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Posts published in October 2012

Back to the Bench?

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With presidential debates behind us and just a few days until half of the eligible voters cast their ballots on November 6th, let’s check the indices outlined in a mid-September column for tracking who may win.

1) The 80/40 rule which basically says if President Obama receives over 80% of the total minority vote, Governor Romney has to receive an almost impossible to obtain 60% of the total white vote. It appears the President is hanging right there at the 80% number but some of that is considered “soft” and could still switch. Meantime Governor Romney has started to surge among the white vote primarily
due to a significant swing in the female vote (an 18 point turn around) and also is closing in on the 60% number. Toss-up.

2) Independent women are starting to move gravitating towards Romney due in part to the challenger’s strong performance in the first debate and to his staying on the economic message which is his strength. Advantage: Romney.

3) As goes Ohio so will go the challenger’s hopes. The President still leads in the crucial state, but momentum is with Romney as he is closing the gap and is within the margin of error in most polls. However, Romney may have surged ahead in several other crucial toss-up states including Florida, Colorado and Nevada. In close races the one with momentum at the end usually prevails. Advantage:
Romney.

4) The 5% lie factor. Clearly this one benefits Governor Romney and one suspects part of his closing surge is in fact from those who are now giving an honest answer to pollsters rather than what they perceive to be the politically correct answer. Advantage: Romney.

5) The money race. President Obama had a record breaking August, collecting $181 million but the Romney campaign collected $171 million according to press accounts so Romney still leads the money race. (more…)

College: Appropriations down, needs up

isu
Pocatellan Robert Kimber, center, shares a laugh with ISU President Arthur Vailas, left, and ISU Foundation President Arlo Luke at the Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

 

mendiola
Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

Emphasizing that higher education helps drive economic development, Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas said during his recent “State of the University” presentation that the state’s colleges and universities still need substantial financial support from the Legislature to cope with increasingly tight budgets.

“Appropriations continue to decline,” Vailas told business, government and education leaders at the ISU Stephens Performing Arts Center. “The state always should have a role and continued responsibility in support of education.”

ISU’s health profession departments treat 40,000 patients a year, but Idaho still does not have a medical school, he lamented, pointing out that the state’s rural communities are the most underserved in the United States in regards to health care.

Tuition and fees totaling $71.76 million in Fiscal 2012 were the largest revenue source for ISU, edging out state appropriations that totaled $70.59 million. Grants and contracts amounting to $55.6 million were the third largest slice of the Pocatello university’s budget pie. ISU has submitted $164.3 million in grant proposals for Fiscal 2012 compared to $108.3 million submitted the previous year to help fill funding needs.

“The competitiveness of getting outside support is more and more challenging,” Vailas said, noting federal stimulus funding has disappeared and budget earmarks are gone. “Expenditures have grown as well.”

ISU’s full-time equivalent fall 2012 enrollment was up 2.1 percent this year at 11,251 students, but total unduplicated student head count was up 3.4 percent at 19,284 students and undergraduate head count was up 4.5 percent at 14,205 students.

Total non-resident students increased 4 percent, but total international students increased 29 percent. Jesse Kiboko, immigration advisor with ISU’s international programs office, said ISU’s 700 international students – representing 58 countries or about 3 percent of ISU’s total enrollment – spent about $1 million to enroll at ISU. Their numbers are expected to double to 1,400 by 2014, Kiboko said.

ISU’s total degrees and certificates awarded in Fiscal 2012 were up 6 percent, with 33 percent of the degrees awarded in Health Professions, and 18 percent in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines. Forty-nine percent of the degrees were bachelor degrees; 21 percent, master degrees; 15 percent, associate degrees; 8 percent, technical certificates, and 7 percent, doctorates. (more…)

The yagottabekiddin clause

Last weekend I wrote in a column that the financial terms of the computer deal between the state of Idaho and HP sounded, on a per-computer basis, not so terrible.

