Archive for February, 2010

Feb 28 2010

66% for the public option in WA 3

Published by under Washington

Possibly not what they expected when they asked the question.

Washington’s 3rd congressional district, the one with an open seat this year (currently held by Democrat Brian Baird) is the one anchored by Vancouver to the south and Olympia to the north, but considered politically marginal and maybe bearing a slight Republican tilt. There is at least plenty of good evidence for thinking so.

Which makes this, from the Columbian political blog, worth note:

Voters were asked whether they favored or opposed the reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate in December — a bill that lacked a public option. Just 39 percent of 3rd District residents said they favored the Senate bill, while 54 percent opposed it and 7 percent were undecided.

In a follow-up question, voters were asked whether they would favor or oppose “the national government offering everyone the choice of buying into a government-administered health insurance plan — something like the Medicare coverage that people 65 and older get — that would compete with private health insurance plans.” A whopping 66 percent favored the idea; 24 percent opposed it, and 10 percent were undecided.

Once again: If you’re going to talk about the unpopularity of the current health care legislation, it’s very important to talk about why that is.

The bloggers at Horse’s Ass picked it up and delivered some useful comments on the point and benefits – or lack thereof – in being what is commonly considered a Democratic “moderate” today.

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Feb 27 2010

Health insurance monopoly, NW

Published by under Northwest

The idea of a competitive health insurance marketplace sounds not too bad, but it’s a long way from the reality.

A report from Health Care for America Now (dating from May 2009 but useful again in the current debate) has broken out the concentration of health insurers by state. How did the Northwest states rank?

Idaho had the 16th most concentrated – least competitive, most monopolized – health insurance markets among the 50 states. Blue Cross of Idaho (46% of the market) and Regence Blue Shield (29%) together take up 75% of the Idaho market.

The report: “For family health coverage in Idaho during that time [2000-07], the average annual combined premium for employers and employees rose from $5,160 to $11,432. . . . During that time, health insurance premiums for Idaho working families rose four times faster than median earnings.”

Washington was somewhat better off, at 34th among the 50. There, Premera Blue Cross had 38% of the market and Regence Blue Shield 23%, for a total between the two of 61%.

Family coverage cost increases in Washington? On average, from $6,496 to $12,120, or 5.3 times faster than median earnings.

Of the three states, Oregon was actually best off, ranking 40th. Providence Health & Services had 25% of the market, and Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield 23%, for a total of 48% – not quite half.

Family coverage in Oregon rose in those years from $6,654 to $12,321, about 4.7 times faster than median earnings.

Of course, those skyrocketing figures are somewhat out of date; they’re obviously larger by now.

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Feb 27 2010

10 militia reasons

Published by under Idaho

Not to harp too much on the Pocatello Tea Party, but this one was not to be missed.

The headline was “Ten Reasons Why We Need a State Militia Now.

Here are the ten:

bullet Attacks by international “terrorists”

bullet Invasion by illegal immigrants

bullet Infusions of illicit drugs

bullet Depredations of criminal enterprises organized and operated on a global scale

bullet Rampant domestic “gangster government” at the National, State and Local levels

bullet The dragooning of America as a “global policeman” in the service of special-interest groups, both foreign and domestic

bullet Schemes aimed at overthrowing the Declaration of Independence

bullet Cultural subversion, corruption, and dissolution

bullet The inherent instability and corruption of America’s monetary and banking systems

bullet A staggering burden of governmental financial liabilities

Assuming you could figure out just how a state militia would solve all those problems, there’s just one left:

What do you do with the current Idaho militia – that is, the Idaho National Guard?

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Feb 27 2010

Biting off one’s nose

Published by under Idaho

There are plenty of people in this country who are here illegally, and one effective way to get a handle on that would be to block their employment. So how far should legislators go in that direction?

