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Posts published in September 2011

Speaker to chair

The announcement by Dave Hunt, the Oregon state House member who is a former speaker, that he's running for chair of the Clackamas County commission, isn't a shock; word has been circulating for a while.

The sheer number of Democrats departing the Oregon Legislature in the last few months, or seeking to, is interesting, though: A couple now running for Congress, another moving into the Kitzhaber Administration.

One guess that redistricting might have had something to do with this could seem reasonable, but doesn't hold up. Like other legislators, Hunt was not thrown into a district-untenable situation for 2012; he ought to have been able to manage well enough in his new district. Maybe better than in Clackamas as a whole, since Clackamas is a politically marginal county. Party registration does tip to the Democrats (a reversal from a decade ago), but not by a lot. And more-Democratic Washington County has in recent times chosen more-conservative over more-liberal county officials. Clackamas chair isn't a slam dump.

But it could have an effect on politics in 2012 in Clackamas overall. And a strong candidate running countywide could have some benefit for Democrats in the marginal areas.

The other California immigrants

From Linda Watkins, Ridenbaugh Press editor who works with rescue dogs through PEt Adoption Network.

Facebook and several Oregon news stations are full of updates today about a “rescue bus” that broke down in Grants Pass yesterday. The bus was carrying approximately 100 small dogs released from the East County Animal Shelter in Los Angeles and bound for Sunny Sky’s Rescue in Puyallup. Included is one Chihuahua who just had puppies, and another ready to whelp at any moment.

At the last report state police had arrived with water, help, and volunteers. Groups on Facebook have set up donation accounts to help the rescue with bus repairs, possible vehicle rentals, and/or housing for the dogs if needed.

It’s turning into a heartwarming story of people trying to help otherwise doomed animals and needing help themselves – another story of the community stepping up to help neighbors in need.

But the drama of the story overshadows the real question: Why in the heck are 100+ dogs being shipped out of California to Washington state for adoption? Aside from the fact that such a long drive can’t be good for small dogs who already have some health issues, surely with their population California shouldn’t have any problem finding homes for these dogs in-state?

Sadly the answer is “no” – the dogs are being shipped north because there are no homes for them in California. Nor is there enough space in the California shelters or rescues for these dogs.

In the last three years the number of dogs being shipped out of California has skyrocketed.

At first there were single-dog or at most a half-dozen to a dozen-dog transports from Northern and North Coast shelters. It made sense as these shelters are actually closer and more easily accessible for Oregon rescues. Then a few Central California shelter dogs were added into the mix. And that made sense too as they were usually sending breeds in high demand up north, but in short supply – breeds like Chihuahuas, small terriers, poodles, etc. It seems that most of the dogs in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia shelters were larger, outdoorsy, active breeds and the small house and lap dogs were hard to come by. So providing a few of California’s excess “ankle biters” the opportunity to have a good home seemed like a good thing to do.

As the rescue networks grew, and the transportation up I-5 became more established, the numbers of dogs increased, and they started coming from shelters further south: Stanislaus County/Modesto, Kern County/Bakersfield, Lancaster, San Bernardino/Devore, Los Angeles, and Orange County. And as word of the abysmal conditions in these shelters spread, more rescues (and shelters) offered to take more of these easily adoptable small dogs – resulting in multiple transports that regularly ferry 40 to 100 dogs per week to the Pacific Northwest.

There’s no doubt that these dogs needed to get out of the shelters: Each day I hear (and have experienced) more horror stories about the conditions in the California shelters: overcrowded and underfunded, many of them contain twice the number of animals they were built to hold; dogs sit in overcrowded cages and fight for food as they are not able to be fed separately; the lack of volunteers and shelter staff means little exercise or attention and minimal sanitation; dogs coming in as strays with broken bones or other injuries are left without medical treatment and at the end of their “stray hold” period are either euthanized or offered to “rescue only;” kennel cough is rampant because of the overcrowding and lack of sanitation. Dogs come out of the shelters dehydrated, underfed, severely depressed, suffering from PTSD, and severe upper respiratory diseases as well as parasites, parvo, and distemper.

A healthy, well-adjusted dog will have some chance of getting out onto the adoption floor, but for each dog that makes it that far, several will go into the “holding” area where they will eventually be killed unless a rescue can find room to take them. So it’s no wonder that shelters and rescues in other states are stepping up to help these dogs – but the cost is great. (more…)

A legalization turning point?

Up to this point, the effort to end flat criminalization of marijuana - as opposed to the idea of legalizing, tax and regulating it possibly along the lines of alcohol - has gotten support from occasional politicians, of both parties at various times. But the breadth of support has been limited. It takes broad support to make a major change.

Which makes this of interest: The Washington Democratic Party has gone on record endorsing such a measure: Backing Initiative 502, to legalize, tax and regulate.

That action was taken by the Washington State Democratic Central Committee voted 75-43 on Saturday afternoon. Will be interesting to see what a number of Democratic officeholders in the state, most of whom have not gotten on board the idea, will have to say about it. But you do in any event get the sense that, politically, a corner is being turned.