I take it back. The terms do turn out to be terrible. Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review read through the terms of the agreement, and she found this:

The company will retain title to the computers, and the state, which will just be renting them, will be liable for all risk of loss, including damage or theft. The contract, in Attachment 1 on Page 5, says, “Lessee,” which in this case is the state, “shall bear the entire risk of loss with respect to any asset damage, destruction, loss, theft, or governmental taking, whether partial or complete.” If a laptop is damaged, the state must have it repaired at state expense - within 60 days. If one is lost or stolen, the state would have to pay H-P for it.

I'd had the impression - and probably most Idahoans had - that the contract would include repair, coverage and maintenance on the part of the contractor, who is after all getting paid approaching $200 million. But no. A second-grader drops the computer on the way home from school, Idaho taxpayers pay. A fourth-grader downloads a virus that corrupts the bios, and maybe spreads it to classmates, Idaho taxpayers pay.

Tens of thousands of computers. Liability: Seemingly unlimited. Unbelievable.

Not necessarily so awful

Jack Bog's role is that of the cynic - he doesn't vary from it a lot - so his take on the new Oregonian poll, showing Charles Hales easily defeating Jefferson Smith in the Portland mayoral, meaning the strong probability of a Hales mayoralty, is par.

Of course, he doesn't frame it as a strong likelihood but as a done deal, which it isn't till the votes are counted. But it is a strong likelihood, and we didn't even need the O poll to know it. Hales has had some missteps this year, but Smith's crash and burn goes up on the top 10 list of Northwest political spectacle C&Bs in the last decade.

Jack's brief on Hales: "Portland's biggest problem these days is that its basic government services have been crippled by runaway bureaucracy, unfunded pensions, and City Hall subsidization of bad real estate development. Hales was an eager participant on all three fronts during the reign of Mother Vera, and despite whatever platitudes he's mouthing during the campaign, he is going to continue all of those unfavorable trends, with gusto in fact."

There's likely a good deal of truth in that, at least as regards Hales' back history. But as in any state, or state or country for that matter, problems and decisions come not in ones or two but en masse, which is why voters are best off trying to understand a candidate's thinking process - you never know what they might have to confront down the road.

And the new dynamic of a revised city council, which will among others include the balloon-puncturing Steve Novick. There is the potential, at least, for some freshness coming from that quarter.

Mayors can surprise you when they get into office. Hales might yet have a surprise or two in him.

Can free speech be too free?

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

While standing in the checkout line the other day at my favorite warehouse store, a middle-aged couple pushed a partially-filled shopping cart up behind me. While both were well-dressed, his demeanor told me he was probably retired military. Because of a large VA hospital in our little burg, we’ve a large retired military presence. Usually makes for good neighbors.

Noting my nearly-filled shopping cart, he said innocently “Looks like you’re stocking up.”

I smiled and said “You bet. With gas at $4 a gallon, I’m making fewer trips to shop so I try to fill the list each time.”

“There’s only one reason for gas prices to be what they are,” he said with a suddenly edgy tone. Before I could ask what that was, he continued, “That damned Muslim Obama and his Muslim friends are trying to take away all our money.”

Silence. Somewhat awkward silence. But, always one with a snappy, on-point response to such statements, my retort was – - – “Oh?”

Upon recovery I asked sort of jokingly – deliberately ignoring the obvious – “If you were running for president in a tight, national election, and could control the price of gas, wouldn’t you cut it to someplace around $1.25?”

“He’s not going to cut anything,” the man said. “He and his Muslim friends won’t be happy until we’re broke and living under Sharia law.”

Regaining my composure a bit, I asked “You really think the President controls the price of gas?”

“You bet,” he replied. “And he won’t be happy until the Muslims control everything American.”

“Are there any facts to the contrary that would make you change your mind,” I asked.

“None” was the curt, one word answer.

My turn with the cashier came at that point and we parted. Quickly.

What do you say during such an encounter? What do you think when someone says obviously crazy things like that? What do you say?