In Idaho, there’s House Bill 497, backed by Representatives Phil Hart and Raul Labrador, and its statement of purpose says this: “If enacted, this legislation will allow for Idaho employers to have their state, county or city licenses suspended for knowingly employing illegal aliens. Professional licenses are excluded from the legislation. For a first offense, a license will be suspended until the employer signs an affidavit stating that the employer will not hire an unauthorized alien in the future. If the employer signs this affidavit within three (3) days of the court ruling, no suspension of the license will take place. For a second offense in a three (3) year period, the license will be suspended for up to ten (10) days. For a third offense in a three (3) year period, the license will be suspended for up to one year.”

The bill died in the House State Affairs Committee, after a motion by Representative Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs. The was followed by a blog post by the Pocatello Tea Party headlined, “Tar & Feather Rep. Andrus.” (It was a predecessor to the post, “Tar & Feather Rep. Elaine Smith; her sin had to do with the law on midwives.)

So what does Andrus have to say for himself? Well, this:

HB497 would require an employer’s license to be revoked for up to one year. I do not know the economic impact to the construction, motel and restaurant industries, but I have some experience and knowledge in agriculture. I have employed one or more foreign born workers, continuously, for more than 25 years. I have never illegally hired a worker. It is wrong. I do not condone hiring illegals – period.

Consider the consequence of an employer’s license being revoked for one year. Most agricultural employers operate under a partnership, corporation or LLC license. If the license is suddenly revoked, do the county commissioners or sheriff now come in and take over the farm or ranch and the owner (or former owner) take his family and go to a homeless shelter for sustenance? If a dairyman unexpectedly loses his license and is shut down, who now milks the cows (which may number more than a thousand on some dairies) – the humane society, to relieve pressure and pain in the udder and keep them from getting mastitis? These are realistic scenarios and no answer was given when I asked the question in the committee hearing.

It’s called thinking through the effects.

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Feb 26 2010

Oregon’s fair & balanced?

Published by under Oregon

Oregon has a new political news web site, the Oregon Politico.com; we’ll doubtless be checking in for news there.

Beyond that, a little note of perspective on it is warranted.

It presents itself as a straight-up news site, its listed staff includes a political reporter and an investigative reporter, and its mission statement says, “Oregon Politico is dedicated to reporting news from the state’s capitol and government bureaucracies in a fair and balanced manner whilst promoting an open and transparent government.”

Maybe the “fair and balanced” reference there should be a clue. Dig a little deeper and check out the “copyright and legal” page, and there’s this: “This Site and all of the information it contains (including, but not limited to, news articles, video, charts, graphs, graphics and photographs) is the property of Cascade Policy Institute, unless otherwise noted.”

Cascade is not a politically or philosophically neutral organization; its front web page notes it is “Promoting public policy alternatives that foster individual liberty, personal responsibility and economic opportunity in Oregon” – a more subtle version of “free market solutions”, essentially libertarian in view, promoted by counterpart organizations in other states. (The most recent headline on its web site: “Unemployment Insurance Extensions Appeal to the Heart but Rob the Soul.”) Such descriptions show up in the Oregon Catalyst.

This approach – of seemingly dispassionate news sources cloaking the machinery run in fact by highly ideological organizations (see also the Idaho Reporter.com, a project of the Idaho Freedom Foundation) seems to be a growing trend: Illusory neutrality in news production, a la Fox, spreading now to the state and maybe local level.

If there’s a complaint here, it’s not with the existence of the sites, or the independent reporting – we need all of that we can get. There are plenty of overtly partisan sites that do a good deal of digging and reporting, and a good deal of it has real value. But those sites (ranging, say, from Blue Oregon to Idaho Conservative Blogger) generally are forthright about their biases and preferences, and don’t pretend they’re something they’re not.

There’s news, and there’s news. There are all kinds of filters for news. And if you’re running your news through a filter, best to be up front with everyone about what it is.

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Feb 25 2010

The last of the experimentals?

