planes . . . a flight along the path of the Lewis and Clark expedition, by the company Airjourney.

Yes, yes: Flying would hardly be any sort of equal to what they did.

And there'd be the stops in Lewiston, McMinnville, Astoria and Portland.

Writer James Fallows (hat tip for the pointer) suggests, "Perhaps it is a stretch to claim, as AirJourney does in promos like what's shown below, that this is a deeply historical commemoration. But I flew much of this route in a small plane nine years ago (start in Minnesota, then down to Nebraska, then west) and to this day recall many vivid scenes, which I also described in my book Free Flight."