While that was the most direct, strident, hate-filled encounter with such anger and ignorance for me recently, it certainly isn’t the only one. It’s in my incoming email file every 24 hours. It’s in “news” accounts each day. It’s the picture of a guy at a Romney rally wearing the words “Put white back in the White House” on his shirt. It’s political campaigners telling their audience we need to “send Obama home to Kenya.” It’s pictures of Americans wearing pistols and waving heavier weapons at otherwise peaceful events. It’s pictures of the President morphed with pictures of Hitler. It’s hate on bumper stickers like one with a rebel flag in our burg saying “I’m paying a bounty for Obama’s hide.” And more. Much, much more.

I’ve been accused by more than one acquaintance lately of being somewhat touchy when it comes to criticizing matters of hate or race when I see public instances such as hate speech, valueless stories of racial issues in the media, bombast from the hate-talkers and just plain blatant racism in mass media or public discourse.

The accusation may – or may not – be warranted. My question in response is “Why aren’t more people angry as Hell and pointing out the same things?”
We didn’t get into this national environment of hate all at once. It’s been building for decades. A little step here. A little give there. Overlooking what should have been red flags about such issues when they came up. Little by little, well-paid, hate-talkers on radio have pushed their dirty envelopes until there’s not much you can’t find on the airwaves today. Strident hate, homophobic slurs, race-baiting, out-and-out lies about nearly any subject – especially the President. Crackpot birtherism insanity. Social, medical and personal issues being passed off as subjects of “political import.” Lies being pedaled as truth when the truth has been proven repeatedly. Political prostitutes being elected to office with open wallets of unhinged billionaires seeking to build a theocracy they can control.

You’re damned right I’m touchy. I’m fed up with it and sick at heart about what’s happening to our nation. When otherwise thinking, middle-aged people can accost me in a store checkout line with the insanity I experienced this week, I’m more than touchy – I’m damned mad!

Free speech. I know. I know! It’s been an issue I’ve defended all my adult life – up to and including jail in the District of Columbia. It’s an issue my heart is fully into. But……………….

We’ve allowed the guaranteed right of freedom of speech to be unfettered by a matching obligation of informed speech. In defense of free speech, we’ve allowed the assurance of it to overwhelm any requirement for honest speech. Factual speech. We’ve even generously rewarded those who pervert it and who foist their perversions on the rest of us.

Do I know how to fix it? No. Not really. But this perpetuation of mental sickness under the guise of a constitutional right is gutting our sensibilities and creating alternate realities for millions of Americans. My daily contact with the I-net is the living proof of that. That and a shopping trip.

Without some sort of concerted national effort addressing this problem, our other freedoms are being endangered. We should all be more touchy. More of us should be damned mad.

Laptop alternatives

idahocolumnn

Large government contracts, those in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars or – gulp! - more, can be hard things for non-fiscal specialists to digest. But along came one in Idaho a few days ago we could chew on.

This was the contract, one of the largest single state government awards in Idaho history, by the Department of Education awarded to Hewlett-Packard Corporation: $181.9 million for laptops, and their repair and a wireless system, for Idaho schools. The price adds up to about $293 per laptop (for a half-million of them), plus additional for upfront and buyout costs. (Those should be considered approximations; there are a lot of moving pieces among the contract numbers.)

This per-unit price doesn't sound unreasonable, factoring in on one hand the normal purchase price for basic laptop Windows computers, and on the other the cost savings in such as large mass buy.

In our small business, though, it wouldn't have made the cut.

Not because of the HP brand: Two of our most-used machines, including the laptop on which this is written, are HPs. But we make only limited use of Windows (somewhat more of a couple of Apple computers). Mostly, we use the operating system called Linux, and we use it on those HP machines. One reason we use it is because it's free – literally, downloadable for free, no strings, no catch. All the software we use on it, ranging from close equivalents to Windows Office to browsers to desktop publishing and technical software, and a good deal more, is also free. It ranges the Internet even better than Windows, no surprise since the bulk of web server computers worldwide are run on Linux or on closely allied software. And not only that, it's “open source,” which means you can (if you choose) go into the guts of the program, and change anything you want. Can't do that with proprietary programs.

