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Posts published in January 2011

So did he do anything wrong?

Idaho's Tax Commission chair, Royce Chigbrow, resigned this afternoon after a period of intense controversy.

The controversy was mostly pretty personal. It concerned allegations from employees at the tax commission that Chigbrow had, as the Associated Press reported, "intervened in tax cases involving clients of his son's accounting firm as well as for a friend and political supporter." A series of official investigations were launched into the subject.

In resigning, neither Chigbrow nor Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter - who had appointed him and today accepted his resignation - addressed the subject directly. Chigbrow's letter spoke of how he had tried to serve the state, how "I feel vindicated by previous reviews" and of a series of improvements at the commission under his watch.

Then: "Despite all of this I know there needs to be a change. While I would like to continue to serve, it is in the best interest of the Tax Commission and the state for me to step aside. Unfortunately, and perhaps unfairly, I have become the issue, which detracts from the accomplishments of the Tax Commission and the hard work that lies ahead.”

Are we meant to take from this that he did nothing wrong, but he's become a center of controversy and because of the controversy - not because of any wrongdoing - he has to step aside? Although he's basically doing a wonderful job, and did nothing wrong? Is that what we're meant to extract from the message?

If so, or if not, neither Chigbrow nor Otter seem to be saying.

Malloy’s blog

Malloy
Chuck Malloy

A new blog this week on Ridenbaugh Press, by Chuck Malloy called Malloy from the Inside. It's Malloy's first blog, and he's busy posting.

His viewpoint is a little different from what you'll ordinarily see on this page. For the last several years, he has been chief spokesman for the Idaho House Republicans, and his take on things is substantially informed by that experience. (He's recently departed from that role.) But not that alone. Before that, he also was an editorial writer for the Idaho Statesman in Boise, and earlier was political writer for the Post-Register newspaper in Idaho Falls.

I've known Chuck since we both covered politics for newspapers a long time ago. His background goes way back. His blog stands to become a regular reading stop as this next Idaho legislative session gets underway next week.

The revenues and the consequences

Take a look at this sentence, from the Publicola last week: "For Washington State, gaming and liquor are two revenue sources begging to be expanded."

The writer David Meinert surveys the many and massive state budget cuts that lie ahead, and the many lives that will be damaged by the result of those cuts, and casts around for new sources of revenue. Significant and quick bucks could be had, he argues, if the state loosened the rules and cut new deals on gambling and alcohol.

Some other states are doing it, he points out: "Minnesota is considering legalizing slot machines in bars statewide and the state estimates the expanded gambling would generate $630 million a year in new state revenue. In Pennsylvania, slots provided $616.5 million in revenue last year. With over 1.4 million more people in Washington State than Minnesota, and with a more aggressive licensing plan than Pennsylvania (where only 10 of 14 potential licenses are operating), Washington could see even more revenue."

The bar to such ideas, he writes, is "shallow politics and antiquated morals." But that hardly seems all. There are few free lunches, and prices will be paid eventually for easy bucks achieved today. (Centuries of pulp fiction got that right on the personal level.)

Horses Ass has entered the fray on this, making some of those cautionary points in more detail than we will here. But as the legislature prepares to convene, you can expect that temptations will rise.

A crime of inadvertently stopping by?

The case of Oregon v. Barry Lowell Barger, decided today by the Oregon Supreme Court, is worth some review by anyone who ... well, visiting this space or any other in the World Wide Web. Be aware that the simple process of following a link or mistyping a url could be a serious criminal violation, in the view of some people in law enforcement, though not on the Oregon Supreme Court.

Barger was being investigated in a report of child sexual abuse; in the course of it, police seized and examined his computer. They did not find any saved pictures, videos or such - the kind of stored material that have formed the basis for similar cases in the past. But criminal charges based on the computer files did ensue:

Eugene police detective Williams, who was certified in computer forensics, took possession of the computer, made a copy of the hard drive, and used certain forensic software to examine that hard drive. Based on Williams's findings, defendant was charged with eight counts of Encouraging Child Sexual Abuse in the Second Degree, ORS 163.686, by possessing or controlling a visual recording of sexually explicit conduct involving a child. Each charge was based on a separate digital image that Williams found in the computer's "temporary internet file cache."

