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Posts published in July 2009

InvestigateWest

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

Kemp

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."

Because Courtney is who he is

Courtney

Peter Courtney

Why Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is resigning from that office is a curious question that plenty of people doubtless will chew over for a while. But why Peter Courtney, the Oregon Senate president (in a four-way tie as of this term for longest-serving), will not be running for governor next year, the answer is clearer. What sounds like an entirely in-character quote from the Salem Statesman-Journal:

"Have you looked at my voting record? Have you checked some of the statements I made? If you were a political consultant or adviser to me to make sure that I put myself in the best position possible to run for governor, do you think I've done that? . . . This is the worst case in the world of how to position yourself, orchestrate yourself, or carefully state things before you get ready to run for statewide office. More people have talked about this than I've talked about it."

On the fourth

Fort Townsend

Fort Townsend, midday on the 4th/Stapilus

The roads north to the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas were packed with traffic on the 3rd. Around Gig Harbor it was awful; try to pull off into even one of the smaller community (Purdy, for instance) and even there you'd be likely to be stuck in your car in stop-n-go, for extended periods. The whole of the Northwest seemed on the move.

On the fourth, things seem to have settled down a bit. Port Townsend, a popular destination and a popular one on sunny summer days like this, was busy but not jammed. The boat-repairers at the shipyard were busy, and people were out and about. Still, the energy level seemed high. Higher than usual?

Wednesday night we sat on a deck overlooking Puget Sound, across to Whidbey Island, and saw something that seemed remarkable, and we were told was unusual for the area: A series of full-scale fireworks shows. Not on the 4th, you notice, but on the 3rd. These were in small communities (Langley, Freeland, maybe Port Ludlow), that delivered up substantial shows, pre-weekend. The speculation was that they did this so residents and others would be free to watch still other shows on the 4th.

We shall see. But if the shows of the 3rd were solid, we're looking forward to those of the 4th.

How bad is it getting at Tamarack?

Often is - more often than people typically think - that bankruptcies and other reorganizations aren't fatal problems for businesses. A good many have come out of them whole and prosperous.

But this from the Idaho Statesman, concerning the Tamarack ski resort near Donnelly, gave us pause:

An Idaho judge on Thursday refused to let Bank of America Corp. repossess two ski lifts from Tamarack Resort, providing at least a brief reprieve for owners trying to keep the failed Valley County vacation getaway intact for a possible buyer.

I-1033, TABOR and some math

On Thursday initiative developer Tim Eyman turned around 314,000 signatures to put his latest measure on the ballot. The secretary of state's office indicates it is likely to be the only citizen initiative on the ballot, which could be a plus: Rather than fade into a fog of issues, this one is likely to stick out and get some attention.

It ought to. Voters will have the opportunity to check it out, and they shouldn't like what they see - a measure not identical but comparable to one that seriously damaged one state (Colorado) and was subsequently suspended by the voters there (in 2005), and to a clutch of ballot measures which since have been rejected by a bunch of other states, including Oregon. Which, like Washington, has had some history of friendliness toward many anti-tax measures, which 1033 is. (There were also rejections in Maine and Nebraska, and many others didn't make the ballot.)

Eyman's pitch on the measure is simple: "The Lower Property Taxes Initiative substantially reduces property taxes by controlling the growth of government. 1033 says that the growth rate of state, county, and city general fund revenue cannot exceed the inflation rate plus population growth. Revenues collected above the limit will reduce property taxes. Not only does 1033 provide meaningful property tax relief, but it stops politicians from shifting the tax burden by raising taxes someplace else. 1033 provides ‘net’ property tax relief."

This essentially is the same as TABOR, the "Taxpayers Bill of Rights," which Colorado voters adopted. And then, as we posted in November 2005: "In that state, services have been strapped and fees have risen to the breaking point. That assessment might be taken as the wailing of government burteaucrats except for what happened Tuesday: Statewide voters decided, 52%-48%, to in effect - for a five-year stretch - throw out TABOR restrictions and increase state budgets, and their own taxes. That action had been endorsed by the conservative Republican governor, Bill Owers, who said that TABOR restrictions had put the state in an untemable position."

The best single piece we've spotted on 1033 so far is a new piece in Horse's Ass, the liberal blog with, to be sure, no enthusiasm for Eyman (the blog's name derives from the founder's preferred title for Eyman). It's worth a read, most specifically for one point.

Eyman's logic on budgeting initially sounds sensible: If government costs are limited to inflation plus population growth, shouldn't that be enough? It's easy logic to accept, and not many people have been able to break down the problem with it. (In Oregon, activist Steve Novick is one of the few to do it well.) Horse's Ass quotes a report explaining why the formula doesn't work:

But researchers long have recognized that the services provided in the public sector, such as education, health care, and law enforcement, tend to rise in cost faster than many other goods and services in the economy in general. This analysis was first put forward by economist William Baumol, who pointed out that technology and productivity gains may make goods cheaper to produce, but the services that government provides are different. Baumol said public services typically rely heavily on well-trained professionals — teachers, police officers, doctors and nurses, and so on — and technology gains do not make these services cheaper to provide. It may take far fewer workers to build an automobile than it did 30 years ago, but it still takes one teacher to lead a classroom of children. (In fact, as education has become increasingly important, the trend is toward more teachers per pupil, not fewer.) Doctors generally still see patients one by one, and nursing care remains labor intensive despite technology.

You can look at areas from law enforcement and corrections to colleges and health inspectors to see the problem: The cost of these kind of services rises faster than the overall rate of inflation.

Conveying that point will be the challenge facing the initiative's opponents.