This software is coded so efficiently that everything I use on my Linux machines can nearly fit onto a single CD; you'd need shelves of CDs to contain Windows or Windows Office. It can run efficiently on smaller and older computers than Windows can, and run longer on them as they age. A nonprofit in Portland (called Free Geek) for years has been reconditioning old and small-capacity computers, outfitting them with Linux, and sending them to local nonprofits and to underdeveloped countries around the globe; those machines are great for education, and they cost a pittance. Open source runs faster, with fewer errors, and is nearly impervious to viruses, worms and the like. (No need for expensive anti-virus software.) One of the main world headquarters for open source development is the Pacific Northwest; the original developer of Linux, a Finn named Linus Torvalds, lives outside Portland.

Another educational point relating to open source: Tech-oriented students could actually take the lead in setting up computer systems and wireless networks around the schools.

Is this news to you? (Was it ever considered by the Department of Education?) Here's something Linux and open source don't have: A huge marketing budget underwritten by a massive corporation. There are several fair-sized companies developing variations (called “distributions”) of Linux, and profitable spinoffs, but most people on the street have never heard of them.

If they had, you wonder what they might think on reflection about the state of Idaho's new contract.

Governing on legislatures

None of the three Northwest states - Washington, Oregon, Idaho - are seriously in doubt as to their presidential preferences, and there are remarkably few really competitive races in the whole region even on the whole of the congressional level. (I count just one, the Washington 1st, everything else going to incumbent parties or, in the case of Washington 10, Democrat Denny Heck.)

The legislatures are another matter. Idaho's is not up for grabs, but the Washington Senate, where the margin is close, and the Oregon House and Senate, are both close enough that partisan control is somewhat in doubt.

Viewing this from a national perspective is Louis Jacobsen of Governing magazine, who's examined all 50 states' chambers (99 of them, factoring in Nebraska's nonpartisan unicameral).

Idaho's, of course, is lopsided Republican and will remain so.

In Oregon, where the House is evenly split 30-30 and the Senate is 16-14 Democratic, Jacobsen suggests: "The House is currently tied with split-partisan control. The combination of Obama's presence on top of the ticket, a sex scandal involving a Republican leader and tough races for several GOP freshmen in challenging districts suggests that the Democrats are slightly favored to win outright control of the chamber. In the Senate, the Democrats are slight favorites to keep their current 16-14 edge."

In Washington, where Democrats have a clearer but still thin measure of control in both chambers: "The Democratic House majority looks secure, but the Senate is up for grabs. The Democrats suffered defections by some of its more moderate members on key votes, a shift that hastened the retirement of the majority leader. Several open seats could go either way, so we're calling this a tossup."

Seems in both cases to reflect the prevailing on ground view.

Good, bad, ugly

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Bear with me faithful readers as I combine two disparate strands of thought that sheds light on current events.

First strand: Everything in life is political. The differences are only in degrees. Second strand: Executives should never let lawyers drive policy matters.

Note the key words are political and policy, both having the Greek word polis as their roots. Too often the root word is interpreted narrowly to mean a city-state. Its larger meaning is community, people coming together to live in peace and harmony.

From that comes the need for laws to regulate human behavior, to protect the weak from predators, to seek the greatest good for the greatest number.

Unfortunately, we create myths that belie the above absolutes, such as the supposed separation of church and state. It is an ideal embedded in the Constitution. The reality is it does not reflect reality.

Incontestably, churches, because they are entities that help serve to regulate human behavior, are deeply involved in what ultimately are political issues and public policy matters. Even the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints makes no bones about the spiritual and the temporal being combined, though it too pays lip- service to the notion of a church and state separation by claiming it doesn’t engage in partisan politicking.