Carlson: The grain of truth

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There was some hullabaloo a couple months back about the possible establishment of a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) near the Boise Airport with the People’s Republic of China.

Some members of Idaho’s Republican right wing immediately smelled a plot. Conservative Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was accused of selling off Idaho to the “Reds.” Resolutions condemning the FTZ were passed in several counties by GOP central committees. Obsequious legislators promised to introduce legislation prohibiting such heinous activity.

The media had a fine time ridiculing this paranoia by the philosophical descendents of the John Birch Society. Proponents were likened to the all-time champion communist hunting senator from Wisconsin, Joseph A. McCarthy, and his cohort in the Senate, Herman Welker, mockingly known as “Little Joe from Idaho.”

As is the case, though, beneath the hullabaloo, an element of truth is present. After all, Senators McCarthy and Welker were partially correct - there were card-carrying members of the American Communist Party working in the State Department and sympathizers in Hollywood. The issue was the excessive abuse of one’s civil liberties the witch-hunting senators applied in their zeal to save America from the threat of take over from within.

The element of truth lingering beneath the surface of this latest manifestation of a commie under every bed is the fact that the Chinese are well on their way to achieving a super power role and becoming the world’s dominant power by the end of this century. To say this is not to be paranoid. The factual evidence is already present.

Say what one wants, but the Chinese are executing a 50-year plan that will see their economy replacing ours as the world’s largest. As most military experts will testify, it is economic might that underlies true military strength, and the Chinese appear to have divined that the key to both economic and military might is controlling the production and ownership of the so-called rare earth minerals critical to the further development of technological aids in the world of computers and advanced electronics.

Statistics published by the National Mining Association indicate the Chinese already own or have a dominant position in firms controlling 96 percent of the world’s production of rare earth minerals. Some argue this reflects the realities of the demands of China’s expanding economy and is not a consequence of any strategy to dominate the future. Rather it is a necessity. Perhaps.

Idaho is a player on the chessboard of world geo-politics also, though not because of the possible establishment of a free trade zone. (more…)

Hairpin curves

This morning's reports on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's energetic talk at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was all about Microsoft's future, which sounds from this distance to be very much a work in progress.

What sounded very much like a keynote line: "If Windows 8 is Windows re-imagined, we're also in the process of re-imagining Microsoft."

The catch is that Windows 8, many details of which have been circulating for a while now, sounds a little problematic. It is understandably aimed at new technology - intended to be much more tablet and mobile device-friendly - but it seems to be caught betwixt. Windows as an OS aimed specifically at desktop/laptop computers has had a coherence, but one spread among too many uses seems kinf of scattered, with pieces more useful for some places than for others.

Is that the Microsoft to come? Or just another of tech's hairpin cruves?

Instadistrict

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has issued his order asking the party leaders in the Idaho Legislature, and the state Republican and Democratic chairs, to name new members to the Idaho Redistricting Commission, the six previous members being ineligible for a rerun.

A new meeting might occur, and the process resume, late in the month.

It might be a creative interpretation of the law (snd probably impermissible, in truth, since he's an elective officeholder), but consider this - suppose all six appointers name the same person to the commission: Ben Ysursa. Or all six new members simply agreed, sight unseen, to pass whatever Ysursa came up with.

The idea of Ysursa drawing the map has been circulating around. Boise consultant Marc Johnson blogged on it a few days ago. I've spoken with some Republicans and some Democrats about it, and all gave the idea a thumbs up. Ysursa is a nearly unique quality: He's a Republican, but people in both parties, broadly, say they would trust him to do an honest job fair to both sides. After decades of much praise and remarkably scant criticism (from either party) in overseeing Idaho elections, that comes as no surprise.

It goes with the type of person Ysursa is, however, that he almost certainly will want nothing to do with the idea ...

And the Oregon GOP moves …

Political news in the last few years has been full of reports, nationally, about how far to the right state (and the national) Republican parties have been moving, many taking on messages tht heavily overlap Tea Party and similar groups.

But ... not in Oregon. This year's Oregon legislative session, when Republicans could have (if they'd followed the trend in some other places) brought work to a halt and locked Salem into furious trench warfare, emerged as something different and in the national context unusual: Cooperative, productive, often centrist-looking.

Was that a fluke, and a repulse of the state party organization? Last weekend suggests not. The state Republican central committee met in Bend, and revised their party platform, generally leftward.

The Oregonian reported, "Wording that essentially condemned same-sex marriage and civil unions, and that stated such couples were unfit to be parents, was removed from the official party platform during a weekend convention in Bend. "We want the public to take another look at the Republican Party and our policies," said Greg Leo, spokesman for the state party. "It's fair to say we're more centrist." "

The question arose about how a larger group of active Republicans will respond to that next year. And, of course, other Oregonians as well.

