Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in July 2010

A vote by mail glitch

Most people probably won't encounter this, but it's worth considering as we think about the long-range future of vote-by-mail, which is probably growing, and of the U.S. Post Service, which has been slowly spiraling downward.

The Klamath Falls News & Herald reports about the community at rural Crescent Lake (in far northwest Klamath County, about 70 miles southeast of Eugene), which has lost its post office and the zip code that goes with it, replacing it with another that has resulted in confusion. Getting mail there has become something of a problem.

When time came to vote in the primary election, there were issues getting them because the elections office was set up to use the Crescent Lake address and zip. The ballots were expedited, finally. But when time came to mail them back, the voters had to drive 35 miles to get them sent off.

Given the trend lines of mail voting and postal cuts, this is the sort of glitch that probably needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

The fine few, and the unworthy masses

The point tends not to be made this bluntly - and for good reason. It seems worthy of quote here because, we suspect, quite a few people out there are like-minded.

It comes in a letter to the editor of the Tri-City Herald from Jerry Czebotar of Pasco, who starts out mentioning (inaccurately) statistics on tax rates, and winds up with this:

"The rich are rich because they are smarter and more ambitious than the average person. There are three reasons why an otherwise healthy American won't be successful. They are either lazy, stupid or have substance abuse issues or some combination of the three. Those who are feeling wealth envy should examine their own lives. Are they stupid, lazy or drink or drug too much?"

There being, of course, no people laid off because of no fault of their own, or people working three jobs at minimum wage to survive. And there being, of course, absolutely no rich people who are "stupid, lazy or drink or drug too much"? And of course all of the rich having earned it all by the honest sweat of their brow, rather than inheriting or marrying into it. (Has he so much as visited a supermarket checkout counter lately?)

There are reasons Czebotar's line of reasoning has spread in recent years. Inadvertence is not one of them. Nor is anything resembling a reality check.

The week in the Digests

digest
weekly Digest

A variety of indicators last week, ranging from a slowing growth in Washington state, along with a decline in sales tax revenues, to - strange though it might seem in these times - growth in revenue the state of Idaho has received from banks.

Politics was a little quieter last week, although the Oregon Independent Party got underway with its unusual, first in the region (maybe the first in the nation) form on on-line voting for selection of its parties members. The Palomar gas line in Oregon was put on limbo, and talk spread about a possible move for the national fiddle festival long housed at Weiser.

As a reminder: We're now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests - for Idaho, Washington and Oregon - moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what's happening. And we're taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That's $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 - in printed book form - and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you'd like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here's a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you'd like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

A part of the economy

otter
Butch Otter

When politicians talk about governments benefiting business, they almost always talk too generically. Very few governmental actions can help, or hurt, all businesses equally. Walmart and Ridenbaugh Press are unlikely to be equal recipients of benefits of any single government policy. (Well, health care reform comes to mind, but not many others.)

This comes to mind with today's Idaho Statesman story about Governor C.L. "Butch Otter and his take on the economy.

Otter is famously down on government and a cheerleader for the private marketplace. But not, it turns out, all of the private marketplace in anything resembling an equal way. Otter grew up in a rural area. He attends and participates in rodeos and similar events. He worked in his formative professional years for a large agricultural processing company (J.R. Simplot). His background wouldn't necessarily have pushed his view and perspective hard toward the traditional, and mostly vanished, rural farm/ranch sense of what the world is about. But it seems to have done. (Look at the pictures on the governor's web site front page.)

What practical effect does this have?

That's where the story today, by Rocky Barker, picks up. He starts with a description of the governor's recent trade mission to Asia, and described solid work in helping bridge international trade - for some businesses, not exclusively but mainly the agricultural-based and the well-connected (such as Melaleuca). From the story:

In China, Otter repeated the economic vision he has held for Idaho for decades.

"You've got to dig it out of the ground, you've got to grow it or you've got to cut it out of the forest," Otter said in meetings aimed at bringing Chinese investors to Idaho. Even computers, Otter said, are built with natural resources like silicon.

And there was this: "This vision leaves out those companies who are not aimed at farming, mining and logging, said Mark Rivers, a Downtown Boise developer who opened the innovative business incubator the Water Cooler. It discourages the very creative people who are the raw material of the next economic boom. 'You can't say you are a new economy state with an old economy mentality,' Rivers said."

Idaho's considerable growth in the last generation has had nothing to do with the kind of resource businesses Otter seems to focus on. It has had to do with technology and service businesses, primarily. And Idaho's population is less and less rural, these days; at this point, most of it suburban.

Not that the resource or older businesses aren't important; of course they are. But Otter's view seems to be that other businesses - which is to say the great majority of businesses, even in Idaho - are valuable in large part to the extent that help or support those he sees as central.