Published by under Oregon

statehouse

The Oregon Legislature’s special session is done as of mid-afternoon, a day later than most members had hoped but still three days ahead of the deadline. It was a special session not because it was called for emergency business – which ordinarily is supposed to be what even-year sessions, when they occur, are about – but as an experiment to see if even-year sessions can work reasonably well.

Evidently they can. The final hangup (and not one between parties but between House and Senate) had to do with how long the sessions in an annual-session scheme should run; those deadlines would be built into a constitutional amendment to set up annual sessions henceforth. On Wednesday (after Senate President Peter Courtney decided against giving up and adjourning), they resolved the impasse. As the Salem Statesman-Journal noted, “The total time of 195 days over a two-year cycle would be shorter than the 211 days that lawmakers have met on average over the past decade, counting the current session in its 25th day.”

A call to cut session length might be an overall voter winner in November.

They can add that to a considerable batch of legislation approved in these last three and a half weeks. The list form the House speaker’s office included these (and it’s a partial list): Continue Reading »

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Feb 25 2010

Dry times

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

Time to prepare for breaking out the D-word?

The northwest’s snowpack seemed to be in pretty good shape two to three months ago. Less so now, and in places it could get pretty parched.

Only one spot in the Northwest has higher than normal accumulated precipitation: The Olympic peninsula (at about 151%). Other than that, it’s a question how relatively dry are you?

Th driest river basins (compared with the percentage four months ago in parentheses):

Washington: Spokane 65% (was 94%), Lower Snake 67% (was 103%), Upper Yakima (was 74%)

Oregon: Klamath 71% (was 74%), Hood/Sandy/Lower Deschutes 72% (was 101%), Rogue/Umpqua 74% (was 85%), Willamette 74% (was 103%).

Idaho: Henry’s Fork/Teton 60% (was 88%), Snake River above Palisades 61% (was ), Clearwater 62% (was ), Spokane 65% (was 94%), Salmon 68% (was 89%), Willow/Blackfoot/Portneuf 69% (was 73%).

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Feb 24 2010

Packin’ up

Published by under Oregon

It was a Peter Courtney moment. Presiding over the Oregon Senate, just after absorbing news from across the Rotunda as the Legislature was preparing to adjourn:

“All right, I’ll tell you what’s happening,” as if announcing social plans on a Saturday night. “The House is coming in at 2:45. They’re gonna do some stuff. Then they’re going to adjourn and come back in at 4:30. Then they’ll do some more stuff.” (Courtney’s style, some combination of informal and driven, is all his own.) The Senate would return around 5, he said, hopefully with most of the House work complete.

The exact clock times, of course, didn’t hold. But both chambers continued processing bills, and you could tell from the visitor’s gallery that staffers at least were optimistic of an early-evening adjournment. And no late glitches seemed to be lying in wait.

The latest “experimental” even-year Oregon legislative session does seem nearly over, maybe later today. It has worked; substantial legislation moved through smoothly, and the session seems about to end ahead of deadline (which was February 28).

The major loss, as now appears: The proposed constitutional amendment to allow annual sessions. The House and Senate seem positioned to simply agree to disagree. Ironic, since this session seems to have been a good Exhibit A for the proposal.

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Feb 24 2010

Some Leverage

Published by under Oregon

Jeff Kropf

We just last night caught up with the most current (streamed) episode of Leverage, the TNT series about a group of con artists, set in the Boston area but shot in Portland. The show is well done on its own merits, but we have fun picking out specific scenes at Portland we know. PGE Park and the city hall were two good recent examples.

It’s felt a little like an outlier, in that Vancouver B.C. tends to get a lot more TV and film work; it has been the leading film center on the west coast north of southern California. Among other things, shooting costs there may actually be a little lower than in Portland.

But Portland’s clout in the biz is picking up. Leverage is one factor, and another is the area’s intensive and cutting-edge digital video industry.

The Oregon House Sustainability and Economic Development Committee held a hearing on all this today, and the indications emerging suggest that more of this business may be coming: Not an explosive increase, but more. People working with Leverage were there, and show creator and runner Dean Devlin, who had planned to appear, delivered a statement.