Differences large and small

Everyone laughed when someone asked, during the Washington Redistricting Commission's press conference period after the formal meeting today, where Dennis Kucinich's congressional district was. (In Ohio, someone suggested.)

And Democrat Tim Ceis spoke up to agree with Republican (former Senator) Slade Gorton to say that their maps of congressional districts are really a lot more similar than many people probably assume.

All that said, the Washington remap group, which released its individual-member (four of them) individual maps today, clearly has a lot of work ahead of it.

There is, for example, the matter of majority-minority congressional districts - districts in which minorities actually make up most of the voting population. The Republicans on the panel, as one reporter noted, seem to be a lot more interested in creating maj-min congressional districts than the Democrats were. Which on its surface sounds a little counterintuitive.

Or not. Put aside Gorton's contention that this simply represents communities of interest compact sizes; it also means that more Democrats are bunched together into fewer districts, giving Republicans more of a chance in the districts that remain. Republicans currently have four of nine U.S. House districts; one issue is whether the new map gives them an edge in winning five or more.

Key in this will be how Olympia is deployed within the new district structure, how King County is split and where - not if - one or two districts jump the Cascade Mountains. (Population considerations are going to make at least one trans-Cascades district highly likely.

The current District 8, closely balanced between the parties but long held by Republicans (now Dave Reichert) and also the mot overpopulated of the state's nine districts, might become "slightly less marginal" - that is, more Republican, Gorton said. Ceis, a Democratic commission member, said thst he's seen plans in which that area's district has a largest city of Issaquah, and second-largest of Wenatchee. Most plans do, however, have something like a new District 3 that's "more Cowlitz-Clark centered."

Then there's the proposed district that takes in the San Juan Islands in the far northwest, and Chelan on the east side of the Cascades. Asked to justify that linkup, Gorton said "they're both rural, not metro Puget Sound," and unique San Juan County is almost inevitably going to be lumped in with areas unlike it. Didn't sound like a sale among the Democrats, though.

There were issues among the legislative districts as well. Spokane Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Cmden said that a look at the three Spokane-area districts in one Republican plan suggested all three would be Republican districts, compared to the one-D, one-R, one-competitive mix at present. (He was told the Republicans saw them as "three competitive districts." Probably no sale among the Democrats there, either.)

The next meeting, and some of the hardest negotiations, will come October 11.

Denial reviews: Some more than orders

In the
PUBLIC
AFFAIRS
DIGESTS

One of the usually-obscure state agency rules changes in Idaho last week concerns something that could be of life-altering concern to some Idahoans: The rules covering external review of denials, policies and other details of health insurance provider consumer relations. The changes, many coming at the request of insurers, provide for reviews "to include denials based on appropriateness, health care setting, level of care and effectiveness."

The reviews mean that when a policy holder has a complaint, an external review can be undertaken to sort out the situation, rather than the highly expensive resort to a lawsuit. This grows out of federal health care law; the general provisions were put in place in Idaho last year, covering policies issue or renewed since the start of 2010. State generally have been doing this; Idaho is among the states which have received a federal approval for its program, run through the state Department of Insurance.

Considering the numbers of complaints people have had about health insurance, one might expect this to be a very busy area. But in Idaho, not so much. Eileen Mundorff, who works on the program, said that in the first calendar year of the program (2010), the department received 13 requests for external review; of those, two company denials were overturned by independent review organizations. So far in 2011 the department has received 22 external review requests, and as of September 8, an estimated $284,821 was recovered for policyholders. Idaho has been approved by the federal government as meeting requirements for external reviews.

Not a lot of requests, though the money recovered when inquiries are undertaken can clearly be substantial.

Oregon, whose insurance division has been tracking all insurance complaints though differently (more comprehensively and for more years) reports in 2010 that there were 912 total complaints and 555 "confirmed complaints." (Of the 912, Regence BlueCross BlueShield accounted for 162, which may be one reason Northwest stat regulators had a recent sit-down with the firm in Salem recently.)

Similarly, the Washington insurance commissioner's office reports that for 2010 (as in Oregon, the most recent figures available) health insurance complaints totaled 562 (of which the Washington and Oregon Regence organizations accounted for more than half).

Are these somehow apple and orange comparisons? If not, what accounts for the difference in numbers of complaints? Is there a reason Idahoans are much less inclined to report health insurance complaints?

DEW

Oregon's allowance of early candidate filing allows for some really early warnings of campaign strangeness to come. The first two days of filing, on Thursday and Friday, were enough to provide one.

Most of the filings (and remember this is the opening of filing - the deadline is many months away) were by incumbent legislators, with a smattering of judges and district attorneys. Just one for Congress, so far. But what a filing it is.

Remember Art Robinson, the Republican candidate for District 4 - against Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio, from 2010? Well, he's back for another go-round in 2012.

He gave bloggers and others much to work with in 2010. We reported on him on several occasions (on notable quotes, on education views and a good deal else. His interview - if you can call it that - with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC was something of a classic.

And this time he's getting an early start.