It's a narrow view of the economy, and becoming narrower.

Oregon universities: Changes afoot

There's been a lot of talk about the idea of dramatically changing the legal structure within which Oregon's universities operate. Several university presidents have raised the idea. But the state Board of Higher Education, meeting today at Portland, now seem to be taking work on the idea much further.

What the board flatly approved today has a dramatic ring to it: "the Board approved a legislative concept that changes the legal status of the OUS [Oregon University System] from that of a state agency to that of a public university system and provides the Board with the authority outlined in the legislative concepts; and that staff, working with the Governance and Policy Committee, develop and negotiate a compact with the state government with measurable outcomes for the level of appropriations that constitute state investment in 2011; and that the Board authorize an ongoing, participative public process with citizens, state officials and groups throughout Oregon regarding the education, research, and service activities and programs of the OUS and its institutions in order to ensure that the OUS is meeting state needs and can help ensure that Oregonians understand the value of its public university system."

This still doesn't sound super-specific, and probably wasn't meant to be. But some of the thinking behind it, and where it might be headed, seems clear enough. Here's some of what Chancellor George Pernsteiner said (this is in minutes-type form) as he outlined the idea:

He "introduced the OUS governance proposal by laying out the need for change based on demographic, economic, educational and other changes that have occurred in the 80 years since the OUS was created, and which is outlined in the Chancellor’s paper, “Considerations for Change.” He noted that the continued erosion of state support for higher education has not been accompanied by parallel reductions in state controls over university operations. The costs and inefficiencies inherent in the current legal status of the OUS as a state agency are many, and thus the OUS is seeking the flexibility to operate more effectively to enable the universities to be more successful in educating Oregonians. Pernsteiner noted that Oregon’s community colleges operate as special districts established by the legislature and do not work under the restrictions of a state agency as the OUS does."

Well, something needs to be done about the underfunding of Oregon higher education - there's a strong consensus about that much. Maybe this is it.

An early-early campaign line?

The dustup between Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has gotten only limited media attention, though the Horse's Ass blog has been tracking it thoroughly. The dispute has to do with Goldmark's request for legal work from the attorney general's office in a land case in Okanogan County, and McKenna's refusal to provide it. The dispute has gotten increasingly heated.

Today's note comes from the Washington news site Publicola, which said it ran into Representative Jay Inslee and chatted about the case. There's some reason to: Inslee (a Democrat) is leading prospective candidate for governor in 2012, and so is McKenna (a Republican).

Asked about the McKenna-Goldmark dispute, Islee replied that McKenna "seems to think he’s the Lands Commissioner, the Secretary of State, the Governor, and the AG.”

Round 1.

Didier and the terrorist invasion

Didier
Clint Didier

Republican Washington Senate candidate Clint Didier has a variety of things to say on the subject of illegal immigration in an interview on KUOW radio. (Transcription from the conservative blog Palousitics.)

He calls for improving security at the borders, as almost everyone does. His take on dealing with people in-country illegally is quite moderate, allowing for work visas for those who work and pay taxes (expulsion for those who violate the law), and a prospective path to citizenship for those seeking it. Less red meat than you might expect.

But there's also this . . .

But we also have an invasion of terrorists. There has been documentation found of terrorists actually crossing the southern border and northern border. So Posse Comitatus that was passed in 1878 where we can’t use our military as a police force is out of the question. We’ve got a breach of security, so therefore we can use our military on the border. You know, when they were there in 2007 for one month and no drugs and no people crossed there, and they weren’t even given bullets. The Federales came and crossed and ceased one of our positions because we didn’t even have bullets to defend ourselves.

UPDATE From a Tea Party event, there's also this, about the United Nations: "they are out to take our guns and repeal American sovereignty." And this golden oldie, direct from the John Birch Society of the 60s: "We need to get out of the U.N. and to get the U.N. out of the United States."

So curious that the John Birch Society of a half-century ago has never been as politically successful as it is today.

How the multiple parties thing works

Oregon candidates running under partisan tickets will, this year, be able to list cross-nominations from other (mainly minor) parties on the ballot and in the election guide.

What hadn't been entirely clear is how, exactly, all of that works. What's the procedure?

Well, it's in this month's Oregon Bulletin, published by the Secretary of State's office, which includes all of the state rules changes among some other things. Oddly, the text of this particular rule (which is the Secretary of State's own) somehow didn't make it on line. But we got a copy of it via email from the SOS, and it reads just concisely enough that following it isn't difficult.

Text of it below the fold . . . (more…)

Death panels again?

Question - Might it be possible now, a year later, to have a sane discussion about end of life care and possible help in planning for it, without degenerating into "death panels" lunacy?