As Williams later explained at defendant's jury trial, temporary Internet files found in a computer are the product of an automatic function of a computer's web browser. Whenever a computer user visits a web page, the browser creates a copy of the web page and stores it in a temporary Internet file "cache," where it remains until the space is used up and written over, or it is erased. If a user calls up the same web page at some later date, the browser simply accesses the copy from the temporary files, rather than going through the slower process of downloading the same information from the web page. Computer users with ordinary skills would not necessarily be aware of that function or know how to go about accessing information stored in the temporary Internet file cache.

Williams testified that, when he received the computer, only one of the three addresses that had triggered Sullivan's suspicions remained in the web-address registry but that, by examining other Internet activity files, he was able to identify two other suspicious web addresses that someone had accessed in the recent past. Williams stated that he checked all three web sites and that all appeared to contain pornographic images of prepubescent girls and girls in their early teens.

Williams testified that he then searched for similar images that might be stored on the computer's hard drive, using certain words and phrases commonly used in child pornography. He acknowledged that he did not find any images of that kind that had been purposefully copied and saved in any user's personal files. He did, however, discover sexually explicit images of prepubescent girls in the computer's temporary Internet file cache.

The prosecution then presented the specific evidence that it asserts established defendant's guilt of the eight charges of Encouraging Child Sexual Abuse. The evidence included the eight digital images, all of which Williams had discovered in the temporary Internet file cache of defendant's computer, and which were the bases of the charges. Williams acknowledged that there was nothing about the images that identified what web site they had come from and that there was no way to know with absolute certainty whether the images had been accessed intentionally by a user or "were the result of pop-up windows or browser redirects." Williams further explained, however, that pornographic pop-ups and redirects occur almost exclusively when a computer user visits another pornographic web site.

After presenting Williams's testimony, the state rested ...

Now imagine you're bouncing around the web, following links or typing in, maybe not altogether accurately, urls. Suppose you land on a site like one of those - or something else, non-pornographic but nonetheless legally troublesome - and, appalled, immediately depart for somewhere else. (Remember the former porn site that used an address something like www.whitehouse.com? A lot of people stopped there in the early days of the web before finding out what it was.) That site's record is in your browser's cache. And according to the prosecutors, you've broken the child porn law (or some other, depending on the subject matter) and should be sent to prison.

The Oregon Supreme Court did not see it that way. It reversed the state court of appeals and circuit court, and said that "we are not persuaded by the state's theories as to how and why, in the absence of some additional action by a computer user beyond that proved here, the user could be deemed to 'possess' or 'control,' in any sense that this court heretofore has recognized, a digital image that he or she has called up on a computer screen. Instead, we are satisfied that the statute before us, ORS 163.686(1)(a)(A)(i), when read in the light of its context ... embodies a considered legislative choice not to criminalize the mere 'obtaining' or 'viewing' of child pornography without consideration. Thus, we conclude that the acts at issue here - navigating to a website and bringing the images that the site contains to a computer screen - are not acts that the legislature intended to criminalize."

The casual web user may have dodged a bullet on this one.

The four, and a fifth

So the four members of the Washington reapportionment commission are all chosen. Should make for lively meetings.

The second of two Republicans on the panel is the best-known figure of the four overall: former Senator Slade Gorton, the member chosen by Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt. House Republican Leader Richard DeBolt earlier picked former state Representative Tom Huff of Gig Harbor.

The Democrats, who haven't been elected officials, will be Dean Foster, the only commissioner (so far) who has served on the panel before (in 2001), and former Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Cies.

First job for the four will be choosing a fifth member who will serve as chair and presumably break ties.

Dave Ammons of the secretary of state's office advises that "The four voting commissioners are doing their orientration and their first task will be to agree on their chairman. They won't be able to do much actual mapdrawing until they get detailed census tract data in April."

Off to the charts, soon enough.

“Sacrifice zone for foreign jobs”

Quite a bit of interest on this video about the megaload issue in this video (h/t to the OspreySteelheadNews blog). It is not a news vid - it is activist. But hang in toward the end, where there's some discussion about the large picture financial and business implications - where the push for the loads is coming from.