Is there anyone walking who seriously believes the leadership of the LDS Church has not in a dozen ways quietly – and fully within its First Amendment rights to do so – lent indirect support to Mitt Romney’s campaign? Was last year’s national television ad campaign aimed at expanding America’s familiarity with the LDS Church a mere coincidence?

Get real.

What prompts this essay, though, is not the activities of the LDS Church on behalf of a favored son. Rather, it is the action of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane suing its long-time Spokane law firm for malpractice in representing the diocese both in settling a number of abuse-by-priest claims and in the resulting declaration of bankruptcy.

Some are shocked the diocese would turn on its long-time outside counsel, one of Spokane’s venerable, old law firms. Cynics are smiling at the actions of a corporation – which the diocese most assuredly is – with what they suspect is a bet Paine, Hamblen will settle out of court with its insurance company on the hook for perhaps half of the $12 million in damages sought.

Part of the escalating cost of health insurance is the high cost of malpractice insurance doctors and hospitals have to obtain in our highly litigious society. Now the ultimate irony is coming about: Law firms must obtain hefty malpractice insurance to protect themselves from unhappy clients.

It is the consumer, however, who pays in the end. Insurance premiums are cranked into an ever increasing hourly rate which, even in Spokane, averages $400 an hour.

The cynicism comes about when religious entities wrap themselves in piety and claim the high moral ground while acting in a political and or business-interest manner. The public rightly sees hypocrisy in such actions. No one should be surprised that it further undermines what little credibility the Spokane diocese possesses these days.

Fault both the diocese and its attorneys for not keeping their eyes on the diocesan mission. If there was an initial mistake, it goes to the second absolute postulated above, i.e., the executive, the Spokane bishop, William Skylstad (a personal friend), allowed lawyers to drive an issue that went above legal tactics. It breached the broader arena of the policy position a church is expected to understand.

Lawyers love to run things and to tell executives what they can and cannot do. They ought to tell their clients if and how they can legally do what they want to do.

In the case of the Spokane diocese, the initial error by its lawyers was convincing the bishop to go against his better instincts and invoke the statutes of limitations defense against many of the abuse claims. Rather than focus on what was right – in this case righting through an admission of guilt and making amends for the wrong that had been done – the diocese resorted to a legal defense that undercut its moral authority.

District Court Judge Kathleen O’Conner correctly handed the diocese its head on a platter. Even the Vatican’s chief legal authority, in a speech in France earlier in the decade, had called on bishops not to resort to legal legerdemain to escape responsibility for the sexual-abuse wrongs.

The result is further erosion of whatever moral authority the diocese has left. The rudder is again being held by different lawyers who counsel a questionable path to extract money from an insurance firm that otherwise would have to be hijacked from the faithful in the pews.

So the end justifying the means looks political and legalistic, doesn’t it?

It works!

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

At our house, we voted this morning. As I write this, nearly all of you in other states have another 10 days or so before traipsing to the polls. For us, the campaign is over. It ended with the slight swishing sound of two Oregon vote-by-mail ballots sliding down the intake of the ballot collection box. No stamps. No extra envelopes. No mess. It’s a great feeling!

Oregonians have been taking care of their most valuable labor of citizenship this clean, trouble-free way for 31 years. First, on a test basis for state elections starting in 1981; then permanently for all state elections since ‘87. By ‘95, federal races were added. In ‘98, Oregonians overwhelmingly voted by referendum to continue the process and make it permanent for all elections. We do it all by mail. The single question about the process that remains with me – why doesn’t everybody do it this way? It works!

All the skeptics – believe me, there were some – have long been muzzled. Oh, there are still a few of the “aluminum foil beanie crowd” mumbling about fraud and lost ballots. But even they have used the system successfully and their numbers are vastly reduced.

It works!

Oregon’s statewide elections are run on a shoestring budget because they can be. The six and seven figure costs in other states are gone for us. We don’t need poll workers, poll watchers, volunteers of any stripe. Even shut-ins or other folks who can’t physically get to the polls can vote. And do.

