Writings and observations

Didn’t seem to be a lot in the Idaho press about a mining death from last April. A federal Mine Safety and Health Administration inquiry into it wrapped up this week. Here’s some of what it had to say.

On April 15, 2011, Larry Marek, miner, age 53, was killed while watering down a muck pile in a stope. A rock fall approximately 90 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 30 feet high struck him.

The accident occurred because management did not have policies and procedures that provided for the safe mining of split stopes in a multi-vein deposit. Management failed to design, install, and maintain a support system to control the ground in places where miners worked and traveled. Additionally, management failed to ensure that appropriate supervisors or other designated persons examined or tested the ground conditions where the fall occurred.

The Lucky Friday Mine, a multi-level, underground silver mine, owned and operated by Hecla Limited, is located in the Coeur d’Alene mining district approximately one mile east of Mullan, Shoshone County, Idaho. The principal operating officials are Phil Baker, CEO; John Jordan, Vice-President; and Scott Hogamier, Safety Coordinator. The mine normally operates two 12-hour shifts per day, six days a week. Total employment is 270 persons.

Silver, lead, and zinc bearing ore is drilled and blasted in open stopes. Broken material is transported from the stopes with diesel powered load-haul-dump units and underground haulage trucks to ore chutes, and then hoisted to the surface for crushing and beneficiation. Concentrates are sold to an off-site smelter for final processing.

The last regular inspection at this mine was completed on March 3, 2011. …

The accident occurred because management did not have policies and procedures that provided for the safe mining of split stapes in a multi-vein deposit. Management failed to design, install, and maintain a support system to control the ground in places where miners worked and traveled. Additionally, management failed to ensure that appropriate supervisors or other designated persons examined or tested the ground conditions where the fall occurred.

Worth remembering the next time you hear about job-killing regulation. Sometimes the lack of regulation can be killing, period.

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Idaho

That’s the top line in today’s Public Policy Polling survey. But there’s more of interest by way of establishing the context.

The favorables of the two candidates are distinctive, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici at 56-30 (favorable-unfavorable) and Republican Rob Cornilles at 44-42. Cornilles has run districtwide before and has gotten more negative headlines over time than Bonamici has. No great shock.

If we’ve been remarking here that Oregon 1 is a Democratic district, this poll shows it in item after item, and that’s probably the crucial factor. Asked “Would you prefer that the new representative from your district caucused with the Democrats or the Republicans in Congress?,” the respondents went with Democrats 50-39 – almost smack on to the top line results.

On President Obama, the favorables were soft at 49-46. The respondents still preferred him over Newt Gingrich 55-37, and over Mitt Romney 53-40. A Democratic district.

There was also this, though: “Would you support or oppose repealing Measure 36, which defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman?” This district, which surely is more Democratic and liberal than most of Oregon, opposed repeal 43-42. The forces pushing for repeal still obviously have some work to do.

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Butch Otter

Apparently, this latest sort of dustup started with this short item yesterday in the Coeur d’Alene Press, a second-hand report which hasn’t much been expanded upon by official sources:

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced to a Governor’s Ball crowd of about 200 Wednesday night in Coeur d’Alene that he’ll seek re-election in 2014, The Press has learned.
Sources told The Press that Otter twice confirmed to the audience that he will be on the 2014 ballot for governor.

By this morning, the talk was all over: Was the 2014 governor’s race now just a pro forma, with C.L. “Butch” Otter automatically the gov for another seven years? No Brad Little, no Raul Labrador, no Tom Luna? (None of whom, surely, would primary Otter.)

Start with this: While serious won’t-run announcements occasionally are made as early as this (Cecil Andrus and Dirk Kempthorne both made them), serious will-run announcements almost never are. Even the won’t-runs aren’t typical, because it time-stamps the end of your clout. But will-runs, while they may be sort of presumptive (especially in the case of first terms), are a different matter. Few are willing to commit that far into the future, for good reason. Things can change, and often do.

In Otter’s case, one of those things simply could be age. When his current term is up, he’ll be 72; at the end of a term after that, 76. And they could be achievement: It’s not at all clear what Otter intends to achieve in this term that he didn’t in his last. What would be his fresh agenda for a third?

The Idaho Statesman‘s Dan Popkey has three other convincing and plausible reasons not to accept a will-run announcement at this point: He needs to project strength going into a tough 2012 legislative session; his campaign treasury is deeply in debt (to the tune of around $200,000), and a possible future campaign could help him with fundraising; and he may want to push back against critiques (like the one here in a recent Chris Carlson column) that he’s been “phoning it in” as a part-time, detached governor.

2014 is a long way off. Foreclose no options just yet.

