Archive for November, 2010

Nov 30 2010

Policy by profitability

Published by under Idaho

We’ve railed against the idea of privately-run prisons for years, and the evidence against them mounts. A significant chunk has come in the last year or so from the Idaho Corrections Center, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America.

The latest, in a report from the Associated Press, grows out of videos associated with a court case concerning violence at the facility (which has the nickname “Gladiator school”). (Watch the video.) From that report:

The videos show at least three guards watching as Elabed was stomped on a dozen times. At no time during the recorded sequence did anyone try to pull away James Haver, a short, slight man. About two minutes after Haver stopped the beating of his own accord, the metal cellblock door was unlocked. Haver was handcuffed and Elabed was examined for signs of life. He bled inside his skull and would spend three days in a coma.

CCA, the nation’s largest private prison company, said it was “highly disappointed and deeply concerned” over AP’s decision to release the videos.

You got that at the end, right? – that CCA was disappointed and concerned, not apparently so much that a man was nearly killed in violence that its employees could and should have stopped, but that AP released the video evidence of it.

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Nov 30 2010

Murray on campaign, again

Published by under Washington

There was a time after the 2008 election when some Democrats were looking ahead to the Senate mid-terms of 2010 with optimism. Lots of Republican targets up that year, fewer vulnerable Democrats – it looked like a good year for Democratic pickups.

So much for that. The other part of the thinking among those Democrats, by the way, was this: It had better be a good year, because 2012 and 2014, when more Democratic seats would be up for election, would be tougher years.

Based on the surface numbers – almost twice as many Democratic seats for Democrats to defend, as Republican seats for Republicans to defend – the job facing Senate Democrats trying to keep their now-thin majority margin, will be hard. The job now, evidently, will go to Washington Senator Patty Murray, herself just off her toughest election contest.

But she did win, by a small but decisive margin. And her influences in shaping the 2012 campaign likely will include Nevada Senator Harry Reid, who she’s close to in the Senate majority and who seemed for most of last year headed to defeat, but ran what is widely described as the most brilliant campaign of the year. Suggesting that Murray’s job, while hard, isn’t hopeless.

Even more than in her own race this year, the new job is likely to be a major test of what Murray is capable of.

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Nov 29 2010

The danger of not joining a task force

Published by under Oregon

On Twitter today, from Portland radio talk show host Lars Larsen:

“saw adams walking down the street … told him to his face ‘you’ve made this city a dangerous place to live’, his response was to say hi lars’

Well, right. What else would have made any sense?

Adams was Portland Mayor Sam Adams, who has had his share of problems and issues. Since this encounter came shortly after the infamous attempted bombing in downtown Portland, that clearly was the subject. And how did Adams, presumably, make that attempted bombing more likely?

The answer would presumably (since the investigation and enforcement here was led and mostly undertaken by federal agencies) have something to do with the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, in which federal terrorism-related enforcement officials coordinate with locals. In April 2005 the then-mayor, Tom Potter, got crosswise with federal officials, and in what became a cause celebre the city decided not to join. The exact reasons why Potter eventually chose to opt out, after apparently seriously considering joining, haven’t ever since been totally clear.

As it happens the current mayor, Adams, and members of the council, have this year been exploring joining the task force. Whatever the merits of that, consider the question from this angle: When a terror investigation and incident actually did arise in Portland (a five-minute walk from City Hall), was the quashing of the incident impaired by Portland’s non-participation in the task force?

On the federal side of it, where most of the work was done, clearly not at all. Portland police actually were involved in the effort, even though they did not inform the mayor and council of what was going on. Federal officials (according to news reports) got a tip about a prospective incident months ago, and followed it through in a way that endangered no one’s safety and brought the case to a close.

How would participation in a task force have improved on that?

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Nov 28 2010

Pioneer Square: What happened, what didn’t

Published by under Oregon


Courthouse Pioneer Square, the Sunday after/pioneercourthousesquare.org

After a couple of days of news reports, a lot of the central questions about the abortive bombing of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square remain. We’re beginning to know enough, though, to come to come conclusions and at least shape some of the relevant questions.