One conclusion was that Oregon isn’t notably attractive on the immediate upfront numbers; other states have juicier governmental giveaways. (Michigan evidently is notorious for this.) But Oregon, and Portland especially, has other good advantages: Widely varied and easily accessible scenery, good infrastructure, a solid base of actors and crew to work with. The various sorts of commercial shooting business, from commercials and corporate videos to full-out entertainment programming, seems to be picking up as word of the advantages picks up. (One motion picture, niche-described as “faith-based horror,” was said to be in progress.)

The economic advantages were hyped too hard; no one spoke of it as an economic savior. But Representative Vic Gilliam, who played a bit part on Leverage, recalled Devlin telling him on set that about 140 people were working that day, nearly all Oregonians.

And if you’re in Oregon, keep a lookout for $2 bills. On item that emerged at the hearing: Devlin apparently paid out much of the Leverage staff per diems with $2 bills. If you see one in circulation, odds are that’s where it came from.

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Feb 23 2010

WA 3rd: Some shakeout

Published by under Washington

The filing deadline for congressional candidate in the open-seat Washington 3rd is still quite a way off, but the field is starting to shrink and the front-runners are looking quite a bit clearer. Even if you have to throw aside some fundraising data to reach the conclusion.

Among Republicans, the picture is beginning to look notably clear. State Representative Jaime Herrera, R-Ridgefield, seems to be picking up a lot of momentum. The one incumbent officeholder in the group (and a strong winner for the seat in 2008), she has been getting repeated mentions – beneficiary of a general atmosphere. When Washougal City Councilman Jon Russell said this week he’s dropping out of the race, he offered his support to Herrera (whose legislative seat he would like to take). Another indicator: At a Cowlitz County Republican event, Herrera took 88% of the votes in a straw poll, in the three-way race. The primary, at least, looks to be hers to lose.

The most recent financials show candidate David Castillo as the biggest money recipient ($104,172) among the Republicans, nearly double Herrera’s $55,775. But that may turn around before long. The other contender, ex-Marine David William Hedrick, Camas, seems not to have picked up a lot of speed. Herrera is emerging as a good bet for the nomination.

On the Democratic side, the odds seem to be migrating toward one of two, either state Senator Craig Pridemore or former legislator and TCW co-founder Denny Heck.

This too was clarified through a pullout, that of Representative Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, who had a serious base of support but said she wasn’t likely to meet her fundraising targets. Work in the legislature has affected her ability to fundraise, she suggested. She also suggested she might throw her primary support to Heck.

As of the end of last year, Heck was much the largest fundraiser in the district in either party ($214,737), and he has the most interesting resume: a decade in the Washington House, work as chief of staff for former Governor Booth Gardner, deep involvement in launching TVW and a bunch of other business and civic activities.

But Pridemore, now a veteran senator at Clark County with an energetic base of support, has some real strengths and has been leveraging them well. His views – basically liberal – are more crisply identified than Heck’s, and among activists he may pick up the larger group of enthusiastic helpers.

Tough call between the two of them as yet. But one of the two of them, it is likely to be.

So who would have the advantage in this swing district come November? That’s a close call, and it may be settled by whoever runs the smarter campaign.

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Feb 22 2010

Cantwell and Wall Street

Published by under Washington

cantwell

Maria Cantwell

You can’t say that no one in Washington is trying to loose the hounds on the financial high-chargers who, with their endlessly creative financing efforts, crashed the country’s economy. Not many visible people in Washington have delved deeply into this murk. But at least a couple of Northwest senators have: Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and to even a larger degree, Washington’s Maria Cantwell.

A Seattle Times piece out today is one of the few really to highlight this, although her work on big business finance goes back some years to her ongoing war on Enron. The article notes: “. . . crusading against ‘dark market’ derivatives trading? Agitating about the systemic hazards of mingling commercial and investment banking? Trash talking about the Obama administration’s finance team?” Cantwell’s been doing all that.