UPDATE Two additional thoughts, both from credible sources, pointing in two different directions. Or maybe they mesh together, though both point to a retirement scenario.

One: Otter was caught off-guard and didn’t want to look weak in front of a supportive crowd.

Two: “Which is that Otter has announced to keep Luna, Wasden, and Labrador from being able to start fundraising… The lobbyists all know that Otter isn’t going to run again and that Little is the man afterwards.”
Otter is just buying Little more time to get his house in order

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Most folks are familiar with the phrase: “You have the right to remain silent.” It is the beginning of the Miranda Warning, and is derived from a person a Federal judge ordered released because the arresting police did not inform him of his right.

He walked because he talked, incriminating himself, so his conviction was overturned. In the process this criminal became almost immortal.

Another figure of speech is “public figure.” How this is defined and who determines who is one has become a vexing issue especially in terms of the relationship between media and the public.

Do we really have a right to remain silent? In the legal sense one does appear to have a right to protection from self-incriminating statements. However, in a p.r./press sense it appears NOT to be the reality.

Think about the few professional athletes who have tried to protect privacy in their lives. To a person, they are crucified by a media which deems them public figures because of their exploits on a court, or a football field or a baseball diamond. Woe to the athlete who naively thinks what he does on the field speaks for itself. It makes no difference if he or she is shy and modest or hasn’t ever spoken to the media.

Somehow, if they don’t respond to some insensitive reporter’s inane questions they instantly become arrogant, aloof jerks who don’t understand the media has a job to do and the star has an obligation to satisfy the insatiable urge of fans to know everything about them, from the color of their underwear to what they eat for breakfast. They are, after all, public figures. But are they? Just what does it take to be deemed a public figure?

It used to be if one was an elected public servant or ran for public office or made their living in part by selling services that large numbers of people paid to watch, such a person was deemed a public person and ipso facto, no longer in possession of any right to privacy. So the list broadened from elected officials and candidates to movie stars, sports stars, business moguls, super-lawyers, super-doctors, etc.

Somewhere along the way a sense of anyone having a right to privacy, of possessing an ability to decline to comment on any question asked by the media without having the non-response portrayed as an implied admission of guilt or of hiding something became totally lost.

Somewhere along the way the media appropriated to itself the right to deem anyone a public figure for any reason. Editors became judges and juries, and regardless of how arbitrary, capricious and downright irresponsible they wanted to be, they could hide behind their First Amendment right to say just about anything about anybody with nary a fear of legal or public retribution.

Our system of carefully crafted checks and balances got tossed on the trash heap of history with most not having a clue as to how, where and when it was lost. Without checks, abuses of course can and do occur.

I have a good friend who runs a business in the inland northwest. His step-son in a mid-western city lied to him (and the mother), borrowed a large sum which he promptly put into a ponzi scheme to defraud others. Like all such schemes, it finally collapsed.

The step-son was indicted and the step-father called to appear before a Grand Jury. The FBI assured him he had done nothing wrong, that he was a victim like many others. The completely innocent businessman awoke one morning to see his personal financial challenges, which had not impacted his business in anyway, nonetheless splashed across the front page of his hometown business paper thousands of miles from where the fraud occurred. An editor decided he was a public figure and the public had a right to know about this intensely personal situation. Really?

There was zero news value to this man’s personal financial challenges. Nonetheless he was held up to public scrutiny and deeply embarrassed for no reason whatsoever. Why, he kept asking, and no one could answer the question.

He had of course “remained silent,” declining to answer any questions when called by a reporter, indeed challenging the reporter to explain why he was even being called and this was deemed “news worthy” and he a “public figure.” His silence was used against him, and the story, which had no redeeming value whatsoever, ran in other media for several days as well.

So think again the next time you hear the claim of a non-existent right to remain silent and that you are also a private person with a right to a zone of privacy. If some media editor somewhere thinks otherwise, you’re screwed.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andurs. He lives at Medimont.

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Dennis Griffin, our newest author – of From Scratch: Inside the Lightning Launch of the College of Western Idaho – delivered a presentation to the Idaho State Board of Education on December 8, during the “open forum” portion of the meeting. He was there to discuss the publication of his new book, which he had talked about writing even while the development of the college was underway.

Here are some of his notes from the meeting:

I introduced myself as the founding president and served between Aug. 2007 – Aug. 2009 (several people are still on the board who where there then). I explained that when we went through it all, I kept saying “I really should write a book when this is over, nobody would believe us about all the balls we have in the air.”

When I retired, several reminded me of saying that. So for the past two years, I have been working on the project, and now it’s complete.