Some of those came out in this morning’s coverage in the Oregonian, of a story with still-massive holes (not the paper’s fault, of course – a lot hasn’t been released or isn’t available yet).

The choice of time and place was, as columnist Steve Duin notes, chosen well for effectiveness. It’s been nicknamed “Portland’s living room,” and there’s really nothing else like it among the larger Northwest cities – a genuine community gathering place in the middle of downtown, where street preachers may be shouting one hour, an arts display may be on the next, and a film or music event might be shown in the evening, while people all day come by and hang out. If Portland feels like a community, and has something of a neighborly feel (for large city), Pioneer Square is an important reason. You feel as if you’re welcome to just drop by and sit a spell – and you are. The Christmas tree lighting there, for central Portlanders, is second only to the tree setup in their own homes. An attack on the square is an attack on the community, in a unique way.

Adopt the Transportation Security mindset about dealing with such a threat, and what do you get? Backscatter devices on all the sidewalks? Pat-downs en route to and around downtown? Talk about destroying any feeling of community, or mutual trust.

One conclusion we evidently can reach out of this is that such tactics weren’t what foiled this bombing attempt: It was intelligence, information, patient undercover law enforcement work, the kind of effort that almost always is what stops incidents like this.

Saying much more specific than that remains difficult, though, because so many questions are still out there right now. Continue Reading »

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Nov 26 2010

The highs and the lows

Published by under Washington

Interesting piece from the Tacoma News Tribune‘s political blog on “the apathy capital of Washington” – would you believe just north of Olympia?

Well, more or less. Among the notes: Voter turnout in the 8th congressional district, where there was a hot race, was high, as you might expect. But a large chunk of the 8th is in Pierce County, which is close-split between the parties, but which registered the third-lowest voter turnout of any of the state’s 39 counties.

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Nov 24 2010

This’ll go over big

Published by under Idaho

In the state whose officials seem to want never to be outdone in their castigation of government, you get something like this and wonder where the next shriek will come from …

On Tuesday, the state Land Board, chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, approved an $85,000 public relations plan calling for plaques proclaiming Idaho’s ownership to be stuck on state-owned commercial properties, including office and retail buildings in downtown Boise, and a self-storage facility to the city’s southwest.

No doubt all the agencies and services facing severe budgetary cutbacks will be delighted about that spending choice …

Not aware, BTW, of any comparable program in Oregon or Washington, those more governmentally-oriented states …

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Nov 23 2010

The Geddes departure

Published by under Idaho

Not a lot more to say about the word that Robert Geddes of Soda Springs, who has been president pro tem of the Idaho Senate for a decade (longer than anyone else), won’t be running for that leadership job again next month. (To avoid redundancy: All the legislators referred to in this post are Republicans.)

His successor might be Brent Hill of Rexburg, and he seems to have Geddes’ personal nod. Or maybe Russ Fulcher of Meridian; both of them seem to have substantial bases of support in the caucus. Could be another option as well.

Everyone involved in this is “conservative” in any usual sense. Probably Hill would be the choice more moderates would find relatively comfortable; over the years, he has seemed to be more detail-oriented and far-ranging and less strictly ideological in his thinking than most Idaho Republican legislators.

What’s important to bear in mind is the overall shift of the Republican caucus, and the probability of challenges by more-ideological members to two other long-running members of leadership, Bart Davis and Joe Stegner (who was denounced as a “Democrat!” in the last Republican state convention). The caucus membership has changed.

How to define it? Probably like this: Starting with the next session, the Idaho Senate likely will be much closer to a mirror image of the Idaho House, and legislation passing the House is less likely to be stalled or stopped in the Senate (and vice versa). Bot chambers have been called “conservative” for many years, but that hasn’t meant exactly the same thing in each. In 2011, it probably will.

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Nov 23 2010

OR Congressional: Suppose it’s 6 …

Published by under Oregon

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Six Oregon districts/Ridenbaugh Press revisions/map via PSU Population Center

More and more, in following the numbers, you get the sense that Oregon won’t be getting that sixth U.S. House district when the census numbers are unveiled in near term. We got the latest feel for that a few days ago with the new stats out from the Portland State University Population Research Center. It estimates Oregon population at 3,844,195. Split that six ways and you get 640,699 – likely about 100,000 short of what would be ideally needed for a sixth district to add to the current five. (Washington state still looks closer for a tenth district.)