A statewide survey done in 2003 showed 81% of us felt the process was great and should be continued. Not that there was any serious talk of quitting. But just to reassure the “powers-that-be” that we still overwhelmingly supported the idea. Actually, Democrats approved by 85%; Republicans by 76%. And a full 30% said they voted more often and more regularly since the mail idea started. All together now: “It works!”

“And voter fraud? Gotta be some fraud in the process,” you say.
Well, if there’s been such skullduggery, it hasn’t shown up in any great amount. Our Secretary of State says the process is as clean – or cleaner – than states that still use in-person polling places. It just works.

Oh, we still have a booth or two at our county courthouses so the diehards and the purists can make the trip to town to vote the old way, then hand their ballot to a real live person. But, soon, even that will disappear. Especially if gas stays at four bucks a gallon.
Living in a state in which our elections are considered well-run and honest, I’ve been damned disgusted with the Republican-sponsored efforts to keep Americans from polling places elsewhere. Yes, Virginia, it’s all been Republican-sponsored. Not one state legislature with a Democrat majority has tried to limit voter participation using the phony excuse of “voter fraud.” Not one. It’s been the Republican National Committee pushing this “fraud” scheme, trying to keep minorities from voting. At first, behind-the-scenes; then more openly once exposed. Fortunately, court tests of these partisan efforts to discriminate – especially against minorities – have been shot down one by one.

And the irony is this. So far, in 2012 alone, there have been more reported examples of Republican efforts to cheat the system than all the cases of voter fraud prosecuted in the 50 states following the 2010 election!

Study after study – sponsored by reliably independent groups – found there have been no large-scale cases of voter fraud. Period! All this Republican-backed fraud business is another example of trying to apply fixes to problems that don’t exist. Or more properly said, attempts to steal elections. According to such surveys, no state – repeat – NO state is reporting serious, sizeable examples of voter fraud. In fact, when the top Pennsylvania elections official testivied in district court in defense of that state’s new, needless voter fraud law, she admitted she knew of no cases. Not one!

Further, she said she’d not even read the law. This is the same state in which the legislature’s Speaker of the House famously told a GOP audience the new fraud law would “guarantee the election of Mitt Romney.”

North Carolina, Ohio, Florida, Colorado, Illinois, Pennsylvania and a few other state Republican parties and Republican-dominated legislatures have led despicable attempts to disenfranchise many Americans at the polls. A Pennsylvania district court decision to uphold that law was struck down on appeal. All others lost at the first hearing. As they should have.

But in Oregon. Ah, Oregon. Republicans and Democrats – and all those in the other, smaller parties – wait by the mailbox about two weeks before the national voting day. Taking time to peruse our ballots at home, talk with each other about the election, make our selections and sealing the envelopes, we join political hands, walk to the mailbox and put ‘em inside. Done!

And Oregon’s voter fraud cases? You gotta be kidding.

For all parties! For everyone! IT WORKS!

We have voted

ballots
Our ballots

Those of us in places where we are mailed ballots and then just drop them off - most often not mailed but rather deposited in mailbox-like drop boxes - don't get that little charge from someone calling out at their voting places that "John Doe has voted!" There are downsides to the mail process.

They're easily outweighed by the good, since we can vote in a quiet, calm atmosphere, check or doublecheck what we need to, take our time, and send off the ballots when ready.

As in our household we're doing today, at the Carlton City Hall drop box, after having received the ballots in the mail yesterday.

For those who have the option, as people in Oregon and Washington do, early voting actually has a political effect, if you're mostly supporting one party's candidates, and the campaigns have some reason to know or suspect it (as is often the case). From here to "election day" - really deadline day, two weeks hence, in these parts - the parties will be frantically going after their supporters, making sure that all of their people have cast ballots. When they see in the county records that your ballot has been received, they quit worrying about you and move on to others who haven't voted yet.

So voting early (and no, no, not often) has the effect of diminishing the political communications headed your way, and helps the campaigns you support move on to focus on others who weren't quite so prompt, or who may not vote at all without an extra nudge.