I did it for three reasons:
-Historical record
-As a tribute to my team and to the board — to leave a legacy
-As a tribute the dozens of people and organization both inside the college and especially in the community who made this happen

I mentioned to the board that Governor Otter had written the forword, and several others had written “blurbs” for the book.

I told them there are lots of personal stories and behind-the-scenes experiences in the book. And it also includes such thngs as:

– A short history of the community college movement for the past 30 years

– A description of the campaign leading up to the successful referendum

– A short history of BSU’s junior/community college history and the transfer of that function to CWI

– A short history of the Selland College

– Stories of many of the legal transactions including the land transfer from the state and BSU

– I mentioned where the book could be purchased

There were lots of smiles from the board members and nods of approval. The board President thanked me for doing the book. The audience applauded.

I felt very good about the reception I got.

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Rob Cornilles at McMinnville/Randy Stapilus

It wasn’t a debate exactly – maybe something like an abbreviated Lincoln/Douglas, since Republican Rob Cornilles and Democrat Suzanne Bonamici each got an extended period, in sequence, to pitch themselves, and did not engage each other. But for those (such as us) who’ve seen them before individually, but not giving stump speeches, it was useful.

A few observations. (First, a disclaimer: The event was organized by the MacMinnville Chamber of Commerce and the McMinnville City Club, of both of which we are members.)

Cornilles is a gifted public speaker. The Oregonian article today outlining his business, which noted that at times he could speak for hours on end and still keep an audience attentive and interested, seems not far off. Though he spoke long enough at this event to put that to the test; his stump speech was longish, felt that way, and was about twice as long as Bonamici’s.

It was well organized, though, and simple. The rationale for his candidacy was based simply around creating jobs and his business experience. His plan was geared to three bullet points: Simplifying and making more predictable the federal tax code, encouraging foreign trade as long as it’s fair, and balancing the federal budget. His speech didn’t range far from those subjects. It did not have an especially partisan ring to it, and he even acknowledged some concerns from the left about trade and “mega-corporations” (his word, and one not often heard from Republican candidates).

He believes, he said, in solving problems rather than “pointing fingers.” Seconds later, though, he said this: “We’ve been electing lawyers turned politicians for years now. How do you like the results?” Bonamici, not coincidentally, is an attorney.

He also fired off in passing several other shots at the opposition, accusing her (implicitly) of being a lockstep partisan (using the 98% voting record stat) and suggesting that the million dollars national Democrats are reportedly putting into the race will go to negative TV spots (and “Let’s send the message that we’re tired of more of the same”).

bonamici
Suzanne Bonamici at McMinnville/Randy Stapilus

Bonamici isn’t as polished, but she’s a tougher and crisper speaker than when the race began, and she outlined her economic approach at least as efficiently (emphasizing provision of capital for small businesses and infrastructure development, as well as trade). She brought up (in effect) the abortion issues which Cornilles hadn’t, contrasting her pro-choice views with his pro-life position. (That’s a rough shorthanding on a subject surely not done yet.)

She also responded effectively to Cornilles’ shots. She said a study of her legislative voting showed that she votes with Republicans about as much as with Democrats, since so much of legislative activity is necessarily bipartisan. And she got a useful question on the lawyer-as-politician idea from Yamhill Commissioner Mary Stern, who also happens to be an attorney. Bonamici said that her experience as a legislator and attorney is helpful in getting the work done, and she didn’t know any other line of work “where experience is a bad thing.”

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The National Journal is reporting that national Democratic organizations are preparing to unload $1 million, basically for television time, in the special election in the Oregon 1st district that wraps up on January 31.

The Journal compared the buy to a massive Republican buy for an open House seat in Nevada a few months ago.

“The NRCC’s gamble paid off in the Reno district that only voted for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008 by 89 votes – Republican Mark Amodei won by a 22 point margin. While the Portland seat is far safer for Democrats – President Obama took this district with 61 percent of the vote – if you can take one thing away from this volatile climate, it’s that no one is safe. On the heels of their embarrassment in Weiner’s seat, and especially as the presidential race is amping up next year and Democrats are trying to make a case to donors that they can win back the House, a loss in Oregon would a fatal blow,” the report said.

A win by Republican Rob Cornilles over Democrat Suzanne Bonamici probably would be tough. That’s said with no polling having yet surfaced (interesting) and with weeks to go before the ballots hit.

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When the international monitors of the Internet domain name system decided to add .xxx to their list of allowable suffixes, did they have any idea what sort of business models would be unleashed?

They probably didn’t expect universities snapping up those domains.

But universities around the country are doing just that, grabbing the rights to .xxx domains. The University of Washington among them.