As is so often the case, follow the money.

Two years post-P-I

Close to two year has passed since the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, as a large and print publication, ended its run. And what of all the people who worked there?

The blog Safety Net has a thorough review, suggesting the longer-term results are maybe a little better than they once looked, but still far from great.

And remember as you read this that the people who worked at the P-I had on their resumes employment at one of the larger papers in the country.

A first shot at fixing the Senate

Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley has been in the forefront of, well, an unusually large number of significant efforts over the last years, for newcoming senator. (Now he won't be in the crop of the most-new.) One of the most useful, not to downgrade others, is his current effort to change (not end) the filibuster procedure in the Senate.

Merkley is actually a national leader on this, organizing the vote and often serving as the public voice. Here, he does a neat bit of framing: Restoring the filibuster to something like what it was in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," instead of what it's like now, which is essentially filing a document with a clerk. Won't be easy to argue against that.

Tiernan’s departure

Tiernan
Bob Tiernan

Not all the dynamics are public, now or maybe ever, for this sort of thing. But the departure of Bob Tiernan as chair of the Oregon Republican Party, a job he's held basically for the last cycle, merits a little pondering.

The move wasn't entirely unexpected. A number of other candidates have been circulating, the most visible of those being Allen Alley, who ran for governor last year and treasurer in 2008.

Often when a party chair opts out, the idea is that his (or hers) is the head to poll after an unsuccessful election. And you could say that Oregon was one of the minority of states holding back last year's Republican tide, what with the ongoing failure to elect (ever since 2002) any statewide elected official.

But that would be a crimped view. Oregon Republicans actually have improved their situation significantly over the last couple of years. The biggest indicator was their return to clout at the legislature, where they now control an even half of the House, and picked up a couple of seats in the Senate. And then there was the almost-win for governor, the party's best showing for a major office since 2002.

There's more than that. Even more significant, maybe, than the even split in the state House was the candidate recruitment party people (including legislative leaders) did to fill legislative ballot slots. House leaders came close to filling the Republican line for all 60 seats, a remarkable achievement for a party in a significant minority, and probably a big part of the reason they did as well as they did in the general election.

The Republican press release on Tiernan's departure also includes the usual list of achievements during his tenure; taken together, you have to say they add up to some real rehabilitation in organization and structure. (more…)

HQ going away, but maybe not far

In a Seattle Times Jon Talton column today, this list of Puget Sound area corporate headquarters that have gone away - somewhere - over the last decade: "It's a painful list: Boeing, Washington Mutual, Safeco, Immunex, Puget Sound Energy during the last decade."

The point of the column was to add another: Todd Pacific Shipyards, where 800 people in the area have worked.

At least this one isn't going far away: The new owner, probably (the deal evidently isn't final), is Vigor Industrial of Portland.

Talton adds this significant point: "Publicly traded Todd is essentially in play, and other bidders might emerge. Vigor is privately held and less vulnerable to Wall Street's destructive whims (take note, Microsoft and others)."

#1 from 10: The flat-line stat

The change that didn't.

From the beginning of the year to the end of the year, the region's unemployment percentages remained steady-state. It was the kind of solid, stable number that could be a good thing if it were a great deal lower. Every month, the state employment or labor departments in Washington, Oregon and Idaho would report their unemployment numbers. And every month, they would change hardly at all.

In November, Washington's unemployment rate was 9.2%, exactly the same as the month before.

A couple of weeks ago, from our Oregon Public Affairs Digest: "Oregon’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 10.6% in November, essentially unchanged from 10.5% in October. The rate has been between 10.5 and 10.7 percent for the most recent 13 months. Oregon’s unemployment rate was 10.7 percent in November 2009."

In Idaho, a little more movement up and down, but not much: "Idaho's rate, a tenth below a recession high of 9.5% in February, remained below the national rate for nine years and two months. The state rate has exceeded the year-earlier rate for 39 straight months. The rate in November 2009 was 9%."

Sooner or later, it's gotta change. But it didn't in 2010.