That stuff was actually believed by a lot of people. At a congressional town hall meeting last year, we stood next in line next to an elderly couple genuinely terrified to the point of tears that one of them might be swept up by a federal death squad that had ruled them unworthy of living. Exposed to some actual legitimate information over the next couple of hours, they seemed to feel a lot better by the time they left - no thanks to the lying politicians and cable news geeks who so frightened them in the first place.

In any event, Representative Earl Blumenauer is trying again.

Blumenauer reports the "introduction of bipartisan legislation that would provide a Medicare and Medicaid benefit for voluntary patient-physician consultations regarding advance care planning. These consultations will ensure that individuals’ values and goals for care are identified, understood, and respected." Yes, it was bipartisan, before demonization of the proposal became a widespread Republican talking point.

And, yes, we'll answer that opening question right here. At the Willamette Week report on the measure, scroll down into the comment section - got yer death panel discussion right here!

Rebuilding scale-up capacity

Not strictly a Northwest item, but connected in some ways, and important generally . . .

Andy Grove, one of the founders of Intel - which is Oregon's largest private employer - has some tough words about what serious economic rebuilding in America will take. Writing in Bloomberg, he writes about why the traditional American approach of simply growing new, small, innovative businesses is hitting a wall as a serious economic re-igniter.

Startups are still starting up, he said, and that's fine. The glitch is in what happens after that: "Equally important is what comes after that mythical moment of creation in the garage, as technology goes from prototype to mass production. This is the phase where companies scale up. They work out design details, figure out how to make things affordably, build factories, and hire people by the thousands. Scaling is hard work but necessary to make innovation matter. The scaling process is no longer happening in the U.S. And as long as that’s the case, plowing capital into young companies that build their factories elsewhere will continue to yield a bad return in terms of American jobs."

What happened? "American companies discovered they could have their manufacturing and even their engineering done cheaper overseas. When they did so, margins improved. Management was happy, and so were stockholders. Growth continued, even more profitably. But the job machine began sputtering. Today, manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry is about 166,000 - lower than it was before the first personal computer, the MITS Altair 2800, was assembled in 1975. Meanwhile, a very effective computer-manufacturing industry has emerged in Asia, employing about 1.5 million workers - factory employees, engineers and managers."

Leading to: "You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work - and much of the profits - remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work - and masses of unemployed?"

What to do now? Groves offer one idea: "The first task is to rebuild our industrial commons. We should develop a system of financial incentives: Levy an extra tax on the product of offshored labor. (If the result is a trade war, treat it like other wars -- fight to win.) Keep that money separate. Deposit it in the coffers of what we might call the Scaling Bank of the U.S. and make these sums available to companies that will scale their American operations." There may be other approaches too.

As an Oregonian blog post on this notes, Groves' comments have generated a lot of commentary pro and con. But from here, they seem sound, something our political people ought to be addressing. Sooner rather than later.

This week in the Digests

digest
weekly Digest

Some hot political activities hitting around the Northwest, as ballot issue deadlines arrive at the Oregon and Washington secretary of state's offices, and a committee of the Idaho House begins and inquiry and discussion of a fellow member who has gotten crosswise with the taxman.

There was plenty of discussion of state budgets too, and the probably that Congress won't be sending much more money in the direction of the states - though reports about the effects of stimulus funds continued to circulate too. And Idaho reported a small decline in unemployment.

As a reminder: We're now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests - for Idaho, Washington and Oregon - moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what's happening. And we're taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That's $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 - in printed book form - and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you'd like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here's a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you'd like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

What will it take?

The polling, for whatever it may be worth, in the Oregon gubernatorial race has shown a close contest between Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley. If that feels a little suspect, and it does, part of the reason is the regional breakdown: We're seeing Dudley getting competitive poll numbers, in the 40-percent range and above, in places like Multnomah County - which has been super-solid Democratic - and Lane County - which has been landslide territory for Democrats too. (Multnomah results in 2008 for Barack Obama 76.7%, 2008 for Jeff Merkley 68.9%, in 2006 for Ted Kulongoski 68.4%.)

A massive sea change making Multnomah somewhere near competitive isn't beyond imaging, but has to seem unlikely.

That's part of the backdrop for an Oregon Catalyst post called, "Can a Republican win in Oregon?" The end of the post asks two questions, one on whether - in the opinion of commenters on the Republican-oriented site - Dudley's campaign has been substantive enough, and the other: "What's it going to take to get the votes needed in Lane County and Multnomah County?"

The discussion following is well worth the review.

One commenter: "72% of the registered voters in Lane and Multnomah Counties are Democrat. Dudley must surely know his message must resonate here but I've heard nothing that's likely to swing these counties his way. I'm not even sure what the message to blue counties should be. I don't think fiscal prudence alone is going to cut it. Emphasis on jobs may work if the unemployment rate is high enough. Specificity and believability of any message will be critical."