That’s where some of Washington’s tax dollars are going, according to a Seattle Times report: “The UW also spent several thousand dollars to protect university trademarks, focusing on the brands UW, Huskies and Dawgs to keep them from being turned into “.xxx” websites, said Kathy Hoggan, director of trademarks and licensing for the UW. Officials at the university didn’t spend a lot of time trying to imagine what twists the adult-entertainment industry might put on the UW’s image: “It’s difficult for us to anticipate what might come to a porno mind,” Hoggan said, laughing.”

You can understand why, and sympathize a bit in cases like this.

It surely must be better than government agencies seizing sites – secretly and without any allowable challenge.

That latter activity, just coming to light, has outraged Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who’s turned into the chief national Internet defender in recent months.

Consider this from the site Threat Level:

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) said Friday he would demand answers from the Department of Homeland Security about its domain seizure program known as Operation in Our Sites after it was revealed that the government kept a hip-hop music review site’s name for a year without affording the owner a chance to challenge the seizure.

Wyden also wants to know why there was no court record of the case, other than the initial seizure filing a year ago.

“I expect the administration will be receiving a series of FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] requests from our office and that the senator will have very pointed questions with regard to how the administration chooses to target the sites that it does,” said Jennifer Hoelzer, a Wyden spokeswoman. She said the senator was “particularly interested in learning how many secret dockets exist for copyright cases. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious precedent or explanation for that.”

Wyden’s interest comes a day after federal authorities returned the domain name dajaz1.com, which was back online greeting visitors Friday with a powerful message about proposed web-censorship legislation that expands the government — and copyright holders — power to shutter and cripple sites suspected of copyright infringement.

The effort to keep the Internet open will be an ongoing one.

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You could say, in some ways, the pride of the Washington congressional delegation in recent decades has been specific inclusion of provisions that allow residents of the state to deduct sales tax costs from their federal income tax payments, the way income tax tax payments are deducted in most other states.

It makes some rational sense, since there’s no income tax in Washington. But it requires a little extra effort and cooperation with other states to get it done. And it matters considerably: In 2009, about 850,000 taxpayers in Washington claimed $1.8 billion through the deduction.

But it has to be regularly re-upped. Will it continue this year, in a time of such extreme conflict over tax provisions?

No one knows right now. A statement out today from Representative Jim McDermott: “As Congress moves closer to adjourning for the year, it has yet to pass critical legislation that affects millions of Washington state residents – extending the state and local sales tax deduction. Today, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA) called on the leaders of Ways and Means Committee – the tax-writing committee in the House of Representatives – to include an extension of this deduction in any tax package that is considered in the remaining days of the congressional calendar.”

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One of the talking points surfaced in recent months from those defending the low tax rates for the wealthiest is that many people – somewhere close to half – pay no income tax, mainly because income levels are so small and much of what remains is covered by deductions and other tax provisions. That argument overlooks the many other taxes these people do pay, from payroll to sales and (directly or indirectly) property taxes.

Maybe a little more useful is a new report out showing how much the largest corporations pay in federal and state taxes. The report called Corporate Tax Dodging in the Fifty States, 2008-2010 by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy and Citizens for Tax Justice was released yesterday.

In Oregon, the Center for Public Policy did a little localizing. From their statement:

“The report confirms the need for state corporate disclosure laws,” said Chuck Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “Oregonians have a right to know which large corporations are using accounting gimmicks, special laws and tax loopholes to avoid paying income taxes on their profits.”

Of the 265 corporations studied, 68 paid no net state income taxes in at least one of the years from 2008 to 2010 — even as these companies together reported making almost $117 billion in pre-tax profits in the years when they paid no taxes.

That group included Intel and 19 other Fortune 500 corporations which, when adding up the past three years, paid no net state income taxes. Although Intel paid state income taxes in one of the three years, it had a negative tax rate in the other two years, according to the report. The company, which has large manufacturing facilities in Hillsboro, reported to shareholders $23.3 billion in profits during the three-year period.

International Paper is another Fortune 500 corporation with production facilities in Oregon identified as having paid no net state income taxes over the combined three-year period, though it did pay taxes in one of those years.

The report revealed a wide range of state income tax rates paid by corporations, even among companies in the same industry. For example, Wells Fargo paid state income taxes at a rate of 0.7 percent on $49.7 billion in profits during the three-year period. But another financial services company, J.P. Morgan Chase, had a tax rate of 9.1 percent on $32.7 billion in profits during the same period.

Likewise, McDonald’s had a tax rate of 4.8 percent on profits of $8.2 billion, while Yum! Brands (owner of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell) had a tax rate of -0.4 percent on profits of $1.1 billion.

Such different tax outcomes for profitable corporations in the same line of business underscore the need for disclosure, Sheketoff said.

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