And, “She has introduced bills to curb such speculative trading and to allow state gambling commissions and attorneys general to oversee unregulated, or “dark market,” derivatives trading. In addition, Cantwell, along with Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, wants to resurrect a strict separation between commercial banks and investment firms. At the same time, Cantwell has displayed exasperation with what she sees as inadequate regulatory actions so far. She slammed Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner as an ‘enabler’ who isn’t truly reining in Wall Street’s excesses.”

More to the ground, consider this from a Cantwell February 3 press release:

“Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said today Congress and the Obama administration must establish tough regulatory oversight and transparency in derivatives trading and commodities markets to prevent abuses that helped bring about the economic crisis. Cantwell joined commodity “end-users,” – businesses that actually trade in or use commodities such as petroleum and agriculture products – and consumer protection organizations, to advocate moving all standardized derivatives onto fully regulated public exchanges and clearinghouses. Loopholes in the House-passed bill leave up to 60 percent of the derivatives market without minimum requirements for capital behind trading positions. The resulting unregulated and highly leveraged gambling in derivatives, Cantwell said, were a major contributing factor in a financial crisis that has now become an economic crisis.”

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Feb 21 2010

Plagiarism he probably didn’t see

Published by under Oregon

wingard

Matt Wingard

Start this with a quote from Oregon state Representative Matt Wingard, R-Wilsonville, appearing in the Hillsboro Argus: “It’s amazing to me that somebody blogging in their underwear from a basement of their mom’s house can make a vicious personal smear on their Web site.”

So many are the problems with that quote, that even it’s hard to know where to start. Does the fact of easy communication in today’s technology really amaze the representative? Does he really hold with that old wheeze stereotyping bloggers? If the answers are yes, then part of what happened in the Wingard global warming plagiarism dispute starts to fall into focus – and not to the representative’s advantage.

The blogger Wingard was specifically upset with was Kari Chisholm, one of the founders of Blue Oregon and a website designer for a bunch of Democratic officeholders and candidates – the runner of a substantial business, and a far distance from Wingard’s stereotype. (Would he apply the stereotype as well, say, to Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian? Or, say, to attorney Jack Bogdanski?)

He was upset with Chisholm because the blogger had been paying attention to a House floor speech (actually a “remonstrance,” a point of order that allows members to speak on whatever subject they want) he had given, on global warming (he is an arguer against), and thought some of the words had a certain ring. Chisholm ran a check, and it turned out that they did: Most of it was taken, word for word, from the Washington Times. A few other slices came from other sources, but no more than a few words at most from Wingard himself.

Reading from someone else’s article or publication is okay, and nothing unusual. But in this case, Wingard didn’t bother to attribute any of it: To listen to his floor speech, he seemed to have created it all himself. After Chisholm called him on it, Wingard acknowledged the source in a press release and elsewhere. But not until he was called on it.

Chisholm also pointed out this: “This incident is especially damning for Wingard because he’s a trained journalist. He’s got a degree in broadcast journalism – and once worked as a journalist in Yakima, Washington.” Among journalists, plagiarism has happened, but when exposed it’s usually followed with a quick boot out of the profession.

Wingard hasn’t yet come up with a decent explanation. He said that he meant to attribute – but he didn’t until after he was publicly challenge on it. He said he didn’t have time for an attribution – but the speech lasted several minutes, and attribution would have taken seconds.

The only explanation that seems to make sense is that Wingard just didn’t know any better or wasn’t thinking. Just as, apparently, about bloggers.

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Feb 20 2010

Radio impact

Published by under Washington

Is the clout of talk radio diminishing?

Political people certainly act as if it is powerful enough, considering the bows and scrapes given to Rush Limbaugh from anyone on the right who momentarily crosses him. But as with broadcast television, it may be a lesser influence now than it was, given the competition from the web and elsewhere.