Still. Suppose Oregon did add a sixth district? What would be the political fallout?

Our sense that Republicans should cheer on that extra district, and Democrats should hope against it – another argument in the loose fallacy of districts added on to “red” or “blue” states. Oregon may be more blue than red, but it’s purple enough that it matters how you slice it.

To get a handle on this, we carved the state (using the new PSU numbers) into six pieces. We avoided dividing counties (only Multnomah, which would have to be, and then only in two pieces) and tried to make the districts reasonably compact and logical. And we set an “ideal” district size at around 640,000. (Recognizing that in the real world, the district sizes probably would have to match a little more closely than they do here.)

Start with the east, what is essentially the current District 2. 17 of Orgon’s 36 counties are east of the Cascades, with the western side running from Hood River County in the north to Klamath in the south. That vast terrain, even accounting for the recent growth around Bend, just gets us to 506,235. We could snake along the Columbia Gorge and raid eastern Multnomah County for the other 35,000 or so. But in the interests of avoiding county splitting, we would give up Hood River and Wasco counties and send them to a district to the west, and to the south bring in all of Jackson County. Call this District 1.

This sets up some easy collections of unsplit counties to the west. In southwest Oregon, you could unite Josephine, Curry, Coos, Douglas and Lane counties to come up with something close to a district. Call it district 2.

Similarly: Linn, Marion, Benton, Polk and Lincoln bring a good number for District 3.

Just to the north, Washington and Yamhill counties add up to a neat and compact District 4.

Then, you could add the three northwest shorefront counties (Tillamook, Clatsop, Columbia) together with about two-thirds of Multnomah County for District 5.

And the other third of Multnomah could unite with Hood River and Wasco counties, and all of Clackamas, for District 6.

It’s a pretty neat fit, but a map that looks like this should make Oregon Democrats, who now hold four of the five districts, uneasy.

This outline would continue the Republican lock on the eastern Oregon-based district. It would likely continue Democratic dominance on the two Multnomah-based districts (5 and 6), though probably a little less solidly than now.

But what of the others? The current southwest district (the seat now held by Democrat Peter DeFazio) is semi-marginal as it is, and this prospective District 2 would probably make it more so (especially by eliminating the piece of Benton County). The other two districts would be truly iffy. Washington County these days leans Democratic, but not overwhelmingly in otherwise close races; pair it with Republican-leaning Yamhill (District 4) and you could make it unpredictable. The revised central Willamette district 3, with Marion as the largest county base and Linn the second largest, might lean Republican.

The larger reality is that Oregon is right now more Democratic than Republican, but more by yards than by miles. A congressional split of 4-1 is Democrats beating the odds. A split of 5-1 may be more than they could manage.

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Nov 23 2010

Business travelers weigh in

Published by under Washington

Readers and commenters of the Puget Sound Business Journal largely are business people, a significant number of them people who travel by air on business. So what do they think about the recent TSA uproar?

In an (unsientific) online poll, the Journal asked, “Do you support the TSA’s use of body scanners at Sea-Tac Airport?”

Results at this writing: yes 37%, no 57%.

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Nov 21 2010

Another OR gov review, from the R side

Published by under Oregon

An interesting stat-based review of the recent governor’s race turns up on Oregon Catalyst; some assessments in it may be questionable, but overall it strongly merits a read.

The former includes lines like this, about the Democratic voter registration advantage in Oregon: “The current 200,000 advantage is a holdover from the unusually high Obama bump of 2008 and could vanish as easily as it was created depending on national events and what happens in Oregon.” Sounds a little optimistic for Republicans; the gap was built over several elections, and it largely persisted through this year.

It does make some other useful points. One (mentioned elsewhere too) is that the third party field in Oregon has gravitated to the right. The largest “other” party, the Independent, seems to draw from both Republican and Democratic leaners, and the largest remaining minor parties draw mainly from the right. That’s a structural problem for Republicans.

And notes that “Democrats were able to get out more direct mail reminders, phone calls and personal door visits for voter turn-out than Republican efforts.” That seems clearly true.

The post doesn’t try to make the argument that Dudley was a bad candidate or that he had a bum campaign; neither was really true. It notes that “The campaign slogan ‘Join Oregon’s Comeback’ was the most original in a decade,” and that may be true. But there was also this tart comment: “The overuse of out of state consultants and staff was a serious handicap for the campaign. It was an inside joke that when you visited the campaign headquarters you entered a sprawling oversized building filled with a dozen people you have never seen before and you knew you would never see them again (because they leave the state after the election).”

Probably more significant, this on the matter of experience for the office: “Moore information polling showed that Dudley could not breach the experience gap. It is not just that Dudley had no experience, it is that he had no experience against a man who held the office twice. A Moore Information poll showed that this was an 11% penalty for Dudley.” Our sense has been for some months that this was a critical point, and Moore’s number puts a tag on it.

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Nov 20 2010

Wyden’s service to the net

Published by under Oregon

Here’s an arresting lead paragraph: “It’s too early to say for sure, but Oregon Senator Ron Wyden could very well go down in the history books as the man who saved the Internet.”

There’s justification for that. What Wyden did was simple enough: He put a hold a piece of legislation. That was important because of what the legislation, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, would do. It would, at base, allow state attorney generals to shut down Internet web sites at will.

Here is what the Electronic Frontier Foundation says about the bill:

The “Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act” (COICA) is an Internet censorship bill which is rapidly making its way through the Senate. Although it is ostensibly focused on copyright infringement, an enormous amount of noninfringing content, including political and other speech, could disappear off the Web if it passes.

The main mechanism of the bill is to interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS), which translates names like “www.eff.org” or “www.nytimes.com” into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. The bill creates a blacklist of censored domains; the Attorney General can ask a court to place any website on the blacklist if infringement is “central” to the purpose of the site.

If this bill passes, the list of targets could conceivably include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire and Rapidshare; MP3 blogs and mashup/remix music sites like SoundCloud, MashupTown and Hype Machine ; and sites that discuss and make the controversial political and intellectual case for piracy, like pirate-party.us, p2pnet, InfoAnarchy, Slyck and ZeroPaid . Indeed, had this bill been passed five or ten years ago, YouTube might not exist today. In other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.

The bill has gotten a lot of support in Congress, and has been heavily (if quietly) lobbied. This pernicious little time bomb could easily have been passed into law had not someone stopped it. That turned out to be Wyden, who has been an open-Internet backer from early on.

Bears saying again: A system of copyrights and intellectual property protection originally intended to help foster creativity and communications is being perverted, in ever worsening ways, into restrictions on speech. One of those may just have been headed off at the pass.

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Nov 18 2010

Plain language

Published by under Washington

“I plead not guilty, your honor, because regardless what the law on the books actually says, it gets described as something else in some places, so I shouldn’t be held to it …”

Nothing not far from that was the argument in in the recent Washington Supreme Court case of Washington v. Matthew J. Hirschfelder. And the Washington Court of Appeals bought it.

The facts of the case, as the Supreme Court set them out, are clear enough: “Matthew Hirschfelder was employed as a choir teacher at Hoquiam High School. He had sexual intercourse in his office with a member of the high school choir, A.N.T., several days prior to her graduation in 2006. At the time, Hirschfelder was 33 and A.N.T. was 18. Hirschfelder was charged with sexual misconduct with a minor in the first degree.”

That was the name of the crime, which seem to suggest that it refers to having sex with someone under 18. But that’s not what the law actually says. It says this: You’ve committed the offense if “the person is a school employee who has, or knowingly causes another person under the age of eighteen to have, sexual intercourse with a registered student of the school who is at least sixteen years old and not married to the employee, if the employee is at least sixty months older than the student.”

Take out the “or knowingly causes” element, and you have these pieces which aren’t disputed: (1) the person charged is a school employee, which Hirschfelder was, (2) the other party was a registered student at least 16 years old, which the student was, (3) and the two have to be not married to each other and at least five years apart in age, both of which they also were.