Seattle’s Blatherwatch recalled how “KVI was at the forefront of the 1994 Republican resurgence, the pre-Waco militia strutting. John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur organized and ran initiative signature campaign on-air and almost single-handedly got a measure on the ballot (later rejected by the voters) that defunded roads. The US Supreme Court upheld their right to wage that campaign on public airwaves, a huge win for talk radio. Wilbur’s now gone, and Carlson is talking to the crickets in the toughest time slot in town (3-6p). . . .

“Talk radio was in its heyday back then – the talk pie has shrunk. Conservative KVI at its peak was often in the top 10, in the market now it’s languishing at 27th. Despite KIRO’s right turn in the last few years, what was once an AM news-talking blowtorch perennially (it seemed) at no. 3, is now a wimpy FM at 18th in the market that can’t be heard in many corners of the city, much less the rest of the region.”

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Feb 19 2010

A hanging

Published by under Washington

Nothing like a hanging in a fortnight, the saying goes, to concentrate the mind. Or, maybe, prompt a fundraiser.

For all the Democrats’ problems nationally, there’s little indication (outside of a couple of polls that look like outliers) that the major Democratic figures in Washington or Oregon are in big trouble. The extreme rhetoric does show up in places, but the guess here it will mostly boomerang.

Like the blast by the TeaPartier at Asotin, unsatisfied with simply declaring Senator Patty Murray as wrong on the issues – no, she declared she wanted to hang her. (You can see this in the clip at about a half-minute in. The female speaker says: “”What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd? What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd. He got hung. And that’s what I want to do with Patty Murray.”)

How can this kind of garbage appeal to the majority of voters? Reality is, it probably won’t; and we keep seeing indicators that it’s wearing progressively thinner month by month.

Meanwhile, Murray’s campaign is using the Asotin incident as another lever for fundraising. Makes sense.

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Feb 18 2010

“The saint goes marching out”

Published by under Oregon

If you’re in favor of having medical practices at what may be the only hospital in your region determined by the doctrine of a specific religious organization, than you may find what happened in Bend to be unfortunate.

The rest of us may see it as a hopeful harbinger for the future.

The Catholic Diocese of Baker, which has been the church’s sponsor for the St. Charles Medical Center at Bend, said this week it will end that relationship:

Recently, hospital administrators and Baker Bishop Robert Vasa have “respectfully disagreed” on the meaning of some of the directives. In particular, St. Charles offers patients tubal ligations, a form of permanent female reproductive sterilization, which, Bishop Vasa says, goes against the church’s teachings.

“It is my responsibility to ensure the hospital is following Catholic principles both in name and in fact,” Bishop Vasa says. “It would be misleading for me to allow St. Charles Bend to be acknowledged as Catholic in name while I am certain that some important tenets of the ethical and religious directives are no longer being observed.”

Bishop Vasa asked St. Charles in 2007 for an audit of the hospital’s compliance with the ethical and religious directives. The hospital openly provided the bishop with the information. Since that time, Bishop Vasa and hospital officials have had a number of discussions about the future of the hospital as a Catholic institution.

In the context, this seems amicable enough – an agreement to disagree and a logical move forward. The two organizations seemed both saddened by it, and no doubt some people are: St. Charles has been a Catholic hospital for close to a century. A tradition is ending.

(In many respects, the changes may be subtle: “Mass will no longer be celebrated in the hospital’s chapel and all items considered Catholic will be removed from the hospital and returned to the church. The St. Charles name will remain the same and the cross will remain on top of the building.”)

Others from the Bend area, probably plenty of Catholics included, may see this as a tradition worth ending. The connection between religious organizations and hospitals never seemed entirely logical (in the modern era), except maybe in the sense of fostering a general sense of unifying medical provision with charitable work – and we all know how well that’s worked out. Catholics in Bend will still be able to manage their own health within the constraints of their church’s doctrine, if they choose to; but there’ll b no pressure now for non-Catholics to do so.

There are plenty of other Catholic hospitals, at present, in the Northwest. This move may reverberate.

(H/t for the post headline, to Bend or Bust.)

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