You could argue, maybe, that this shouldn’t have been a criminal offense. But how do you argue that all of the elements of it, clearly set out in the law, and given that the facts were undisputed, weren’t there?

Reading it over a couple of times, our heads are still shaking. Although, it should be noted, that Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on this one, and did uphold the law. As it reads on the books.

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Nov 17 2010

Other kinds of splits

Published by under Oregon

Be wary when you see news reports about a vote that pits “liberals” against “moderates” (or “conservatives” against “moderates” for that matter). The U.S. House vote for Democratic leader, won by Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing speaker, ought to be evidence of that.

The vote has been widely billed as one pitting the more liberal Pelosi against the more conservative Heath Shuler of North Carolina. Run through the available information about who supported who, and you find some basis for that. But:

Two of the key Democratic votes seeking a delay on the leadership vote, to December 8 – a move viewed as helping Shuler – were Oregon’s Peter DeFazio and David Wu, both considered part of the liberal wing. But neither terribly close to Pelosi.

DeFazio’s crossways with Pelosi has been clear for some time, and the Astorian reports today “that Wu was one of those voting for Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, who mounted a campaign against her.”

Ideology can define one agenda in politics. But it is only one.

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Nov 17 2010

Carrying the trend below

Published by under Idaho

Not to keep stomping on this, over and over, but the recent set of posts at interstates (h/t to Betsy Russell on this) rally cries out for mention.

This space has talked about the diminished Democratic turnout in Idaho toward the top of the ticket, with the unstated point that much the same seems to have happened downticket as well. Well, it did. Interstices took a look at results on the legislative district level in the Boise area, and voter turnout there:

Every district in Boise had fewer total votes in 2010 than in 2006. More remarkable is across Boise the decrease in total votes from 2006 to 2010 came mostly from the Democratic column. Republican votes were largely unchanged, with the exception of the increase in the District 18 Senate race that changed parties.

Cumulatively the Republican Senate candidates amassed a relatively unimpressive 870 more votes in 2010 than 2006. That’s only an average increase of 175 votes per district, but enough to flip to seats in District 18.

The real story is the total vote for Democratic candidates dropped by more than 8,300, an average loss of 1,650 Democratic votes per district. So much for the “wave election.” The asymmetry in numbers shows this was not a case of swing voters going the other way, or a significant increase in voter turnout like happened in 1994 when compared to 1990.

What happened appears to best be described as a systemic failure on the part of the Democratic Party to put on a campaign at the top of the ticket that would help drive voter turnout at the lower races such as for State Legislature.

Among other things; but the point seems well made.

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Nov 16 2010

Party leaders on Elm Street

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

What do Bob Tiernan, Jim Hansen and Luke Esser have in common?

For one, they’re all leaders of northwest state political parties – the Oregon Republicans, the Idaho Democrats and the Washington Republicans – whose parties did not especially west in this month’s elections. (Hansen is executive director, the other two chairs.)

For two, they’re all under fire. And one of them, Jim Hansen, has just been fired. Not the word formally used, but when Hansen writes on Facebook, “The chair of the Idaho Democratic Party asked me to step down as Executive Director on Dec. 31,” yeah, that’s what happened.

That Idaho chair, Keith Roark, said the move (after a decision by the party’s executive committee) was not a scapegoating and adds, correctly, that “Jim Hansen is in no way to blame for the results of this past election. The IDP has little or nothing to do or say about the individual campaigns of our candidates and Jim is no more responsible for a losing campaign than he is for a winning campaign.” All true. But a dismissal two weeks after the losses Idaho Democrats sustained, with no other reason given: What other conclusion should people draw?

Tiernan and Esser have taken some heat, certainly in the blogs, since the election too. While Democrats suffered across the board losses in Idaho, Republicans made some gains in Washington and Oregon, but well below those in many other states.

There’s some tendency in all three of these parties to point to specific personnel – often as not candidates or staff people of one sort or another – as the change that must be made. It’s rarely that simple; the three people in these tough spots all are fairly talented. And it’s hard to see who, moving into any of these ED spots (maybe Tiernan and Esser, who is close to the probably 2012 GOP gubernatorial nominee, stay put) would be the guy to turn things around. Look deeper, guys.

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